Gordon Bruce 1947-2023

It is with much sadness that we have to report the untimely death of Gordon Bruce, one of the best-known figures in motor industry consultancy and communications services, and among Guild members, motoring journalists and the motor racing community as former Ford PR manager, “Motor” magazine road test editor and well-regarded former racing driver. Gordon, who was 76, died of a heart attack during a gym session near his Buckinghamshire home just a few days before Christmas.

To his devoted wife, Marilyn, to children Alastair and Becky and to his several grandchildren, the Guild extends its most sincere condolences.

Gordon waved goodbye to his former careers as PR manager at Ford and Motor magazine’s  road test editor in 1982 to establish Gordon Bruce Associates. It evolved very quickly, becoming a team of around 20 motor industry communications specialists and one of Europe’s leading consultancies in its field. More than two decades later, in 2005, Gordon changed direction somewhat, hiving off part of the business to concentrate on becoming a boutique consultancy, but still serving the motor, motorsport, motorcycle and aviation sectors.

Although officially retired, right up to his death Gordon was still closely associated with industry colleagues, his global network of motoring friends and – not least – his many companions in the Guild.  “It seems hard to think that it was only a few weeks ago that Gordon and that gorgeous pale blue E-Type of his were belting around the mountains of Snowdonia on (Guild committee member) Kevin Haggarthy’s’ UK Guild Classic”, said another committee member.

“It’s such sad, sad news,”, said motorsport consultant Jonathan Gill. “Gordon was a very good man on just about every front: driver, scribe, PR man, friend… he will be very much missed by many.”

Not so well known to many is that Gordon was a fully qualified mechanical engineer. As Graham Payne, managing director of British Motor Heritage for which Gordon was still handling all BMH’s PR affairs, over 15 years at the time of his death, recalls: “He held a lifelong passion for anything engine powered, and was really struggling to get his head around anything to do with electric vehicles! His industrial training included researching and testing carbon fibre for the Concorde project (during which time he claimed to have helped make the world’s first carbon fibre golf club) and worked in the engineering department of Lotus Cars, where amongst other things he designed the base for Colin Chapman’s boardroom table!”

Among other accolades, in recognition of his elevated racing talents, Gordon was made an associate member of Silverstone’s elite British Racing Drivers’ Club. He was a founder member of the Duke of Richmond’s Goodwood Road Racing Club. Away from the circuits, he was also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and former chairman of the MIPAA PR association, now reborn as MICA.

It was in 1971 that Gordon first joined the technical staff of “Motor”, spending seven years there – fitting in also racing, rallying and hillclimbs, mainly in Capris and Escorts – before switching horses and joining Ford.

 In his five years at Ford he was responsible for all UK product and motorsport PR, as well as its 150-strong Press fleet, before deciding finally to become fully his own master and set up Gordon Bruce Associates (GBA). His subsequent list of global automotive clients – later added to by aviation and aerospace sectors – reads like a Who’s Who of the industry and includes Jaguar, Citroen, Jordan F1, Visteon and Lufthansa. It was mostly highly serious stuff. But Gordon also once recalled hiring a lion for a photoshoot with the UK aftermarket specialist, Turbo Technics. He lived to tell the tale, despite risking being photographed lying alongside it in the back of a station wagon…

Rex Greenslade on Gordon Bruce

To Rex Greenslade, one of Gordon’s friends, close former journalism colleague and former PR director at Ford, this obituary owes the last words:

Gordon and I joined Motor a couple of weeks apart in September 1971, both of us almost the same age and barely a year out of college, both holding a degree in engineering and both basically walking away from careers as engineers. Gordon and I had similar backgrounds — he had been with Lotus (cars, not shoes, or so he told us), I with Vauxhall – as well as similar strengths and similar weaknesses. We loved cars, were nuts about the car business, were pretty good drivers (we rapidly were christened the “Terrible Twins”) but had “unproven” writing ability.

But we were mad about cars, told we were going to test cars, all the best cars in the world and, moreover, get paid for doing it. We both had discovered the meaning of life… at 23 years of age.

That we had to write about cars as well was not a consideration or even a concern at the time. Engineers are not known for their stunning copy, of course, yet Motor’s Editor Charles Bulmer was an engineer and a brilliant journalist and so was Technical Editor Tony Curtis, whose dissertations on the workings of the motor car were already legendary. So, if we needed help in “transferring” there was plenty to be given.

Road test copy had to be handed in on Tuesdays, which made Wednesday Hell for Gordon and me: waiting for the critique of CAC (as we called C Anthony Curtis and pronounced phonetically, as in “cack”) or Roger Bell, Deputy Editor. Good training it undoubtedly was but there were times when those Wednesdays were pure misery – it was like taking your College Finals every week.

The truth was that CAC had a tough boat to row with Gordon and me (“the troops” according to CAC) in-line, on-time and focused. Our relevance was perhaps not in question, but our reverence certainly was. Not our reverence to the other staff (we were in awe of the knowledge, experience and sheer confidence of everyone on Motor), rather our reverence to society. This was the early ‘70s, remember, and the short-back-and-sides and three-piece suits of our interview look soon degenerated into shoulder-length hair, beards and bell-bottom pants.

We worked hard but we played hard too. Testing at MIRA (where Motor did its testing back then) was always a highlight: never was the chance to do hot laps to check out the handling of the car at hand ignored.

But first there was the hard work of getting accurate performance figures. At that time, we had an old fifth wheel for acceleration testing which provided an accurate speed measurement independent of the car’s instruments. It was hooked on the back bumper using a mechanical contraption with claws.

At each end of MIRA’s mile-long horizontal straights, where the standing starts and in-gear accelerations were run, was a banked 180 degree turn. It was important not to go through the banking at more than 50 mph as the fifth wheel wasn’t designed to take lateral g. That’s easier said than done with a quick car as you needed to go through the mile finish without lifting but immediately brake for the banking, sometimes from more than 120 mph.

One day the inevitable happened. Halfway round the banking the speedo fell to zero, we stopped and Gordon and I walked to the car’s rear. No fifth wheel. Gone. We looked for it in the long grass and scrub outside the banking for about 15 minutes. Chances were that it was smashed beyond recognition but we diligently tried. No success.

Somewhere at MIRA that fifth wheel’s still there.

Gordon and I managed to convince the Motor to test modified or unusual cars under a column called Motoring Plus. We had cars from Broadspeed, Janspeed, Westune, Richard Longman and many others. We even built a Clan Crusader from a kit – in one afternoon!

We both had huge interest in getting involved in racing. Gordon had a Cooper 500 which he hill climbed, then a season in the Ford Escort Mexico challenge in which he was super competitive. We had great models of success in Tony Dron and Roger Bell. It even seemed likely that we would be driving against each other in the BSCC but his career took a left turn and he jumped ship to Ford PR. In many ways it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Gordon and I often lamented our financial situation at Motor. In a way we had many of the trappings of luxury but none of the financial means (how many people get a Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible for the weekend and go camping because they can’t afford a half-decent hotel?).

Gordon didn’t stay very long at Ford either, instead moving on to found his very successful Marketing and PR agency, Gordon Bruce Associates. I remember clearly admiring his confidence and courage to do what seemed to me to be hugely risky. But he made it work: for another 40 plus years he was doing what I ended up doing, but some 15 years later and the other side of the Atlantic.

We exchanged lots of emails over the years, reminiscing about our adventures, even meeting up in Munich for an awesome motorcycle escapade in the Alps: 25 passes in five days. I never managed to match Gordon’s adventurous appetite for buying and selling classic or desirable cars, some 150 plus he once told me, including a 1953 Bentley R Type, a 1973 Porsche 2.7 Carrera RS and, of course, his gorgeous Jaguar E-type.

One of the last emails I got from Gordon said he was “still nose to the grindstone and can’t really imagine life any other way.” He was still writing copy and enjoying life to the full. While his “toy cupboard” (what he called his car fleet) had become somewhat more sensible (all the hairy four-wheelers and bikes were there no longer) the trusty E-type remained.

Along the way he met, wooed and married Marilyn; I can still remember his telling me how excited he was to have met her. They have two children Alasdair and Becky and multiple grandchildren.

Above all we remained the closest of friends even when displaced by the width of the Atlantic: we had just arranged to meet in London next month. He was a great driver but was also a super writer who possessed a personal sensitivity and empathy not common in those evaluating other people’s hard work. My most heartfelt wishes and thoughts go out to Marilyn, Alastair and Becky in this most difficult of times.

Gordon’s funeral will be held at The Chilterns Crematorium, Amersham HP7 0ND on 16th January, at 11.30am.