AUTOMOTIVE DESIGN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
The Reminiscences of John Najjar
This is May 17th, 1984 , and this is the fourth and final interview with John Najjar in our continuing Design History Series, and this is Dave Crippen.
Q: John, I wonder if we might continue where we left off yesterday, but I'd like to ask you a rather leading question. We are very much interested in the impact and the influence that William Clay Ford had on Ford design history, and design history in general. And since you were fairly close to him at one point and have watched his career, [I wonder] if you would mind expanding on that.
A: Mr. Ford, Bill Ford, loves automobiles--loves them--and this is attested to by the fact that the Continental Mark II was a separate entity away from the production type of design we experience at the Design Center . He had a special group work on that vehicle, and the control that he exercised over that design and the systems he went through letting designers do their job--presentations--formulating that vehicle, was a statement that he had an appreciation for good design, and he was a good manager. As the fortunes of the company went in different directions, it became important to the company that the design department become one, and, so, in 1955, Vice-President under George Walker--after Walker was appointed and Bill Ford's separate [Continental] department was dissolved and brought under the aegis of Ben Mills, and the designers were put under myself and Bordinat. Anyhow, it had quite an impact on
William Ford to have lost his separate organization, and he was made Vice-President of Design, among other duties. I believe for a while there he had sort of lost the direct contact with the Design Center , but it didn't last long. He would attend meetings with George Walker, and, in fact, their offices in the Design Center were adjacent to one another, and I am sure that although he was not visible in the studios during the normal working hours on the daily program, I experienced many times, on an after-hour basis, that he would come back into the studios and walk around the studios and chat with us about programs--specifically about design. From what I heard from my level, he did attend all the major presentations where the management of the company were requested to approve specific programs, so his input was there. When Mr. Walker left, Mr. Bordinat was appointment Vice-President, and he took the office right next to Mr. Ford again, and, I think, the contact grew a little stronger. Mr. Ford, being a designer, at least in my opinion, understood that you don't ride herd on a designer to get the best creativity, you give him his head and let him go ahead. Fortunately, for the company, at this time--or unfortunately, as you want to see it--Bordinat was the best combination that could have happened at the time--terrific designer, good appreciation for design, and, above all, he had an understanding of the management, production facilities, control of the company, and he was very articulate. So, therefore, in his discussions--a few minutes discussion with Mr. Ford, once a day or several times a week--Mr. Bordinat could fill in Mr. Ford as to the basic programs, the directions we were taking, and with a few series of photographs, keep Mr. Ford abreast as to what was going on. And Mr. Ford, being the kind of man I envisioned him to be, and experienced him to be in some cases, he was too gentle to step forward and force his opinion on the people. If he liked the presentation brought up to him, he would not say, "Well, that's very good--but why don't you try another method?" He embraced the concept that Bordinat had presented through his designers, because he knew it was a team effort. So I would say, no, he did not force his personality any more than his father, Edsel Ford, did. He had the spirit of Edsel Ford-a quiet demeanor, and you knew that the knowledge was there. I could ramble on for hours, but that was my impression of him.
Q: I wonder also if in that same context you can evaluate the entirely different situation under Henry Ford II--President and, eventually, Chairman--and his role in design decisions. From what you said yesterday, [this] seemed to stem from the sort of final decision, after all the steps had been taken.
A: Well, the Company--we never forgot who ran the company, who had full control of it. And that was [with] a heavy gloved hand at times, and a gentle feather touch at other times. There was never any question that F-O-R-D was the name of the building--the name of the company. Mr. Ford, who, I am sure, was not only privy to that level of meeting, would sit down in long-range planning with his vice-presidents in charge of each of the divisions. They would have to make paper presentations saying, I think the Lincoln or the Mercury, or whatever vehicle it may be, should go in this direction--market support says it should be this kind of vehicle--design says it should look like this, and Mr. Ford would agree or disagree with the overall direction. He'd say the vehicle should be a little shorter, or longer--"I believe this direction is the right one." In meetings that I was privy to and during the presentation of the 1958 Lincoln , he exercised strong opinions. A typical show day for the vice-presidents and Mr. Ford--if the weather was nice, we'd roll the vehicles, the clay-models, out into the courtyard. If the weather was inclement, we'd take them into the showroom. There'd be several vehicles in the show--sometimes several studios would participate--with the Edsel, the Lincoln, the Mercury, all being shown concurrently. Messrs. Ford and Breech would walk by each vehicle, and the stylist would make the presentation on the vehicle. I remember one day Mr. Ford and entourage stopped at the back end of this 1958 Lincoln, and Mr. Ford had remarked that the blades--the top of the fenders, quarter panels--were ending kind of abruptly and looked a little too severe and should be sharpened a bit. He would add details such as that to express his opinion. But he never came out and said, "Your design philosophy is awful, it should follow the evolution of Bertone." I never witnessed that, but he may have said it at other meetings. But there it was as an influence--it was a positive influence coming in. In a couple of instances--I remember one thing, as an aside, there was a show in the showroom, and the showroom began to fill up--Mr. Ford was in there with several vice-presidents. Each vice-president had his product planner, the product planner had his group of staff standing there, and the chief engineer was there for each car. He had a couple of back-up people there with heavy black [note]books. We chief stylists were there, with George Walker, and I had a couple of my people with me. Mr. Ford came into this meeting, and the showroom was full. He looked around the showroom, and, evidently, it got to him, and he politely said to the vice-presidents, Ben Mills and a few others, "Let's have the showroom cleared." And out! Just can't make decisions of this caliber. So everybody, including myself, moved out into the Design Center [showroom lobby] area, and we sat there and waited. When Mr. Ford was done, he came out, smiled, and nodded his head, and we were each called in by the vice-president and told what Mr. Ford had said. So no question on that, he was not about to have his words, or his statements, or his opinions, echoed throughout the company below a certain level, and, evidently, he made some strong statements.
Q: It's interesting that you were always aware, though, that he was up to date on current design trends. He knew what he was talking about-aside from his personal opinion.
A: Absolutely. He knew car models, and he knew competition--Chrysler, General Motors, and [other] names were not unfamiliar. Performance was not unfamiliar to him. He could talk color, talk shape, with Bob McNamara he could talk production volumes, with the manufacturing people-talk tools--just an astounding display. And, of course, being the boss helped to make it even more astounding, but it was there.
Q: Another thing, following along that line--under Henry Ford II the company made several attempts to work with Italian designers, as I recall, over the years. Do you know anything about that?
A: Very sketchily--Mr. Henry Ford II traveled around the world, obviously, and he loved racing cars, had a high respect for the Italian designers, and, for the life of me, I can't remember the name of one vehicle, but it was about 1953-1954. Mr. Henry Ford II saw this one vehicle over in Italy and had it shipped back and said, "Why can't we do vehicles like this?" About that time, George Walker was on the scene, and the X-100 was started--a low [slung] vehicle--but it was the American version of it, with the chrome, the bronze and the push and things. I think Mr. Ford was trying to say, as early as that time, "Why can't I have low, sleek-looking, clean, tastefully ornamented vehicles?" And through the marketing staff and other people's influence, I've got to have the razzmatazz, I've got to have power, I've got to have push--he pulled back a little bit, and he left it to the Lincolns and other special vehicles to satisfy this desire. Later on, in the 1960's, [in] the Design Center , I am sure, with the help of Henry Ford II (Iacocca was in there), specialty vehicles were starting to make an impact--the racing car impact, the flashiness. I shouldn't say flashiness--the package that the Italian designer worked with--he designed for a two-seater, midengine or rear-engine, low-slung vehicle--completely disregarded the need in America for a 4-passenger, 6-passenger vehicle. So there was one task force that was put into play--Gene Bordinat could probably tell it better--where the Design Center was given the task of developing a 5-6 place passenger sedan, and that same objective was sent to Italy, and, I think, there were three Italian designers asked to meet that package, that objective. Forget the little, low-slung, 2-passenger thing that anybody, you know, can really make a winner. So these vehicles were done over in Europe -- Italy --and they were shipped to the United States and shown along with the American version. And I would say that there was some cheating done--cars were a little bit lower, and certain dimensions were changed by the Italian designers. They just couldn't accept the fact that they had to get up to this vertical height and this spaciousness to accommodate these number of people--and the [their] designs fell apart. And the Design Center 's design won out, but there were certain little quirks on the Italian cars that were picked off and moved over [to the Design Center version]. So the Italian designer--there was one that Mr. Iacocca had hooked up with--DeTomaso. He had been a race car driver- -sort of rich in his own right--and we had hired him to do a couple of cars, and these would be imported and sold in the United States . And, I think, they built a few of them and....
Q: There were a few abortive attempts in the 'Sixties and 'Seventies--like the Pantera.
A: That was it, and there was a falling out. DeTomaso wanted more money or did not want to fall into the plan of working with the vehicles. But that relationship over in Italy grew into the fact that we found out--Bordinat found out--that the Italian car body builders can build our show cars and special cars cheaper and swifter than we could do them in our own [State-side] shop. For the same price that we could build a fiberglass, non-operable vehicle, they, in Italy, could take our fiberglass shell, convert it to metal, or use the fiberglass shell and swing doors on it, and open hoods, and put it on an operable chassis for the same price that we could just have a fiberglass dummy model. So that began the relationship of having a design arm in Italy . And that continues today.
Q: I wonder if we might continue your career narrative from here.
A: Right. I remembered something I had said on the last tape about the presentation of the re-design of the management room at the guest center ...a few things that I mentioned to Mr. Ford, and I could only remember two of them at the last tape, and the three things were.... We had designed a 12 foot round sculpture of the world, showing all the ocean currents, the world's geographical divisions, and on this world sculpture we had pinpointed all the Ford locations--even if they were only general sales offices. This world map was to be installed in the London office and was completed and finished and sent over to London . In London , Mr. Henry Ford II, at the recommendation of the architect (Jones), felt that it was not just right for the offices there and suggested it be shipped back to the united States . So a few days before this meeting with Mr. Ford on the re-do of this guest center's reception area, the sculpture had come back. So that was the basis of my comment to Mr. Ford: "You didn't like our world map, you sold the 747, and now you don't like the wallpaper...." I just want to correct the record.
Q: That was a long time ago.
A: Just shows the type of people.... Incidentally, if I may, I've always been prideful of the fact that I have had the opportunity to talk, however briefly, to Henry Ford I, had talked with Edsel Ford, had many, many discussions with Henry Ford II on a one-to-one basis, briefly, but in several meetings, talked with William Clay Ford, and had some discussion with Edsel Ford II as he started his career at Ford Motor Company.
Q: Before you begin, that reminds me, would you round out the trio of grandsons--what about Benson Ford? What kind of impact did he have on styling?
A: Mr. Benson Ford dealt mainly with the Lincoln-Mercury area, and he, again, like most of the Ford Family, was very quiet, made his statements, had good taste, would patiently listen to the presentations as they were made--no comments. I would say his contribution was his good taste and understanding for design. He was just a pleasure to be with in meetings. But he had asked one time if we can do any special little cartoon for him, which I took on, and it was an 18x24 drawing of the female mammary glands, showing various sizes and with automotive titles listed below them--such as horn buttons and gas pedals, things of this nature, showing that there was a sense of humor also. It wasn't only the formal business of running a business--there was a human side to it.
In the year of 1974, Ford Motor Company decided that they were to have an additional aircraft, and they purchased a 727, and it came from the Japanese Airlines. At that time, Ford Motor Company had [an affiliate] in Japan , and, I guess, Japan 's rules said that they couldn't take money out of the country. But they could take out things, so they took out the 727 for, I guess, a couple million dollars. At that time, Iacocca, Mr. Ford, and others in the company were required to really travel around the world, and the Grumman planes (which they had) had to make a couple of stops in getting to Europe. And, in respect for big business, time is important, and time is money, and decisions are important-to have that person at that place at the proper time so that they could be made in correct timing. Thus, they were required to sometimes be in Australia , sometimes in England , sometimes in Germany . And so to make it more convenient--the 727 was one of the best aircraft, and still is, could be serviced any place in the country, any place in the world, and parts could be obtained for it. So this 727 was modified. We were told that we could participate in the design of the interior. This was a breakthrough for the industrial design office, and we did that on the 727 which meant the placement of the seating--the people on the aircraft carrier, how will they be placed, how could the aircraft pay for itself? Although the 727 normally carried--it was a non-extended version, a 727-100 model, not the extended 200--and the 100 carried roughly 110-115 people, and no way would Ford Motor Company carry that many people to the meetings, nor was it going to be a personal airplane for two people. So the rear end of the aircraft, the aft compartment--carried about 30 people in the aft section--steerage, if you want to put it that way. From that point [forward] there was a main section, and then ahead of that was a stateroom, and, as this aircraft went to Europe, it could carry additional passengers [in the aft compartment] in order to pay for this flight. The idea was always there that it would not be an expense to the company. The studio also designed the Convairs which carried 35 people on the "milk runs" from Metropolitan Detroit down to Nashville and further on down to Muscle Shoals and carry a large number of people that had, on a daily basis, to make contact with the various plants. And the Grummans were continued to be maintained by the air staff. So that was quite an experience for the industrial designer and the car designer to get their feet wet in these new disciplines. And, again, the disciplines of aircraft were kind of stringent--you couldn't just design heavy, ponderous items--they had to be designed with light-weight material which required a different task from the designer. About the same time, in '74, the Ford Division was prepared to launch its all-new Mustang-heralding a new concept for the Mustang, which was called the Mustang II. And the Ford Division wanted to bring in people from all around the country to show them this wonderful new thing. They decided to have a guest display room built over at Ford Division, and so the industrial design office was asked to design that, which we did. It was built and was a great success. In 1974, and that whole period, the Renaissance Center, working with Mr. Ford, John Portman (architect) and Ed Lundy, was quite an experience watching that grow from architectural drawings, a model, into a full-fledged building.
Q: What was the impact of the Industrial Design Department on the Renaissance Center ?
A: The Industrial Design Department--before the architect was picked, we were asked by Wayne Doran to make presentation material showing the different sites of property available in Metropolitan Detroit [where] this concept of Mr. Ford's could be built. And, if I may make an aside, the concept that Mr. Ford had was something that would help the City of Detroit and the greater Metropolitan Detroit, to make it a viable center, to give it new life, and we had named it Renaissance, within the company. Later on there was a contest, and we couldn't say anything about it, but somebody won it by [proposing] giving that name, but it was a re-birth, a coming back. So early on, Wayne Doran, with Mr. Lundy, wanted to present to Mr. Ford various alternative choices of property sites, what it could look like, what its densities would be. We were given the task with Wayne Doran to take these mental formulations of square footage and convert them into a little model. We elected to pick the river site, and our concept consisted of three triangular shaped buildings, going up about 50 stories high, spaced widely apart, so it would not damage the view of the river, and a lot of green space. The presentation was made to Mr. Ford, a plan was laid out by Mr. Doran, and how they could bring in--with Mr. Lundy--General Motors, and other supports, so it wouldn't become a Ford project. Mr. Ford was very positive about this. He did not want it to be identified as Ford's development. If all these people are going to be contributing, somehow this had to be set aside from Ford Motor Land Development, a separate entity set up so the money could flow in, and everybody could get credit. Our model was shown to Mr. Ford, the plan was shown to Mr. Ford, and he said, "Go ahead." Then the next phase of the game was that a selection was to be made of the property by Mr. Ford and others on the staff. Then came the problem of selecting which architect. Wayne Doran gave a list of them to give to Mr. Ford, and John Portman was selected. And, at that time, we offered John Portman, who had come up and looked at our presentation on Ford Motor land development, the development of Fairlane, and he was impressed by it. We had, at that time, offered to assist him any way we could. Well, being the architect and having his own staff, no way was he going to let us participate. But as the time went on, Wayne Doran found that he was going down to Atlanta , looking at drawings, and the sketches and the drawings weren't quite enough to show to Mr. Ford and the group. We convinced Wayne that we could build a model of it, and even take Mr. Ford inside the [proposed] building. With some reluctance, Mr. Portman sent us up his plans, and we went down [to Atlanta ] on a couple of trips to look at the details. We came back to the Design Center , I put Steve Sherer in charge of it, and a model of the Renaissance Center grew. It stood about 6-7 feet high, was on a display table about 7 feet x 7 feet, and we took photographs of this model, illuminated it on the inside so you could see nighttime shots of it. For daytime shots of it, we did background photography showing how you would be standing inside the building--you could basically take a walk through it, then we made this presentation to Mr. Ford and Mr. Portman, and they liked it. That presentation, in fact, was picked up and moved by Mr. Portman and Mr. Ford downtown to the Economic Club--showing what was to come, and it was also moved to the Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit City Council. The models were carried down there and shown. That made quite an impact. Along about that same time, in '72, Ford Motor Company, at Mr. Lundy's direction, with Will Scott, was casting about for other ventures to expand the company's base. They had been into Philco-Ford, and Aero-Nutronics was starting up, and they wanted to check to see if they could get into lowcost housing--the rage then was people movers--into small, ancillary companies that were just emerging, such as the garden appliance field. And so the Industrial Design Office was contacted by Will Scott, and we went off and started to contact these different activities and [took on] the responsibility of ferreting out these new businesses. Thus, we got into doing homes that were built on a modular basis, like wooden trailers, that could be built in a factory and shipped out. I think it was called "Concept Environments." In California we worked with an emerging company called Orline which was doing garden tools and designed and developed a handheld snow plow with them, and a hand-held chain saw--doing design concepts for these companies, which didn't have design staffs of their own, so we put a few hours into helping them. And the biggest one was the people mover, the automatically-controlled transportation--ACT--and, of course, Washington was in on people movers. There was some funding that we were trying to get out of Washington , but it ended up with the concept being created and developed and installed in Fairlane. The two Parklane towers, with their connecting low building in between, was to become the platform at which you debark from the people mover as it swung across that building. So, the plan was to go from World Headquarters North to the Parklane Towers , West to the AAA building, past the medical building, into the Fairlane Town Center and into the Hyatt Hotel. And, hopefully, we had envisioned plans for it to go down to Greenfield Village and make a tour, but we found out that it cost, at that time, about five million dollars a mile. We had put in just under 3/4 of a mile into Fairlane, and in no way could Ford Motor Company stand that cost. So it was quite an experience. The Governor of Michigan was in to look at the ACT--we had built a full-sized model of it in the Design Center basement, and as we were the guest center for Wayne Doran's Ford Motor Land Development, we were the guest center for the automatically-controlled vehicles. It was quite an exciting time, and the vehicle is still working. To go over the years 1970 to 1979, the impact of the oil embargo quickly curtailed the company's fortunes, and other [automobile] companies' fortunes. There was a pull-back within all companies, and the impact we felt at the Design Center was that no moneys were suddenly available to have the Design Center do a Glass Division movie, or a Glass Division booklet, which we finally did. People were starting to retrench, pulling their budget tightly, and the first thing that was lopped off was the Industrial Design. As the business declined, Industrial Design fell back on its mainstay, which was doing all the graphics for Ford Motor Company products--all the name plates, all the ornamentations, speedometers-anything dealing with lettering. It was also decided that a director title was a bit much [for the department] to carry, so they decided that it should be held at the manager level. I was called in the office and told that I was being transferred to the truck and tractor studio to work for dim Sipple, and I worked there from 1974 to 1979--as an assistant director. And this was kind of nice for me because my salary grade was
not cut, and it felt good to me. During that period, we designed the 1979 trucks and the all-new 1980 trucks. We did a "Courier" light truck for Japan , a new CL heavy truck, an LTL heavy truck and production show tractors. But Bordinat had never forgotten that I was a highly-paid assistant director, and I should do other things in the truck studio, and so he would entrust to me the responsibility of designing all the [unique] programs that came by, and one of those was the 1978 dealer presentation display, which was held down at the Renaissance Center . I designed a display called "Meeting the Challenge," and it took the person from initial design vehicles within Ford Motor Company--how we designed them for People and Package and things of this nature--and showed the impact of government mandates on design. It showed how we did a package interior box, and as this show concept wound around the [hotel] corridors, there were titles and drawings showing how design at Ford Motor Company was done. At the end of this area, we had the production vehicles that were being introduced in that year and how we met the challenge of cost-cutting and oil performance. At the very end of the presentation were three or four cars which said, this is predicting the future. The show was a success, and many of the dealers came through there. In 1979 it was decided that Ford Motor Company would have a world-wide management meeting to be held the Renaissance Center , and people would be called in from around the world and talk about Ford Motor Company and the future--how we are going get back on [track]. And my task on that was to design, at the Design Center, a day for the wives of management, to come in and look at design, h w it went, and the future. I developed a program there of what aerodynamic means, what clay modeling means, what design meant, how it was done, women's growth in the company--so they would have an interest and an understanding of some of the buzz-words, so when they met with their husbands, they could talk about things that their husbands understood. And certain of the management men came back for a private showing so they, too, could see what we were showing. So that was the type of thing that I engaged in from 1974 to 1979. I could go into details on each of the trucks, but, again, I found trucks to be a little challenge--they had to perform--and now there was less opinion about how they looked, there was more of how they performed and how were they perceived by the trucker and not by some guy establishing design for them.
Q: In that regard, I wonder if you would mind if we threw a few questions at you that you have already seen, that Jim Bibb suggested that may be apropos--what was Jim's sphere?
A: Jim Bibb--as I remember him, was in product planning, and also engineering, and in the truck area. If you ever worked in the truck group, those engineers and the people that had the product planning, had to work close to the vest. They somehow never had the big budget, yet they made the biggest profit. As I mentioned in the last interview, for instance, the light truck produced a million copies a year. Mr. Iacocca had made 500,000 Mustangs in one year. It was nothing for the light trucks to achieve that, and the profit on the light truck was fantastic. Yet Caldwell, and Cappolongo, Petersen, and others played the budget close to their chest. The profit objectives were kind of big for the truck People, and they--to bring back the story of multi-purpose product Planning--had an understanding, they knew the vehicle--and Bibb was one of the people that worked on that staff under Lundstrom. I have to pay tribute to him.
Q: I am glad you did. The truck seemed to have been kind of the bread and butter item of the industry, the one with the lowest budget, the least cost, and brought in fairly good profit.
A: That's absolutely right.
Q: In terms of styling--did you find your sojourn at the truck design department challenging in the sense that it presented a different set of problems than designing cars?
A: Yes. When the cars had to go by a percentage, you could say they were 25% shape, 75% substance--meaning the engine, chassis, had to perform. If it didn't do that, and let's say 25% was perceived by the customer, it had the most performance levels, and you could identify with it. Whereas on a truck, they had to be 95% certain they functioned, and the rest of it was--design. And different types of trucks required a different change in their percentage--for instance, the big heavy trucks, the big Louisvilles and the CL's, had more model function. As you got down into the light truck, it had to have function, but it also had to have that appearance. So it required more attention to function. But, as the years went by and performance was required, and aerodynamics of the passenger cars appeared, there, again, you just couldn't put a pretty shape on the thing. The aerodynamic function of that vehicle formed the shape, and, fortunately, the two came together very nicely. So there was more function.
Q: In recent years, though, it is my impression that in the 'Seventies the trucks came into their own as good looking, as well as utilitarian vehicles.
Q: You may well have had some impact on that concept.
A: I think we did. I mention once again, the Ford--a family look--that recognition was very important, the recognition of that truck was important to the VP in charge of trucks. He understood that, he wanted to recognize a Ford truck a mile away, if he could--F-O-R-D had to stand out. And truckers--the big heavy end were always going to the Peterbilts and Kenworths as being the standby, and those were images that we had to pick up. It was not just a skin. design, but from the outside to the inside, Ford trucks looked substantial, looked smart, looked rugged. And that's what we tried to achieve. But then we pick up a theme there again was that diamond theme that we established early in 1964--that same shape--it had served us well, and still served us well throughout all our design.
Q: Did you have anything to do with that huge turbine truck of the late 'Sixties, early "Seventies, that carried around a Ford show for a time?
A: Yes, my participation in that was doing some grille work on that and doing some of the coloring on it. And I try to remember the basic vehicle--it took off of a production vehicle, and it was gussied up with chrome and paint stripes and some grille texture.
Q: Is it still around?
A: I have no idea.
Q: One question that seems to strike both you and I as a key one--how does the C -series, tilt cab, forward truck, which is still in production after almost 25 years, continue to have a fresh style and be a leader in its class?
A: That vehicle, if I remember correctly, was designed by Bill Wagner and Bud Kaufman in the truck studio. It was a box, in effect, and it just happened to have that happy marriage of all good shapes, all good design, and was just a damn good concept. And that's why it has lived so long with only minor changes, such as in the grille area [where] I was able to effect some changes and the impact of lighting--side-lighting by government mandates and things of that nature, tack-ons. But the basic design is still there, because the designers had appreciation of its function, and it was to provide good visibility for the driver, so they made a good, wide windshield. The door panel had a jog in it with a controlled window vent which was located so the driver could look down to the ground slightly ahead of him and had a good visibility in the rear. I just wish I had designed it.
Q: Something which intrigues me--how were you able to guide the thoughts of your styling bosses and corporate officers in developing a [striking] truck image when the corporation styling was so passenger car oriented?
A: Well, it really wasn't that hard, because the man that was in charge of the truck group, such as Philip Caldwell, was mindful that the truck had to compete with the competitors and not with management within the company--it was out in the marketplace, and it had better look very "trucky." The Design Center was fortunate enough to have those truck people believe that we could do the job and give them that appearance, a marriage of function and truck--so it wasn't really a heavy task, and the other members of management that had approval authority for the truck, understood that, and they stayed away from the form of automobiles.
Q: The Louisville series, which I think you had much to do with--can you give us a thumbnail description of how that started and how that went?
A: The truck group--they weren't in a separate division, they always fell under the Ford Division--had long wished that they could get into the heavy truck range with a volume of trucks. They were in it, and a small series of trucks were going up through there, but now they wanted to flush it out and do some trucks that filled more specific needs-cement mixers, with a set-back axle--which meant that the nose protruded, so that the distance from the back of the cab to the front of the bumper was as short as possible, still having the engine over the axle position, and the driver behind that in the back position rather than over it in the cab-over series. This vehicle must compete with Mack and Kenworth, and, at that time, Mack and Kenworth were into fiberglass shells on the front end, and so we followed that concept, that the front end should be a light-weight thing, the cab must be durable. So the Louisville series was started. It had been a dream of the truck division for many years, and it could never get the money [allocated] to it--the huge amount of money dedicated to build the tools, enter this market and take the gamble. Finally the decision was made to start off and see how it would look. So we started a series of 3/8 clay models--we must have had about 6 or 7 3/8 clay models showing the various traits of functional vehicles that would fill the L-series range of trucks, and also the different designs that could fit on them. One of the designs came up as the diamond grille, and the diamond shape, the tumble home shape, flowing into the cab, and everything just seemed to come all together because it was shown in 3/8 scale, shown in rendering form, and got the green light to start in full size. So we had to pick it up from there--it had to have a high degree of interchangeability, and one of the things to reduce the interchangeability was to have the same door fit right and left. This was a huge task because we, at the Design Center , wanted to angle the windshield aft in order to make the air flow easier over the cab, but the cost of tooling won out, and it had to have an interchangeable type door. And it still exists in the Louisville cab.
Q: Jim Wagner asked--we wonder how John Najjar's influence was directed at the current Ford truck styling, and I am interested in your input on these--the Ram, the LTL 9000, the CL 9000 series, and, finally, the Ranger series.
A: You can see, by the number of projects, that we had a busy studio. At overtime, we had a staff of about 5 designers--Charley Phaneuf was my right-hand man, so he basically had 5 people underneath him. On the Ram--which was a code name for the all-new 1984 truck--itself, subjective, because of the impact of the oil shortage and the cost of gas, the objective was to make the Ram still carry the same loads that it had, but to be dramatically reduced in length, height, and overall width to help achieve a lighter weight truck. To that end, a number of Rams were developed--program Rams--and they were built in clay-model form, and sent around the country for interviews and reviews--surveys by various trucking people. The Ford Division was after rounded surfaces because they had had success with our '67 trucks, and they were slightly rounded with a feeling of heftiness. When you take something like 4 inches out of the middle of a truck and still carry [three with driver] two passengers, the body size suddenly starts to be a vertical wall rather than a shapely wall, so our task was to try to get some of the conventional, the physical shape back into the vehicle. The other thing in putting shape back in the vehicle was function. You couldn't take a piece of sheet metal and run it for 36 inches on just a stretch form, you had to put some character in it to give it stiffness. But what we had designed in the 1967 Ford, was the long body side-spear that ran from the nose to the rear end of the vehicle, terminating in the taillamp. In the subsequent model-I think it was the '69--I take it back--so we had '67 Ford truck--there was another truck in between there done by Jim Sipple, which had taken the protruding body side spear, which had been accepted by the industry as giving it strength, and recessed it. In recessing that spear as a concavity within the body, Jim had pulled the body shell outboard, gave it a more rounded surface--that was a successful truck, and the Division liked that. But when we pushed the body side in, there was no place now for all this excess space. So what we did, we indented, and gave it a groove front to rear--on that particular truck--and then put character around the wheel lips. That was a real challenging task to take all the way. In our presentation that we presented finally to certain dealer people--my part of the program was to talk about the truck, and talked about "How would you like to lose 600 pounds on your diet program? We went through a diet, and we took off, roughly, 6 inches around the middle, we took a little bit off the length, and this is how we achieved the weight reduction." The dealers liked the truck, it still kept a feeling of heftiness and strength. We also had to make certain aerodynamic objectives at this time.
Q: An aerodynamic truck?
A: Basically a box with rounded corners, but, nevertheless, we were going to achieve performance improvement and plan little spoilers underneath the front bumper, the shape of the front bumper, the shape of the hood, the little details around the window moldings--all went to improving the performance of the vehicle. On this light truck, to get that feeling of massiveness, I came up with the thought that, in plan view, instead of the grille and headlight running in a relatively straight line, what we will do would be to let the plan view width run out to the width of the grille, and from that point the headlights [headlight frames & bumper] were to be angled aft, giving that chamfered look. I argued that the chamfered look would make the nose look like it's thrusting, have power, and it would be functional. They said, "How so?" And I said, "Well, you are doing a U-turn, those corners will no longer be there and give you added turning radius," and so that chamfered look carried throughout that truck, and, again, if you look at the design concept, we had a diamond look, edges--here the chamfered look was now being brought in. The taillights had a chamfer, so that they would wrap around on the body side and give side illumination and not requiring the company have a separate light for side light--so it became one. And that wets a costly thing to do, but they figured it was worthwhile for the look.
Q: Can you explain the term "chamfer?"
A: Chamfer is--when you look at a corner, which is a 90° intersection of two planes, horizontal and vertical, chamfer is a 45 0 cut, eliminating that corner. I don't know how else I could say that. It's a softening of the corner, but not with a radius but with an angle--a chamfer.
Q: The Ranger has been particularly successful. Is that gratifying to you?
A: Yes. The Ranger was started, and, along with the Ranger, was started the mini-van package. We knew the Econoline was big, and the dream of the designer for the last 10-15 years was to develop this lowprofile van, combination of a little light truck and the Econoline, and our loss of Hal Sperlich and Iacocca to Chrysler, along with a few other people, indicated that the idea did not germinate at Chrysler. It wasn't conceived at Chrysler, it was conceived at Ford, and grew into fruition at Chrysler because it was a good thing, and the Ford group were never able to amass the millions of dollars required to put this vehicle into production. From the designer's point of view, it was--seems to have been first again, but it was missed. That was growing out of the studio as a running counterpart with the Ranger program--and the Ranger was to be the baby truck--and, here again, the same principles were applied, and they could look as strong and bold and still carry the Ford line. And, here again, the little chamfer surface is still maintained. And that had to go through aerodynamics, and that was one of the programs that was just being completed--one of the last trucks that I had designed just before I left. During the same period we worked on the CL. Jim Sipple had started it when I first came on board in 1974: he had the basic concept of the truck done, but I was able to exert some more influence in there on finishing off the diamond grille and the details of the vehicle. This was a great vehicle, it had great innovations in it, allowing Ford Motor Company to compete directly with open competition. It had a special, floating ride feature--everything designed so the truckers could really climb up into that cab, it had built-in handrails on it, had sleeping compartments--truly a luxury truck, because that particular breed of truck is owned to a degree by independent operators who live in the truck day and night, so great attention was paid to it. The LNT 9000 series was Ford's introduction of a heavy truck, with long nose sticking out the front of the cab in order to house a powerful engine. Here, again, we put in the diamond-shaped grille, the chamfered surfaces, the swept-back headlights, the strong-shouldered fenders, paying attention to aerodynamics again. And as we got through, it was harder to do, but it could improve the performance by 1/10.--it was certainly worthwhile. The color programs on that, and the engine cover had a tilt forward, there was a lot of fine designing and engineering going on to achieve the look and the objective. Going briefly back to the [original] Louisville--in order to have good performance, oil cleaners were mounted traditionally on the outside of the vehicle on many of the trucks, and I was not about to have the oil cleaner sticking out through a design of this diamond nose on the side of the hood. I challenged the engineers to [see] if the oil cleaner could work horizontally as well as vertically--yes, it could. Why couldn't we mount it horizontally into the hood? "0h, we don't want to do that, it would be a tough job!" But we convinced the head of Ford Truck that it would improve the appearance, it would improve air flow, and so that L-series truck is running around today with its air intake in a circular form off the side of the hood. And that, too, is the air intake on the LNT 9000--to the credit of the engineers, that intake comes in from the louvers on the side, improving the appearance.
Q: You mentioned the Peterbilt truck a few minutes ago. Did the popularity of that design have any influence on the heavy truck series that you pioneered in the 'Seventies?
A: I would say, all the trucks had an influence--Peterbilt had its look, but it had the radiator--the radiator was on the outside, and it has chrome going around it--was especially functional. And the grille was functional. But in order to meet our cost objectives, no way could we afford that big heavy chrome, so what we did was to bury the radiator underneath a fiberglass and stamped metal grille. When I left that studio Jim Sipple, I believe, became a part of it, and, under his aegis, they developed a chrome band that fit over the fiberglass, which gave the impact of--that the radiator was a solid cast radiator. So, yes, the image of Peterbilt and Kenworth, with their exposed heavy radiators, were reminiscent of the old steam locomotives. Here is the power, and spotlight there in front, and a big ornament with its bulldog up on top, and we tried to achieve that with less costly methods. That less costly method also made the truck lighter, which in turn gave us a chance to sell it at a more economical price and improved performance.
Q: I noticed also that, probably under your regime, truck interiors became much less utilitarian and more....
A: True, they did. However, the Design Center had been divided into an interior group versus the exterior group, and so a whole different group had charge of the interiors. As we stepped out into new shapes on the exterior, interior studios went even further with the interior of the vehicles.
Q: You mentioned the mini van, which had such a success at Chrysler, and Hal Sperlich. Hal Sperlich might well be one of the underrated figures of this era, especially--would you not agree--in product planning?
A: Yes. Hal Sperlich was a dynamic individual, very creative, alert mind, agile with figures, understanding, primarily, the marketplace, the need for having good vehicles out there, and that is why Mr. Iacocca had him under his wing, off on the side, always in there pitching. But for some of the members of management, he may have been a little too pushy, a little too dynamic, a little too bold, a little too outspoken in some of his statements, even though he may have been a hundred percent right. It would just be an [abrasive] thing. But as a designer, relating to Hal Sperlich, I found him an understanding product planner. I did not work with him a hundred percent of the time--in fact, it was really minimal. Gale Halderman's career paralleled Hal's on a much longer basis. But I found him completely mellow, when he talked about a vehicle, and, if you want to get this, it was for Ford Motor Company, it was for the product, it was for the market--it was not for Hal Sperlich.
Q: The Aerostar Van--did you have any input into that? The one that's going to be introduced in 1985, I believe?
A: No. Only the early studies that we had done when we were doing the Ranger, and kind of pushed for that kind of vehicle. In fact, some of the derivatives off the Ranger--using the Ranger front end and windshield and trying to put a mini van configuration where the pickup box is, and _t just never came off. It looked like a tack-on--a wart on the nose. When it was designed for itself, and there were a couple of attempts at that, it looked good. And, I think, Ken Spencer, and some of the Ford studios had the task of doing some of these vehicles.
Q: In terms of competition in styling among the latter-day trucks, Chevrolet has had fairly good success with the S-10, versus the Ranger. How did you view Chevrolet truck styling in the last decade?
A: As tough competitors, who always were able to get a little bit more money in their budget--I would put 10% factor on it to achieve--we had achieved as much as Chevy did with less. And that task was throughout the whole truck area, that's why the profits were so good. We would drool at some of the things they were able to do in the casting of their grilles--grilles have stopped being stamped grilles, and were becoming molded plastic grilles, and to get the plastic people of Ford Motor Company to step up and do what G.M. could do and was doing. They played catch-up, and they did a pretty good job, and we were able to achieve a lot of the look. But they were a formidable competitor, and, as we heard through the grapevine, they worried about Ford--Ford had done several things, and--I can't trace it down, but there is a complimentary remark when I was moved back into the truck studio. I don't know who recorded it--but, "John Najjar is back in the truck studio." It was kind of nice to hear something complimentary from the truck people at G.M.
Q: I want to bring you back--before we complete your career summary--to the Mustang. One anecdote which I've heard is in the naming of the Mustang. This was largely your input, and that you got a call from a General Motor's stylist, or product planner [Chuck Jordan].
A: Well, we were working on this vehicle, and John Breeden [design Public relations],, bless his soul, had indicated that if we were going to be using this name and seriously consider it, we better check the AMA--Automobile Manufacturers Association--to find out if somebody else has got it....
Q: You have to register these things?
A: You have to register the name, correct. So John did that and found it was not registered, so the procedure was established, and it was done. Then John thought it would be a good idea to start dropping a little notice of it and got permission to do so. So he contacted Mark Beltaire, I think it was him at the time who was a prominent Free Press columnist, and the words were: "Ford has a Mustang in its corral." Obviously, Chuck Jordan and various other people over there had read about it in the paper, so [he placed] a direct phone call--which was quite a rarity. I had met Chuck several times through the IDI, and he was a top-notch designer. G.M. found, in effect--Bill Mitchell never believed that G.M. should join any association because "we are the best"--but others in General Motors broke off and tried to join and were pridefully bringing down their designs. Anyhow, a chance to talk to Chuck. So Chuck called me on the phone--"I understand--are you guys doing a car?" I said,
"Yes." "Are you naming it Mustang?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Damn!" And I said, "Why?" "Well, we are doing a special car for Mitchell--I have the nameplates--I have all the ornamentation on it, all set to go, and now we can't use the damned thing!" And he said, "Got any other names?" and I sort of giggled a little bit, and I said, "Mare, stud, stallion," and a few words went back and forth, but that was how I remembered what happened. So they had to change all the nameplates for Bill's car.
Q: The naming of the car is really part of the design process, isn't it?
A: Well, the code name, although doing cars within the Design Center in the earlier days, you always gave it a code name--call it something. Never dreaming that that would be going into production, but, as it turned out, many times the names that we picked were used for production. Bob Maguire was a great one in the 1955 period on to ask for many names--I still have in my files a thousand names of different vehicles, and they were based from fish through animals, astronomy, world places. When a car was developed, we'd take one out and run through about 6 or 7 names and say, "How does this sound?" I remember on the Mustang, in effect, coming up with a list of names, and the studio came up with a list of names, and Maguire would sit back and he'd say, "That sounds too much like a fish--I go and jump in my Fish," and we would go back and forth and--the name Mustang generated then--became one of a number presented with things to Bob Maguire. And we just said that the name Mustang was going to be--it sounded natural, get out and jump on your horse--away you go. And that's the way that happened.
Q: A couple of those that you considered later turned up--I think the Maverick turned up later and also the Bronco--so the horse image has served you well.
A: That is right. For a couple of years, it was a good lead-off. Italian names were good--names that connoted luxury, or special cars--LTD's and famous cities, yes.
Q: But Ford seemed to stick to pretty much American, especially Western connotations.
A: We had, I am trying to think back, on the Edsel, they had to come up with something like four or five names in a hurry, and I remember Roy Brown, Jr. [Edsel designer] rushing around, trying to get special names for these series within the Edsel line.
Q: The Citation, which was a horse. The Pacer, which had an equine image.
A: You are right. In fact, AMC called Ford Motor Company asking permission to use the name Pacer, and it was granted. Yeah, you are right, it did pick up the horsy sound [but] it never picked up Stud, yet.
Q: You mentioned Bill Mitchell, and that led me to thinking, in this final wrap-up session with you, about your feeling regarding your opposite numbers at other car companies--indeed, other large industries, in terms of, first, automotive design, and then industrial design.
A: Top-notch people, cream of the crop--and we had a few of these at the Design Center, but not to the degree that they [G.M.] had--leaders in design, calculating--I mean by that, thoroughly researching--design staffs' compete acceptance by the corporation for design--at least, it appeared that they had. Their accountability and their decision-making in design was more direct than we were at the Design Center . And what I mean by that is George Walker or Bordinat were never held accountable for the design--they may have gotten brick bats and allowed to make presentations to management, allowed to make a recommendation, but to my memory, were never allowed ever to say, "Well, Gene Bordinat, you know design, you make the decision as to which one we'll do," and we all envisioned that. Although G.M. was not there, they were closer to having gotten that trust from company management than we were. That was something for us to try to achieve.
Q: Would you say that Bill Mitchell at G.M., who has left his mark on several decades, pretty much called the shots in design and decisions?
A: Not as much as Harley Earl--Harley Earl was the top-notch guy, he did call the shots, because Harlow Curtice let him do it. When Bill Mitchell took over, he was an heir apparent, a protégé of Harley Earl, and had trust of the company. But certain managers in certain divisions felt that they should still have an influence on the vehicle. Bill Mitchell, although dynamic and strong, was not as strong as Harley Earl. And I do not think the man in charge today (Irvin Rybicki) is as strong as Bill was.
Q: Do you have the feeling that the G.M.--the G.M. committee approach extended into styling as well? In other words, no one man--outside of, say, Harley Earl--really impacted on a design decision. It was still kind of a committee approach?
A: I have a feeling that the vice-president in charge, Bill Mitchell at the time, would, with the division manager, pretty much agree on the recommendation that they were going to make to whatever approval 'Level they had to go to--so there was still some give and take. But, early on, G.M. was noted for their interchangeability and their ability to camouflage a common body. They pioneered that and really did an effective job, so in order for that to work, somebody had to design the basic body. Somebody had to create the possible offshoots for the various divisions, and that had to come from a single type of brain--uniform action--and that emanated from the design area. So I would suspect that Bill Mitchell had to convince the top management of G.M. at that time that this body shell would allow for each division to have their own identity, and then he would have to bring in the division people to prove to them that he could deliver. The design area of Ford Motor started much the same way--started a pickup that was a successful thing. The introduction of the Edsel was to be our first spin-off, and evidently we did not go far enough--it was touted as being a mechanical improvement, and people saw through [it] quickly that it was a Ford body, in effect, coming up to be an Edsel, and a Mercury body dropping down to be an :Edsel. It was not brought off with the polish that the G.M. people would have brought it off, in my opinion.
Q: In terms of styling at the Edsel Division, Roy Brown was the chief stylist there, was he not?
A: That is correct.
Q: I remember seeing a mockup of the Edsel just before the decision was made, and I found it very exciting, but for some reason the American public did not. Do you have any thoughts along those lines as to why it failed--stylistically as well as technically?
A: Well, as a chief stylist at the time, I sort of liked Roy Brown's concept of the vertical theme--echoing the LaSalles--cars of that nature. But like all designers, you feel, "Well, I could have done it better...I could have done it a different way." But here I had designed the '58 Lincoln--which was not a striking success in itself--so, all I can say [is], it had a little bit more dignity, a little bit more style, more flow than the Edsels had. The Edsels were blocky--had a lot of chrome on them to camouflage the basic body shape, and, in light of the concepts that were on it, if you had this vertical nose, there was not enough distance between the front end of the vehicle to the A pillar to allow that vertical nose to grow back to the width of the A pillar gracefully.
It snubbed in, and the little horizontal wings that came off it were stubby. The Edsel would have had a chance if it had been taken off the 60-series "Quick Silver" Ford body--which was the last of the Edsel series, where they had this length/width to play with. Where the horizontal blades on the grille deck lid showed up with the vertical little taillights. There was room to take these new concepts and let them flow into the body--so the Edsel had some good thought in it, but the design themes on the Edsel did not have the length to be carried out to allow the surfaces to flow and suffered from a lot of chrome ornamentation.
Q: In terms of internal policy, it is my impression that Roy Brown was, in a sense, exiled to England after the debacle.
A: Well, nobody wanted to be associated with the Edsel--it was the vultures feeding. "Well, I only had the interior"--"All I did was the steering wheel...." But Roy was a good man, and, I think, Bordinat did transfer him to England . They accepted him over in England to do a job, and he did it.
Q: Why don't we bring your career up to date, and then we'll talk philosophically about your feelings about automotive design and the relations with the key people involved.
A: Well, in December of 1979, I was invited into Mr. Bordinat's office, and he suggested that I retire. At that time all parts of the company were reducing staff, and those of us that were near retirement age could be shown that our income would be held at the level it would normally be until age 65, through a special treatment--it's called the Golden Glove now--some people got a bigger Golden Glove--I got the standard Golden Glove.
Q: The golden handshake...?
A: The golden handshake. Gene did it personally--Mr. Bordinat did it personally, in inviting me to do this. I had no choice in the matter. I asked one question, I asked, "Gene, does Mr. William Clay Ford know about this?" And he said, "Yes, I discussed it with him." And I said, "Well, that's it. I'll just go. Period." A long time ago Gene had told me over cocktails in Wisconsin , on a trip we had taken to a school there, that over the years--although I was not the best car designer--I delivered And Bill Ford had told him that as long as I wanted a job, I could have it. I didn't remind Gene of this on my departure day, but as long as Mr. Ford had known I was leaving, that was fine with me. No problem. So I left in December of 1979, and that was the end of my career at Ford Motor.
Q: Were there others of your tenure in the same situation in design? Was there a general sort of across-the-board kind of attempt, or was it sporadic?
A: It was throughout the whole level of the company--they just didn't pick on design. Obviously, an assistant director carried a good salary grade, so those got to be the first to go, and I saw the handwriting on the wall. Others were--directors were not quite near it. Jim Sipple was eager to leave--"John, I wish I were in your boots. I could get out now." And I was not happy about it, just wasn't ready. I thought when I'd say I'm ready, I'd walk out the door to save two designers. I wasn't given that opportunity to make that gesture--I was told--and that's what hurt me most of all. But, yes, there were other designers--a couple of the directors that were nearing my position, but through the whole design department. From the basic people in the shop areas through the designers, through the administrative staff, anybody in the age [range of] 55 and above were being looked at to see if it was possible for them to move out.
Q: It's my impression that about this time there was a rather large reduction in the basic design force--the clay modelers, the artists....
A: In addition to termination--retirement--there was the layoff. And this was horrendous. I think the number of people at the Design Center had reached 1300-1400 people. And, as I *say, each area of the company had specific objectives--like design centers reduced their budget by 15%, and this translated into money, how we could cut corners on money, and was left translated into people. I can remember several things where we had these programs going, and we weighed people against these programs and found out if we could cut this program, we could cut these people. We had to improve on efficiency. So, yes, it was a dramatic and. sorrowful time where a lot of young people left--were laid off from the company--because they couldn't very well take a man who had 15-20 years in, performed well, was still 15 years away from retirement, and have him or her go out the door. So, it was a sad time.
Q: And I suspect that when times got better, they sorely missed these young designers that they had let go?
A: They missed the people that were gone. But, by the same token, the reduction in force forced new efficiency, forced multiple responsibility back on the people, and hiring people back became paramount. Whenever an opening occurred, the lower echelons were reviewed--could this person fill in? And for a long period--k-5 years, I guess, after I left--it wasn't until just recently that they started to go once again to the art schools and start to pick up people. But paramount in Bordinat's mind-the company's mind--was to get these people back on board, if needed. And they weren't to just grow.
Q: George Haviland poses a series of questions, which you have reviewed and have agreed to, at least, try to answer. I wonder if I might give you those now. It's sort of an overall survey of how you feel about Ford and its evolving design studio. He said, "How did styling evolve as a separate organization within the Ford Motor Company?" Is that a fair question?
A: I can remember reading about little things, but my personal experience is that it was Edsel Ford's desire. Ford Motor Company had been using the Briggs and other designers, plus their own engineers, to put shapes on vehicles or design the things, and I don't know how Edsel met E.T. Gregorie, how that evolved, but it was Edsel's order--demand-that a separate department be established to look at design and see if design couldn't be done within the company. And that's how the story goes.
Q: Mr. E.T. Gregorie, of course, exercised a great influence on Ford styling in the 'Thirties and early 'Forties.
A: He was the one whose responsibility it was to--from '35--oversee and develop the design area which was established in 1935. I don't know what preceded that, or to what extent he had an influence. I know E.T. Gregorie and Eddie Martin--Eddie Martin had joined E.T. Gregorie at this time, and working on the drawing board, alongside of each other, and I don't know what brought Edsel over to E.T.'s board, but from that beginning sprang the need for a separate department. And E.T. did do that, he gathered people wherever he could. The original design department--when I arrived in 1937, which. was two years later--had grown to the number of about 35 people. A metal shop and wood shop was created--people from experimental engineering--pattern makers and things of this nature were moved in there to do this kind of work. Clay modeling had been started and had been a tool used by General Motors and other people. So plaster people--people in plaster casting or plaster sculpturing were brought in. A man by the name of Dick Beneiki--who had worked on the Fisher Theater and many other areas--was brought in, and knew how to shape things in clay so they could make plaster molds, so he became the leader of that. Design--I don't know the history of John Walter, Bill Wagner, to a great degree, and Brono Kolt or Walter Kruke were the mainstays of design when I went into design at Ford. So, E.T. had taken this force, including Eddie Martin who, primarily, was a good, top-notch craftsman--superb letterer--with an appreciation for line and had created this beginning task force to start doing vehicles.
Q: So, in fact, although Ford was not as advanced in having a styling department as G.M., and, perhaps, Chrysler had, E.T. Gregorie was pretty much who brought it forward into the modern world.
A: And Edsel would come over and sit in E.T. Gregorie's office and would whip out a pad and draw some sketches, and bring in small cars from Europe, and Edsel would talk to E.T. about what he saw over there, and about graceful cars, and it became E.T.'s concept to work on the first Continental. And, of course, I shared in working on it.
Q: Before we get into the Continental, I would like to probe a little bit more. Do you remember ever meeting Walter Dorwin Teague?
A: No. Never met him personally, but read his books.
Q: Apparently, Walter Dorwin Teague was a good friend of Edsel Ford's, and Edsel Ford liked his work and used him on the 1934 World's Fair--the Ford exhibit in Chicago --and also on the Dallas and the San Diego World's Fair buildings, as well as the 1939 World's Fair. There is some indication from some correspondence we have between Teague and Edsel Ford that Teague wanted to get into automotive design as well.
A: Oh, I never knew that.
Q: But, he was gently brushed aside by Edsel who said, "I enjoyed your work, you did a marvelous job for us at the World's Fair in 1934, but we have a--we have a pretty good group here in styling, and I do not feel I would like to rock the boat at this time." And Teague graciously agreed.
A: Very interesting. Very interesting.
Q: And because of that, I am reminded that--although you talked about it at some length on the earlier tape--can you give us some final thoughts about the development of the original Lincoln Continental and the respective roles that Edsel Ford and E. T. Gregorie played in that rather momentous styling milestone.
A: Oh, a little bit, I think. I don't know who gave the order to go ahead with it, but my first memory of it was E.T. Gregorie having a discussion with Ed Martin about how the vehicle could be made from existing panels, and it was not to be a production vehicle, it was supPosed to be a special, personal car for Edsel Ford--and, evidently, E.T. had done a couple of other special cars for him. But this--in order to come together quickly, E.T. envisioned a low vehicle, using major panel parts off of the Lincoln-Zephyr, and so he assigned Eddie Martin to do some drawings--a mechanical drawing, side-view profiles--from sketches that E.T. had made. As far as I'm concerned, E.T. had done the original rough, heavy-pencil sketches of it, and Eddie Martin did some line drawings--1/10th scale, line drawings--I have a couple of them in my possession yet--showing that this panel or that fender could be cut. A pattern had been developed to take existing sheet metal and be able to chop, cut it, channel it and put together a special car for Edsel Ford. This was done, got it delivered to the Design Center , and we looked at it, and it was beautiful--except for its color--it was a mustard-looking yellow--and we quickly named it "excretion"--"shit brindle." Not using the word excretion. It had been driven around the test track a couple of times and found to be very shaky and kind of loose, so E.T., who had prided himself on also being an engineer--knowledgeable—suggested to the engineering group that they weld in some I-beam channels, in an X-fashion, just ahead of the cowl to support the vehicle in that area, which they did. And the vehicle was shipped--I don't know, driven or shipped--but it was delivered to Edsel Ford in Florida , and he drove it around, and people liked it, and soon it was suggested that we start looking at it as a production vehicle. That's basically the story. It had Bud Adams in the early part--as I worked with Eddie Martin on doing tenth-scale drawings--Bud Adams did a clay model of that little vehicle. There was some concern whether the cabriolet roof would fit, and I did a full-size layout, and cut out cardboard arms and showed how the roof could collapse into the area--not by engineering but taking science as it was then on collapsible roofs, and tailoring the arms to fit--just to show that it would work. And this blackboard--this 1/10th size, scale model, and some of the little layouts evidently were shown to Edsel, and the early model was built. And after that, we went into production.
Q: And the rest, as they say, is history.
A: I might say that each of the designers on board at that time--Walter Kruke, Johnny Walter, Bill Wagner--all had input on that vehicle as it came to them for their specialty--at that time the design department was divided--somebody did grilles and taillights, somebody did door handles, somebody did interior instrument panels, and somebody did interior fabrics--and so there were a lot of people. The sheet metal was done by E.T. Gregorie--it was kind of a family approach.
Q: I wonder if I might ask you a bit about George Walker--a fascinating character in Ford design history. Obviously, not completely successful, but how does he fit in the pantheon of Ford designers? Where would you put him? And how would you--how do you feel that his methods--administrative, and his design ability--square?
A: Well ... George created his own industrial design company, and in order to do that--in an era which design was just being accepted, and required the guy that headed it--he had to be able to go in and meet topnotch people of a company--to talk to the top [echelon] only, rather than coming through the bottom door, because it gave him greater influence on design. George had to do that, and, in order to do that, he had to be seen in several places. He had to attract attention. George was an impressive individual. He wore clothes with a flair. He was able to take a pencil--a very heavy pencil--and take a plain piece of paper and draw female fashion. He was able to draw the attention of the potential client to an idea on a piece of paper--so, basically, the rudiment of design and appreciation for it. He was smart enough to--as his responsibilities grew--to pick up several people who could work for him, and he picked up Joe Oros and Elwood Engle--two good, dynamic [designers]. Elwood was with G.M. for awhile. People had picked up George's confidence--you got to be able to beat this [design] you got to be able to deliver--and they, too, went after clients. So one of the people that Mr. Walker became friendly with was Mr. Ernest Breech, and when Ernest Breech went to Ford Motor Company, George's fortunes became quite strong. I think I might stray a little bit here because--trying to think--V.Y. Tallberg was in Engineering at Ford Motor Company during the pre-war years, and somehow he had asked George Walker to do some steering wheel designs, I think. I think it was just before the war, and that was the first chance George had as a consultant and brought in steering wheel designs, and that was George's first introduction there. And then, after the war when Henry Ford II had started to have Ernie Breech as chief advisor--Mr. Breech had suggested that George Walker be a consultant. But George Walker was facing an enemy--he was facing an enemy in the in-house design staff. As we figured, he was an enemy being brought in, therefore, there was no love lost between the two groups, and they were going to do a better vehicle than the [in-house] design staff did. So the competition was ingrained in the man--like everybody else--not a front, it was there. And he used people. If they could draw and make presentations well, he brought them to the foreground and let them make the presentations, and he'd stand off to the side. He'd go into a Meeting and say, "We have this vehicle here. Joe, why don't you talk about it," or, "Elwood, why don't you talk about it." It was on a limited basis, not like any of the formal, big shows. So George was lavish. When he would come into some of the meetings as consultant, and was going to show some of the stuff, he thought nothing of flashing a $10 bill to Dave Ash or to myself and say, "Here, run over and get me a box of cigars." And you'd go and get the box of cigars, good cigars, bring them back, and he'd take two of them out and say, "Keep them." That's how Dave Ash and I got to be better cigar smokers. And he would pick certain of the employees, if they did certain things, and be nice to them. And people sort of liked that. So George used every known--I won't say "trick," but "method" to have people like him.
Q: To ingratiate himself....
A: That is right, and George was smart enough to know he did not know interchangeability, he did not know production figures, he [couldn't] care less about that type of thing. All he was interested in is having a shape on the vehicle. Design was tops, and, "I will get Mr. Ford and Mr. Breech to say that that's the design, and you engineers build it that way." It was sort of a strong push that way. In fact, the 1958 Lincoln was done a little bit that way--engineering was resisting--body engineering was resisting doing certain things, and Ben Mills was making pronouncements--he went into Henry Grebe [Chief Body Engineer], and said, "Look, we don't have the time to go through all the details and nuances of engineering, we want your birds-eye look at this thing. Can you build it or can't you?" And George was right there telling Mills that that's the kind of decision you have to get out of these people. Grebe and staff, to their credit, said, "Yes, we can build it." And George also had another side--he wanted unquestionable loyalty of his people. You could not say anything adverse in meetings, therefore, when there was a struggle between in-house designers and his staff, and people assigned to him from Ford on his staff, it was a rough time for the Ford employees working for George to follow--the loyalties. When George became the Vice-President, he had weekly staff meetings, and there was no question who was boss. George told certain jokes, and we listened. He had parties on an annual basis--Christmas parties, which were good. I guess other vice-presidents had them. George also had a little black book that we all knew about, and with photographs of every employee. George wanted to be able to remember every employee's name, and wanted to be able to walk up to him and shake his hand. And so, if you were walking down the hall with George, he'd say, "What's his name, what's his name?" and he'd say hello to the person--understanding that he had to have the goodwill of the employees. But, by the same token, if you said something wrong-if you did something that he perceived to be wrong--a black X would come across your face in that book. I had one happen--it's a matter of record--and I got it written, and it's in an old safe I have at home, and the end result of this was that George called me in his office, and he was putting on his pants. He had his underpants on, and he was dressing, and he said, "John, you're not one of my guys. You did this, and you did this, and you did it for this." And I said, "George, that is not true. I did this to protect you and the design staff," and we sat down and talked it out, and I walked out of that office still one of his guys. But we came the closest to where I had said to George in his office, "George, if you believe that, I am gone. I am leaving. I've been too honorable, I can't do that kind of thing. But somebody on your staff was cheating, and somebody else was to be fired for it, and I honestly said who was doing the cheating. And if the person who was doing the cheating happened to be one of your favorites...." I tried not to get into it-and it went to headquarters at a pretty high level, and George was chastised for it, and he was reeling from this, and one of his own employees, John Najjar, had, technically, squealed.
Q: Blown the whistle. This kind of old-fashioned, getting by on charm and luck really went out of fashion very quickly, and, perhaps, led to his leaving.
A: Yeah. I think the thing that advented his leaving was--George was on an [ego trip]. George was interested in his self-promotion. George Walker-- Time magazine did a cover article on him and called him "The Cellini of Chrome." George loved all things white--white house, white car, white coat. George had a son who was in the business, and George was able to help things go his way a little bit. So this self-building up--he wanted publicity, wanted his name to be known. In fact, he was to give a speech out in California, and I mentioned to him, "I see you are going to give a speech in California at the Art Center," and George looked at me and said, "Oh, am I?" and he asked where it was, and then he said, "Well, why don't you go out and give it for me." Well, my speech had been reviewed, and it damn well better have "George Walker, the Vice-President" in it several times--but that type of thing led to his downfall. And he went on a tour of Europe , and, evidently, on the tour of Europe he hired a publicist over there to indicate he was going around. When he got back he was supposed to give a report on it; in fact, George called me in his office and said, "John, I have to do a report," and out of my appreciation for what this man had done for me in promoting my career, I went home, and I wrote a report on an imagined tour of Europe and presented it to him the following weekend. He used that, adding stuff of his to it. It wasn't that he hadn't been on the tour, because he came back from it, and the company knew that George Walker had been in Europe , and he had to give a report. So there were some questionable things, and he was moved out.
Q: And, really, that was the end of an era and brought in Gene Bordinat, who was a much more sophisticated, much more talented, much more highly-trained individual.
A: Yes, he was. In fact, George had made overtures to having Joe Oros follow him as Vice-President of Design and indicated to Joe that he was going to be the man. But somebody in the company felt that, over the years, Gene had proven his loyalty through thick and thin, and he was all those things you said and more, and that he could run the Design Center with a firm hand.
Q: Which brings me to a quick question. Joe Oros--we mentioned him several times--seems to have had quite an impact on Ford design history-in what way, would you say?
A: Well, Joe was a good designer, he had a feeling for themes, he and others picked up the round taillight theme from the X-100 and dropped it onto the Ford back end, and that became the look of the back end for many, many years. Joe was a very hard task-master--he knew design. With the power of George Walker behind him, he had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time with the right people working for him.
And he always treated his job with respect. He treated the people working for him, mostly with respect. Although he and I had one altercation about--he was tearing down my employees in front of them, that they are not good designers, they are not this--and I asked him to step out into the hall. I told Joe, "You don't do that in front of the people. If they are poor designers, its my fault. I have to bring it out of them, and we should not be talking like that in front of them." But that was the only time.
Q: Who were your personal heroes of the many people in design you worked for?
A: Of course, Bob Maguire--he was the one....
Q: He retired just a couple of years before you did, did he not?
A: I think he left in--he was 10 years older than I was. I think he left in 1968. Yes, because Bob was in the military service, I believe-achieved a Brevet-Major title, and he worked for a fellow by the name of Colonel Knowles, and Bob would sit back and talk about, "Colonel Knowles would do it this way. Colonel Knowles would not like this." Bob was very militaristic in his organization, and he impressed me greatly in that--that here was a pattern to be followed. The man that would challenge you to do things, and when you did it, he would applaud it and see that you got rewarded for it. Because I had designed the interior of his office with special gimmicks. I always was prideful, like a little 'boy bringing things home to show mother from school--bring it up to Bob 'to show him new designs and hot, new ideas. He was always receptive; challenging you, ridiculing you, cajoling you--all the things I could think of. Bordinat was an inspiration, because Bordinat was able to deliver. He could talk quite well, he knew interchangeability, he was polished, he had good looks, he had all those qualifications. I looked up to Eddie Martin in the early days because Eddie was the fellow that taught me how to render--how to make a presentation, the organization of putting down facts logically. I'd say that Eddie Martin, Bob McGuire, Gene Bordinat were the three individuals that I liked to follow. Outside of the organization, of course, Will Scott was one that I admired--as a product planner--as a human being. Wayne Doran was one. Here was a chance to assimilate different information. Wayne was always free with answering questions and very generous with his time, and when I said that there should be a lake at the twin towers, he said, "Well, you've got people planning--why don't you take a shot at it." And I did a design of a site plan for that section of the Parklane Towers--curved the roads, and put a lake in it, and Wayne Doran, to his credit, added another $75,000 to the budget to achieve that look because John Najjar, said it would look better, and, to me, that was just wonderful to have the man listen to what I considered logic.
Q: I think that with the time we have left, I'd like to leave plenty of time for any final thoughts you may have on the whole field of automotive design or industrial design, especially as it was practiced at Ford and other automobile companies. Is that a fair question?
A: It is a fair question--probably should have been the core, basic theme of our recording of all these tapes rather than a fiscal history-which I felt that I've fallen into--it should have been more of Design Center, design objectives, and--I tried to lay down several pages of these things, but things affecting design, when it began?--the time I learned it?...and the kind I was going to continue?...management influence of design, the design people--people in design influence design--the facilities that they inhabited influence design--the industrial technology that existed influence design. And then, of course, the physical and political environment influence design, and against that background you can start to say how did it grow? It can be checked on record, but the thing that influenced our design the most was when George Walker was made Vice-President. There was a chance for it [the Design Center ] to be recognized in its own element. And concurrent to that period of time are the mechanical [support] equipment, and doing the clay models was becoming more sophisticated. Safety programs were initiated. Meetings between engineering and the various supporting staffs of the company were becoming more formalized. There was some [design] work going on in Australia and in Europe . The Design Center of Ford Motor Company was beginning to influence [design] done in Europe . From time to time we had participated in a few designs, but it became a little bit more formal, especially when Mr. Walker and Sir Patrick Hennessy had struck up a friendship. And I had the opportunity to meet Sir Patrick many, many times and [incidentally] loved his [war] stories, and he requested that Elwood and I go [to] England and work on a couple of the projects to help them out over there. And, so, Design Center influence was again growing. And I say "again growing" because at the time--earlier Edsel Ford was that design influence--Henry Ford II was that design influence. E.T. Gregorie never had that direct influence. In the 1960's with Bordinat now in, our relationship with European design became a little bit more formalized--English and German studios were established, and designers were now starting to be rotated and transferred to Europe , back and forth, whereas nationals were moved to the United States to gain experience here. We started studios in Italy . The Australian studio was growing in strength, and we were doing a little bit more South American spinoff designs. In the 'Seventies, the automatic recording devices (information from clay models) were starting to pick up [improve] more and more. Gene Bordinat was, evidently, a pioneer in having the Design Center not only design the shapes but get in under the skin and become a part of true designing, and then being able to shorten the development time from the clay model to the finished product. And he was always experimenting with new ways to cut the time down. Because if you cut the time down, it gave you a long lead time to design. In other words, you were able to spend more time designing before you had to stop designing in order to get a production [model] which allowed you to get the latest information on what General Motors was doing, what Chrysler was doing, and what you wanted to do yourself. And in the 'Seventies this continued. The Industrial Design Department was started, which I had control of--and important now--our facilities, our equipment--we started computer-controlled information--taking tapes off of the models and getting that information--so the lead time was shorter. The technology--improvements in being able to mould the "soft front end" led by G.M.--trying to merge multiple pieces into one, coming up with thinner and lighter sections. The Design Center was having a better control of design execution. It would be able to following its design further in-let me say it this way--the color and trim group were able to control color chips and swatches of material--master samples for production. It became recognized, you did not deviate from the master section sample without going to the Design Center . Designers were requested by engineers to be down on the preproduction lines as the sample parts came in, and the pre-pilot programs--if anything was wrong with the color of the chrome from one piece to another, it immediately got back to the Design Center , and the control began again from there. So, here again, designers were asked to step up and become part of the production. And this was a great change, and I look at it as Bordinat's major contribution as well as design. During the 'Eighties, Bordinat has now gone, in effect.
Q: He retired about a year after you did?
A: That's right. And, I think, he was invited--as he had done to me. So now they had decided to have North American and automotive operations under Jack Telnack, who had grown under the Ford training system, and he had served his time in England and Australia--came up the classic route and did a good job. In the meantime, Gail Halderman had come up--had not had the opportunity to be taken around the different parts of the corporate responsibility, nevertheless, had done a good job. Don Kopka was appointed Vice-President. He was appointed to take care of the international and advanced responsibilities. I don't know what's going to happen when it comes time for Don Kopka to retire* or leave--whether it will again be one V.P.--I hope it is. There should be one person running the design activity.
Q: This development seems to me to be a new wrinkle in design administration at Ford--Jack Telnack as the Chief Stylist reporting to Poling-and Don Kopka, the Vice-President....
A: Reporting to William Clay Ford.
Q: Has this worked well in the last four years?
* Editor's Note: D. Kopka retired in mid-1987. Telnack became vice president of all design operations.
A: I really don't know. I've been away from it. When you walk out of your place of employment, the door is usually shut. But it's really shut when you walk out of design. Nobody needs another designer coming back, and I made it a personal point not to go back. I've been invited back a couple of times--to stop over for lunch--but not stop over for lunch on a specific day. I've been asked by the "mature advisory group"--been appointed to that, which is a clinic, about 30 people that have been selected who are willing to give time, give opinions....
Q: Is this an ongoing group?
A: An ongoing group, and it was established in 1981. It was under the aegis of a female market analyst, Dr. , and I can't think of the name now, but--I had a chance to go back at that time, and I had a reluctance to do that. In fact, when the review was held at the Design Center , I said, "Where is it going to be held?" And, "It's going to be held in the hallway," I said, "I am not going to it," and they, said, "Why?" And I said, "Because anybody that goes by wants to shake my hand and say, "Hello," and I cannot get honest opinions and thinking," so they moved it to the showrooms, and I have been attending those. They'll ask such questions as, "Can you press this button?" or "Does this cloth grab too much on the clothes?" and "What do you think of this shape?" In fact, the new design series coming out, the next wave of vehicles, has a station wagon in it, and the station wagon has a God-awful looking profile on the back end that I have never seen, and I so stated it and wrote it hoping that it would work through the system, and maybe I don't understand the new system, but when they do designs like that, it is awkward and ugly. What has happened now, as I understand--tidbits of information--computer technology has grown, and although body engineering had the money and wherewithal to start doing some drawings on panels and fenders, and G.M. was doing it under design staff, when I left we hadn't gotten to that sophistication, although computers were taking information up. Now I understand [use of] computers have advanced at the Design Center , and they are thinking of doing drawings on a full-size scale, and the challenge, it must be fearsome. I just wish I was on the threshold of my career, because with the technology advancements and throwing the challenge directly to the companies of producing vehicles that will meet the needs is going to bode nothing but good for the person in design, I think. That's basically it, as I see it.
Q: Your famous chalk talks and paper drawings have been supplanted largely by computers now?
A: Yes. Although I would say it will never stop where the designer draws a sketch on the board--the freedom of the pencil. In fact, I bought myself a computer to see how flexible I could design, and I have been doing computer programs--I find it is very tortuous to get a design on the screen. I find I can still pick up a pencil and do a series of drawings a lot faster. So, I think, that we will always have people that are creative who will be able to draw with a pencil, put a large piece of paper on the blackboard and render full size and give management a quick [design] feeling. I think that further down the line, sophisticated computer techniques will allow them to shorten the lead time, allowing them to make a decision at a later date.
Q: So you are largely optimistic about the future of automotive design?
A: Absolutely. I guess some people felt negative about it--not like it used to be--and management gets their hands too much in it. But that sounds like history. That sounds like petty picking. And I understand, too, now that they have a sort of abstract fear of unions coming after the people that did clay modeling and wood shop, and Chrysler went that route, and, to that end, Jack Telnack has a committee that meets on a monthly basis with the people that represent the clay modelers and represent the shop, and some of the people down there feel that this is too damned much hand-holding. But I see good visions--the company's viewpoint toward design and its role inside the company. And people like Petersen who have grown up in it--he was, basically, a good combination of car man and product man, and I see good people at Ford without them having to go outside for consultant talent, and that they have also opened up some training for clay modeling within the company to allow company employees to go to a short school to learn clay modeling,. and so to hire that talent from within, which is good.
Q: So what would your final thought be on your career at Ford in styling? Obviously, it has been an exciting time for you.
A: My mother, a long time ago, told me, before I lost my hair, that I had two points in the back of my head, two corners, and that squareheadedness meant good luck, and it was good luck the day the original guy came out to the graduating class at Eastern High School and offered an interview. And it was my luck to take him up on the interview and through a series of good people at Ford putting out a helping hand all through my career. The 43 years I spent with the company before I retired were just glorious. Sure, they had their ups and downs, but everybody should be as lucky. But the key thing was the challenge to the imagination. You imagine any other person having the chance to work with all the personages--the Henry Ford family--all the dynamic people that went through the company and all the variety of projects that I worked on. I'd just love to continue it.
Q: Well, John, this has been very helpful--our fourth and final interview with John Najjar, who has been a force in styling history throughout his career at Ford, and we thank you for coming.
A: Thank you.
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