From the age of 5, when he chose a push car as a birthday present and joyously pedaled it all over a department store, Martin Leach was happiest behind the wheel of an automobile, preferably a very fast one.
As they like to say in his native England, Leach had petrol in his veins. The former head of Ford of Europe and Maserati, who died last week at 59, dreamed of being a race car driver and competed against the likes of future Formula One champions Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, winning two European karting championships. But when rheumatoid arthritis cut short his racing career at age 17, Leach had to choose a different road.
In 2003, he told Automotive News Europe: "My world completely changed. I was bedridden for a while. I needed to get a career, so I went to work for Ford."
A wiry, intense man, Leach threw himself into his new work at Ford. He came into his own leading a product renaissance at Mazda in Hiroshima and was the architect of an aggressive plan to reinvigorate the Ford of Europe lineup by imbuing the company's vehicles with superior driving dynamics.
But his career as Ford of Europe president ended in acrimony in 2003, when he was fired after 24 years with the company. He was headed for the CEO job at Fiat Auto, but Ford declined to release him from his non-compete. Leach sued Ford and eventually settled in 2005.
He went on to a series of assignments including a brief stint as CEO of Maserati. He formed his own consultancy, Magma Group. Leach returned to racing at the end of his life, managing the Formula E racing team for NextEV, a Chinese electric carmaker.
Leach's death was announced in a Twitter post by NextEV. The tweet linked to a report on Motorsport.com, which said the cause was cancer.
NextEV Chairman William Li said, "Martin is a true warrior and lived to the highest standard. Even during his last minutes, he was still caring about the progress of NextEV."
In a 2003 interview, Leach expressed regrets about the Formula One career that never happened: "I drove the Jaguar Formula One car at the beginning of last year. It was the first time I'd ever driven a Formula One car. I didn't disgrace myself."