What is one of the first things that draws you to an automobile? For me the answer is styling. My first car was a stylish 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop. Boy, do I wish I had that cool auto today. With that being said, I would like to share some additional thoughts on auto design and styling.
Recently, I became reacquainted with the story about how Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie brought styling to the Ford Motor Company. Edsel possessed artistic abilities and a natural talent for design from an early age. Yes, like many of us, his early drawings were of motor cars. In 1922, Edsel persuaded Henry Ford to purchase Lincoln Motor Company. Edsel believed that styling was one of the keys to revitalize Lincoln. Under his direction, the Lincoln became a beautiful car, with series production of designs from numerous custom coachbuilders.
By the late 1920’s, Henry Ford realized that it was time to work on an entirely new automobile to replace the aging Model T. He gave Edsel a free hand in implementing the body styling of the new car. Production of the new Model A began on October 20, 1927, and instantly boosted the prestige of the company. This introduction was concurrent with General Motors introduction of styling on their new LaSalle. The Model A saw styling updates through 1931.
E.T. Gregorie began working at Lincoln in early 1931. Soon, Edsel enlisted him to design a new small car for Ford’s European operations. Gregorie used this design to style the domestic 1933-1934 Fords. In 1934, Edsel started a separate Ford design department with Gregorie working directly for him. Gregorie revamped an outside supplier’s design for the new Lincoln-Zephyr in 1935. In 1939, the design department introduced the new Mercury line slotted between the Ford and the Zephyr. The 1939 Ford lineup consisted of Lincoln, Lincoln-Zephyr, Mercury, Ford Deluxe, and Ford Standard.
Probably the most well know product of their design collaboration efforts is the 1940 Lincoln Continental. For a number of years this pair wanted to build a Ford sports car, but no suitable chassis was available. In the fall of 1938, Gregorie surmised that the Zephyr’s low-slung chassis might be useful. He immediately sketched his new sports car design on a piece of vellum over a Zephyr profile drawing. In less than an hour, his new longer and lower concept car appeared. Edsel commissioned a prototype built in time for his spring vacation in Florida. During this trip, he received such acclaim for the concept that he telephoned Gregorie to set up arrangements for the 1940 production run of Lincoln Continentals.
Under Gregorie’s supervision, the design department was responsible for all of the 1941-1948 Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns. The popularity of some of these designs continued over the years.
Edsel Ford died an untimely death in March 1943. In August 1943, Henry Ford II assumed control of Ford operations. Full-size clay models of Gregorie’s new car lines were shown to company officials by June 1945.
In 1946, Henry Ford II began instituting corporate management changes that caused some friction with the design department. E.T. Gregorie left Ford while he was in the company’s goodwill.
The design team of Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie brought many styling innovations to the Ford Motor Company. The next time I think of Ford auto styling, I’ll immediately think of these two individuals. How about you?
For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.