1949 Ford

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.

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