Motorsport News obituary

Motorsport News
Michael Cotton
January 10th 2001
courtesy and copyright of Motorsport News

Walter Hayes
April 12th, 1924 – December 26th, 2000

Walter Hayes, who died on December 26th after a short illness, was hugely successful in four distinct phases of his career. By the age of 32 he was editor of the Sunday Dispatch, then associate editor of the Daily Mail, when he employed Lotus founder Colin Chapman to write a regular motoring column.

Later, he would claim, in his self deprecating way, that he helped to set up the Lotus company, which would play an important part in the next part of his career. Hayes was recruited to the board of Ford of Britain in 1962, at the age of 38, controlling Ford’s public relations activities and, almost incidentally, competitions activities, too.

He knew instinctively that he had to improve the image of the Ford range, often referred to as “Dagenham dustbins”, and quickly pushed through the development of the Cortina GT, and later the Lotus Cortina raced so successfully by the likes of Jim Clark and Sir John Whitmore. Hayes was instrumental in bringing the Ford Cosworth DFV into the world. Chapman needed a new grand prix engine. Keith Duckworth was prepared to design and build it, but it needed Hayes’ powers of persuasion to get Henry Ford II, and his board, to put up the £100,000 investment.

“It will be the best £100,000 you ever invested,” he told Henry Ford, and so it was. The Ford Cosworth DFV won on its debut in the 1967 Dutch GP and its derivatives dominated F1 racing for 15 years, winning no fewer than 155 world championship races.

Hayes took on greater responsibilities, as director of public affairs, Ford of Europe, then a vice-president of the Ford Motor Company. Later still, he recommended Ford to buy the ailing Aston Martin Lagonda company and happily came out of retirement to run the Newport Pagnell company.

There, he initiated the DB7 programme, a mode which was the most successful in Aston Martin’s long history.

Hayes will be remembered as a man who was equally at ease with the mighty and the humble. He was first and foremost a wonderful character who transformed the image of Ford’s public relations and indeed, reshaped the function of PR.

He would spent as much time talking to young and inexperienced motoring writers as to the doyens of Fleet Street, listening, helping, shaping their views. There are few British motor industry writers who do not owe Walter Hayes a debt of gratitude.

A memorial service for Walter Hayes will be held in April. His funeral was held last Friday.