1949 Ford

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.

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.)

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