Hugh Howorth

3/7/1919 - 31/7/2004

Record updated 03-Jul-06

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Hugh Howorth was an engineer whose development of ultra-clean operating theatre environments made a vital contribution to total hip replacement surgery. In his younger days he was a successful racing driver, in cars modified to his own designs.

A keen radio ham (he built his first transmitter when he was 14), his skills were put to use throughout the war in the Royal Corps of Signals at Catterick.

After demobilisation, Howorth turned his energies to motor racing. Having seen an advertisement for a 4.5 litre Lagonda saloon in a London garage, he bought it for £45 and he and his wife May worked on it for four days to get it running again. The drive to Lancashire consumed seven gallons of oil and was repeatedly interrupted by violent explosions of vapour in the sump.

Once home, they installed the engine on a trolley in the kitchen to work on it, wheeling it into the larder at meal times. When the rebuilt car proved too long for competition, Howorth sliced eighteen inches out of the chassis and transmission: it went on to win its class in the 1947 Blackpool Rally, with Howorth at the wheel and May as navigator.

The Lagonda went through other transformations: Howorth refined the inlet and exhaust systems to improve the air flow to the cylinders, raising the compression ratio and enabling the car to compete in sprint races. One of these took place along Hartlepool's promenade - but May, at the wheel, plunged 30 feet on to the rocky beach beyond the finish line, landing upside down but with relatively minor injuries.

To Hugh, this was an opportunity: "I had always wanted a car with independent front suspension," he wrote, "so now was my chance." Having salvaged the engine and running gear, he built an entirely new version in which he took on and defeated the Bentley Drivers' Club on their own hill climb track at Firle Hill.

As a result he was invited to drive a works Lagonda at Silverstone in 1949, and in the following year Jaguar's racing manager, R F W "Lofty" England, offered to sell him one of the new, high-performance XK120s. Having spent a fortnight watching it being built in the factory, Howorth proceeded to rebuild it to his own specification.

In 16 races in the 1951 season, he scored 10 firsts, five seconds and one DNF after a spin.

In his second XK120 Howorth achieved 151 mph, however not on the track but while he was on the way to a race meeting at Snetterton - "which for 1952," he noted laconically, "was not bad."

But by then commercial pressures were encroaching, and for Howorth the fun had begun to go out of the sport. After several more wins, and having been elected a life member of the British Racing Drivers' Club, he sold his Jaguar in 1953 to concentrate on the family business.

He was awarded an OBE in 1979 for his services to medicine, and an honorary doctorate of science by Lancaster University.

Later he developed a passion for flying and was involved in restoring and flying antique gliders.