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David Childs; an appreciation

It was only when Mike asked me to write this that I realised how little I really knew about David Childs. As in where was he born ? Did he go to university and if so, which one ? Did he have any brothers and sisters ? What did his father do… Or maybe I did know such things but they weren’t what we talked about so I’ve forgotten them. I did know David worked for a company that made bottle tops and cans, the kind which contained the fuel for many of our late night discussions about cars. Not about how cool they were, or what was the latest roadster, none of that. It was all about making our individual projects faster round a lap. That was the thing that really mattered and it occupied hours of sketching, dreaming and usually it led to some nuts, bolts and metal, arranged in a different order. For me, it would be an MG Midget or a Marcos or a Mazda RX3, or whatever I had found in the back of Autosport. For David, it would be roll centres applied to Triumph Herald-based wishbone suspension, radius rods and Watts linkages to better locate an A35 back axle, the more effective combination of which might make his Clubmans car quicker, and most important to do so without spending large sums of money.
It was an apprenticeship for which I will be forever grateful. The analytical approach which has served me well throughout a modest journalistic career, all started with David’s tutelage and he gained the soubriquet Obi-Wan Kenobe after the Star Wars Jedi master and honorary greybeard who knew a lot about most things. Like a disciple, I would religiously take my latest fag packet sketch for approval and inevitably, modification and I wouldn’t start sawing metal until we had discussed everything. It wasn’t just me either. David’s door was always open and invariably there would be someone interesting already in the room, inevitably concerned in some way with the construction of tube-framed specials powered by a Ford engine. People were drawn to David. He was a very social animal but he didn’t need to go out and socialise because socialising came to him.
David had a fantastic memory for events, places, people and things, and in particular military history as well as motor sport. He never brandished his knowledge, but he made it available, and like a properly modest man, he kept many things to himself and allowed others to judge – like his ability behind the wheel. Centaur designer Richard Scott was another I met in David’s living room in Bedford and only a few weeks ago he said that David was such a good driver, they sometimes didn’t realise the design problems they had… There was music too. David had a brilliant knack of finding bands that weren’t popular, but soon would be. My enduring addiction to Mark Knopfler’s touch-sensitive guitar is thanks to David’s introduction. There were plenty more, and my desire to seek the interesting as much as the popular was another thing that began with David.
And finally, there is Ann. She was David’s companion, biggest fan and most loyal supporter and a constant presence for as long as I knew him, which I now realise, is more than 40 years. I added the industrial strength hangover from their eventual wedding to the many which had their gestation in David’s living room. David lived in the moment. I knew little about him, but it didn’t matter, and it still doesn’t. I know how dear he has been to me and for how long. Let’s imagine he’s gone to a better place, where understeer doesn’t exist…

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