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Main | Celebrating Ferrariā€™s 70th Anniversary »
Friday
Feb022018

Road Read: Car Design Times Two

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Ford Design in the U.K.

I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I like books about car design is that they often contain photos and drawings of vehicle that didn’t make the cut, and I am fascinated by the many stylistic directions a vehicle can take before it’s locked in and ready for production. Many times you see hints of the final design, and marvel how it went from nebulous idea to completed form. Other times, you see examples that, to your eye, are better looking than what reached production, and wonder how the company decided to shelve the better looking version.

Nick Hull, a designer, academic and writer who not only worked on the Jaguar XJ220, but taught Transport Design at Coventry University, has produced a wonderfully readable and interesting history of Ford’s British design heritage, starting from the inception of Ford operations in the U.K. to the current day. As is often the case with histories like this one, the earlier times are the most interesting. Much of that is due to the fact that it is necessary to dig through the layers, and place what is found in the context of the times. Done correctly, it combines this information with historical results to produce a rich narrative. And in this, Hull is a master. He weaves a story that shows how Ford’s earliest moves brought changes that allowed the U.K. operations increasing independence, while it still exerted influence over this satellite from Dearborn. The war and post-war eras are particularly important to the history of Ford in the U.S. and the U.K., and Hull highlights the struggles, conflicts, and deep problems that beset Ford at the time, and which resulted in the U.K. operations gaining greater independence. Still a small operation at the time, Ford U.K. relied on Briggs Motor Bodies for design and engineering help, but still had to turn toward Dearborn for the manpower to engineer its first post-war designs. That proved to be a blessing as the engineers were itching to try out new (for Ford) technologies like unit bodies, an independent MacPherson strut front suspension, and oversquare engines with overhead valves. All were incorporate into the EOTA project, which launched from Dagenham, England as the Consul and Zephyr, and looked like shrunken ’49 Fords.

Hull fills in the details, and gives sensible reasons for why certain decisions were made. He also chronicles the takeover of Briggs by Ford, and how this gave the outpost the people it desperately needed to get things done. As he weaves his way from the Consul and Zephyr through the 100E, 109E, and reverse-rake rear windowed 105E Anglia, he drops interesting tidbits about the design process of the time, the materials used, and outside influences that affected the design direction taken. This continues throughout the book, with the occasional alternative design shown, and encompasses the personalities involved. Most interesting is the story of Roy Brown, head of the Edsel studio, who was sent to England in later 1959 after the spectacular flop of Ford’s latest division. Many have seen this as a banishment, whereas Hull says it was a reprieve for the designer of the Lincoln Futura concept (a.k.a. the Batmobile), a man who — up until the Edsel fiasco — had been a rising star within Ford Design. Brown took over design of the Zephyr/Zodiac sedan, but his claim to fame turned out to be Project Archbishop, the Mk. 1 Cortina. Into this story line Hull weaves the competing front-drive design (the Cardinal, a.k.a. theTaunus 12M) that originated in Dearborn but was dropped on Ford of Germany, as well as the car’s main competition, the BMC Mini, into the story. Included are photos of alternate designs, including the sign-off model that was modified at the last minute to replace the planned slanted taillights with the round ones that reached production.

Unfortunately, Hull could not do the same for the rest of the vehicles covered, including the Mk. 2 Cortina that is of particular interest to this writer. That said, that car was shaped by Roy Haynes and Harris Mann, who both would end up at British Leyland. (Mann is perhaps best known for designing the Triumph TR7.) Mann moved on to head the design of the Mk. 1 Escort, which was originally set to be sold in the U.S. and included a two-door fastback that eventually morphed into the Capri. It’s a fascinating story, one of many, and well told.

As stated earlier, the early years are covered with greater depth and detail. This is, in part, due to the greater distance, and the need to dig deeper for context and information. As Hull gets closer to today, not only is the water a bit murkier, many of those involved are still around, which makes it more difficult to present a picture not tainted by personal friendships and lingering office politics. Nevertheless, he does an excellent job of explaining the tensions between Ford in the U.S., England and Germany, the shifting design priorities and how this affected which studio was ascendant, and the surprising effect a cover story at Car magazine had on the unfortunately designed 1994 Scorpio.

I could go on, but that would deprive you of the discovery that comes with reading Hull’s impressive book. The greatest compliment I can give is to say that I hope he does more books of this type and that, when he does, I am able to set aside a day or so to savor the experience.

Title: Ford Design in the U.K.: 70 Years of Success
Author: Nick Hull
Publisher: Veloce
ISBN: 9781845849863
Pages: 224
Price: $70

Speed Read: Car Design

I couldn’t review Nick Hull’s Ford Design in the U.K. without also mentioning Tony Lewin’s Speed Read: Car Design. Like its Speed Read: F1 cousin, this book is not an in-depth look into the design process, one particular company and its products, or even on overview of car design at this point in time. It is a compact yet dense primer that looks at the history of the field, from the birth of the industry to the autonomous future. It divides the subject into seven sections (The Birth of Car Design; A Century of Changing Shapes; Innovation, The Elements of Style; Engineering, Interiors, and Space; The Creative Process, and What Come Next?), and multiple subsections, with each topic condensed to one page. There’s also a color band with “Fun Facts” and a drawing that illustrates the main topic. The format is easy to understand and informationally dense, and the layout is crisp and inviting.

Though just two books in, the Speed Read series has yet to disappoint. It may not be the authoritative history reviewed above, but it provides a good grounding for beginners and a satisfying overview for those who might not know as much as they think they do. You really can’t go wrong if you add this book to your library or give it to someone who is genuinely, or even moderately, interested in car design. — CAS

Title: Speed Read: Car Design
Author: Tony Lewin
Publisher: Motorbooks
ISBN: 9780760358108
Pages: 160
Price: $19.99

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