IAD: it may sound like an obscure Gerry Anderson TV show, but it was once the world’s largest R&D consultancy, working over several different arenas. To a spotty petrolhead of the Eighties though, International Automotive Design was as exotic as its name suggested.
IAD UK Ltd was formed in 1976 by John and Yvonne Shute, to work on rail cars, but quickly the company expanded into automotive body, engineering design and even low-scale production. At the top of its game, IAD occupied 23 factory units covering 200,000 sq.ft of space in Worthing, employed nearly 2000 people plus the company had five overseas operations: in the USA (California and Detroit), France (five facilities), Spain and Germany; along with liaison offices in Korea, Japan and Russia. Little wonder it became one of, if not, the leading car design firms of Britain and won numerous Queen’s Awards for Export.
As John Shute claimed in IAD literature: ‘An essential philosophy of the company management it to invest in the latest technological equipment and training…’ A noble long-term ambition which is unfortunately all too rare in Britain’s business culture.
I got in touch with them in 1989, as a wannabe car designer following the unveiling of one of the firm’s awe-inspiring concepts cars – the IAD Alien – first penned in 1984. Back then, to this Eighties youth it looked impossibly futuristic and so much sexier than the old man’s Morris Ital 1.3 SLX.
The brochure reads: ‘The idea was to produce an ‘avante garde’ concept which was both different and innovative… the philosophy behind the design for the Alien was to pursue a new aesthetic in automobile design, that of combining a smooth sculptural aerodynamic form, with the contrasting, functional and technical appearance of the engine compartment – visually and actually separating the driver’s compartment from the mechanical running gear. The IAD Alien was conceived as a modern compact high-performance, two-seater sports car for the Nineties. Its appearance is designed to arouse interest, as well as to make its functional qualities obvious.’
I lapped this four-wheel sports motorcycle up. It promised a future bubbling with progress, speed and optimism, away from the Boys From The Black Stuff despair. It proffered an optimistic alternative from the Nineties banality of Loaded Ladism, Tony Blair’s false dawn, the scrapping of Concorde and the pox of cycling lanes.
Yet it was not to be for the Alien or its design house.
Although the company gained much kudos from the likes of the Alien and its other concepts, in addition to working on cars as varied as the Mazda MX-5 and Volvo 440. Its concepts were varied as: the Impact (a monobox sports/utility car), Interstate (multi-purpose vehicle); Hunter (sports/leisure vehicle based on the Impact); and Royale (a Subaru-based luxury executive 4×4 saloon with ‘boxer’ 2.7-litre six-cylinder). Sadly though, the company couldn’t escape the effects that the early Nineties global crash had on its rapid expansion and it went into receivership.
IAD’s assets were sold to Mayflower Corp (which went into administration in 2004) shortly afterwards, with Daewoo Motors (sold by Daewoo to GM in 2001) acquiring its engineering, design groups and facilities in 1993. Daewood then sold its Worthing Technical Centre to TWR in 2001 (which went into liquidation in 2002).
In the light of now, it’s interesting to look back on these brochures and renderings which have migrated from being horribly old-fashioned to enjoying a hearty chunk of Eighties retro appeal. Look closely and whilst some the off-roader concepts remind me of Action Force toys, others hint at what was to come. The full-scale Interstate clearly inspired the 1998 Kia Sportage whilst there is also a slight touch of the Impact about the 1998 FIAT Multipla.
Looking at these for the first time in years, they remind me of being inspired by the countless speculative ‘scoop’ renderings which used to dot car mags, before the irresistible march of CGI made them redundant. They also hark back to the hours at art college spent beavering over a drawing table, covered in pastels and talcum powder, and getting more than slightly wasted on an intoxicating blend of Magic Markers, pastel fixative and spray mount.
Just as we didn’t end up wearing tin-foil jumpsuits or chomping on food pills in the Eighties – despite promises made in the Sixties – IAD ultimately went the way of my design aspirations. As unfortunately too did the popular notion of the captivatingly undiluted and completely outlandish concept car produced by an independent design house.
If you ask me why the modern car industry has lost its appeal, all I’d have to do is point at the Alien. If they started showing concepts as individual, as far-thinking and inspiring as this again, well, I might even start to give a toss again.