Stuart Bladon 1933-2022

The Guild is saddened to inform members of the passing of Stuart Bladon, one of our longest-serving members and a former Chair. He died on Tuesday, 13th December at the age of 89.

Stuart was elected to the Guild in 1965 before we even had a numbering system for members. After this was introduced he remained proud to carry the membership number 1. He was without doubt one of the characters of the Guild and served as Chair in 1977, followed by Sue Baker who we also lost very recently.

On hearing the news of his passing several members immediately shared their thoughts of Stuart, current Chair Richard Aucock describing him as “unique, charming, and a peerless motoring writer.” Former Chair John Kendall said that Stuart was; “definitely a one-off. I once drove with him on a Nissan Primera launch years ago and got him talking about the original Mini launch in 1959 which he attended. He must have been the only surviving motoring writer to have been there.”

Stuart was renowned for his economy driving, a skill commented on by several colleagues. Perhaps this constant search for frugal motoring was the reason that the first memory News Briefs Editor Andrew Charman has of Stuart is that he was always the one to ask at launch press conferences whether each new model would include a diesel version.

Stuart was also active in many other groups, notably the Caravan Writers Guild – he was a keen caravanner – and a founder member of the Southern Group. Andrew, first Vice-Chairman of the Group, remembers that Stuart was a very proud and determined custodian of the ‘Great Book’, an enormous scrap book detailing the group’s gatherings and which exists to this day.

Current Southern Group Chairman and Guild member Ian Robertson said of Stuart; “He was a strong supporter of the Group and we saw him less than two weeks ago at the annual Christmas lunch at Orsett Hall. Despite having experienced a personal tragedy earlier in the week, Stuart didn’t mention it, and joined his friends and colleagues for a fabulous get-together. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that we won’t see him again. 

“Stuart was a long-term contributor to my own magazine, Diesel Car, and even competed in several economy challenges, driving Citroëns. Bladon’s View was a long-running column within the magazine and only recently I thought about asking him about some of the escapades he got up to. 

“Stuart will be remembered for his tenacity, his passion and his loyalty and will be greatly missed by everyone that knew him well within the Southern Group.”

Stuart’s family issued an official tribute after his passing, extracts from which we include below.

Stuart Bladon was a motoring journalist who devoted his life to an enthusiasm for cars. After a very-half hearted attempt to enter medical school, he undertook National Service in 1953. On completion, he found a job working as a writer for what was then The Autocar. Over the next 28 years he road tested hundreds of the latest cars. In those days The Autocar would test most production cars, including acceleration times, braking performance and top speed… Speeds up to 100mph could be tested at the banked track at the Motor Industry Research Association track near Nuneaton. But higher speeds required journeys abroad.

Highlights of this quest for speed included the Jaguar E-Type. When first launched, in 1962, the E-Type claimed to be the first 150mph production car. Stuart was sent to Belgium, to test the car on the Merelbeke Straight near Ghent. This stretch of motorway is still there today, but is somewhat more crowded and subject to 120kph speed limit. The team were sent with clear instructions not to come back until they had achieved 150mph. 

Perhaps the test he remembered most was the Lamborghini Miura, in Italy. One of the most revolutionary cars ever, the first mid-engined supercar, built by the tractor manufacturer who had been told by Enzo Ferrari to “go and make a car himself”. For many years the 172mph top speed was the official record at Autocar (the Ferrari Daytona was clocked at 174 mph but in one direction only).

In 1961 Stuart was involved in a near fatal car crash in Greece – he was in the passenger seat when their Sunbeam Alpine was involved in a head-on collision. In those pre-seat belt days, he went through the windscreen and suffered horrendous lacerations to his head. He needed a direct blood transfusion from a donor on site and yet still wrote his report of the Acropolis Rally using a pencil while lying in his hospital bed. 

He became a life-long campaigner for seat belts and in 1997 he wrote to the Daily Telegraph, emphasising how the integrity of the passenger compartment of Princess Diana’s Mercedes S-Class was largely intact, and that had the occupants been wearing rear seat belts, they may well have survived.

In 1981 Stuart left Autocar and set up business as a freelance motoring writer. His career continued unabated and he continued to test cars for many years. He published articles right up until 2022.

He published many books. For many years he was the editor of The Observer’s Book of Cars. Other books include BMW, Range Rover Companion, Tackle Car Maintenance, and Great Marques. In 2015 he published his autobiography, No Speed Limit, 60 years of Road Testing Classic Cars, in which he documented many of the adventures of these tests. In self-effacing style, the book is devoted to the cars, each chapter a different car rather than documenting the passages of Stuart’s life. 

In 2009 on the spur of the moment he purchased a 1979 Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible. This led him to join the Wessex Section of the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club and to edit the Section’s magazine, Torque.

Stuart died on 13th December 2022, after dinner with his son and daughter-in-law. He had had a heart condition since 2005 and had also become hard of hearing. However, he remained alert and able right until the end. On the afternoon of his last day he drove his Audi A3 Convertible over 60 miles, in sub-zero conditions, without complaint or incident. 

He leaves his son Bruce. In recent years they had enjoyed correspondence through the pages of Torque, as Bruce advocated the benefits of his Tesla, which Stuart had encouraged him to buy, describing it as “very good indeed”.