John (Jack) Telnack 1937-present


Retired in 1997, J. Mays took his position (VP from 1987-1997)

When Jack Telnack retired from his post as design vice president at Ford Motor Company, he was recognised as having ignited the 'new edge' design movement within the company. But many years earlier, Telnack had achieved other important milestones in Ford design where he was appointed in 1958. He contributed to the original Ford Mustang and was working in Europe when the aerodynamic Sierra was created. He was also closely involved with the similar aero-looks of the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable, both of which were best-sellers during the late Eighties and early Nineties.

Recently-retired Jack Telnack, the Ford senior executive who fathered the 1980's aero cars (Thunderbird, Cougar, Mark VII, Taurus, Sable, Tempo, Topaz), told his designers to "make something you'd want in your drive" when designing the 1983 Thunderbird/Cougar. He wasn't happy with their original squarish Cougar drawings. They came back with the forms we all know. We all owe it to Jack for approving the shapes of the cars we've grown to love.

Aerodynamics--In 1983, design vice president Jack Telnack championed a daring new aerodynamic design for the Thunderbird. Its enthusiastic acceptance gave Ford the courage to bring out the revolutionary '86 Taurus.

Like the two previous redesigns, the 1979 Mustang is based on an existing platform. The Fox platform, which supports the Fairmont and the Mercury Zephyr, is an ideal match for Mustang. Longer and taller than the Mustang II, it is no minor feat that the latest evolution weighs 200 pounds less.

Chief designer John "Jack" Telnack is credited with giving Mustang its updated "Euro" look. An aero polyurethane nose, rectangular headlights, egg crate-style grille, raked windshield and cleaner lines, not to mention the lowest drag coefficient to date, 0.44, are a complete departure from the Mustang II.

The 'boxy' look dominated American cars from the 1960s into the late 1980s. At that point Ford's designer Jack Telnack led the way into a new 'stream-lined', aerodynamic tear-drop look with the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable--the very look Harley Earl began to reject on the day he made his tour of the Lockheed hanger (1941).

Harley Earl

GM's top designer, Harley Earl, made a tour of a Lockheed hanger where he saw a test model of the hot new P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft. The P-38, with its twin-engines, twin booms, and twin tails, gave Earl an inspiration for a styling change in automobiles. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning went on to become the only U.S manufactured military aircraft to remain in production throughout the course of U.S. involvement in World War II.

While the "Twin-Tailed Devil"--was dominating the skies of Europe and the Pacific as the most successful fighter/bomber of WW II, Harley Earl was developing the designs for GM's new generation of post-war cars. The twin propeller spinners of the P-38 showed up first in the distinctive knobs that came to characterize the front bumper ornaments known popularly as the "Dagmars" on GM's cars in the late 40s and early 50s.

The twin tails showed up first in Earl's styling for the tail lights of the 1948 Cadillac. Within a decade, those first modest 'rudder design' tail lights that Earl put on Cadillacs had become the monstrous tailfins so characteristic of U.S. cars in the 1950s. The styling fad had run its course by the early 1960's, when Earl's successor at GM, Bill Mitchell, led the way in a new styling trend that emphasized 'boxy'.

The 'boxy' look dominated American cars from the 1960s into the late 1980s. At that point Ford's designer Jack Telnack led the way into a new 'stream-lined', aerodynamic tear-drop look with the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable--the very look Harley Earl began to reject on the day he made his tour of the Lockheed hanger.


What you notice first about John S. (Jack) Telnack Jr. is that sweeping smile, that distinctive hawk-bell nose and, arms folded across his chest, that intense look confirming he's listening, assimilating the details.

Jack is capping a 39-year career at the Ford Motor Co., the last 10 as vice president for design, at year's end. It has been, he says, "Quite a ride. I never dreamed it would be like this."

Born into a Ford family nearby the company's sprawling Dearborn complex, Mr. Telnack recalls that even as a youngster he'd climb the wall surrounding the Ford test track and sketch new models roaring by. When he was barely 15, his father wrangled a visit to the Ford Design Center for the wide-eyed youth. And at 21 in 1958, fresh out of the Art Center for Design in Pasadena, CA, he went to work there and never left, except for overseas assignments.

Like numerous people who later would climb high at Ford, Mr. Telnack worked on the first Mustang during the early 1960s, designing the wheel covers and later the fastback version. He's been on a fast track ever since.

Unlike some of the industry's notorious design dandies with world-class egos, Mr. Telnack made his mark by leading, rather than dictating, Ford's design direction. He describes it as "a collaborative process" where everyone has input. "I have my fingerprints on the final designs and I do the presentations to top management," is his simple explanation of his role.

It's much more than that, of course, because whether you love or hate Ford's designs, he's the guy who gets the applause - and the brickbats.

As executive director of design, he led the team that shaped the then-radical aerodynamic Taurus introduced in 1986. His critics called it a "Jelly Bean," but he had the last laugh. Taurus quickly became the best-selling car in America, was copied far and wide, and - after an even more controversial makeover for 1996 - continues to rank near the top of the sales charts.

Pushing the envelope still further, he and his troops took the aero look they pioneered, blended it with crisp angular lines and intersections, and came up with what he calls the "new edge" look. The first new-edge car is the tiny Ka off the European Fiesta platform introduced last year. It will next be seen on the all-new 1999 Cougar and Escort.

One new-edge concept car, the Lincoln Sentinel, was roundly panned by the automotive press when it was unveiled in 1996, however. "Batmobile" was one favorite description. Still, Ford apparently sees new edge as a way to achieve distinction in a sea of lookalikes: The Ka is featured on the cover of the company's 1997 annual report, and Chairman Alex Trotman poses with a Ka on an inside page.

Although he may not extend the philosophy to all Ford vehicles, J.C. Mays, Mr. Telnack's successor, describes the Ka as "sensational; I don't know a designer in the world who doesn't think that. It lends itself to almost anything."

An avid fisherman, sailor and yachtsman - Mr. Telnack also designed boats as a freelancer early in his Ford career - he says he decided two years ago to retire. Jac Nasser, then head of product development and since last November president of Ford Automotive Operations (FAO), "pressured me to stay until I found a successor," he recalls. That search took two years and Ford design insiders "had a fair shot" at his job, he maintains, "but J. Mays surfaced at the top."

A combination of factors ignited speculation that Mr.Telnack may have been shown the exit sign. That often happens when an automotive exec retires early. But when his successor is selected from outside, that suggests someone is looking for a new direction. And if that someone is Jac Nasser, a stickler for detail, whether it's his extensive watch collection, office furnishings or dashboard bezels, there must be more to the story, right?

So much for conjecture. Messrs. Nasser and Telnack, who've known each other and worked together on three continents over the last 30 years, insist that folks can stop reading between the lines (see Mr. Nasser's note on this page).

Their relationship goes back to 1966 when Mr. Telnack, only 29, was sent to Australia to establish a Ford design studio there. Mr. Nasser, a Lebanese-born Aussie, had just joined the Ford of Australia finance staff.

"Even then he was always interested in the product and design side," Mr. Telnack recalls. "Later on we also worked together in Europe."

Returning to the U.S. in 1969, Mr. Telnack was design executive for Mustang and Maverick for four years, then departed for Europe where he had responsibility for designing the all-new Fiesta, which quickly became a winner.

Back once again at home base, he led the design of the 1979 Mustang, whose aero cues set the stage for Taurus - a $3-billion project that moved ahead despite Ford's early '80s brush with financial disaster.

Mr. Telnack also cites Ford's truck designs - Explorer, F-Series and Expedition - among accomplishments under his watch. He's less proud of cars like the mid-'80s compact Tempo built off existing Escort mechanicals. "When we designed the Escort we didn't know Tempo would be coming from the same platform," he says. Under the Ford 2000 platform globalization scheme, that would not happen today, he adds.

Ford also took its lumps when the sad-eyed European Scorpio debuted in 1994 and promptly bombed. But again, Mr.Telnack takes solace in the fact that others, including mighty Mercedes-Benz, since have adopted Scorpio's oval headlamp treatment.

So what's next for Jack Telnack? He plans to do a lot of fishing off his Hatteras yacht berthed in Stewart, FL, and take the ship on a Great Lakes cruise next summer. After that he may design a much smaller fishing boat for putzing around.

He may even try his hand at painting (water colors), something he hasn't done in years, and teaching. And it's probably a safe bet he'll still spend time at the Dearborn test track, this time on the inside looking out.


Veraldi and Risk assembled Team Taurus. From the beginning, Veraldi decided that everyone involved with the car, from designers to assembly line workers, had to be involved with its creation. Team Taurus looked at every competing vehicle, even those not sold in the U.S. The team then examined every step of the automotive development and assembly process, with the goal of being best in class. Suppliers were also brought into the program to ensure the components would be up to the team’s standards.

In December of 1982, Jack Telnack’s very radical exterior design was selected, but not without controversy. It took the intervention of Henry Ford to get Telnack’s chromeless grille accepted.

Over the next few years, as they showed clay mockups to reporters and focus groups, Ford marketing people got used to being asked if the company really intended to build a car that looked like that. Older car buyers, especially those who owned Ford’s traditional big cars, didn’t like the new look, but younger people took to it immediately.

In January 1985, the Taurus made its press debut on MGM Sound Stage 27, the same stage where “Gone With The Wind” had been filmed over forty-six years earlier. At the time, it was the most lavish product introduction in Ford history and hundreds of reporters were there. There were four cars, each covered by a huge cylindrical curtain.

David Breedlove, a Ford program planner was at the unveiling. He remembers, “They pulled the curtains up and it seemed like 10 minutes, but it was probably 30 seconds, and there was silence. Then all of a sudden, there was this cheering. These media stood up and started applauding and cheering and screaming and they all kind of rushed up on stage.”



For more information please read:

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Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - A History of Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - Cars and Coachbuilding: One Hundred Years of Road Vehicle Development

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

James J. Schild - Fleetwood: the Company and the Coachcraft

John R. Velliky - Dodge Brothers/Budd Co. Historical Photo Album

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 1

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 2

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 3

Dennis Adler - The Art of the Sports Car: The Greatest Designs of the 20th Century

C. Edson Armi - The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities

C. Edson Armi - American Car Design Now

Penny Sparke - A Century of Car Design

John Tipler - The World's Great Automobile Stylists

Ivan Margolius - Automobiles by Architects

Jonathan Bell - Concept Car Design

Erminie Shaeffer Hafer - A century of vehicle craftsmanship

Ronald Barker & Anthony Harding - Automobile Design: Twelve Great Designers and Their Work

John McLelland - Bodies beautiful: A history of car styling and craftsmanship

Frederic A. Sharf - Future Retro: Drawings From The Great Age Of American Automobiles

Paul Carroll Wilson - Chrome Dreams: Automobile Styling Since 1893

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Nick Georgano - Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work

Matt Delorenzo - Modern Chrysler Concept Cars: The Designs That Saved the Company

Thom Taylor - How to Draw Cars Like a Pro

Tony Lewin & Ryan Borroff - How To Design Cars Like a Pro

Frederick E. Hoadley - Automobile Design Techniques and Design Modeling: the Men, the Methods, the Materials

Doug DuBosque - Draw Cars

Jonathan Wood - Concept Cars

D. Nesbitt - 50 Years Of American Auto Design

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Lennart W. Haajanen & Karl Ludvigsen - Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles

L. J. K Setright - The designers: Great automobiles and the men who made them

Goro Tamai - The Leading Edge: Aerodynamic Design of Ultra-Streamlined Land Vehicles

Brian Peacock & Waldemar Karwowski - Automotive Ergonomics

Bob Thomas - Confessions of an Automotive Stylist

Brooke Hodge & C. Edson Armi - Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays

Gordon M. Buehrig - Rolling sculpture: A designer and his work

Henry L. Dominguez - Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team...

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl (Design Heroes Series)

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl and the Dream Machine

Serge Bellu - 500 Fantastic Cars: A Century of the World Concept Cars

Raymond Loewy - Industrial Design

Raymond Loewy - Never Leave Well Enough Alone

Philippe Tretiack - Raymond Loewy and Streamlined Design

Angela Schoenberger - Raymond Loewy: Pioneer of American Industrial Design

Laura Cordin - Raymond Loewy


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