VIDEO: Kenneth Grange explains why the InterCity 125 looks like it does
Renown designer Sir Kenneth Grange has been speaking of his pride at his role in the development of one of Britain’s iconic trains.
Sir Kenneth, 84, who lives in Okehampton, was knighted in May. He is one of the UK’s leading designers, responsible for some of the most recognisable products including Britain’s first parking meter and the London taxi.
Rail lovers know him as the designer of the InterCity 125.
Speaking to The Guardian’s G” section, he said: “I wasn't a rail person. I'd designed the Kenwood Chef and the Kodak Instamatic camera and was brought in to do a paint job: to put the BR livery on the engine.
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“In those days, locomotives were big, ugly, blunt-nosed things, and the impact of what was basically a wall of steel entering a tunnel was damaging the brickwork. So without telling anyone, I decided to redesign it.
“The idea to give it a streamlined front came from racing cars, which were elegantly designed. It was more a question of what I thought would go fast rather than what I knew, but I worked with an aerodynamic engineer, we built a model and tested it in a wind tunnel.
“The photographs looked convincing, and the board listened.”
There had been several unreported incidents of driver fatalities from locomotive front windows being smashed by boys tying string round a brick and hanging it off bridges, said Sir Kenneth, so his design had to allow for armoured glass.
“I first put in a small window through which one driver could see all he needed, but when the prototype set a world record for a diesel engine - 143.2mph in May 1973 - the unions insisted on there being two men in the cab sitting side by side at anything above 100mph,” he said.
“At first, we were going to have to use two pieces of flat glass angled towards a central bar, but then Pilkingtons developed a bigger single piece: not only was this better for visibility and aerodynamically, it gave the train that distinctive look.”
In a ground-breaking move, the InterCity 125 was made of very robust moulded plastic, not sheet metal.
“Also, with conventional trains, coaches were pulled or pushed by a locomotive – but our train would have a power car at each end, a clever piece of engineering.,” said Sir Kenneth.
“One day, I asked the chief engineer: "What do the buffers do?" He pointed out that because our engine car would never be pushing anything, it didn't need them. So we took them off, and that became part of the iconic look.
“The distinctive yellow nose was to warn people working on the track that this bloody great thing was coming.
“Next came the seats, which had to be lighter for more speed. I wanted to use a sort of mesh netting, but in those days football hooligans used to take over trains and cut up the upholstery with Stanley knives. So I used strong material and moulded armrests, which has been the convention ever since.
“In those days, carriage doors opened via a handle on the inside, but some silly buggers had leaned against them and managed to fall out, so the InterCity used central locking.”
He added: “I'm 84 now and the design will see me out. I live in Devon, and the train connects me and London. When I see one, the old chest puffs up with pride.”