Roy Lunn, Father of the Ford GT40 and Jeep Cherokee, Passes Away at 92

From SUVs to supercars, the industry wouldn't be what it is today without Lunn's influence.

Ford

When we think of car industry titans, our minds go straight to big names like Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, and Bob Lutz. However, there are plenty of other figures who often get overlooked in spite of their roles in shaping what the car industry looks like today. One of those lesser-known figures, Roy Lunn, passed away on August 5th in Santa Barbara, California, at the age of 92.

Born in Richmond, England in 1925, Roy Lunn started his engineering career at AC Cars after serving in the Royal Air Force in World War II. His career took off when he started working for Ford of Britain in 1953, where he worked on the Anglia 105E—a compact that was a huge hit across the pond. It’s the car that helped Ford become England’s highest volume automaker in the 1960’s.

Here in the U.S., Ford couldn’t help but notice the success of the Anglia, and offered Lunn a product development management job in Dearborn. During Lunn’s tenure from 1958 to 1969, his team worked on the mid-engine Mustang I concept, several concept trucks, and the GT40 race car that would go on to become a motorsports legend winning Le Mans from 1966-1969. Lunn’s leadership was a big part of the performance revolution at Ford in the 1960s.

"The team that put together the Ford GT of today was inspired by the work of Roy and his team and we will be forever grateful for the work they started," said Ford president of North America Raj Nair in a statement, according to Automotive News. "His legacy as the godfather of the original Ford GT40 was well known throughout the company, and he helped bring Ford a performance car that is just as legendary today as it was in the 1960s."

After a brief stint at Kar-Kraft in Detroit, Lunn was hired by AMC to be the technical director of Jeep in 1971. While he was at Jeep, he had an idea for a unibody, four-door SUV that would be a practical, fuel-efficient family vehicle while still maintaining off-road chops. That idea turned into the original Jeep Cherokee, the first modern SUV—which started a massive industry shift towards SUVs and crossovers that’s still continuing today. When Lunn started at Jeep, it was a small, niche brand; by the time he left, it was well on its way to being the high-volume, mainstream brand it is today. Lunn also played a big role in developing the AMC Eagle, arguably the first all-wheel-drive crossover.

Towards the end of his life, Lunn’s last daily driver was a red four-door Jeep Cherokee XJ. After a long, influential life, Lunn suffered a stroke in July and never regained consciousness. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan in 2016. Roy Lunn might not be a household name, but his impact on the car industry is impossible to ignore.