Eugene Turrenne "Bob" Gregorie began and ended his career as a yacht designer. Between the boats, though, Gregorie had one of the most powerful pens in the auto world. His designs included the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, the 1940 Lincoln Continental and the concept that became the 1949 Mercury, the car star of the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause.
Gregorie was a teenage draftsman for ship design companies in New York. In 1929, the Great Depression sank yacht buying, and he came to Detroit to work for custom auto body companies. He found that the custom coach market, too, was fading.
After brief stints at several companies, including working for Harley Earl at General Motors, Gregorie was hired by Edsel Ford in 1931.
Gregorie became the chief of the internal design department created by Ford in 1935. The department was meant to take styling out of the hands of outside body suppliers and move it in-house. Gregorie was 26, and his ideas for modern lines based on the clean-lined concepts of yachts and ships were a good match for the streamline style sweeping the auto industry.
One of Gregorie's strengths was his ability to recognize the appealing features of the streamline movement and to be able to modify their more extreme examples for products that customers would accept.
Gregorie quit Ford in 1943 after Edsel's death. Henry Ford II asked for his help, and Gregorie returned for two years, but by 1946 the designer found himself at odds with top management too often. He returned to his first love, designing and sailing yachts. He retired in 1974.
Ironically, Gregorie's death in December 2002 at age 94 came at the end of a year that had begun with the January notice that the Lincoln Continental no longer will be built.