Vale Peter Horbury: Famed Volvo, Ford, Geely designer dies aged 73

Designer who reinvented Volvo in the 1990s has passed away

70790ef6/31250 peter horbury jpg

Peter Horbury, the British automotive designer who reinvented Volvo’s image in the ’90s, passed away aged 73 on July 2, 2023.

In a statement, Horbury’s previous employer Volvo said he “was instrumental in creating the company’s design language in the 1990s… Peter was an immensely important person for Volvo Cars, both as a designer and as a person. He will be missed by all of us. Our thoughts are with his family."

Horbury’s skills were fostered at an early age, his Northumbrian father taught Peter simple perspective, transforming his two-dimensional sketches into 3D imaginations.

Read more about Peter Horbury's design influence

410d0d74/6349 volvo 480 es jpg
Horbury's early work included the quirky Volvo 480's interior

“When I was about nine or ten, I started looking at vehicles and imagining the next one. I’d take the latest Ford Anglia, Triumph TR3 or whatever was current in the late 50s, pick out features that were characteristic of those models and draw future versions. It just seemed to be what a car designer must do,” Horbury told Car Design News [↗] in a 2020 interview.

This early imagination of future cars pervaded Horbury’s work; a designer who was sympathetic to brand image without being stuck in the past. Horbury’s career started in earnest in 1974, and his first credited design success was the Talbot/Chrysler Horizon’s (1978) front end.

During his time at the Royal College of London, Horbury had Peter Stevens (of McLaren F1 fame) as one of his tutors.

"Peter's natural charm, great sense of humor and modesty were far from the brash, ego-driven characters who now populate many automotive boardrooms… He had an ability to understand the culture of all the makes that he worked on, from Chrysler to Ford, Volvo, Lotus and others, which manifested itself in guiding the long-term design language of those brands", Stevens told Automotive News Europe [↗].

34d5172a/6442 volvo ecc environmental concept car jpg
The Environmental Concept Car (1992) was a gas-turbine powered eco experiment, but Hornbury's sheet metal would go onto become the S80 sedan (1998-2006)

Horbury spent the middle of his career as a full-timer first at Ford and freelancing for BMW, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, and Triumph’s design departments. His first major brand-wide overhaul came at Volvo, where he started in 1991, driving the rebirth from boxy and boring to broad-shouldered Swedish chic exemplified by the S60, V70, and XC90.

He then moved back to Ford for a few years leading the brand’s premium operations – including Volvo – as well as Jaguar and Aston Martin. Horbury hopped to Detroit in 2004 where he penned the 12th-gen F-150 pick-up and several Ford and Lincoln concepts.

In 2009 Horbury would come back to Volvo just a year before the brand was acquired by Chinese giant Geely, in 2010, where he would move into designing vehicles for various marques under the umbrella.

9ef31689/tx taxi black 4 rt rgb 1920x940px e1669648582776 jpg

His later work included launching Lynk & Co and Zeekr electric brands, the fantastic new London Taxi, and much more. In 2021, Horbury stepped away from full-time work but continued to consult and guide the design language at Lotus Cars.

"Peter's timeless design is his legacy, and it can be found on roads across the world today, enjoyed by millions of drivers", said Lotus CEO, Feng Qingfeng, in a statement

"His many friends, colleagues and admirers at Lotus, across the wider Geely business, and in the global automotive industry will all miss him greatly."


Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.