The 1949 Ford models ushered in a significant styling change. 1948 was the final year for the old-style Ford. The 1946 through 1948 models were mostly a continuation of the 1941 models and the short lived 1942′s due to the war.
The 1949 Fords gave forth a new modern look. The design for the 1949 Ford’s actually began in 1946 when designers were tasked to come up with designs and quarter sized models in a matter of only a few months. There were several features that the bosses wanted and among others these included an entirely new design and a larger interior. How the 1949 Ford design was conceived is one of the more interesting stories about the automotive industry.
The Two Design Teams
The design of the 1949 Ford turned out to actually be a contest between two groups of designers. One group was headed by Bob Gregorie and the other by George Walker. Gregorie had at one time worked for General Motors as a designer and the went on to work for Ford Motor Company several times on and off through 1946.
Gregorie was also considered Ford’s first designer and worked close with Edsel Ford. Bob Gregorie and Edsel Ford worked on many projects together and this helped elevate Gregorie to be head of Ford’s design department in 1935. Edsel Ford died unexpectedly in 1943. The story is that Gregorie had differences with the new management team brought in after the younger Ford’s death and opted to resign in 1946 at only thirty-eight years of age.
George Walker started his automotive career at the Peerless automobile company, then moved to General Motors and later to a few smaller companies. At the time that designs were made for the 1949 Ford, Walker was working as an outside design consultant.
Your first impression might be that any design rushed through in this short of time might have something lacking. You may be correct. In some ways, many have said this was the case with the 1949 Fords.
The tale of this hasty design challenge is that each of the two designers actually purchased another automaker’s car to use as a starting point. The Gregorie designers bought a Kaiser and the Ford engineering department bought a Studebaker.
For years there have been several different versions floated about as to how the design teams came up with their designs and clay models in such short time. One interesting and true story has clay modelers from Studebaker helping the Walker team during evening hours. It’s been alleged that several features of the Walker design had actually been drawn by Studebaker employees working off hours.
The model presented by Walker’s group ended up being chosen as the winner over that of Bob Gregorie. This wouldn’t be the end however. It was decided to have another contest between the two groups. This contest would be at the Ford facilities and Walker’s team would move in and set up shop in Ford’s design department. Supposedly security was set up to keep each design team’s work secret. The second contest would call for full size clay models. As it turned out, the design submitted by Walker’s team again won the competition.
The Finished Product
The 1949 Ford was a sleek looking automobile. It was quite different from the fender heavy models before it. It was also known for its horizontal taillights and eye-catching circle on the front grille.
Both of these additions were actually added by Ford to the original design. Supposedly the Gregorie team entry design did have a more rounded look to it similar as you see on the old Kaiser autos. It was the Gregorie team who it’s been said used the Kaiser as a starting point.
The 1949 Ford design story isn’t complete unless you mention Richard Caleal. Caleal had worked free lance on the Walker team after having worked at Studebaker. It was reportedly in Richard Caleal’s kitchen at home that the winning 1949 Ford design was created. It’s been said that the quarter size clay model was actually baked in Caleal’s kitchen oven. I’m not sure there’s any similar design story involving a major American automaker. It’s certainly unique.
The story states that Caleal was promised by George Walker that if Walker’s entry won the competition that he would use his influence to obtain a design job at Ford for Caleal.
As it turned out, Richard Caleal did succeed in getting the Ford job based on his success with the 1949 design and moved his family from Indiana to Detroit. Later in his career Caleal worked for Chrysler.
1949 Ford Coupe Specs
The 1949 Ford had a wheelbase of 114 inches. Engines were both a V-8 and a L Head Six. Transmissions were a standard three speed or automatic. Front suspension was independent, swinging link with “Hydra-Coil” springs. Rear suspension had longitudinal, semi-elliptic leaf springs. The 1949 Ford had a height of 63.1 inches, a overall length of 196.8 inches and a width of 72.8 inches.
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