TBT: Ford’s First Head Designer Bob Gregorie

Former Ford design chief Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie, who collaborated with Edsel Ford on several vehicles including the first Lincoln Continental, transitioned to automotive design after beginning his career in boat building.

The designer of Lincoln’s iconic Continental began his career envisioning much different vehicles. Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie was designing yachts and other boats before fate intervened and a relationship with Edsel Ford helped propel him to the top of the automotive industry.

Thinking his talents were better served in automotive design, Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie traveled to Michigan from New York in 1929 looking for work. He applied the skills he had developed in the boating industry, but was laid off during the Great Depression after working for just one year at General Motors.

Gregorie quickly landed a job as a body draftsman at a Lincoln plant in 1931 at just 22 years old, bringing the same design traits that had been evident in his boat building. Recognizing Gregorie’s talent, Ford, then Lincoln Motor Company President, asked him to design what would come to be known as the Gregorie Roadster.

Gregorie next designed the Model Y, a small car for the European market, which was the first vehicle to be designed completely by Ford since the Model T (production on which began less than two weeks before Gregorie’s birth).

Gregorie built another vehicle at Ford’s request in 1934 – the Model 40 Special Speedster – as he also developed a reputation for being able to interpret his boss’ vision. And by 1935, Gregorie, Ford’s first chief designer, was chosen by Ford to be the head of a newly formed design department.

The Continental, which marked its 80th anniversary Oct. 2, began as a side project for Gregorie. He was deferential in deflecting acclaim for its design, considered to be one of the most admired of the 20th century, to Edsel Ford, who was a frequent visitor to his studio.

“If anybody asked me who designed the Continental, I told them it was Edsel Ford,” Gregorie said.

In addition to the 1939 Continental, the duo are also collaborated on the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr. Gregorie is also credited with creating the 1949 Mercury, made famous by James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” among his better known works.

Gregorie left Ford in 1943 following Edsel Ford’s death, but returned to Ford the next year. He ultimately left the company for good following a disagreement about the design of the 1949 Ford two years later, abandoning the auto industry for Florida and his first passion, designing yachts. He died in 2002 at age 94.

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