The boxy Jeep Cherokee and the sleek Ford GT40 are inextricably linked by their creator: Roy Lunn. The British engineer was as adept at creating race cars as he was transforming bucking bronco off-roaders into civilized tall wagons for suburbanites.
Lunn died earlier this month in Santa Barbara, California, after suffering a stroke in July. He was 92.
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Though the engineer wasn’t a household name, he touched some of the most important cars of the last half of the 20th century: the Ford Mustang I prototype that led to the eponymous pony car, the Ford GT40 endurance racer, the Boss 429 muscle car, and later at American Motors, the XJ-body Jeep Cherokee that begat the SUV craze and its long-lived 4.0-liter inline-6 engine.
It’s fair to say that Lunn was something of a jack of all trades.
2001 Jeep Cherokee Limited
Though he was born in Britain—and served as a Royal Air Force pilot during World War II—his success was mostly tied to Detroit. After stints at AC Cars and Aston Martin, he was hired by Ford’s British arm and found himself working in Dearborn, Michigan, by the late 1950s. Thanks to his efforts with the Mustang I show car—which inspired the production Mustang—he was tapped by the Ford family to engineer the Ferrari-fighting GT40 endurance racing car.
A decade later, Lunn found himself across Detroit at American Motors, where he was tapped to lead engineering at the company’s Jeep division. Developed on such a shoestring budget that some validation development was actually conducted during the grueling Paris-Dakar rally, but the 1984 Jeep Cherokee created under his watch was an instant hit. The boxy Cherokee was the first of its kind—a unit-body SUV that combined four-wheeling capability with commendable road manners.
“It’s common sense that people want a practical car,” Lunn told Automotive News in 2016.
Lunn retired shortly after the Cherokee hit the market, but he was called back to head up development of AM General’s High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle—better known as the Hummer.