A BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE LIFE OF CHRISTOPHER JOHN LAWRENCE
WHO DIED IN AUGUST 2011.
Christopher Lawrence will be best remembered for his contribution to the racing pedigree of the Morgan sports car. Being himself both an amateur racing driver and development engineer, there can be little doubt that his racing successes, culminating in the Le Mans 2-litre class win in 1962 helped to revive Morgan’s flagging fortunes in the 1960s. Thirty five years later he was to return to the Morgan marque and take responsibility for the design and development of the Aero 8. This latter task was arguably his greatest contribution to auto engineering.
Christopher John Lawrence was the son of William John Lawrence and Joan Sanderson. Born in Farnham Royal, near Slough, in 1933, Chris was an only child and acquired an early addiction for motor-cycles and golf. Influenced by his mother and an uncle who had enjoyed a brilliant career in the Royal Navy, Lawrence went first to Pangbourne Nautical College and then joined the Senior Service. In line with his love of speed and things mechanical, he opted for the engineering branch. His early life as a Midshipman, at a time when discipline was absolute, no doubt helped to develop his taste for formidable levels of determination and perseverance. These qualities, reinforced by unbounded enthusiasm, were to define his life thereafter.
By any stretch of the imagination Lawrence ’s life was crowded with success, variety and colour, much of it achieved on the smell of an oily rag. Having gained his engineering degree, he decided that making sports cars go faster held more appeal than a naval career, and having resigned his commission, in short order set up his own company, LawrenceTune. From an early stage Lawrence showed remarkable promise as a development engineer and in addition to his tuning work on other people’s sports cars, developed his own marque, the Deep Sanderson, which claimed many track successes in different guises.
Being both an engineer and a racing driver, Lawrence brought an analytical approach to his racing which contributed immeasurably to the performance of all the cars he was involved with as it enabled him to refine critical aspects such as steering and suspension geometry. Few other drivers had this capability. He won over 100 races and set many lap records.
In 1966 Lawrence was invited by a French company to project manage the development of a luxury grand tourer to replace the Facel Vega. After five years of frantic work and several prototypes later the Monica was launched at the Paris motor show in 1971. Beautiful in design and stunning in performance, the 5600cc Monica caused a tremendous stir. Sadly, just as production started to take off the 1973 oil crisis hit. Gas-guzzling cars fell sharply out of favour and the Monica was effectively doomed.
The demise of the Monica seriously affected LawenceTune and Lawrence headed off to California for 15 years to offer his engineering skills to the American classic car fraternity. This venture met with mixed success, although there was plenty of racing and his golf handicap came down close to scratch.
On his return to England in 1992 there followed some work for Marcos before he approached Peter Morgan with some ideas he had about trying to repeat his earlier Le Mans successes. Fruitful discussions followed with Charles Morgan, the current managing director, and the possibility of designing a completely new Morgan - the Aero 8 - was given the green light. Lawrence masterminded the design and development of the Aero 8, which, bred as much for the track as the road, has ensured The Morgan Motor Co a secure place in the 21st Century.
Life for Chris, however, was not all about cars. Another great passion was sailing. He owned and raced a 1927 John Alden designed schooner, La Goleta, for many years and was very proud of having won line honours with her in the 1976 Fastnet Race.
Although Lawrence had a reputation for being somewhat brusque in his dealings with people, this was largely a mask for shyness. At heart he was a bon vivant and generous to a fault. His reputation as an engineer was second to none and he was always keen to encourage others who had new ideas. One could not but be impressed with the breadth of his achievements on the track and in the workshop, or indeed on the water.
Following retirement in 2003, Lawrence continued to promote the Morgan marque and with a large following of Morgan owner fans, took a close interest in club racing and rebuilding 1960s Morgans to the old TOK 258 Le Mans specification. Not content with that, he set his mind to designing and patenting a compact and powerful steam driven piston engine suitable for generating cheap electricity.
In 2007 Lawrence wrote an entertaining autobiography, Morgan Maverick, in which he was disarmingly frank about his more erratic business ventures and trials and tribulations as well as the many highlights in his career.
He was married three times: to Jenny Bain in 1958, who bore him two sons and a daughter; to Jennifer Laimbeer in 1983; and in 1993, to Carrie Spender, who had shared many vicissitudes with him since the early days of LawrenceTune. He is survived by Carrie, and the two sons from his first marriage.