Missing Walter Hayes
Road & Track
April 2001
Thos L. Bryant
courtesy and copyright of Road & Track

The first part of every year is a time of high excitement in the world of cars because of the auto shows in Los Angeles and Detroit. This year was no exception, and for the charity preview night at Los Angeles we had virtually the entire Road & Track editorial staff on hand for a question-and-answer session with the public. Los Angeles’ show also featured a wonderful display of Jaguar roadsters through the years and some Road & Track covers and stories that added to the background. We were delighted to be involved with the Jaguar display and the poster that went with it, which was produced by Contributing Artist Dennis Brown.

A few days later it was off to Motor City for the North American International Auto Show in Cobo Hall, downtown Detroit, Michigan. The weather was perfect – cold, lots of snow on the ground – for those of us who only have to stay a few days and then head back to Southern California. The Detroit auto show has become one of the bets in the world, ranking right up there with Paris, Geneva, Frankfurt and Tokyo. However, my usual excitement about the auto shows was dimmed this time because of the death in late December of one of the most intriguing men of the auto industry, Walter Hayes. Walter died on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, at age 76 of lung cancer- as his long time associate Harry Calton of Aston Marton said, “That damnable pipe he smoked all those years caught up with him!”

Walter Hayes started out as a journalist with the Daily Mail in London, and then moved to the Sunday Dispatch as editor. But in 1962 he took a position with the Ford Motor Company in England as director of public affairs, charged with improving Ford’s image in the UK. And did he ever!

He learned an awful lot about motorsports in a short period of time, and had a marvellous knack for coming up with very good ideas, such as the Ford Lotus-Cortina which became a huge racing success with a team led by reigning Drivers World Champion Jimmy Clark. In 1963, Walter had the brilliant idea to work out a contract arrangement with another young Scot, Jackie Stewart, who remains involved with Ford to this day.

In 1965, when engine builder Coventry Climax departed from the Formula 1 scene, Hayes calmly asked Ford to put up £100,000 for Keith Duckworth to use in helping fund Cosworth Engineering’s effort to build a Ford F1 engine. Of course, racing fans will know that the Cosworth DFV V-8 engine became a huge success, winning 155 Grands Prix over 17 seasons.

Later, Walter would become a close confidant of Henry Ford II, and he served in Dearborn as Vice President of Public Affairs for Ford Worldwide. Hayes retired from Ford in 1989, but that was short-lived. He had a hand in Ford’s purchase of the struggling Aston Martin works and came out of retirement to be its chairman. He is recognized for being the leading voice in the development of the Aston Martin DB7, the most successful Aston ever.

My encounters with Walter were all too rare, but each one is indelibly etched in my memory. He was a man of enormous talent and yet he kept it well cloaked in an air of humility. At any gathering, Hayes could always be found surrounded by those who had learned from him, whether Ford employees or journalists. I especially recall an Aston Martin dinner at the inaugural Goodwood Revival in September 1999 that my wife, Patty, and I attended. It was a magical event as Walter kept a group of some 20 people spellbound throughout the evening with insider stories about all sorts of things, as Harry Calton fed him just the right questions to keep the tales coming. I know all of us left the dinner party that evening feeling as though we had been royally entertained by a legendary figure in our industry.

We all will miss those twinkling eyes, that sweet smile and that grand way he had of making us feel included in the best circles.