Roy Brown, designer of Ford's Edsel, dies at 96
Roy Brown, on a dock at his Florida home, in 1989.
Roy Brown Jr., the automotive designer best known for his role in creating the Edsel, one of Ford Motor Co.'s biggest product flops, died Sunday, Feb. 24. He was 96.
Brown also was the chief designer of the compact Ford Cortina, one of the company's most successful products in Europe. He also designed a concept that was the inspiration for the Batmobile featured in the Batman TV series in the 1960s.
He retired from Ford in 1975 and lived in Brooklyn, Mich.
Brown, who was born in Hamilton, Ontario, started work in 1937 as a designer at General Motors' Cadillac studio, under Bill Mitchell , the automaker's chief of design. In 1941 he became head of the Oldsmobile design studio.
After World War II, Brown worked as a consultant for an automotive color coatings company but returned to designing in 1953 when he joined Ford. He was assigned director of clay modeling on the Lincoln Futura show car. The vehicle was to inspire the Batmobile.
The Edsel was Brown's most infamous design. The vehicle, which was named after Henry Ford's only son, Edsel, was designed to help bridge the price gap between the Ford and Mercury brands. But when it went on sale in the fall of 1957, critics said the grille looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon and compared it to a toilet seat.
A 1958 Edsel Pacer convertible like the one Ford designer Roy Brown owned for decades.
The Edsel struggled amid a major shift in consumer preferences and a weakening economy. Ford added several features and altered the car's styling for 1960. But lackluster sales continued and Ford ended Edsel production in 1960.
Still, the car managed to develop a devoted following: the first Edsel club was formed in Oakland, Calif., in 1967.
"It lived on as one of the more remarkable designs of that time period,' said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich. "People are always stopping by at the exhibit here to pay tribute to that particular model."
Brown was later transferred to Ford of England, where he served as chief of design. While in England, he designed such classics as the Ford Cortina and the Consul. In the mid-1960s he returned to Dearborn. He went on to design Thunderbirds and the Econoline vans of the 1970s before retiring.
On September 3, 2007, in an interview with Automotive News, Brown called the Edsel Ford's most successful failure. Said Brown: "I almost wore out my hand signing glove box doors and fenders."