AUTOMOTIVE DESIGN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
The Reminiscences of John Najjar
Reminiscence from the 1981 and 1984 Interviews with John Najjar. Automotive Design Oral History, Accession 1673. Benson Ford Research Center. The Henry Ford.
This oral reminiscence is the result of a series of interviews with John Najjar by Douglas A. Bakken and David R. Crippen during 1981 and 1984 at The Edison Institute, Dearborn , Michigan . These interviews were held under the auspices of the Edsel B. Ford Design History Center , Archives & Library Collections, The Edison Institute.
The questioning was primarily in the form of topics suggested to Mr. Najjar concerning his career. No editorial insertions have been made.
The language of the narrative is entirely that of the interviewee. He has reviewed and corrected the manuscript, and by his signature below, indicated that it is a correct copy of his reminiscences.
This transcript and the recorded tape are deposited in the Archives at The Edison Institute with the understanding that they may be used by qualified researchers for scholarly purposes. The undersigned does hereby release to The Edison Institute all literary rights to this interview.
This is Douglas Bakken, October 28, 1981 . We're here at the Ford Archives at Greenfield Village , Henry Ford Museum. We're going to talk with John Najjar today. John is a resident of Dearborn. He lives at 5 Brookwood Lane. John was an employee with Ford Motor Company from December, 1936, until January, 1980. I'll be talking with John, and also interviewing John will be Mike Davis from the Public Relations Department at the Ford Motor Company. John, we're happy to have you here today and get this chance to talk with you.
A: Thank you.
Q: We'd like to start off with some questions about your family, and, if we may, could you tell us some things about your parents for us?
A: Well, gladly. Mother was born in 1894 in Omaha , Nebraska , and my father, I'm not sure. I think he was born in Cairo , Egypt , and came to the United States . In the tradition of the older families, which my grandfather followed, my grandfather married my mother off' to him. And along about 1918, I was born. We lived in Omaha, Nebraska, on S. 12th Street, and grandfather had built two homes--two little white homes with a picket fence around them and a long, white shed behind them which contained the outhouses, and underneath the house, of course, was an excavated cellar--all dirt--in which 'they kept the fruit jars and things of that nature. And that's my earliest memories of being in that home with my grandmother and grandfather and mother. I remember very little of my father. I found out later Dad was a great singer and weightlifter and exhibited his prowess by lifting barrels of beer and whiskey in the local barroom. Grandfather was on the police force in Omaha .
Q: That's your mother's father?
A: My mother's father, yes. That is correct.
Q: What was his name?
A: Nicholas--Nicholas Ferzely, and my grandmother's maiden name was Eva Batar, and then she became a Ferzely. And Mother had two brothers--Leo and Joseph. Joseph became a captain of the fire department. He was a short man like myself, about five foot two, five foot three--so short, in fact, they had to cut off the bottom of the ax handle so that when he walked it didn't click on the ground. During World War II he became a fire chief at the Air Force base. I think it was in Lincoln , Nebraska . And he died in retirement. My uncle Leo was more of a marketing/merchandising man initially and drove a truck --a delivery truck--for awhile, and all of us kids would clamber around the back of the truck when he would pull up in front of the house to see his mother, and he would always leave us little Holloway bars to suck on. So, those were great times.
Q: How did that bring you to Dearborn and Ford Motor Company?
A: Well, Mother and Dad had a falling out and--oh, of interest, I was born on November 11, 1918, at about 11 a.m. Mother worked at the Bemis Bag Factory in Omaha and had planned to go to a parade that morning in her pregnant condition, but they decided she had better stay home and have me.
Q: That was right at the time of the Armistice?
A: That was Armistice Day, and Mother received, later on, a $25 Defense or Savings Bond which helped her out of her [financial] predicament. I suspect about that time Mother and Dad were on the outs. So being on the outs, Mother migrated to the Detroit area. I don't know how, but there's a great Lebanese area right here in Dearborn . And we did come down into this area, and I can remember--some of my earliest memories....
Q: She was Lebanese as well as your father?
A: That is right. She was Lebanese and she--[Dad left her with my sister and I]. Mother had roughly seven to nine children of which two of us lived. And here in the Detroit area-- Dearborn area--she met a man, a Lebanese, by the name of Joseph Kelel. And she and he opened up a store-grocery store on Clark and Dix, right across the street from Clark Park . We later had another store further on down near Junction and Dix.
Q: Over near the Cadillac Plant?
A: Just further on down--still on Dix. And the next location was moving to the East Side over near Grand Boulevard right near the Packard Plant. And so, in our career, we had three stores. Mother came to the Detroit area to get away from my real father. And to make the separation [final] she married Joseph. My earliest days were memories of growing up in the store learning how to pack grocery bags and the awful feeling of going down in the cellar where we kept the potatoes and trying to pack the potatoes--getting things like that done.
Q: Was it in the 1920's then?
A: This would have been--yes, all during the 1920's.
Q: Did you--were you aware of the Ford Motor Company at all at that time--in 1920?
A: Yes, and our trips--while I lived in Dearborn and over on the East Side, we'd come back and visit family in this area, and I can remember going down to the Rouge River--must have been in the boat slip down here between the Detroit River and the Ford area--the proving ground area--because I remember going through the fields there, and we gathered wood--other fellows and I--and we built a raft, and we decided to push it out into that area; and, of course, we put our feet on it, and I still remember the ends of it going under the water, and we got off, and that was the last of that. So, I was aware that Ford Motor was there and walking up Miller Road--I believe now, by orientation, toward Michigan-and running my hands along the base of the window which must have been the foundry area which is now torn down...
Q: About 1920?
A: ...and I can remember the bridges across there--to the parking lot. So, yes, I was aware of Ford.
Q: So, we are talking about [the] 1920's?
A: Right up to about 1929--1929/1930. My stepfather, Joseph Kelel--he is basically Mohammedan--decided he was going to take some of the money and go back to Syria , and he left Mother. So, there was mother, myself and my sister in the store. And up to this time, I had gone shopping with my father in the early, early mornings--my stepfather--out to Eastern Market to buy our groceries for the store, and then we would bring it back to get all ready for the store to open at 7:00 . After that time--after Dad left--Mother had to have everything to buy brought to her. She didn't know how to drive, and so shortly after that, she decided to sell the store. She didn't hear from my stepfather. She heard rumblings that he had remarried--being of the Mohammedan faith--in Syria .
Q: She was Catholic?
A: Greek Orthodox. And later on, she would say, we are Episcopalian. I remember going to church every so often--different ones. Mother then sold the store, and we rented a little room right across from where the store was--my sister and I both attending school.
Q: This was on the East Side ?
A: On the East Side right near the Packard plant. And, later on, Mother took severely ill to the point where she was taken to the hospital, and we were told that she wasn't expected to live.
Q: How old were you then?
A: Oh, let's see. I would have been about 12 by then. That was about 1930--1929/1930--and I remember being taken--delivered by the lady in whose house were rooming--my sister and I were taken to a place down on Jefferson Avenue, and we were kept there for about two weeks.
Q: Is this a younger or older sister?
A: Older sister--about four years older. Helen Frances Najjar. And we didn't know what was happening. We were told that Mother was very sick and we would be taken to see her after the operation, and she did recover much to the surprise of everybody. She did come back. She got us out of this care place, and we found another flat.
Q: Those were tough times?
A: Mother went down to work for the Woolworth Company downtown and took care of us. And, of course, we can remember welfare. We can remember the Goodfellows coming by at Christmas time. Well, Mother was an attractive woman, and she had several boyfriends and made ends meet. That takes us up into high school time. About 1932, I started Eastern High School . Mother was still working. We were still on welfare. I remember working after school in the cafeteria cleaning up and doing dishes, and having started off with the college courses, my first semester soon made my homeroom instructor aware that I was not going to make it at a college level, and he suggested that I better take a commercial course which was more of a trade-oriented type of thing--basic mathematics and how to work in a shop, how to write checks, and a little bit of drafting. About that time I found out that drafting came kind of easily, so I saw some of the art work going on, and I went to the art teacher, and next semester I joined the art classes, and the doors just seemed to open after that.
Q: That was at Eastern High School when you were about 14, 15?
A: I would have been about that age--about 14, 15.
Q: But up to this point you had no interest in cars. In fact, your family didn't even have a car.
A: Absolutely not, absolutely not. It was more streetcars than anything else. I had an art school teacher by the name of Frieda Kasting.
Q: Excuse me. Where was Eastern High School ?
A: Grand Boulevard and Mack--the Southeast corner. I think it's torn down now. I haven't been that way recently. And [I] had a very good teacher by the name of Frieda M. Kasting, and she took an interest in me, and she gave me as much as I could absorb in the way of instruction. In fact, she suggested I go down to the Detroit Institute of Arts in my spare time and take a pad and sit there and draw which I did on many, many Saturdays.
Q: About 1932?
A: About that. Let's see, what else?
Q: So, you were going to school during the day. Did you have any parttime work at all at this time?
A: Yes. In between the period of '32 to '36 when I graduated, I did odd jobs--delivering newspapers, working part-time in various grocery stores. One job I had was turning threads on the end of pipes for a plumbing store on Van Dyke just North of Harper. I remember getting 10 cents a pipe end, and you set your pipe in a clamp, and you set the die up, and you spin the die in and out. After a while the job became very boring, and I remember there being a calendar on the wall. There was a very nice girl on the calendar, and there was a poem underneath it-something like "As a rule a man's a fool. When it's hot, he wants it cool. When it's cool, he wants it hot. He's never content with what he's got. Always wishing for what is not." So, I got my 10 cents per pipe end and free passes to the local theater which worked out pretty good.
Q: What happened to your sister?
A: My sister got married about 1933/'34. She had met a young man (John) who was the son of Howard Booth who was a Detroit policeman-moved out on the West Side . Howard Booth was later killed in the line of duty during an electrical storm when he tried to keep a person from driving onto a hot [electrical] wire. He made the mistake of touching the car. Helen was fortunate she married into a good family--not rich, but a very devout family. The Mormon Church--The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ--and she really enjoyed that. She had two children, and she and her husband were missionaries in the United States , of all things, and into Canada also. Helen died in 1961--age 47--of cancer. So, my sister was away at that time, so Mother and I were alone, and, of course, Mother had struck up another friendship with another gentleman, and it was common-law marriage, in effect. The man's name was John Rotondo, who was Italian. So, as a little guy, I had the best of everything. I had Lebanese cooking and Italian cooking which was kind of great. Well, Mother and he shared expenses as they moved to different places around the city as their jobs took them. John Rotondo worked at Packard as an inspector on metal finishing on the old Packard 120's and things of that nature and got mother a job at Packard Motor Car Company, and she went into the sewing department and was so good with her hands she ended up in the experimental trim for sewing--quite proud of her work. When I graduated in 1936, I got a job that summer working on a milk truck delivering milk early in the morning, and later on, Mother talked to the people that were in charge of Food Services at Packard, and I got the job of driving a little tow truck around with all the food in the little trailers. I would drive around the different departments in Packard and sell food.
Q: How did you learn how to drive?
A: It was just a go-and-stop. It was an electrical, battery-powered thing. It was a real simple thing, and I remember driving into Mother's sewing machine area, and the girls would all yell, "Here comes Mary's boy!" and that's when I learned a little bit about being touched from the pretty, down-to-earth women and chided quite a bit. Before I graduated in early 1936, we seniors were visited by several representatives of the automobile companies and different companies. J. L. Hudson Company would come out and give us a talk and tell us about the different career opportunities of the future. In 1936, we were just getting out of the Depression of 1932. I remember the man from Ford passed out 3x5 cards and said, "If you'd like to come out for an interview, fill out these cards, and we'll call you." So, I filled out the card. I graduated, and there was nothing out there, and that's why I took these other jobs, and....
Q: You graduated with just a high school diploma--or in drafting, in particular?
A: I had received honors as an art student. I had been art editor of the high school paper doing the monthly cartoon, and I was also on the staff of the yearbook. Of course, those were wonderful times, and, so, I received this card one day, in 1936, and went out to Ford Rouge plant-fall of 1936. I remember putting all my drawings from high school into a portfolio and then taking the Baker streetcar. The Baker streetcar should go down in the annals of history--an exciting ride, all the way from City Airport all through Hamtramck , all through the Northern part of Detroit and back down on the Eagle Pass. The streetcar would let you off on Eagle Pass East of Miller Road, and you'd have to get off the streetcar, go under the railroad track on Eagle Pass to Miller Road, down Miller Road past Gate U to the employment office.
Q: Which, I guess, it is still there--the offices.
A: Yes, I-drove by there the other day. I went into the employment office and showed them my card, and I said, "Here are my drawings," looked at me quizzically, and I said, "I would like to draw automobiles," and he made some comment like, "We don't hire car drawers and drawers. We have an opening. The cars [drawings] indicate that you have some skills. We have an opening in the apprentice school. You learn how to run tool and die machines. Do you want it?" I took it, and, so, I think, it was probably $22 a week.
Q: In 1936, what kind of hours would that have been?
A: They were daytime hours. That would have been something like 8:00 to 4:00 p.m. roughly, and we spent part of our time over in the trade school going to classes, and the other time was on the actual machines.
Q: Where was the apprentice school?
A: The apprentice school was right at Gate 4--right below the Engineering Department on the South side of Gate 4.
Q: Next to the iron foundry?
A: Yes. Just North of the iron foundry area--that same building. I guess, there were some offices right along Miller Road --Security Office. Then, there was a visitors' aisle, and then came the apprentice school.
Q: For all the apprentices or just the tool and die apprentices?
A: Tool and die apprentices. At least, that's what I remember. I don't remember any other machines, and, as you became proficient at your tool and had good marks, you were moved toward the visitors' aisle. That became the event. I was working on a lathe and made it to the first lathe. I had made some sketches on my lunch time of that particular area the trade school, but I was on the first lathe turning up some screw threads on this lathe, and a hand tapped me on the shoulder (sometime in February, 1937), and I turned around, and it was Mr. [Henry] Ford, and he said, "Do you like this kind of work?" That's all I can remember, and I remember turning and saying as I shut off my machine, "No, sir, I don't...," and he said, "What do you like to do?" And, I said, "I like to draw." And he said, "Do you have any of your drawings?" And I said, "No, sir, not here. I have them at home." And he said, "Would you bring them in?" And I said, "Yes, sir, I will." He turned on his heel. He had a straw hat on. My, God, I remember he had this straw hat on. True or not, I remember the hat! And, I remember there was a staircase going up to the second floor, right across from my machine. There was one on either side, and he went up those stairs two at a time, and about an hour and a half later, some man came down the stairs, went over to my supervisor, talked to him, and then my supervisor came over to me, looked at me, said tomorrow morning I was supposed to report to work. I take that back. It was the next day. I brought in my drawings. I sweated it out all morning, and Mr. Ford did show up again, and he looked at the drawings.
Q: What were the drawings of?
A: The drawings that I had done of--at Eastern High School they were doing some reconstruction work.
Q: Architectural drawings?
A: No. They were art drawings out of a brick window opening looking down on the power shovels in the yard working and the equipment.
Q: That would have appealed to him.
A: And there was another drawing of chemistry bottles done in charcoal and another couple of drawings of automobiles.
Q: Still have those drawings?
A: Yes, of course, I saved them. He touched them! Of course, I do.
So, I did bring the drawings, and he took them upstairs, and that afternoon the fellow came down and talked to my supervisor and said the next morning I was to report upstairs to engineering, and--I retrogress a little bit. When Mr. Ford left me the first time after he said, "Bring in the drawings," and I said, "Yes," I turned back to my machine to run the screw threads again, and I loused the whole thing up. My supervisor came bounding over, "What did he want? What did he want?" and I told him. And, so, I reported to work up in the engineering room upstairs. I don't remember the names of many people up there except Hal Brock. Hal Brock was the man in charge of tractors--tractor transmission--a blackhaired, slicked-back type of fellow--very nice.
Q: Do you remember any other of the apprentices there in the tool and die room?
A: No, I don't. [It] just seems I have a blank. I don't remember any of the names. I remembered my instructor's name for a while. I have forgotten. I was wracking my brain trying to put it down.
Q: I just wondered if any of them were still around. You know, I've heard tales like Stan Drall went to work there at the Rouge sometime before the war, and Bill Innes was on the boards beside him. So, that's the kind of thing I was thinking of and some of the old-timers that we still have around might--Jack McDougall and George Ferris. He just retired. They started in about that same time. What about your supervisor, do you recall his name? The fellow in tool and die?
A: No. The instructor--the apprentice--I do. I was, what, 18 then? Yeah, 18--17--I do remember during that period I went up to the drafting room. I got what's commonly called a big head, and the short time up there, I guess, I didn't do my job up there properly, and I remember being told, "Well, that's it." And, then I was to report in the tool and die room from then on. So, I went out to the tool and die room and started to get a good dose of "My God, what did I do to myself?" and I was on the afternoon shift-- 4 o'clock until midnight . I remember grinding tungsten, carbide tips--getting them all set. I remember an assignment chipping the gray paint off of the foundation of the machinery to get down to base paint and the guys teaching me how to chew tobacco, and fainting from it. I can remember them sending me to the tool crib for a left-hand wrench, a rubber file.
Q: And you fell for it?
A: I fell for all of them one hundred percent. I guess, I spent all of that hot and dirty summer there vowing to myself--1937--if I ever got a chance to get of there, I'd not goof off.
Q: Well, that was a very turbulent time--the labor area. Do you have any recollections of that?
A: I remember when I was still in the apprentice school--early 1937--having my lunch near the machines and talking about the union. I was on the main floor at Gate 4. What are we going to do if there is a fight? I remember words of "fight". I don't remember "strike" per se. That's all I remember of it.
Q: What about the management? Were people walking around, besides Mr. Ford, and making their presence known at that time that you noticed?
A: No. I--that was before my ability to grasp what was going on. Still and all, it was a job--money--engineering. I made it--I made it my life, and then the shock of being moved out.
Q: When you moved upstairs into the engineering department, did you get a raise?
A: I don't remember.
Q: What were you working on up there?
A: I was put on doing some perspective sketches of something. I don't know whether it was on gears. I don't remember clearly. All I know, I was doing some drawing. Evidently I didn't do it well and didn't spend enough time doing it.
Q: So they bumped you back to the shop?
A: And then, one afternoon, the supervisor of the tool and die area- the tool and die areas were little cribs.
Q: The press steel plant?
A: It was in the foundry where they were doing the engine blocks and things of this nature. We would do the cutting tools that would go into the machines to do the grinding.
Q: Since they weren't changing the design--I mean, the 221• cubic inch V-8 engine that was introduced in '32--the next upsizing didn't come 'till the Mercury which was '39 or '38. What would you--why would they be doing any die work? Just replacing worn-out tools?
A: Probably. The tool and die room was just a generic type of thing.
Q: A maintenance facility for the...?
A: I can remember going down on the line, and the one area that fascinated me was the multiple blocks of drills, banks of drills that would go and, simultaneously, drill each side of what I believe was a V-8.
A: Oh, of course, that was more in the engine plant or motor plant, wherever that was. I don’t know where it was then ‘cause they didn’t build the Dearborn Engine until the war. There was a motor building there somewhere. I don't know where though.
A: Just North of Gate 4 there was another area there. That was an assembly [line], if I remember, assembling motors in there. I remember [it was] South of where I was, unless my brain is going dead. They cast out these things. I saw the sand, and I remember there was a line or something in there because I saw them drilling blocks and the blocks coming around.
A: Of course, my familiarity with these things is current, whereas you have a total separation between the foundry and the engine so far as we're concerned. I was trying to sort that out a little bit.
A: That's a good question. Why would they have the grinding bits in the foundry building if they didn't have some grinding operations going on? I mean, cutting operations.
Q: They were just taking off flashings or something?
A: Yeah. So, I was told one afternoon that they were looking for people who could draw out at the design department and did I want to set up an interview. And to this day, I am amazed how the personnel department could have gotten the message from Dearborn to go to the trade school and apprentice school to find people who could draw and work with their hands, and that that system allowed them to go back and find me on afternoon shift out in the shop. I can't believe it. I'd just like remember the names of the people who picked it up. I guess, that's one of the main points of my feeling about Ford and my career. I was limited only by my own abilities because there was always somebody there above me who was on the lookout for talent and who always opened the door. It started then, and it just kept on going all my life.
Q: I wonder if, at this point, we should look over the records back then--Ford styling before this time. The early origins of it.
A: So, as I was driving over here today, and the day was much like the day that I got into my car for my interview in Dearborn .
Q: Oh, you were driving by then?
A: I was driving by then. I had bought a 1933 Ford coupe--a used Ford coupe driven by a little old lady who turned out to be Bell Telephone, green body and black fenders and oil coming out the back end in globs. Anyhow, I drove that car from the Rouge out here, and I remember, it being such a nice day, opening up the windshield. The windshield opened up, and, I think, it must have been a day in early November somewhere around there--1937-- and I went out to the Administration Building which is now called the Triple E Building. It was an engineering administration building. It was near the twin ponds, and it became [later] the Triple E Building. I met Mr. [Eugene T. "Bob"] Gregorie* out in the lobby who looked at my portfolios of drawings and said, "All right, we'll let you know." I remember driving home elated.
* Editor's Note: Bob Gregorie was the design head under Edsel Ford in the 1930's and 1940's. The design department was in the Engineering Laboratory in Dearborn , which was erected in the early 1920's. The architecture, striking for its time, was by Albert Kahn.
Q: You were still living with your mother?
A: I was still living with my mother.
Q: How did you learn how to drive?
A: We bought a car. I got my license without knowing how to drive which was standard for that time, and my common-law father, John Rotondo, took me down to pick up the car and said, "Oh, I'll teach you to drive it home." I don't know how he got there. I think he drove there with his car. He parked it and got into my car, and I remember going around the block--around Woodward Avenue and Davison area--three or four blocks-five or six blocks and banging gears and stuff, and he said, "You're fine." And that was it. So, that was how I learned how to drive. None of this business of clutch. I ruined the gears on it. So, I drove home. In December--no, it was around November--I went to the Design Center-reported for work out there.
Q: What was the salary at that time? Do you remember?
A: It couldn't have been much more, but it was more. But, I do remember, once I got into the Design Center I quickly learned the thing to have was a star badge. A star badge number started at 300, and there were only three-digit numbers, if I remember.
Q: What did that mean?
A: A star badge meant that you got more than $300 a month, and then you were something. You know, that was even a lot of money in 1953.
Q: Okay, this was at the Administration Building . What was the...?
A: Well, we ought to be careful about what we call it because the company’s [main] Administration Building was the one over on  Schaefer Road. [The Engineering Laboratory] says Engine Electrical Engineering which is why it is called "Triple E," and I don't know how far back that goes, [opened in November, 1924] but it's cut in the stone there.
A: I don't know why I am calling it that.
Q: It was the administration office for engineering, I guess. I don't know because they had engineering over here--the test track at that time. They converted those buildings from the hangars and the airplane building [ Oakwood Boulevard ].
A: I always refer to it as the Triple E Building because I thought that was the name given to it later on after we went across the street into the new engineering center , and Mr. Henry Ford did spend a lot of his time there. There was the administration area in the front of the Triple E Building [the mahogany row]. The administrative offices--that's probably how I picked up the terminology.
Q: Let's go back to 1937 then. Did he [Gregorie] offer you the position, and how did you respond to him then?
A: Jumped at the chance, honestly. You asked a question about where was it located in the Triple E Building. The design department occupied the area toward the [Henry Ford] Museum end of the building. I like to refer to it as the South [wing]. I think that's it. And, we had the whole end of it, and as the design department, grew--we grew Northward taking over one wall and another wall and another wall. Emil Zoerlein * was toward the front facing of the lakes. On the back end of the building toward the parking lot--the Southern half--there was a chassis department, and Charlie Pinardi worked over there--a name I remember very well. Blueprint machines were in there. From the administration offices North on the parking lot side were the printing presses.
* Editor's Note: Zoerlein, a favorite of Henry Ford, was chief experimental electrical engineer from 1935 to 1942.
Q: By the parking lot [do] you mean the back side?
A: The back side. The printing presses. Up toward the North corner West--Northwest corner--Mr. [Irving] Bacon* had offices there where he was doing the paintings for the Ford family, and I'd wander up there and see him. And from there it went across to the dining room. And, of course, if nobody else has said it, the floors were always highly polished and to wear leather heeled shoes into that place was taking your life into your hands, and Mr. Ford had the [old time] dances [there] once a week. I never attended the dances. They had the dances in between the electrical, design and chassis departments in that open area. I don't know what kind.** We never went. Rachel McDonald did. She was the [Ford] librarian who I struck up a very nice friendship with. She was a very wonderful woman. I remember dancing with her once someplace. I don't know if it was somebody's wedding or whether it was at one of these, but very vaguely.
Editor's Notes: * Bacon was Henry Ford I's personal painter/photographer.
Q: So this was Fall of 1937? [September, 1937] What was your first assignment?
A: Answering the telephone.
Q: You were in an apprentice...?
A: Yes. I have it written down. I went back and checked my records. About five trainees that were pulled from the Rouge area, some were from the trade schools, and I don't know where the others were from. I had them listed here.
Well, we've got--I don't know if it is here in this outline. I see Bud Adams.
A: Bud Adams, Frank Francis, Benny Barbera, Frank Beyer.
Q: Frank Beyer, Emmet O'Rear.
A: I think Francis was brought in as a clerk. Yeah, Frank was an office secretary, a clerk.
Q: Ross Cousins, Tucker Madawick, Duncan McRae?
A: Yeah, that's right-- Duncan . Tucker Madawick, Duncan McRae and Ross
Cousins came in later. They were there about 1939. Frank Francis was a clerk, and the rest of us were trainees. We had the potential to become designers. And, in the design department there they have the disciplines of clay modeling, drafting, designing, styling as it was called. My first job was answering the phone and having a sketch pad and being told to draw instrument panel control knobs for John Walter. I soon learned to answer the phone badly, and that got me off the job of that real quickly.
Q: They didn't have a secretary?
A: They didn't have a secretary at that time. Frank Francis then came in.
Q: They didn't have very many female secretaries at all in the company,
A: They had a secretarial pool. In fact, Bud Adams' wife worked in the secretarial pool in 1941. I introduced the two of them, and they got married, and we live next door to one another right now. Her daughter is getting married a couple of Sundays from now here.
Q: So, your first styling job was on instrument panel knobs. It would have been at that time, what, 1939 or '40?
A: I would say the very end of 1939 and '40. When I walked into a place, the 1938 models were pretty much....
Q: They would have been introduced at that point. They would have been introduced in October of '37, presumably.
A: The '39's would have been a little late.
Q: I would think. Although these early pictures look like 1939's. Of course, they'd be using production parts to work with. Let me ask just one more question about the knobs because I know that those '39 knobs, at least on the Mercury, were made of the soybean plastic. Did you have anything to do with that aspect of it, or were you just concerned with appearance?
A: Not [solely] appearance. It was a control knob, could have been die-cast or anything at all.
Q: Those cars had what we call today, I guess, an Art Deco styling. Were you at all conscious of that kind of thing? Where did you get your ideas from of those knobs because I recall that the knob had a sort of a round shape but with concentric circles on it.
A: Concentric circles [molded] on it, and then they had a shaft that pinned down and went forward into the dash.
Q: Were you consciously following a style of trend books or anything?
A: No, not at that time. It was just a natural gift that people who draw have. They like to make things "look nice," making form follow function, which is pretty good. You had to have a [functional] grip on the back so the person can grab the handle, and then you were told well, we've got a deluxe (model), we've got a super-deluxe (model), say on the Ford. And, one has got to look a little bit different from the other and look a little bit better. We are going to identify the knobs by doing a "hot stamp." And, on the Ford [grey knob] we might have a red hot "stamp" whereas on the other car a red "hot stamp" on a beige knob. We might use a dark colored knob on a luxury deluxe job with a gold "hot stamp." And, it should look interesting.
Q: By stamping you mean it would say "lights" or "choke" or whatever?
A: But the identification would be "hot stamped" into the end of the knob. And, so what you would have to do, you were told, in effect, this would be made into a two or three piece mould. You had to have a [manufacturing] feeling for it--and having come from the trade school, you had a feeling for it, you knew what could be done on the lathe, you know a little bit about casting material and what could be "pulled" and what could go where--you know what flash was--where the two parts of a mould come together, and when an object falls out, it [flash] has to be trimmed--and you don't want to trim across the design lines--so these are things you really knew from the short time you had in apprentice and trade school, so all you had to do is make it look acceptable. And, all that you were trying to appeal to at that time was your immediate supervisor, and on the instrument panels, it happened to be Johnny Walter, and answered to E.T. Gregorie, and so if those two liked it--I don't know who they showed it to higher up, they certainly wouldn't be looking at a little knob, they were looking at the overall picture. So, those were kinds of things we would do. And, we would also draw the little spaces on the bands of the banjo steering wheels. That was Bud Adams' first J b--to design the bands on the banjo steering wheels, the wires coming down to the center and back and held together by these clips. And, Bud's first job was to draw those up. He just kept drawing those. But, there was nobody there that said, "This is the way you make a drawing" at the time I went in. This was the way you drew a perspective--you just drew-either you can or you can't draw well. Nobody would say, "I want to learn to draw like he draws."
Q: Do you have [any] of those drawings from those early years?
A: I have some of them--some from a '41 instrument panel. At that time, on the 1941 Ford, if you remember, it really went plastic.
Q: The 1940 Mercury?
A: The '40 Mercury was really--a real trend setter. The steering column blended into the [instrumentation] cluster. There was a lot of plastic on that--plastic in the steering wheel and on the Ford itself.
Q: Driving restorers nuts ever since because....
A: I remember doing some of the details drawing on those.
Q: We mentioned this before--we should look a little in retrospect at Ford and how far it developed, and maybe you can start with some of your feelings about Ford styling over the years--how it evolved up to this point.
A: Well, I jotted down some things about what was in the design department when I walked in, and what did I learn about it, and I remember when I walked in--I realized that this was an elite place to be. There must have been about 40 people at that time--there were some shop people from the aircraft building. Jimmie Lynch was there, who had been a master at doing propellers and balancing them, he was in charge of the metal shop. Dick Beniecki was in charge of the clay modeling, and Bill Leverenz was there--these two gentlemen had worked on the Fisher Theater in the plaster and sculpturing of all the decor that went into the Fisher Theater and some of the main theaters around town. Dick Beniecki was a pipe-chomping guy in charge of the clay modeling, and these men were drawn from the disciplines of sculpture, commercial type of plaster men that had done....
Q: Some of them had worked in the aircraft division.
A: That was metal shop--we had a metal shop, wood shop--they were taken from the pattern shop where they had been doing wood bodies and doing forms for the tools. They had taken people from the Ford Aircraft area-guys that were truly talented with their hands. Then, in the drafting area--I don't know if Martin Regitko had arrived or not--but there was a drafting area, with the layout tables, for doing the body drafting--full scale, and also the small scale drawings. Eddie Martin [Edward A. Martin] was over there, who was a "Man Friday" to E.T. Gregorie for awhile. Well, to go back, Ed Martin was working out in that drafting room area, across from where Emil Zoerlein was--visualize the end of the Triple E Building as being like a U shape--that bottom end was the design department, Zoerlein was here. [He is making a sketch of the EEE Building and how it grew.] Yes--Zoerlein was here--the Design Department went across this way--back in here was [ Eugene ] Farkas' engine area, and up this way was drafting--and then there is a big gate out toward the back, this way, and the staircase was in here, if I remember right. Printing presses were here, if I remember right--Irving Bacon was up here, they were doing a Ford paper, I forget what the name of it was*,
* Editor's Note: Ford News, an employee and dealer newsletter, published from 1920 to 1943 and I am not sure whether the secretarial pool was here or not at the time I was there--but this was all. open [space], beautiful cars parked around in here--engineers had drafting boards in here. Well, Eddie Martin and E.T. Gregorie were in this area in the drafting room, circa 1932, '33, roughly, and at that time Ford was having its bodies done by Briggs and Murray--Briggs, I remember, mainly, and, in this building, Joseph P. Galamb's name was quite prominent--and Mr. Edsel Ford had a desire to do special cars for the family, and whoever was in charge of E.T. Gregorie, got Gregorie to do some sketches--E.T. Gregorie was a former naval architect, he designed boats.
Anyhow, Mr. Edsel Ford became knowledgeable that in this [engineering] group was a fellow that could draw automobiles and had taste. E.T. was not a modest guy, he had already told Martin, "When I get a chance I want to set up something--there is a chance in this company for design." And, at this time over at General Motors they had started....
Q: Oh, they had started in 1927....
A: And, so E.T. was aware of this and....
Q: He was just a body designer?
A: He was a detailer--working on special jobs and things of this nature, and I don't know who decided, probably Edsel Ford, "I want to set up a Design Department"--so, in 193.5, E.T. Gregorie took charge--I don't know who he answered to, if it was Joe Galamb or Pete Martin, or who it was--and set up a department. He recruited Ed Martin, of course, who was on the board next to him and was a good detail man and had ability to look the big picture, how to put things together, and personable. Later, Ed had a falling out, I think it was in 1951 or '52, with--between George Walker --there were a lot of goings one, and he was let go, and [was] completely crushed. And, to Ed's credit, he went out to the West Coast, got a job with Northrup, went to night school, studied aeronautical engineering, and worked his way up into some of the heat seeking missile jobs and retired, maybe 10-15 years ago, from Northrup, and is still in retirement in Redondo Beach. So, within the department--and Farkas' place was back in here--the engineering group went up that way-electrical was here [pointing to map]--Zoerlein & Javonovich were here. And, in our department we had a drafting room, we had the clay modeling bridges here, we had designers lined up across here--right at the end. In fact, in the summertime, we'd go out here and play baseball in the parking lot areas, and you could always look out in the wintertime and see the tunnel that went from the Triple E Building over to the A frame [building]--there was an underground tunnel, and the tunnel would let up heat, and it would melt the snow, and you could see that. And, in the summertime, they would also bring out the herds of sheep to graze out there. And, in the early morning, about 9:00 o'clock --I think it was each morning before 1941--Henry Ford I had music piped in from the village. It was choir music, and you could hear it for 15 minutes. You could stay at your board and meditate, you could work quietly, or go out the door, walk out to Oakwood Boulevard , and have a smoke. And that was very nice. And, I sat at my board and drew--I wasn't smoking at that time. So, that was the Design Department. They had the shop facilities, they had the drafting facilities, they had the clay-modeling facilities, and they had the designer area. In the designer area they had taken in Eddie Martin, Johnny Walter, a self-taught designer, who was in charge of instrument panels. Walter Kruke who had a knack for fabrics--he liked the materials. Willys P. Wagner was a trained architect, and he did all the bumpers, tail lamps, interchangeability type of things. Bruno Kolt--I don't know much about him, but he was a good detail, perspective man. That was the complement of the supervision--the guys that made things run. I remember being impressed by the full-size clay models, the bridges--Bill Wagner had designed the bridges at the request of E.T. Gregorie for a system to measure. Up to that time, even quite currently, General Motors had always used surface plates with right-angle units off the surface plate, with templates attached to them, so that [demonstrates]--the surface plate, like this, use right angle things with the templates, and then "drag" those [templates] or put them into the clay model to try to find out where points were--or dimensions were on the model. Where with the Ford system--it allowed you a grid, being able to pick out any point, any coordinate in space, any spot on the vehicle-you could measure it from the top, from the side, and slide-it fore and aft. So, it was quite a disciplined technique. And, you could record from that by reading off these pointers onto a graph sheet.
Q: And Wagner designed that for Gregorie?
A: Yes, Willys P. Wagner, and he is still alive today in Tiburon , California . Wagner was much underestimated. He was a combination of engineer and had a lot to draw on from each of these men--not only their talents, but their attitudes towards life and toward the bosses. I remember one time P.E. Martin came through, and Jimmie Lynch didn't have his badge on, and designer. So, a young trainee going in there at that time Martin asked him for his badge, and he said, "It's here in my pocket," and P.E. Martin said, "Give it to me." So, Jimmie Lynch handed P.E. Martin the badge. P.E. Martin put it in his pocket and went away with it. Jimmie didn't get his badge for two weeks, and to get in through the [employees' entry] gate you had to have a written slip--but Jimmie took that very calmly--this is what I mean by the attitude of people. Johnny Walter had a tendency to blow up and break pencils. Walter Kruke would go off to the Dearborn Inn--I don't know if they were serving liquor at the time--and come back slightly happy; Bruno Kolt would sit and mumble to himself.
Q: One thing you mentioned already--G.M. had their "Art and Colour Department," you referred to?
Q: Were you aware at that time what the other companies were doing?
A: Curtice--Harlow Curtice--because Harley Earl had built cars for the show people out in California and got a lot of publicity [Alfred Sloan].
Q: Well, Curtice was Buick General Manager in the mid-1930's and then went on to be a president of G.M.
A: I'll go back and check the records--I have a book on General Motors which I'll get you--got a little bit of history and pictures of what they had, and--also a book on Ford, so you can compare the two.
Q: I think what he is getting at is that somehow or another the Model A Ford, as an example, had a lasting satisfactory styling or design--it may not have been perceived so at the time, but somehow--even today, it looks much better, and for some reason in the collector car market, a Model A much more treasured than, let's say, a Model T. And, certainly an explanation is that it is the pleasantly perceived styling--superior somehow or other to the--as we see it today in retrospect through the years--to the Chevrolet and Plymouth --or the Essex . Do you have an accounting for that? How did the design on those bodies, and the radiator grille, and--how it was put together? How did it come out so perfectly, in that respect?
A: That's a good question--I don't know. That was before my time. Somebody might know who had been a part of that program....
Q: I know some of those were done on the outside, and at some point the design department was developed within Ford....
A: The 1935 model was the last model done purely by Briggs, and whether the 1936 front end modification was done at Ford, I don't know.
Q: From an appearance point of view, or popularity point of view, for some reason, the '36 is the treasured car....
A: That's-right, especially if it has the Cord adapters on it--somebody had taken the look of Cord--those horizontal louvers and put them right over the '36 front end.
Q: Yeah, you don't see those any more.
A: When I walked in there, the Lincoln Zephyr was still not done--at the Design Department they were just beginning to--just starting to do [the design] things. Like the little flare-out over the bottom of the door to cover the running board--that was one of the first things that was started. I remember one of my second or first jobs was to do the Lincoln Zephyr name plate on the back of the Lincoln Zephyr. I have my original drawings, and I have the original engineering drawings--I have those two pieces of paper.
Q: I have a feeling that the lead time must have been a great deal shorter than it is now. Where have we gone wrong? Why does it take so much longer?
A: I am not sure that I have been a good student of volume. I think we had less proliferation of models, and we weren't building as many cars then.
Q: That's true--volume was far less.
A: I can remember back then, Bill Wagner sitting at the back of one of the Ford products--it was the first Mercury--there was like a tin canlike thing for a taillight mounted on the side of the fender, and he would model that taillight himself, and then take it very carefully from the right fender and lead it over to the left fender so it would work. And, that is true for the headlamp doors which were built into the fender--you take that one thing and move it--anything that could be moved from the right hand to the left hand was done. And, that was because they only needed one tool. Later on, obviously, they made six tools of an object to meet the volume, so, therefore, all you needed was a set of any kind, so you could make each set different. Back there, we had to make things one of a kind. So, that partly answers the question on the where-did-wego-wrong bit. It just blossomed and exploded. I can't help but make a little bit of comparison: before the war years, let's say, the volumes were kind of low on such cars as the Lincoln Zephyr and the Lincoln Continental. Model A's, the '36 Ford--and they were sort of one of a kind, and General Motors, if you go back and check the records, were doing four one-of -a-kinds. After the war--'47, '48, '49--then things started exploding, certainly by the Fifties. The guys would come back from the [Armed] Services, everybody wanted a car, we'd have great volume at a cut cost--maintain cost--and get out to the marketplace. So, they had to build them for volume. That had a lot to do, too, with--if you look at the cross section of a pre-war car--let's say, through the hood-fender, catwalk and the body went this way, and you had running boards like this. Post-war type of cars was to have the fenders come up this way--like this--and the body came up this way. If I took a measuring stick and went from here to here, from here to here, there was less. metal used--basically no returns. Now, as cars started to get wider, and shortly after that--I'd say by 1950's--you were starting to lose that again because the cars were getting wider and wider. So, I would say this would be a more economical way of using sheet metal, too--this metal was a lot thicker back then, and you could get some pretty good draws.
That part of it, and you could draw it further, in effect, without tearing. And over here, in order to get compound surfaces you had to make your surfaces pretty clean across the chord line to get that metal to stretch without tearing--that has gotten to be a real art with the introduction of new steels, with the alloys stretching. So, where we went wrong--maybe it got to be more like cookie cutters--where before it had, a lot of chance to wander....
Q: Well, I was thinking in terms of the time when you went there in 1937 and working on a Lincoln Zephyr--and the last Lincoln Zephyr was the 1942--so, you probably worked on a 1939 or '40, I would guess.
A: Doing details of the thing.
Q: Whereas our [current] lead time is so much longer. I don't know t it is--60 months?
A: That would be toolings. The other thing is that cars were built at the Rouge plant--as we got stronger and better, then came Mitten [NUJ.] and in California and all the other places. So, it took a longer time to do things.
Q: It was probably simpler in those days.
A: I'd say your statement there is a good one. In this period, there were two noteworthy cars that I had worked on--one was an adventure, which was the "Boyer" plastic car, and part way through that job there was political upheaval, and it was taken away from the Design Department. I don't know who finished it. But, we never did finish the vehicle. It started as a design exercise, and we weren't supposed to do it, but we did it....
Q: Can you explain--can you identify [Robert] Boyer?
A: Bob Boyer--he was in charge of the exploration on soy beans converting to plastic, and we had soy bean ice cream in the cafeteria, which was pretty good.
Q: I have written probably as much as anybody on that development, and it was in an article in Special Interest Autos several years ago. Joe Cruppi worked on that [project]--well, he was an apprentice, we had a somewhat similar background--for years his father had an Italian grocery store in East Dearborn, and then, I guess, he asked one of his customers for a job for his son, and the guy grabbed a grocery bag and wrote something on it. "Take this down to Gate 4," and Joe was about 16, and started as an apprentice there in the chemical department. And, pretty soon Mr. Ford came and got all those chemical apprentices to work the soy beans--but that's another story.
[Looking at a picture of a chassis model in the Design Department]
A: This is a chassis. Can you see it? And, Gregorie had an idea about it--the tubular structure went up and over like a cross, and Gregorie's idea was to do it out of bent tubing. You can buy tubes of any diameter. He wanted to put the drive-shaft down through the main structure in here, and the Design Center did a little engine, built the springs on this. A fellow by the name of Johnny Hay, who was a tin-can, metal guy, and did a great job--he built the model. And, I had the job of drawing this-detailing and doing some of the sketches. So, that was one job that I had.
I did the design work on the [original] Continental coupe--taking it from the cabriolet roof to the rear fender and the deck back in here and the spare tire area. And, that's what it is. And this, you can see, is the tubular--that was a full-size layout showing it.
They were serious about that plastic car then.
Q: You said there was a political problem--you know about the details?
A: I think there must have been a blow-up between E.T. Gregorie, who was a designer's designer, and who wanted it to look good, and when he saw this thing starting to look like....
Q: It was grotesque.
A: ...like a potato--he wanted no part of it. He wanted to say, "Either I do it, and take it all, or take it away." I surmise that is what happened.
Q: What would have been the other department--engineering?
A: Engineering may have been asked to help out with it.
Q: Boyer, I think, was doing it--now this is second-hand on my part-- but, as I recall, what Cruppi said, Mr. Ford--the older Henry Ford--he read a book called The Soy Bean which--and he got the idea that he could do all these things and put these people to work on it, and they had done various things, and whether Boyer got the idea--I have forgotten, but-they got the idea of building this body out of the soy bean plastic, which they did--but the car wasn't shown off until August, 1941.
Q: The State Fair.
A: Yeah, but it was never completed, the car was never completed. The war came then rather hurriedly, and I was always convinced that the darned thing was still around here someplace, in the basement or something, and I still would not be surprised--because I tracked it as being around later on in the war--this was only 10 years ago. I just had an idea it might still be around someplace--here in the [Henry Ford] Museum or in the basement down there--God knows! But Boyer--I got the impression that it was pretty much Boyer's project--he was somewhat of a promoter, and he was getting--he would have had Henry Ford's backing--the elder Henry Ford's backing. Whereas Gregorie, I guess, was more a protege of Edsel. So, if you really may be getting into the supposed conflict between the old man and his son, I don't know. Did you ever see any of that? Do you remember any gossip about it?
A: No--not really. I had an idea of the constant struggle between Edsel and E.T. Gregorie against the rivals and the [Charles] Sorensens.
Q: Was Edsel in the Design Department, talking to Mr. Gregorie, or...?
A: Quite often--well, I remember....
Q: He is the mystery man, you see, of Ford Motor Company.
A: Edsel, yes. I remember him being brought over to my drawing board one day. I was doing a rendering--still got it at home--of a 1939 Lincoln Zephyr cabriolet, and E.T. [Gregorie] brought Mr. Ford over and said, "John, show Mr. Ford what we are going to do here," and I remember showing him something on the drawing, and Ford said, "That's very nice, I like that--why don't you do that," and walked away. I found the drawing later on--I don't know, 2-3 years later--saved it. But, I knew nothing of that struggle just when they came into the Design Department. I would stand back and watch and Sorensen say something about raising a moulding 1/16th of an inch--1/16th! I can't see it on the model! Mr. [Henry] Ford would come in, and I was tapped again on the shoulder one day when I was scraping away on a clay model, and turned around, and thought--before I opened my mouth, he said, "You like what you are doing?" [laughter]
Q: You think he knew who you were?
A: No--about four times after that--several times after that--he met me in the Design Department, no sign of recognition at all. It was always the same thing, and I was able to say, "Yes, sir, I love that job."
I was down in Photographic one day to pick up some pictures, and in walked Henry Ford. I was trying to remember the name of the product-economy something. Mr. Ford had a half of a log in his hand, about 18 inches long and about six inches wide at the flat point, and he handed it to the photographer, says, "Look at that. That little boy signed his name on that log for me, and I gave him my signature. Would you take a picture of this so I can send him a copy of his signature on the log? And, he walked out, and the photographer--so, evidently he had just come back from Georgia and had met somebody down there and had exchanged signatures.
Q: Where was Photographic then? The basement of Triple E?
A: It was then the administrative area--the Triple E--yeah, it had to be in the basement because I know they had the Johannson Gage Blocks still down there in the basement. So, I think it was. The other car, of course, that I worked on was the Continental which everybody likes to be associated with. And, I remember the early sketches which I didn't do, but I remember working on the--the special cabriolet.
Q: For Edsel to take down to Hobe Sound.
A: And, I have some of the original drawings on those that Eddie Martin made, and we did the interchangeability of the panels--showing how we could take Lincoln Zephyr and trim it, and stretch it, and cut off the bottom of the door, because E.T. Gregorie knew that he could never get the tooling through the company, so he had to build a special car and hope that he could do it in such a way that someday it could become a production version, and then he, E.T. Gregorie could have one. So, he worked this plan out, and Bud Adams was assigned to do the clay model (and there are pictures of it in Automobile Quarterly), and I was given the assignment to work with Eddie Martin--and also to show how the convertible top could go down. Why me? I don't know. But, I did a fullsize, blackboard drawing. So, I took the Lincoln Zephyr mechanisms as a start, looked at it, started out and then laid out cardboard patterns and stapled them to the wall, and I took a string outline to show the outline of the roof, and then we were able to show in a quick way--you could do that. So, E.T. Gregorie brought in Edsel Ford, showed him the sketches.
Don't know how well the sketches were done at the time, and who made them. The side-view drawings, how the pieces could be made--the little 1/10-size clay model and then the full-size layout that I had made with the top going down, and it got the go-ahead to go on.
Q: And that's--supposedly Edsel saw a car in Europe and wanted one likeit. Do you know any of that?
A: There are reminiscences by Eddie Martin. When Eddie was told he was going to leave the company, he chatted with me. I said, "Ed, why don't you some day do me a favor. Think back and write down what your feelings were about the Continental. Someday somebody will want to know about it," so he wrote me a four-page letter. I have it in his original writing. I've got reproductions of it, and he writes of the earliest time. Do you have a copy of it?
Q: I don't think I do.
A: Sorry I didn't bring a copy, but in this I had Jimmy Quinlan call Eddie Martin down in California and have Eddie reminisce on the phone to Jimmy Quinlan, and you see Eddie Martin's handwriting on the card to Jimmy (how lovely he writes). And, that's the first known reminisce when he talked about Henry Ford, Edsel Ford and Bennett. And, then I had given this--Eddie's impression, 1950, of the history of the Continental, and then Eddie went on to surmise a future. But, the story that's in here-for instance, he (E.T. Gregorie) never went up to Edsel Ford with a new idea without first doing a lot of groundwork, which either consisted of a well-timed hint here and there, and then sketches, and then, perhaps, a clay model in 1/10 scale, which Edsel Ford would "accidentally" run into-and then, finally, the appraisal of what was being done.
Q: Little subtle touches--interesting.
A: So, Mr. Ford had returned many times from Europe , having little cars shipped over--cars that he thought were cute. I remember that they were delivered to the Design Department.
Q: This was Edsel?
A: Yes, Edsel--Edsel Ford. And, Edsel Ford would come in, sit down and talk for an hour at a time with E.T. Gregorie, and, of course, Eddie Martin, and E.T. Gregorie would come out, shaking his head, saying, "We can do better than that--he is always talking about European cars," and that's where the name Continental came from--while he was out on the Continent--the Continental. And, so, as Eddie records it, that's how it got it's name. But, E.T. Gregorie had always liked the little cars that Mr. Ford brought back, and he was always talking about the little cars.
So, that was the beginning of the Continental, and later on when Mr. Ford received it--well, we have got it at the Design Center --the one of a kind. I don't know where E.T. had it built--whether it was done at the Lincoln plant, or what shop it was done at, but it was brought over [to styling]. And, E.T. had picked the color. It was a yellow-ochre. In fact, we all looked at it, and somebody said, "It's shit brindle." It was awful! And, engineering told him the bad news. The job was cracking right at the cowl--really cracking! "What are we going to do about it?" So, E.T. suggested they put some I-beams, cross shaped--remember, they put the engine in--they stretched out that long hood so there appeared tosome room between the cowl and the back of the engine. And, they put this X-member in there, welded it back in, and they painted it a steel-gray color, and, I believe, the trim was changed. And, then it was shown to Edsel, and he loved it. He thought it was magnificent, and, as I understood it, he had it shipped to Florida . Eddie reminisced that he took it some other place, but I remember it going to Florida .
Q: I always heard it was going to Hobe Sound. Hobe Sound is in Florida --above Palm Beach .
A: I am not familiar with it. And then he came back--and the good news raced around the Design Department--Mr. Ford really loves this car, we are going to see now. Get engineers over here, and we'll see if we can make these--what it'll take to make--and the only real hand building that had to be done was on the A:-pillar. They put that up with some angleiron, and they had to hand lead it in and get the header across there. It was hell to pay on the production line.
Q: They only made one of the 1939's then? Because there was a rumor
that there were a couple more made subsequently--such as for Henry and Benson--Henry II.
A: If there were, I was not aware of it.
Q: Speaking of which, did you ever encounter any of the Ford children in the shop in those early years? Benson and Henry would have been teenagers.
A: I think I can remember Bill.
Q: Of course, he didn't come along [at FMC] until after the war.
A: I remember being told that they were walking through the Triple E building, and I only remember seeing them at a distance. I don't know if was Bill or Benson. I am pretty sure it wasn't Henry II. And, they headed around the drafting boards of engineers. I don't remember them coming through the Design Department.
Q: Well, we talked about some of Najjar's projects. I guess that brings it up to some of the war work, I think.
Q: So, maybe we should cut it out here and pick it up with World War II and some of the design war work a little bit later.
Q: Yes, I'd like to explore John's thoughts about the styling and the designs a little bit more. Also, immediate pre-war cars or the late Thirties, which seemed to be, in many ways, a high point of fad design.
<<Previous Section - Next Section>>