Roy Brown, the chief designer of Ford’s infamous Edsel as well as the more successful Ford Cortina, passed away last Sunday, Hemmings reports. Born October 30, 1916 in Ontario, Canada, Brown was 96.
Brown got his start in the auto industry in 1937 at the age of 20. A recent graduate of the Detroit Art Academy, he was hired by GM legend Bill Mitchell for the Cadillac design studio. Brown left Cadillac to lead Oldsmobile’s design studio in 1941, before getting out of the business during World War II, when he served in the U.S. Army guarding Fort Knox.
After the war, Brown returned to the auto industry in 1953, this time at Ford. Brown was put in charge of the Lincoln Futura – it was his work here that led to him being put in charge of design for Ford’s new Edsel brand. Edsel was planned to slot between Ford and Mercury, allowing the latter to move more upmarket and close the perceived gap between it and Lincoln.
The goal of the Edsel’s design was to have it look unlike anything else on the road, while still using basic Ford and Mercury body shells. Edsel’s design language was notable for its large upright “horse collar” grille, which to Sigmund Freud’s delight, looked like lady-parts to most of the public. The Edsel design debuted in 1955, and by 1959 the marque would be discontinued. Brown’s design was blamed for Edsel’s failure, and he was transferred to Ford of Europe.
While at Ford of Europe, Brown designed the Cortina, among others, and his success in Europe earned him a trip back to Ford in Dearborn, where he’d eventually become the lead designer at the Lincoln-Mercury Division.
Though his career might’ve been marred by the Edsel debacle, Brown would later call Edsel “Ford’s most successful failure.”
Source: Hemmings, Select images from The Henry Ford