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David Crolla

Professor David Crolla, BTech, PhD, DTech, CEng, FIMechE, FIAgrE, FREng

We are very sorry to have to let members know of the death, on 4 September 2011, after a heart attack while cycling, of Professor David Crolla, Visiting Professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering.

David Crolla was central to the establishment of the School’s high national and international reputation in the field of automotive engineering.  He was born in 1949 and attended St Bede’s Grammar School, Bradford.  He graduated from Loughborough University with First Class honours in Automotive Engineering in 1971 and then became a research engineer at the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Silsoe, Bedford.  Initially, he worked in the Tractor Department on a project designed to improve tractor hydraulic controls and later rose to be the head of the Engineering Department.  During his time at the Institute, he was also awarded an external PhD by Loughborough.

Appointed Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1979, David’s research on off-road vehicle dynamics – the study of the dynamic behaviour of vehicles including tractors and earth-moving machinery – flourished.  His work embraced and produced significant developments across a wide range of areas, including steering, handling, traction, braking, stability and ride vibration.  He later expanded his research activities to investigate the dynamic behaviour of cars and commercial vehicles.  Together with his colleague, Robin Sharp, he built up the Vehicle Dynamics Research Group into a vibrant, thriving and internationally-renowned research community with expertise ranging from automotive braking systems to racing car design.  David’s distinguished publications record includes some two hundred journal and conference papers.  He was the editor of a series of textbooks on automotive engineering and served on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including Proceedings of the IMechE, Part D: Journal of Automotive Engineering; Heavy Vehicle Systems, International Journal of Vehicle Design; and the International Journal of Automotive Technology.

Complementing his outstanding research achievements, David was a stimulating teacher, widely appreciated by his students, and an excellent supervisor of research postgraduates.  He led the introduction of new degree programmes in automotive engineering and was at the forefront of the restructuring of the School’s arrangements for the supervision and support of research students.  Indeed, he was a tower of strength in virtually every facet of the School’s activities, bringing a high degree of competence and enthusiasm to an extensive array of administrative responsibilities   He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1988 and to a Readership in 1992, and was made Professor of Automotive Engineering in 1993.  As Head of the School from 1996 to 2001, he guided its progress with a sure hand and developed a strong strategic vision for the School, especially coupling this to overall income and expenditure.  His commitment to people was demonstrated by his desire to support their best interests not only professionally but also as individuals.  At the same time, he involved himself substantially in the workings of the University more widely, taking a particular interest in research degrees and research development.  A member of the Senate in 1992-93 and again from 1995 to 2001, he served on a range of committees, including the Academic Development Committee, the Research Committee, of which he was Deputy Chair between 1992 and 1995, and the Committee on Scholarships, Studentships and Prizes.

David was very interested and active in enhancing the social life of the School.   A happy pre-amble to Christmas for Mechanical Engineers was the pre-Christmas Nidderdale Walk and Dinner, always organised by Dave. His other initiatives included the Easter Walk (now always held in May!) and the Tour de Mech Eng cycle ride, and he continued to play a leading role in organising these events long after his official retirement.  It is also worth mentioning the many informal tutorial and mentoring sessions that took place on his instigation in Lecture Theatre “E”.

Over the course of his career, David was the recipient of a number of honours and prizes.  In 1977, he was awarded the Douglas Bomford Prize by the Institution of Agricultural Engineers for the best paper of the year, and in 1981 received the Institution’s Johnson Medal for an outstanding contribution to the agricultural engineering industry.  Two years earlier, he had been awarded the Gresham Cooke Prize by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for a paper deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to UK vehicle design.  He was a Fellow of both Institutions and, in 1996, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.  His alma mater conferred a higher doctorate (DTech) on him in 1992.

One of the hallmarks of David Crolla’s research was its strong practical relevance and his results were widely adopted by vehicle manufacturers.  Much of his work was undertaken in collaboration with external partners.  This fertile interchange with the professional engineering community was mirrored in his extensive involvement with the professional institutions.  He served the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in a number of senior capacities, being Chairman of the Automobile Division from 1995 to 1996 and at various times a member of the Institution’s Council, Council Executive Committee, Technical Policy Board and Financial Policy Board.  Within the Institution of Agricultural Engineers, he was Chairman of the Specialist Vehicle Group from 1990 to 1996.  His high international standing was reflected in his lengthy tenure (from 1998 to 2007) as a Vice President of the International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies (FISITA).  He also had a long association with the International Society for Terrain-Vehicle Systems (ISTVS) and in 1987 was invited to join its board of directors and to become the Society’s National Secretary for the UK.  David Crolla was also much in demand as a consultant, as a speaker to academic and industrial audiences throughout Europe, the USA, Japan and China, and as a lecturer on short courses and professional development programmes.

David took early retirement from his Chair in 2002.  Much to the pleasure of his colleagues, he nevertheless retained a close association with the School and its research, whilst adding visiting professorships at Cranfield University and the University of Sunderland to his portfolio.  He was also made Honourable Professor of Automotive Engineering at the Zhejiang Automotive Engineering Institute in China.  He continued to participate in the planning of major international conferences and to engage in a variety of consultancy activity, including advising the BLOODHOUND SSC project which aims to achieve a new land speed record of 1000 miles per hour.

David Crolla is survived by his wife, Stephanie, daughters Rachel and Rebecca, and newly-born granddaughter.

Friends and colleagues are invited to celebrate Dave’s life and achievements at 11:30am on Friday 16th September at First Martyrs Church, Heights Lane, Bradford BD9 6HZ and afterwards in the Church Hall where there will be refreshments, bar, and music by the Wild Geese and Swaledale folk.  Family flowers only please.  Donations in lieu to the British Heart Foundation or Swaledale Mountain Rescue.

The cremation will be attended by family members only.