Elwood Engel 1917-1986
George Walker Design Studios 194x-1955 & Ford 1955-1961 & Chrysler 1961-1974
Elwood Engel was Chrysler's design chief from 1961 until 1974, encompassing the socially and politically turbulent era of the mid-60s to the early 70s. Engel joined Chrysler after a successful tour of duty at Ford, where he was responsible for the 1961 Lincoln. Replacing Virgil Exner (whose health had been failing) wasn't easy, but he made his mark quickly in two major areas.
First, he presided over the end of the tailfinned, "Forward Look" era, which officially came to a close in 1962 when all Chryslers were redesigned without fins.
Second, he was responsible for the Chrysler turbine cars, of which 50 were manufactured and road tested in 1963. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the program continued Chrysler's heritage of innovation and forward thinking.
It wasn't until 1965 that Engel was fully responsible for all Chrysler designs, taking charge of a decided upsizing of almost all full-size vehicles, which rode on a corporate "C-body." Chrysler cars became even larger in 1967, with wheelbases increasing to 124 inches. Most notably, the push button transmission was gone, replaced with a column shift.
Later in his career at Chrysler, Engel oversaw the development of some legendary Chrysler "muscle cars," including the 1968 Dodge Charger and the 1970 Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda. While not known as a design genius like his predecessor, Engel helped keep the company together and commercially oriented during a rough time for the country and the industry.
In 1959, Ford replaced the old '100E' Anglia range with the all-new 105E. The 105E was the first car from Ford of Britain's research and development centre, opened in Birmingham in 1956.
The car was a bold step forward for Ford, the companys's first small car with an overhead valve engine and the first Ford car with four speed transmission. The Anglia's appearance also pushed at new frontiers, it's final styling the work of visiting Ford America designer Elwood Engel.
There were two models available from launch, the £589 Standard and the £610 De Luxe. The differences between the
two models were largely cosmetic, with the De Luxe boasting a full-width chrome radiator grille, a passenger sun
visor, lockable glovebox and the like. A heater was an extra cost option on both models. The engine had a capacity
of 997cc, and produced 39bhp at 5000rpm.
September 1962 saw the launch of the Anglia 1200 Super, or 123E Anglia. This employed the 1198cc engine from the new Mk1 Cortina, and produced 48.5bhp at 4800rpm. The 123E offered synchromesh on all 4 forward gears, wider brake drums, a two-tone paint job, extra chrome, pleated PVC upholstery , proper carpeting and a heater as standard. The Standard and De Luxe models continued, with the option of the bigger motor.
Anglia production moved from Dagenham to Halewood, Merseyside in March 1963, where the range was produced until November 1967, when it made way for the Escort. Minor changes, mostly cosmetic, were made to the Anglia during this period.
Total saloon production numbered 1,083,960 ; 1,004,737 105E's - standard or deluxe cars, vans or estates; and 79,223 123E supers. Of the saloons, more than 750 000 were the De Luxe model, with the 1200 Super the next most common, making the Standard model something of a rarity. The super's 123E engine could be specified on the cheaper models, creating rare variants such as the 1200 Standard saloon (7073 produced) or the 1200 Standard Estate (215 produced).
The 105E was the first of a family of engines that were found in the Cortina, Consul Classic, Capri, and Corsair. Under the bonnet the only obvious external difference is the number on the engine block, and a bigger 1340cc (109E) or 1500cc (116E, 118E, 120E) engine fits straight into the anglia.
The racing car built by James Darren's character in the movie, The Lively Set, was actually a white prototype for The Chrysler Turbine Car, made in 1963.
Chrysler produced only 50 of these cars as experimental production models to test public reaction to the turbine engine. They were all painted bronze with a black vinyl top, and were powered by a gas turbine engine which could run on any combustible liquid - perfume, jet fuel, kerosene, as well as gasoline.
The exterior of the car was styled by a designer named Elwood Engel whose designs for the soon-to-be released Ford Thunderbird were wrapped-up before he left Ford to work for Chrysler. As a result, the Turbine Car bore a striking resemblance to the 1964-66 Thunderbird - so much so that it was even nicknamed the "Englebird".
The 50 Turbine Cars produced by Chrysler in 1963 were loaned to some 200 handpicked consumers, over a three year period, who agreed to drive the cars free of charge and report their likes and dislikes to the company.
But because the cars' bodies were built in Italy, the law required they be demolished in the presence of customs officials after the three year trial. Chrysler managed to save only a handful, most of which are inoperable and in various museums today. Unfortunately, amongst those destroyed in 1966 was the white prototype used in The Lively Set.
Thankfully, at least it survives on celluloid.
Dodge Charger & Elwood Engel
Debuted at the Milwaukee Auto Show on November 16-24 1963, the new Charger roadster stole the show at the Dodge exhibit. The customized competition roadster stands only 47 3/4-inches high, and is based on a standard Dodge convertible. Chrysler engineers utilized the basic body panels in order to maintain a close relationship between the Charger roadster show car, and standard production vehicles.
Chrysler Corporations vice president and director of styling, Elwood Engel stated, "The Charger's styling speaks Dodge." "Our design gives this specialty car a youthful, 'get-up-and-go' appearance which reflects the Dodge image as an all-out, dependable performer."
The design of the Charger required the removal of the bumpers, wheels, body mechanisms, seats, and top. Not only did this lighten the new Charger, but also provided a starting point for the stylist to begin their design for a sleek competition roadster. With the removal of the front and rear bumpers, stylist added lower valances with a set of four small bumper guards. In order to maintain an aggressive and wide grill, single seven inch headlights were used. New magnesium Halibrand wheels were mounted with special Goodyear Wingfoot high performance tires. The rear wheel-wells were designed to accept wider rim and tire combinations for drag racing.
Atop the long hood sits a Ramcharger scoop. The addition of the scoop forced cool outside air to be inducted into the 426 Cid Wedge engine. Initially the Charger was fitted with a single 4 barrel carburetor, but the hood design allowed for modifications to accept twin four barrel carburetors. The exhaust used "lake-type" headers for competition use, and by using cover plates, the exhaust gases could be directed through regular dual mufflers for street use.
The windshield is only six inches high, and combines with the lowered side glass to create a competition appearance. The rear rollbar covers the conventional rear seating area, while the integrated headrest provides comfort and support to the occupants. The interior seating and trim is upholstered in charcoal gray leather, combined with a complementary black cut pile carpet that covers the floor, the majority of the side panels, and cowl section. The twin bucket seats are fully padded, and have special pleats to increase comfort. The occupants are secured into the buckets with matching Deist competition seatbelt-harness.
The Charger features a full length console and upper "cockpit divider". The divider is leather trimmed, and features an 8000 RPM tachometer mounted high at eye-level. The deep-dish steering wheel, passenger grab rail, and the gear-shift selector are all made of walnut. The walnut is a deep contrast for the bright metal trim used on the accelerator, brake, and parking brake pedals.
Unveiled at the 1965 Auto Show circuit, the Charger II gave the public a close look of what Dodge would be releasing in January of 1966. The Charger II show car demonstrated the new styling ideas at Chrysler Corporation. Clean, simple, and sweeping lines define the new Charger's shape. The long smooth hood is capped with a delta hood ornament, while the fastback roofline joins to the short rear deck lid. In order to maintain a smooth clean appearance door handles were replaced with a concealed latch. The vent frames were removed to create an open and clean expanse of side glass. The Charger's cowl houses three larger air ducts that circulate fresh air throughout the interior and exhaust the stale air through vents atop each rear fender.
The front grill assembly is stylish but functional. A full steel grill wraps around the front of the Charger, with four smaller divider bars connecting the headlights. The massive grill assembly provides true bumper-like protection. The twin rectangular headlights further enhance Charger's simple clean appearance. The Charger was designed to accept any one of Dodge's high performance engines.
The Charger's interior includes such amenities as power windows and ventilated seatbacks. The Charger features fully padded four bucket seats with body molded contours. The door panels on the Charger are smooth and cleanly styled, and are combined with an integrated armrest and door latch. A full length console houses the power window controls, shift selector, and armrests.
The dash cluster has four large pods for easy viewing. The two center pods house the speedometer and tachometer. The rear bucket seats and armrests in the Charger fold down to provide a flat and large cargo area. The rear truck dividing panel also folds flat allowing an addition increase in Charger's cargo area.
The Charger III was the most aerodynamic car built by Chrysler Corporation. The experimental car is long, low-slung, and sleek. The Charger III is built upon the ideas learned in the development of it predecessor, the Charger II.
The jet fighter styled Charger was designed in Dodge's styling studios, and constructed in secrecy at an old brick building along Detroit's water front. The futuristic experimental design showcases new ideas that may be standard in the future Chrysler models.
Dodge's general manager Robert B. McCurry stated, "Charger III is an idea car. Or, it might better be called an exchange of ideas. This experimental vehicle is our way of showing the public some of the design and engineering concepts which we have developed. From the public, we learned what they would like (or not like) to see in tomorrow's automobile. That is why we conduct special consumer surveys at auto shows. Many of the features seen in Charger III might well be included in our cars in the not too distant future."
The Charger III's body is painted with a custom "Candy Apple" red paint. The Charger III has no doors or windows that open. Instead, with the push of a button a jet aircraft style canopy swing up. The twin bucket seats elevate eight inches while the steering wheel pod assembly swings away to aid in driver entry. Once the driver is seated, another push of the button closes the canopy and return the steering wheel and seats to their proper orientation.
The long tapered hood houses the concealed headlights and twin air scoops with debris shields. As with the Charger II, the Charger III will accept any of the Dodge V8 engines including the 426 cu-in Hemi. One of the Charger's experimental features include an engine service hatch. The hatch is located at the rear of the driver's front fender. The service hatch includes gauges that can quickly check the fluid level of the engine oil, engine coolant, and battery fluid. The gauges replace the traditional dip-sticks, and aid in fast maintenance checks. The hatch also houses the vehicle's electrical fuses.
The rear of the Charger houses the experimental braking system. Three air brake flaps are synchronized with the Charger's regular braking system and acts as a supplementary "air foil" brake. Locked under the brake flaps are twin quick fill gas caps. The rear finish panel houses the full width taillight system and the twin rectangular exhaust tips.
The interior of the Charger III is space craft inspired. Astronaut style bucket seats have integrated head rests and quick release seat belts. The full length center console houses the automatic transmission selector lever, parking brake lever, passenger assist handle, and onboard chemical fire extinguisher. As with the Charger II, the Charger III has no vent windows. Fresh air in brought through scoops at the base of the windshield canopy. The fresh air circulates throughout the interior and is exhausted through rear vents.
The lower left portion pf the canopy houses the integrated driver controls such as lighting, windshield washers, wipers, radio, heater, and air conditioning. The driver's swing away instrument pod incorporates speedometer, tachometer, clock, and engine gauges. All of the driver controls and swing away pod instrumentation are utilized from a standard 1968 Dodge Charger.
The Topless Charger began life as a standard 1968 Charger R/T. Chief stylist for Chrysler Corporation Elwood P. Engel used the roofless Charger as an evaluation in styling. The Charger's roof was cut down to the belt line, while a short windshield kept the debris from the occupants faces. In order to maintain a sleek clean image the door handles were removed and the rear seating area was covered with a roadster hard-shell boot. The white with blue trimmed Charger had its bumpers de-chromed and painted body color (white). The hood and trunk lid were both painted non-glare black. Additional sport features included perforated stainless alloy steering wheel, cone-styled side view mirrors, custom racing wheels, finned side pipes, locking hood pins, and dual quick fill gas caps.
The 1970 Super Charger was Dodge's latest show car entry. Based off the 1968 topless Charger, the Super Charger was designed by Dodge stylist and built by George Busti of Creative Customs in Detroit. By using the 1968 topless Charger, the Super Charger had a strong platform on which the stylist could make cosmetic changes.
New of 1970 was the introduction of tapered nose cone and functional air scoops on top of both fenders, which were borrowed from the Dodge Daytona. Engine cooling was increased by adding two sets of vacuum operated louvers in the hood. The rear deck lid now incorporated an adjustable air spoiler. The driver was able to electronically operated the rear fin for increased rear down force.
The Super Charger's new paint scheme included seven coats of "Fire Orange" paint with non glare black accents. The interior was simply changed to current 1970 standard Charger. The black trimmed interior included fully padded high back bucket seats.
Sixties style differed markedly from that of the í50s, with Elwood Engel succeeding Virgil Exner as chief stylist for the Chrysler brand. The first evidence of the change was the finless tails of the 1962 Chryslers.
The 64 Imperial crowns were the entry level Imperials for this year. All 64 Imperials shared the beautiful Elwood Engel designed bodies. Many people note a resemblance to the Lincolns of the early 60's since they were both designed by Mr. Engel.
Lincoln was riding the wave of success brought in by its 1961 models, certainly one of the great automotive designs of all time. The lines of this car were very clean and uncluttered, due largely to designer Elwood Engel. Engel was about to play a big part in the Imperial's design, but not for 1962.
The '63 Turbine Car was once called "Eagelbird" for its general similarity to the 1961-63 T-Bird designed by Chrysler styling chief Elwood Engel just before he came over from Ford. All 50 of the "consumer" cars wore Turbine Bronze paint and black vinyl roof coverings. Note the engine-related "blade" motif on the wheel covers and around the headlamps. The '63 Turbine Car was wildest at the rear with huge "boomerang" tail lamps and heavily sculptured deck. Finned cylindrical backup-lamp housings were one of many "turbine" styling symbols.
Another important car influencing the MK 9 is the 1961 Continental, designed by Elwood Engel, with its center
opening "suicide doors." Artist Pablo Picasso supposedly owned and drove a Continental from this era; the car has
also been featured in several films including The Matrix.
Virgil Exner's replacement, was responsible for the '64 Imperial look. While at Ford in 1961, Engel had single-handedly redefined luxury car styling with the 1961 Lincoln Continental. With little change, he applied his 1961 Lincoln concepts to the '64 Imperial.
1973 Imperial Le Baron Four Door Hardtop.
Collectors neglect the 1967 and 1968 Chryslers. Very little has been written on these cars, especially compared to more popular models or even some limited appeal Mopars such as the first series Chargers. Even the marketing theme for '67 - '68 has mostly been forgotten; it was "Move up to Chrysler!"
These two years of Chrysler are big cars, really big cars. The style of the '67 and '68 Chryslers began in 1965, under the then new styling chief at Chrysler Elwood Engel. When he joined Chrysler from Ford in 1963, the 1963 and 1964 Chryslers were already planned and as such were the last to carry bodywork designed under the "Forward Look" of Virgil Exner. Engel, fresh from the success of the 1961 Lincoln did rapidly influence the look of the 1964 through 1966 Imperials. When the time came to redesign the Chrysler line for 1965, Engel's themes would be very prominent: long and wide.
The 1965 Chrysler dropped the one feature Chrysler products were know for: the push button transmission. Gone were the pushbuttons, replaced with a more industry standard column shift. This one change emphasized the goal of Chrysler management at the time, which was to move Chrysler back into more standard styles and compete head on with upper Mercury's, senior Buick's and Oldsmobile's and higher into Lincoln and Cadillac territory. Push buttons never returned.
Chryslers of '67 and '68 rode on and advertised 124 inch wheelbase, station wagons grew one inch from '65-'66 stature to 122 inches. To filling out these dimensions, the front and rear fenders stretched to extend even slightly past the bumpers. Also, 1967 introduced a new hardtop that replaced a very formal and square hard top of previous years. 1967 introduced a body restyle to the big C-bodies; smooth concave sides replacing a convoluted body side, which bulged in the middle and tapered at both the top and bottom only to flare out again.
by Scott Anderson - Michigan LCOC Newsletter, Continental News.
The Lincoln Diplomat was created by John Najjar and Elwood Engel in the Advanced Studio at the Ford Design and Styling Center. It was one of many ideas created by the team of Najjar/Engel and company.
As the car has striking similarities shared with the production 1958 Lincoln/Lincoln Premiere/Continental Mark III, it was actually built and displayed in June 1956, after the entire Lincoln Package was finalized for the 58 model year.
The other two concept cars created along this same theme by Najjar/ Engel were the Attache', and the Envoy. They were created as a styling exercise to try out new ideas for future Lincoln designs. Notice the difference between the picture above and the one below? They have different side trim themes. Notice the "A" pillar, it is forward leaning instead of vertical or rearward. That was surely a design cue as to what was coming from Lincoln (and Thunderbird) for 1961. Picture 3 shows the Diplomat with VP of Styling, George Walker next to it. All the photos were taken on the turnstiles outside of the Styling Center.
Notice the rearward slanting backlite, very indicative of present styling trends of that time. Lincoln and Mercury really went out on a limb with the "Turnpike Cruiser" backlite, and it was a popular, and VERY practical design. In fact, Mercury kept the design for their full size cars, called the "Breezeway" roof until the end of the 1966 model year.
Also notice the lack of a "B" pillar. They were very deep into the pillarless "Hardtop" designs, and they proved to be very popular throughout the sixties.
The "Diplomat" was constructed as a non-functioning show car. It was built almost entirely of Fiberglass, as were most concept cars. It was painted a pearlescent Blue with a White Top. It was a very popular design and was made exclusively for the proposed Ford Stylerama (to compete with GMs Motorama). Unfortunately, the Stylerama program was shelved before it ever came to fruition, but the car was displayed at some of the major auto shows of the day, and also at the legendary Ford Rotunda in Dearborn.
John Najjar recalls that the car sat around the studio for quite a long time in the late fifties, just collecting dust. Then, he said, it just disappeared!! Most likely, it was relegated to the infamous scrap heap just next to the Styling Center, where it was probably hauled to the junkyard and scrapped. (Wouldn't ya love to raid THAT scrap pile?) Since it wasn't driveable, it isn't likely that someone was able to haul it home, but there can always be hope.
Chrysler Corporation's Turbine Car of 1963 was the culmination of years of research and development in alternative engine design. The idea was to produce a power plant that would run on many fuels, have fewer moving parts, while still giving adequate performance and economy for passenger car use.
Chrysler engineers had been testing turbine technology in passenger cars since the mid 1950's. The first car to be equipped with a turbine engine was a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere. This "first generation" turbine design produced 100 horsepower and suffered from poor acceleration and fuel economy. As research continued, Chrysler developed a "second generation" turbine that was put to test in 1959. This engine produced 200 horsepower and was built from new materials that proved vastly superior to the previous design. A more refined version of the engine was installed in a 1960 Plymouth, a 2 1/2 ton Dodge truck, and the TurboFlite show car that was designed by Maury Baldwin. A major advancement came in 1962, with the introduction of the CR2A turbine engine. The CR2A made vast improvements in performance and engine braking by incorporating a variable angle fuel nozzle. The CR2A could go from idle to full output in 1.5-2 seconds, as compared with earlier turbines that took 7 seconds to reach full output. After the many advances in turbine engine technology, Chrysler put together plans to produce a limited number of unique cars that would feature the turbine power plant. These cars would not be adaptations of a current production vehicle, but a new design styled and built around the turbine engine.
Chrysler's acquisition of Elwood Engel from Ford Motor Company in 1961 was already proving to be a good choice for the company. Plans were already underway to restyle most of the Chrysler car lines away from the late 1950's styling of Virgil Exner. Engel was the major influence on styling of the Turbine Car, borrowing heavily from work he did at Ford on the 1961 Thunderbird. The Turbine Car was designed as a personal luxury, four passenger, two door hardtop. Each car would be finished in Turbine Bronze and feature full power assists.
Chrysler decided to produce fifty of the Turbine Cars and release them to public through a test program. The cars were fabricated by the Italian coachbuilder Ghia, who had been building Chrysler's limousines and show cars for a number of years. The cars were shipped back to the U.S., where they would be distributed to participants of the test program. The participants were selected from a list of over 30,000 applicants that Chrysler had collected. Each car would be driven by a program participant for several months, then passed on. By the end of the test program in 1966, 203 people in 48 states had driven the Turbine Cars.
Unfortunately, as the test program ended, the results were not as favorable as Chrysler had hoped. Fuel economy was not as good as Chrysler hoped for a production car. People diskliked the acceleration lag of the turbine as compared to conventional piston engines. To the credit of the Turbine Car, people were impressed with the design and features of the car and with its smooth, vibration free ride. Another point in favor of the Turbine, was that the engine required very little maintenance as compared to conventional engines.
The saddest portion of the Turbine Car story is that forty of the cars had to be destroyed to save Chrysler from paying hefty import duties on the Italian built cars. Most of the ten that remain are in the care of private collectors or museums. Two of the Turbine Cars were kept by Chrysler and one is on display in the Chrysler Museum.
In 1961 Virgil Exner is on the point of departure. Elwood Engel moves over from Ford, where he took part in the design of the í61 Lincoln. Engel, assisted by Lynn Townsend, takes Exnerís place. His influence on styling will be noticeable only in 1964, and the 1961 models can be seen, for better or worse, as the apotheosis of the Exner style. A year before, Chryslerís competitors had abandoned tailfins and restored a straighter, purer line to car bodies. Exner, by contrast, put up a defiant last stand. For 1961 he delivered overwhelming tailfins (Imperial), tormented shapes (Dodge, Plymouth) and a style that was at best questionable for Chryslers and the Dodge Dart. Public reaction was cold, and starting in 1962 the excesses were stripped away, to the great disappointment of Exner, who saw the result as "plucked chickens." In effect, 1961 was the last of a line that had begun in 1957. Drawings and a model were produced for a "new" Imperial in the manner of the Valiant: Shorter wheelbase, big hood, short trunk lid, ridges running along the sides, and so on. The new chairman of Chrysler, L. L. "Tex" Colbert, rejected these proposals and told Exner to whip up something new-looking out of the old ingredients. Hence the "plucked chickens" of 1962.
The Thunderbird, however, was no one man show. Many talented Ford engineers and artists were drawn to the project from its conception to its completion. Some of these men were Frank Q. Hershey, one of Ford's chief stylist; designers like Gene Bordinat, Damon Woods, Bill Boyer, George Walker, Joe Oros, Bob Maguire, Charles Waterhouse and Elwood Engel; project planner Thomas B. Case; and chief engineer Bill Burnett. The new little bird would use a V-8 engine behind a automatic or standard transmission. Bird lovers could also choose several exterior colors.
One of the three original compact cars of Detroit (with the Ford Falcon and the Chevrolet Chevy), the Valiant was sold as separate brand in the first year, but subsequently displayed Plymouth badges. The first generation lasted until 1962 and consisted of a unibody car roughly styled by Virgil Exner on a 2.69 m wheelspan and fitted with the robust slant 6 cyl engine. It was restyled in 1963 by Elwood Engel, then totally redesigned in 1967 on a 2.74m wheelbase and in a style reminding of european cars of the time. From 1963, Dodge used the Valiant as a base for its Dart models.
1956-1960 The Lincoln Capri lasted through 1960, though cars after 1955 are of less interest. The Capri became the junior Lincoln in 1956 with the introduction of the Premiere. The 1956-57 Capris were garish finned affairs, with partially skirted front and rear fenders and busy styling which contrasted sharply with the elegant Continental Mark II. 1958-60 Lincolns were huge, hideous things, with whopping 131-inch wheelbases. The best thing that could be said about them is that their poor sales moved Ford to hire Elwood Engel, who penned the brilliant razor-edged 1961 Continental.
Compared with the 1960-62 models, the 1963 Imperial looked downright conservative. A new grille and crisp, squared-off roofline and squarer rear end were highlights. Sales totaled 14,121 Imperials, which included 13 limousines. That put the car a distant third behind Cadillac and Lincoln, but at least it was still in the game.
Most of the styling revisions were the work of new Chrysler Corp. styling chief Elwood Engel. He had come from Ford Motor after working on the slick 1961 Continental, and also was working on a completely redesigned fourth-generation Imperial for 1964.
Elwood Engel, ironically the designer of the very poorly received 1958 Lincoln
Postwar, design became more important to Ford. Like every other manufacturerís first postwar cars the Fords were updated Ď42s, rushed into production to meet the war yearsí pent up demand and four yearsí scrappage. Design soon became more corporate, paralleling the turmoil that followed Edselís death in 1943 and Henry Fordís coerced passing of the mantle of leadership to his grandson Henry Ford II in 1945. Gregorie continued as head of Styling with impressive resources, including established names like Gordon Buehrig, Charles Waterhouse and Hermann Brunn. He was left alone but also unguided by Henry II and his "Whiz Kids," the Army Air Corps efficiency experts headed by Robert McNamara. Fortunately Ernie Breech brought his industry experience to Ford in 1946 and, like Edsel Ford, Breech recognized stylingís importance and had the authority to see it was recognized. Breech brought in independent designer George W. Walker, first as a consultant, then in 1955 as Fordís Styling Vice President. Walker, in turn, placed his associates Joe Oros and Elwood Engel at Ford to manage the studios, kicking off the first great period of concept design at Ford.
Futuristic concepts were the rage in the Fifties and Ford was a leader. The Continental 195X was one of the first and its styling features such as the low rear deck and round jet-like taillight treatment would influence the first 4-seat Thunderbird in 1961. Others, such as the Lincoln Futura, were attention grabbers at shows. Styling was, however, still organizationally an Engineering function, limiting the influence of its creativity. Even the 1955 Thunderbird was largely crafted by chopping, channeling and sectioning Fordís 1955 production designs. Nonetheless it was a huge success, selling 16,155 units and establishing a legacy that continues to today. The 1956 Continental Mark II again had the Ford influence, in this case William Clay Ford, Edselís younger son, who nurtured the Mark II and succeeded in once again setting the automotive standard for good taste, design and execution, just as his father had in 1941.
Gene Bordinat, Jr. succeeded Walker in 1961, and promptly renamed his studios the Ford Design Office, suggesting at least in principal a wider appreciation of its function than simply "styling." J Mays points out that the Sixties were a time of rebelliousness and the designs reflected that cultural mindset, an attitude of power and audacity that saw the largest possible engines stuffed into mid-sized vehicles. It was also that attitude that made them memorable, different and uniquely American.
Bordinat was supported by a rebellious group of managers within Ford whose influence was felt immediately with one of several breakthroughs which have over the years come from Ford, the 1964Ĺ Mustang. The Mustang name first appeared in 1962 on a mid-engined 2-seater, a pure concept that tested the waters for a low-priced sports car. It didnít make it into production but the niche was coming into focus at Ford. Designed in the pre-production studio managed by Charles Phaneuf and executed full-size in clay in only eleven (!) days, the Mustang was so right for its time that it overcame Fordís institutional reticence in the wake of the Edsel debacle. The clay model was selected on August 16, 1962. The production Mustang was introduced in a publicity blitz on April 16, 1964, just twenty months later. It established the 4-seat "pony car" as a separate segment and sold 418,812 units in its first model year.
Within a few years, George Walker's independent design studio had a half-dozen industrial accounts and was designing everything from radios to refrigerators. In the early Thirties, Walker succeeded in selling some chrome trim pieces that he had designed to the legendary Henry Ford, making the sale because he had the inspiration of displaying his wares on black velvet instead of a plain desk top.
In 1935, Walker spent nearly $3000 in staff time and presentation materials to prepare for Henry Ford a portfolio of futuristic automotive designs. The book containing the designs came apart in the auto mogul's hands, and the designs fell to the floor.
"Old Henry didn't say a word," Walker later recalled, "He just walked out of the room. Ford hated unfunctional things, and that book was sure unfunctional." Walker kept trying to present his designs, but it was to be a decade before he got another chance. But that meeting at Ford, in 1946 when Walker was 50 years old, sent his career soaring.
A group of Ford executives asked Walker, who had through the years continued to supply component design work to Ford, to come out to Dearborn and comment on the car that the engineering department had designed for the 1949 model year. Walker took one look at the suggested design and replied in his typical unrestrained fashion. "I told them it looked like George Walker bending over--I was fat then--and that it would never sell," Walker told Time 11 years later. In less than three months, Walker's firm had its own proposal in front of the Ford decision makers.
Largely because the competing clay models have not surfaced, some controversy surrounds the question of who deserves design credit for the 1949 Ford. This is hardly unusual. In any instance where one car is considered to be the work of one stylist, especially in a corporate environment, that attribution is at worst wrong and at best incomplete. In almost every instance where Detroit has produced a landmark design, that design has been a team effort and not an individual tour de force. This is no more or less true of George Walker's contributions than those of any other stylist or designer.
In the ensuing years, Walker and his group styled the 1950 Lincoln, the 1951 Mercury, and the 1952 Ford. The latter car's circular taillights became as much a trademark as the Cadillac tailfins of the era. Walker's group then produced the design that would once and for all cement Walker's place in Ford corporate history.
At the Paris Auto Show in 1953, Walker was looking at the low-slung Jaguars and other European sports cars with Henry Ford II, the chairman of Ford Motor Company. "Why can't we have a sports car like that?" Ford asked Walker. Walker, never a man to waste an opportunity, called Detroit, and by the time he and Ford got back to Michigan, a clay model of what would become the 1955 Thunderbird was waiting.
The Thunderbird of course established what would become a long-running series of personal-size sporty cars. While it lacked the handling attributes of the European cars--hardly Walker's fault--the Thunderbird had a clean, straight-line treatment that managed to both project a Ford family resemblance and establish a personality that was something special indeed for its time.
On May 2, 1955, in the year of his Thunderbird triumph, Ford hired George W. Walker to bear the important, if cumbersome, title of vice president and director, styling office, Ford car & truck division. Walker took with him to Ford two of the gifted designers who had worked for him for many years. These were Elwood Engel and Joseph Oros. A young Gene Bordinat, who would ultimately become the longest-serving vice president in Ford history, also worked closely with Walker.
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