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Ford Thunderbird
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Ford Thunderbird

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Burnett, Bill; Boyer, William F.; Hershey, Franklin Quick
Ford Thunderbird

Ford's Thunderbird, its first sports car, was designed by Bill Burnett, William F. Boyer, and Franklin Quick Hershey. It was introduced in 1955 to compete with Chevrolet's 1953 Corvette sports car, GM's answer to sporty European imports. In their early forms, both cars were mostly caricatures of sports cars, concerned with superficial connotations of speed and maneuverability than with their mechanical accomplishments. This same year, 1955, George Walker was appointed Ford's Vice President of Styling. George W. Walker (1908-1993) was a US automotive designer. He was trained at Otis Institute, LA in 1916, continued at Cleveland School of Art, and headed his own industrial design office in Detroit by 1930s. His firm worked for Nash (1937-1945) and in product design as well. His role at Ford began in 1945 as an independent consultant working on the 1949 Ford, Ford's first true post-war model. He became Ford's first Vice President of Styling in 1955, where he remained until his retirement in 1962. Upon his appointment at Ford, his private office became Lawrence H. Wilson Associates, Wilson being an associate of Walker's since 1942. In 1957, Ford added two tiny back seats to the T-bird, and sales shot up 50 percent, in spite of the first post-war recession of 1958. The "personal luxury car" was created, when in the 1958 model, the expanded T-bird was loaded with luxury and plushiness. It was a distinguished car. Motor Trend magazine dutifully reported mechanical shortcomings of the 1960 model, but added, "It is a car apart, and like royalty, rarely is required to count for ordinary deficiencies…the Thunderbird is different, and that is all it has ever had to be." In 1962, Ford's new head of Styling, Eugene Bordinat, brought the new neoclassical look (taut, razor-edged sculpting) to the Thunderbird, including special editions with wire wheels and fiberglass tonneaus. Eugene Bordinat, Jr. (1920-1987) was a US automotive stylist who graduated from the University of Michigan. He studied art at Cranbrook Academy, joined GM in 1939, and became a supervisor of the wartime tank program at Fisher Body. He joined Ford in 1947 as supervisor of advanced styling, working mostly with the Lincoln-Mercury Division. He became VP of Design in 1961 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1980. The new head of Ford's North American Design section, Jack Telnak, an advocate of aerodynamics, first introduced the new soft "aero" look on the 1983 Thunderbird. This same new look was then used on the 1985 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable, and their phenomenal success spearheaded US automotive design's return to world leadership over the next decade. This year, Ford rolled out a new retro design for the Thunderbird designed by J. Mays, who was named corporate Vice President of design in 1997, replacing Jack Telnack. The new millennium Thunderbird seeks to recreate its original 45-year-old mystique, and is scheduled for introduction in June 2001.

100 Years of Design consists of excerpts from a book by Carroll M. Gantz, FIDSA, entitled, Design Chronicles: Significant Mass-produced Designs of the 20th Century, published August 2005 by Schiffer Publications, Ltd.
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