Roy Lunn is one of the original disrupters.
The British engineer being inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame oversaw the development of the legendary Ford GT40, the sleek, low-slung sports car that dislodged Ferrari by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans four consecutive times from 1966 to 1969. Ferrari had won the six previous races.
After Lunn's Ford career ended in 1971, American Motors came calling, making him director of engineering for Jeep. A dozen years later, the vehicle that would change the automotive landscape in America and beyond emerged: the Jeep Cherokee XJ. It's considered to be the first modern, lightweight four-wheel-drive unibody SUV. Today, nearly all SUVs are unibody.
The Cherokee was a monster hit for American Motors and then Chrysler, which bought AMC in 1987. By the time the Cherokee's North American production run ended in 2001, sales topped 3 million units. It finally went out of production in China in 2013.
"I think he is as much of an American hero as [racer] Dan Gurney, [father of the Corvette] Zora Arkus-Duntov and [Shelby Mustang creator] Carroll Shelby," says author Martyn Schorr, who nominated Lunn for inclusion in the Hall after chronicling his Ford career in the recent book, Ford Total Performance.
Lunn was born in 1925. He earned degrees in mechanical and aeronautical engineering and was a pilot in the RAF. In the late 1940s, he worked for a number of small British automakers, AC, Jowett and Aston Martin, before joining Ford in 1953.
One of his first Ford projects was the 105E Anglia, a stylish compact car that debuted in 1959. It not only set sales records for Ford but set in motion Ford's rise in the U.K. that eventually would end the dominance of the British Motor Corp.
After moving to the United States in the late 1950s, Lunn was tapped by Ford -- because of his sports car and aerodynamics expertise -- to develop the chassis and powertrain of the Mustang I, the low-slung mid-engined roadster concept. It paved the way for the production Mustang in 1964, one of Ford's all-time greatest hits.
Lunn, who turned 91 in April, now lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., with his wife of nearly 70 years. Lunn keeps busy writing about the environment and looking deeply into the future of automotive transportation.
One of the first things Lunn did upon moving from Florida to California this year was to set up a drafting table and get to work.
Lunn says he is designing what he hopes will be the next "people's car" that will be viewed in the same light as the Model T, Volkswagen Beetle and Tata Nano.
"What I am doing is at least 60 years away, and what it involves is being made of materials that are reproducible, including the fuels they run on.
"There is no metal. It has to come from nature's cycles -- air, wind and sun -- or grown as a recyclable crop," Lunn says.
He views his latest project as potentially his most disruptive of all.
But looking back on the creation of the Cherokee, Lunn told Automotive News the idea for the unibody Cherokee was borne out of the rising fuel prices of the 1970s.
"I chose unitized [construction] because it is stronger pound for pound, and it is lightest for meeting economy requirements."
Lunn says he is not surprised the Cherokee has become the template for the modern SUV. "It's common sense that people want a practical car."