1949 Ford

Ford Motor Company's World  E. T. "Bob"  problems with corporate leaders after Edsel Ford's death in 1943. See more pictures of Fords.

What makes the 1949 Ford so special? The short answer is that everything except the venerable flathead V-8 was new, from the design of the car to the suspension. It was the first "modern" car from Ford. More importantly, it told the world what to expect from the third generation of the Ford family that took over after the untimely death of heir apparent Edsel Ford in 1943, and the demise of patriarch Henry Ford in 1947. The 1949 Ford origins lie with Henry and Edsel, but it helped Henry Ford II, age 30 at the time of its introduction; Benson Ford, age 28; and William Clay Ford, age 23, establish themselves as leaders in the automotive industry.

The car was a solid hit in the marketplace at a time when the Ford Motor Company desperately needed one. As such, there's been much interest over the years in the 1949 Ford, interest that's been heightened by the tantalizing question of who designed the influential car's theme model, since four people have taken credit for it.

George Walker, the design consultant retained by Ford specifically to come up with ideas for the 1949 car, claimed credit because he sold the design to Ford's Executive Committee. Richard Caleal, whom Walker took aboard to broaden the scope of ideas from his design team, said the design Walker used to win over the Ford honchos was his, modeled on the kitchen table in the Caleal household. Robert Bourke, of Studebaker fame, lent resources and advice to Caleal. Bourke said he had a major hand in the Ford design, including its distinctive spinner-nose grille. Holden "Bob" Koto, one of the Studebaker staffers who helped Caleal with the mold and cast of the theme model, was given credit by Bourke for portions of the design.

There are no known photographs of the theme model and it disappeared after executive approval was given to the full-size reproduction of the table-top version. But one of the participants had in his garage for 40 years a key piece of physical evidence that, in recent years, has shed new light on the competing claims.

The design process of the 1949 model was tumultuous, but so were a great many other events at Ford in the Forties. In 1941, Edsel Ford and his chief designer, E. T. "Bob" Gregorie, were planning the car they expected to be the 1943 Ford -- had not America's entry into World War II changed everyone's priorities.

But Henry Ford's son was spending less of his time directing design work with Gregorie. Instead, he was spending much more time working with his father on labor issues and with the U.S. War Department on several large national defense contracts. This showed in lagging Ford sales in model-year 1941, when Chevrolet outproduced Ford by more than 317,000 cars, despite the fact that both featured all-new designs with larger bodies, longer wheelbases, and softer rides.

Of course, part of the problem must be attributed to Henry Ford's rejection of more modern engineering. Edsel had been president of Ford Motor Company since 1919, but the firm was really run by its founder, Henry Ford, in an authoritarian line organization. Henry overruled Edsel on many issues except those having to do with styling and running the Lincoln Motor Company. Sales and advertising were also Edsel's responsibilities.

Following a second stroke in 1941, Henry Ford became even more antagonistic toward Edsel. While Edsel was involved with the more complex day-to-day company problems, Henry was using security chief Harry Bennett to enforce his orders. This caused Edsel considerable grief, worry, and trouble, and was the underlying cause of Edsel's death in May 1943 at age 49. Edsel Ford was highly admired not only in Detroit, but nationally. However, Henry Ford had backed Bennett at the expense of his son. Bennett was now able to consolidate power either by firing many of Edsel's longtime managers or making it so difficult for them to continue working there that they chose to leave.

For more information on different types of cars, see:

Two-Ford Policy

Engineer Harold Youngren (left) and design consultant George Walker (center), seen here talking with design exec Tom Hibbard, were among Henry Ford II's hires.
Engineer Harold Youngren (left) and design consultant George Walker (center), seen here talking with design exec Tom Hibbard, were among Henry Ford II's hires.

Considering that the 1949 Ford was a "make or break" car for the Ford Motor Company, it also had a lot of potential to make or break careers. When the car succeeded, many people wanted to take varying degrees of credit for it, especially in the design end. But amid all the claims, one of the participants in the 1949 Ford styling program born of the "two-Ford" policy had a solid clue to the car's parentage no further away than his garage for years.

The upheaval at Ford in the early 1940s had a devastating effect on Ford's Engineering Department. Chief engineer Larry Sheldrick resigned in 1943. Shortly thereafter, chief designer Bob Gregorie also left rather than work under Joe Galamb, Ford's long-serving chief body engineer, who was placed in charge of the Design Department when Sheldrick left.

One month before Gregorie's departure, the War Department arranged for Henry Ford II's release from the Navy in the hope he would return to Dearborn to take control of the family business. (News reports at the time suggested that one alternative being considered was for the government to place Ford under the control of another car manufacturer for the duration of the war.) Gaining control wasn't easy, but by April 1944, young Ford had been elected executive vice president.

That same month, he persuaded Gregorie to return by agreeing to work as closely with him as his father had -- and by agreeing to immediately "retire" Galamb. On September 21, 1945, thanks to the forceful insistence of his mother and grandmother, 28-year-old Henry Ford II was elected president of Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford signed the order that transferred his power to his young namesake. One of the first things "HFII" did was fire Harry Bennett -- and then he fired about 1,000 of Bennett's cronies.

At the same time Gregorie returned to Ford, Jack Davis, Edsel Ford's sales manager, who Bennett had previously banished to California, was also returned to power. He and Gregorie got along well and they quickly settled on a revised "two-Ford" policy for the first new post-war design. Thus, Ford's lineup, originally scheduled for introduction as 1948 models, included a so-called "Light Ford," a full-sized Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, and a Lincoln Cosmopolitan. As Gregorie explains it, the full-sized Ford was to be bigger and appeal to a "higher social class." (Also planned, but never totally developed, were a new Continental and a new Lincoln Custom.)

Bob Gregorie's proposed 1948 designs as of June 6, 1945, included a large Ford (far right). Bob Gregorie's proposed 1948 designs as of June 6, 1945, included a large Ford (far right).
Bob Gregorie's proposed 1948 designs as of June 6, 1945, included a large Ford (far right).

If there was a crisis at Ford when Henry Ford II took over, it was because the company had no infrastructure. What middle management there was had been fired or quit. Ford soon realized he was in over his head and needed help almost everywhere. He hired the "Whiz Kids," Tex Thornton's cadre of former Army Air Force officers, to begin instituting their brand of financial controls. To teach him how to run the company, HFII persuaded Ernest R. Breech to leave General Motors's Bendix Division and bring his years of experience in the automobile business to Ford as executive vice president. Breech, in turn, brought many GM executives with him, including Harold Youngren, who became Ford's new chief engineer.

Breech officially started on July 1, 1946; Youngren exactly one month later. Even before they officially became Ford employees, Youngren and Breech drove what was planned as the 1948 full-sized Ford. There's a debate about which one first told the other he thought it weighed too much and would lose money if sold in competition with Chevrolet and Plymouth. (Breech, Youngren, and other former GM executives hired by Ford knew that the next Chevrolet model would come out in 1949, and that it would weigh and cost less than the proposed full-sized Ford.)

Even though tooling had already been started for both proposed Fords, in September 1946, Breech recommended to the Executive Committee a fresh start on a new full-sized Ford design. As Breech saw it, the world was going to judge the company by the next new Ford it produced and it needed to be something spectacular. Breech then proposed to delay the introduction of the lineup for one model year, make Gregorie's full-sized Ford the new Mercury, and come up with an all-new Ford -- and that's exactly what happened.

For more information on different types of cars, see:

1949 Ford Design Department

The so-called "Light Ford" was axed from the first post-World War II Ford lineup.
The so-called "Light Ford" was axed from the first post-World War II Ford lineup.

While work in the Ford Design Department was ongoing for an all-new post-World War II Ford lineup, cost studies of the Light Ford entry showed it would sell for only 17 percent less than the full-sized Ford, meaning it was more expensive than Ford chiefs had hoped. With a little luck, and after Chevrolet discontinued its own small-car project, Executive Vice President Ernest Breech sold the light car to Ford of France, where it became the Vedette, and Ford would proceed with one all-new post-war model.

Breech was a firm believer in chain of command and the committee system he had learned at GM. He did not like the cars that were coming from Bob Gregorie's design department because he thought they were too bulky, weighed too much, cost too much to build, and weren't modern enough. For his part, Gregorie wanted things to be as they were in the prewar days.

Edsel Ford had tailored the Design Department to be like the custom body shops with which he worked when developing new designs for the Lincoln K and KB chassis. The Ford Design Department was small and independent from outside influence. It had basically only one client, Edsel Ford. In 1941, the department included fewer than 50 employees, but it was well equipped and organized. The staff included good designers and modelers, excellent craftsmen, and engineers who were highly experienced in surface development and body engineering.

Edsel had worked closely with Gregorie, but he also consulted others. The Design Department was not isolated. For instance, every noon the top officials of the company had lunch at Henry Ford's round table in the private dining room in the engineering laboratory. Their cars were at the south end of the building just outside of the Design Department. After lunch, their stroll through the building took them through Design so they could see what was going on, ask questions, and make comments.

But the final decisions rested with Edsel. His guiding hand was no longer there, however, and, his promise not withstanding, Henry Ford II had neither the talent to effectively critique design nor the time to work closely with Gregorie. To compound Gregorie's problems, Breech was also his boss.

Clay modelers hone Bob Gregorie's idea for what would now be a 1949 Ford. Clay modelers hone Bob Gregorie's idea for what would now be a 1949 Ford.
Clay modelers hone Bob Gregorie's idea for what would now be a 1949 Ford.

Even before Breech recommended a crash program to engineer and design an entirely new Ford, he contacted an old friend, independent industrial designer George Walker, in late April or early May 1946 for another opinion on Gregorie's proposed 1948 full-size Ford. When he saw it, Walker told Henry Ford II and Breech that Gregorie's proposal looked like a "bathtub;" it was "terrible" and he could do better "with [his] eyes closed."

Not surprisingly, and on Breech's recommendation, Gregorie was instructed to develop a new, more modern model and Walker was hired by Ford to create a competing design. Gregorie and Walker were told that Ford's Executive Committee - including Henry Ford II and Breech -- would choose the winner. (Walker got HFII to agree to periodically come to his office in downtown Detroit to review his work and to conduct the final selection there.)

For more information on different types of cars, see:

1949 Ford Design Competition

This quarter-scale model by Bob Gregorie is sometimes confused as Dick Caleal's work.
This quarter-scale model by Bob Gregorie is sometimes confused as Dick Caleal's work.

In early May 1946, a competition to design the 1949 Ford got underway when designers Joe Oros and Elwood Engel -- as well as several others in consultant George Walker's studio -- were told they had 90 days to come up with a design and build a quarter sized model of it. Rival design chief Bob Gregorie was given the same amount of time. (Gregorie's proposal for the new Ford was primarily designed by him and Tom Hibbard, his assistant manager at Ford's Design Department.)

Meanwhile, Harold Youngren was preparing package measurements for the new car Gregorie and Walker were designing. Youngren's preliminary sketch was made in mid August 1946, and the formal 1/10-scale drawing was finished in late September. (Except for wheelbase, the package Youngren's engineers came up with was extremely close to the measurements of the 1947 Studebaker Champion.) Youngren had several specific objectives in mind for the 1949 Ford, which he code-named "X-2900" in reference to its maximum projected weight:

  • The overall dimensions had to be approximately the same as the previous model, except for overall height, and it had to be in the same price range as its competition.
  • The styling had to be completely new.
  • It had to have a bigger interior.
  • The ride and the handling had to be markedly improved.
  • The car had to be lower without sacrificing ease of entrance.
  • The car's weight had to be reduced with a resultant increase in performance. It had to have better visibility for driver and passengers.
  • It had to have improved economy.

By their very nature, crash programs encourage shortcuts, are often confusing, and sometimes take on a life of their own. So it was with the design of the 1949 Ford. Gregorie really wanted to win the contest, although he knew the deck was stacked against him. (There's not much doubt that Executive Vice President Ernest Breech was backing Walker, and Gregorie knew it.) Gregorie preferred the full, rounded look, and the car he designed turned out looking somewhat like a Kaiser. In fact, designers report that Gregorie bought a new Kaiser and Engineering bought a new Studebaker during the process of engineering and designing the 1949 Ford.

Across town, Walker's group was having some trouble coming up with a distinctive design for its proposed new Ford. At the same time Walker's people began working on their version of the 1949 Ford, Dick Caleal and several other designers were let go by industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who had the Studebaker styling account. Soon, Caleal came looking for a job at Walker's firm and was brought in to help his designers with their work on the new Ford. But Caleal did not feel comfortable working with Walker's people, and very soon asked if he could design and build his own 1/4-scale model at his home in Mishawaka, Indiana, near South Bend, then home to Studebaker.

Walker assented and promised Caleal -- who was working without salary -- a "high-paying job" if he came up with the winning design. Caleal returned to Studebaker and told his former coworkers about the contest and the promise of a fantastic job from Walker if his model was chosen. It's at this point the story gets muddy, because there are several different recollections of what happened next.

For more information on different types of cars, see:

Dick Caleal's Clay Model

Part of the mold used to make a new cast of Dick Caleal's quarter-size model.
Part of the mold used to make a new cast of Dick Caleal's quarter-size model.

According to Dick Caleal, after he returned home to South Bend work on his clay model in the 1949 Ford design competition, he asked his friends at Studebaker if he could borrow a wood buck and about 85 pounds of modeling clay. He also said that he got permission from studio head Bob Bourke to hire Studebaker clay modelers John Lutz, Jr. and Joe Thompson, who agreed to help him build his clay model in the evenings at his home.

Caleal claimed he designed the car himself, heated the clay to model it in his wife's oven, and that it was made on his kitchen table. He acknowledged that after the clay model was finished, and because time was short, Studebaker designer Bob Koto helped him turn the clay model into a finished quarter-sized plaster model.

Bourke was Raymond Loewy's head designer at Studebaker. He felt bad about having to let Caleal go and, when he found out that Caleal had a chance for another job, he offered to help him in any way he could. Bourke thought that Caleal's proposed job at Ford with George Walker depended on what he produced, so he loaned him a 1/4-scale wooden armature and enough clay to build a model. Bourke also says he told Caleal to call him when the model was roughed out and he'd come over in the evenings to help out. In the meantime, Bourke says he made rough sketches of a proposed car, which he reviewed with Caleal, and that the 1949 Ford concept Caleal took to Walker was 99 percent the car he designed.

Bourke said that by the time he got over to Caleal's house, it was obvious to him that for Caleal to make his deadline, he needed more help, so he asked Studebaker clay modelers John Bird, Jr. and Lutz and designer/modeler Koto if they would also help Caleal. According to Bourke, Koto designed the clean body sides, window cutouts, roof, and part of the back end of Caleal's model. Bourke claimed he designed the front end -- including a spinner grille -- the taillights, the back-end fender detail, and the rear part of the deck on the model.

Koto recalled things differently. He claimed that he agreed to help Caleal, whom he thought didn't know that much about making models. Koto liked Caleal and knew he was building the model for Walker on the promise of a job. Koto said he followed the package measurements given him by Caleal and designed most of the car over a period of about two weeks on Caleal's kitchen table. Koto didn't think the car was one of his best designs and considered it too bulky, full, and fat. According to his recollection, Bourke designed the spinner grille.

Bird's account is fairly close to that of Koto and Bourke: He, Joe Thompson, Koto, and Lutz made a clay model of a 1949 Ford proposal on Caleal's kitchen table to help their friend get a job with the Walker firm. Thompson was in the process of moving to the West Coast, so Bird was asked to take his place. It was his opinion that Koto was responsible for the body design, but Bourke did the front, including the spinner and the detailing. According to Bird, no one got paid for helping Caleal, and everyone thought the model was being built for Nash, which had used Walker as a design consultant.

Koto did the final cleanup of the clay model and prepared it for casting. He was given credit for making the negative plaster mold and the positive plaster cast, and cleaning the cast for painting.

For more information on different types of cars, see:

Full-size Models for 1949 Ford

This full-scale clay model of Dick Caleal's cast was built in 1946.
This full-scale clay model of Dick Caleal's cast was built in 1946.

Prospective Ford designer Dick Caleal's mold for the 1949 Ford consisted of five parts: front end, rear end, left side, right side, and a cap piece that included the hood, windshield, roof, backlight, and decklid. The cap also came down around the other four pieces and held them in their correct relative positions. Details, including the bumpers, grille, grille frame, wheel covers, and taillights, were removed before the mold was constructed and reinstalled after the cast of the model was painted. His mold would be turned into a full-size model for the 1949 Ford, but it wouldn't be the only one.

After the plaster model was completed, Caleal said he had it painted Capri Blue at a local body and paint shop, placed it on a velvet-covered piece of Masonite, and drove it to the Detroit office of George Walker, who had conscripted Caleal to build a model as part of an in-house design competition. In early August, to Caleal's surprise, his model was picked over entries by Joe Oros/Elwood Engel and Bob Gregorie.

To be fair to Gregorie, a second contest was initiated and Walker and Gregorie were each authorized to build full-size clay models of their proposals. It was decided that the two models for the second part of the competition would be built in separate, guarded areas at the Ford Design Department.

For his full-scale model, Ford design chief Gregorie was assisted by his assistant manager Tom Hibbard and designers Bruno Kolt, Eric Ramstrum, Walter Kruke, Ed Martin, and Bill Wagner. Clay work was supervised by head modeler Dick Beneicke; modelers Bill Leverenz, Herman Sommers, Art Karpeles, and Werner Framke worked on the car. The design engineering on Gregorie's proposal was supervised by Martin Regitko, who was assisted by Johnny Cheek and Dean Allward.

Walker's full-size model of the Caleal-supplied design was built under the supervision of Oros and Engel, who actually moved into a separate area of Ford's engineering laboratory. They were assigned several Ford clay modelers, including Clyde Trombley, Al Kellum, Caesar Tuskagusa, and Al Sartor.

Workers also built a full-size clay model of Bob Gregorie's proposal in 1946. Workers also built a full-size clay model of Bob Gregorie's proposal in 1946.
Workers also built a full-size clay model of Bob Gregorie's proposal in 1946.

It took about three months to complete the full-size clays. Oros said he made several changes when translating Caleal's 1/4-scale model into the full-sized proposal, including raising the roofline, increasing the glass area, and redoing the trunk area to meet Henry Ford's requirement that the trunk hold a standing milk can. When both models were finished, Ford's Executive Committee chose the body from Walker's proposal for the 1949 Ford, but stipulated that something be done to the front and rear of the car to give it more distinctive looks.

If the corporate chieftains wanted a new look for the front of the 1949 car and the eventual production grille that emerged featured a prominent central spinner, then what's to be made of Bob Bourke's published claim that he drew up such a feature for Caleal's home-built theme model? In his recollections, the ultimate production version was identical to his design, except for horizontal grille bars that extended beyond the grille cavity (Bourke's concept kept the bars contained within the grille opening) and individual "FORD" lettering on the hood (Bourke envisioned the letters stamped on the arch of the chrome grille frame above the spinner).

For more information on different types of cars, see:

1949 Ford Mold

Surviving pieces of Richard Caleal's mold came out of storage at the Henry Ford Museum in 1995.
Surviving pieces of Richard Caleal's mold came out of storage at the Henry Ford Museum in 1995.

When design consultant George Walker was able to provide Ford with the theme it accepted for its 1949 car, Walker stuck to a promise he had made beforehand and recommended Richard Caleal -- in whose kitchen the winning design was created -- for a design position with the company. Having accepted, Caleal moved from Indiana to Detroit with his family in the fall of 1946. Among their possessions was the plaster 1949 Ford theme model mold, which found a home in the designer's garage.

It remained with Caleal until 1986, when he decided that the proper thing to do would be to donate the multipiece mold to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

Caleal's daughter, Mary G. Stephenson (the "G" stands for Geo, short for George, as in George Walker; she was born during the 1949 Ford development period), hoped to publish an article telling her father's side of his involvement in the design of the 1949 Ford theme model. She requested -- and the museum agreed -- that no work would be done on the mold until she could have her article published.

It came as a great surprise to automotive history enthusiasts when David Crippen, then curator of the Henry Ford Museum, first mentioned the molds and their transfer to the museum at the time. This was a valuable historical find and presented the opportunity to make a new cast of the design created in Caleal's home since the original 1/4-scale model no longer existed. A new casting would be able to shed some light on some of the disputes surrounding the origins of the design. However, the museum was intent on honoring Stephenson's request, and a reproduction had to wait.

When an article did appear in the June 1993 issue of Collectible Automobile®, the museum was released from its promise. But in the interim, the mold pieces had been moved and couldn't be immediately located. When they finally came out of storage in August 1995, Robert Kirkpatrick and Fred Hoadley, both retired Ford modelmakers, spent many hours cleaning and repairing the mold in the museum's conservation area. According to Hoadley, the surface of the mold pieces was good, but they required some reinforcement. Only four of the original five pieces turned up, however. Hoadley speculates that the rear piece may have been broken beyond repair and was discarded.

Hoadley's son, Tim, photographed the mold pieces when they were first brought out of storage, and again after the parts had been cleaned and shellacked. By late September, the mold was ready for casting the new model, which was made of Ultracal, a hard gypsum cement more durable than the plaster from which the original cast had been made in 1946.

The mold (which remains in the museum's possession) and the rough cast lent credence to the claims of Caleal and former Ford design executive Joe Oros that the concept, as originally modeled, did not include the spinner-nose grille for which the production car became readily identifiable. However, as of the autumn of 2000, the new cast remained unfinished.

The front piece of Caleal's mold shows no apparent sign of a spinner grille. The front piece of Caleal's mold shows no apparent sign of a spinner grille.
The front piece of Caleal's mold shows no apparent sign of a spinner grille.

Fred Hoadley began work on a book, Automobile Design Techniques and Design Modeling (since published), which diverted his attention from the cast. Among the tasks remaining were to cut scale wheels from wood and to complete the rear section using archival photos of the first full-size clay workup of the Caleal theme model for reference. Hoadley hoped to complete the cast over the winter of 2000-2001.

Oros has maintained that Caleal's quarter-sized model had no spinner in the grille. Having been involved in the process of turning the theme model into a life-size clay, he said the full-size work-up was an exact reproduction except for minor package corrections. Studio photographs of the large clay show the grille without a spinner.

Caleal, too, denied there was a spinner nose on the model he turned in to George Walker. However, Caleal was holding a powerful bit of evidence to back his contention. After Bob Koto, a Studebaker designer who helped Caleal, pulled the mold from the cast of the theme model, Caleal stored the mold pieces in his garage. He kept them for 40 years before donating them to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. In 1995, the four surviving pieces of the mold were taken out of storage and cleaned up, and a new casting was eventually made.

Close examination of the mold piece taken from the front of Caleal's model shows no arch in the center of the grille frame that would rise above a spinner. Also, the outline of the horizontal grille bar is clearly seen extending beyond the grille opening. Both of these details compare favorably with the first full-size build-up of the Caleal model made by the Walker team.

For more information on different types of cars, see:

1949 Ford Spinner Grille

The spinner grille was the most notable feature on the 1949 Ford, even on the sporty convertible.
The spinner grille was the most notable feature on the 1949 Ford, even on the sporty convertible.

Ford designer Joe Oros has said it was he who designed the spinner grille on the front end of the full-sized proposal for the 1949 Ford to give it the "distinctive look" Ford execs wanted. (After overcoming objections from engineers who thought it would interfere with cooling, the spinner became the most notable visual feature on the '49 Ford, and many claim credit for it.)

Perhaps some sketches from which Bob Bourke, Bob Koto, and other designers were working had a spinner; Oros said many designers were experimenting with the concept at the time. Likewise, it's possible a spinner grille may even have been roughed in at some point on Dick Caleal's developing model. And Bourke may have intended for the grille bars to rest entirely within the grille cavity.

As time grew short, though, Caleal could have concluded -- and rightly so -- that it was better to have the model completed on time rather than further develop a spinner grille at the risk of being late. If Bourke had not been told the spinner had been removed in the process, he certainly would have assumed the spinner on the production 1949 Ford was a final development of his design.

Oros and partner Elwood Engel also designed the instrument panel on the car to match the spinner grille. In addition, the back doors from rival Bob Gregorie's proposal, with their obvious dogleg over the rear wheel opening, were incorporated in the proposal from consultant George Walker's group, which included Oros and Engel.

Dutifully following package requirements, Caleal's theme model for Walker included a straight rear door cut. In practice, though, it would have meant a tight squeeze when entering or exiting a 1949 Ford. To provide adequate entrance space, Martin Regitko, with his knowledge of body design and package development, would have insisted on this change.

(It was common practice at Ford to create design models that depicted a four-door version on the left side and a two-door on the right. Caleal's mold bears out that he made his 1/4-scale proposal for the 1949 in the opposite configuration. C. Edson Armi's book The Art of American Car Design includes a photograph of a quarter-sized model identified as the Caleal/Bourke/Koto design. However, it shows a left-side four-door with a dogleg in the rear door. Further investigation revealed this to be a picture of one of Gregorie's study models done at Ford Design.)

Although both Walker and Engel claimed the idea, Engel turned the taillights from vertical to horizontal and put windsplits on the rear fenders leading up to the taillights. (Henry Ford II was given credit for this change in a paper on the 1949 Ford presented to the Society of Automotive Engineers.)

The production 1949 Ford did use one element of Bob Gregorie's model: the rear-door dogleg on four-doors. The production 1949 Ford did use one element of Bob Gregorie's model: the rear-door dogleg on four-doors.
The production 1949 Ford did use one element of Bob Gregorie's model: the rear-door dogleg on four-doors.

Gil Spear, who had been a designer at GM and Chrysler before the war, came to Ford in April 1947. His first task there was to refine the clay model Oros and Engel had worked up from the theme model and make it production ready under the supervision of George Snyder. (Snyder was another newcomer to Ford. He was formerly head of GM's Oldsmobile design studio and was soon appointed to lead Ford's Design Department.)

According to Spear, the full-sized clay model was amateurish, and he and Snyder had to entirely redo it to make it ready for production. Among other things, Spear tried to include a "head-up" display for the speedometer, with lighted numerals projecting the speed on the windshield, a technology borrowed from World War II aircraft. But "fear of the unknown" and cost dictated a conventional speedometer. One body style that didn't make it into production was a fastback sedan. As Spear remembered it, a fastback was the idea of newly hired chief body engineer John Oswald, but for reasons that were probably tied more to an anticipated lack of sales, the fastback never saw production.

For more information on different types of cars, see:

Production 1949 Ford

The most popular of the new Fords was the Custom two-door sedan, which drew 433,316 orders.
The most popular of the new Fords was the Custom two-door sedan, which drew 433,316 orders.

Even before the design of the production 1949 Ford was approved, Ford chief designer Harold Youngren and the more than 100 new engineers he had hired (mostly from General Motors) were rapidly developing the templates and die models needed to produce the car. As early as March 1947, they were testing mechanical prototypes of the new chassis under reworked 1947 Ford bodies; in July, the first handmade bodies of the 1949 Ford were ready for testing with the new chassis. Although Ford only had 21 months to complete its crash program, more than 1 million miles of preproduction testing was done on the 1949 Ford, both on the test track and in various parts of the United States and Canada.

The new Ford was four inches lower, it had new independent front suspension, a new steering layout, and Hotchkiss rear drive -- something that would have made Henry Ford roll over in his grave. The front seat was six inches wider than in the 1948 model, yet the overall width of the car was reduced by about two inches. By repositioning the body and engine on the chassis, weight on the front end was increased, requiring bigger brakes. Adding an "X" member in the frame increased rigidity by more than 60 percent, even though the overall weight of body and frame were reduced. Ford coined the term "midship ride" for the way the car rode, which was accomplished by moving the seats forward by five inches, allowing the the rear seat to be placed further ahead of the rear axle.

The choice of consultant George Walker's proposal over his was the final humiliation for designer Bob Gregorie. He told Henry Ford II he didn't like Executive Vice President Ernest Breech's committee system and really wanted to work one-on-one with HFII as he had with his father. Ford told him that was impossible and that he had to work with Breech. Gregorie then said if that was the case, he would rather leave as friends. Ford said he would double Gregorie's salary, but he declined the offer.

Ford said he regretted seeing him leave, but gave Gregorie six months to return to his old position, no questions asked. After 11 years as the head of Ford's Design Department, Gregorie's last day was December 15, 1946. A few months later, he moved to Florida and into semiretirement, designing ocean-going boats. He never again designed cars.

Until his death many years later, Walker always claimed that he and his staff were responsible for the quarter-sized theme model that won the first 1949 Ford design competition, and he never disclosed that it actually came from Caleal. (In defense of Walker, the head of most studios often took credit -- or were credited -- for the designs of those who worked under them, and it has only been recently that individual designers began receiving recognition for their work.) According to Caleal, Walker got him a job at Ford by making him promise not to disclose he designed the proposal that won the contest, a promise he said he kept during Walker's lifetime. (Caleal also said that although Walker got him a job as a Ford designer, he never got the $50,000-a-year salary or the position he was promised.)

Walker claimed that as a result of providing the winning design for the 1949 Ford, Breech promised him a long-term design consultancy at Ford, but that did not happen -- at least not right away. When Walker's people finished their full-sized clay model, Breech changed his mind and Walker, designer Joe Oros, and designer Elwood Engel left Ford. Because of Gregorie's departure, Breech felt he had to rebuild Ford's own Design Department. One year later, Walker, Oros, and Engel were asked to return as consultants. In 1955, Walker became the company's vice president for design; Oros and Engel were hired by Ford, too.

Ford brothers (from left) Benson, William, and Henry II enjoy the success of the 1949 Ford. Ford brothers (from left) Benson, William, and Henry II enjoy the success of the 1949 Ford.
Ford brothers (from left) Benson, William, and Henry II enjoy the success of the 1949 Ford.

It cost $72 million and 10 million man-hours to develop the 1949 Ford. On June 18, 1948, at the start of a $10 million extravaganza that brought more people to Ford showrooms than anytime since the introduction of the Model A, the car was introduced at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to huge crowds. Regional showings around the country were held a week later. During the first day they were on sale, orders were taken for more than 100,000 cars, and it was months before Ford was able to catch up with the back orders.

Production came to 1,118,308 cars (more than 100,000 ahead of Chevrolet's 1949 total) and the company made a whopping $177 million profit from the 1949 Ford. Many will disagree about whether it was better than Fords built in previous years, but it was at least as good -- and the third generation of the Ford family to run the company made a huge impact with the first new Ford car produced on its watch, which was a benchmark for the industry.

For more information on different types of cars, see: