TBT: Edsel Ford’s Eye for Design Leaves Mark on Lincolns

As Ford marks its 119th anniversary today, the company is also taking a big step in making its archival material available directly to the public for the first time on the Ford Heritage Vault. The site contains thousands of photos and brochures of Ford and Lincoln vehicles from 1903 to 2003. Many of the Lincolns in the collection reflect the influence of Edsel Ford, who was spotlighted earlier this year in a special Lincoln collection tour for the 100th anniversary of the brand’s purchase by Ford.

The only child of Clara and Henry Ford, Edsel Ford showed an early interest in design. He joined the company in 1912 after completing his studies at Detroit University School and was instrumental in Ford’s purchase of Lincoln in 1922, leading the brand until his passing in 1943. His discerning eye helped guide the company to produce vehicles that were as aesthetically pleasing as they were practical. “Father made the most popular car in the world,” he said. “I want to make the best car in the world.”

Edsel Ford’s earliest influence could be seen in the changes to late-era Model Ts, which included curved surfaces, smoother lines and the expansion of color availability, ending the black-only era of the iconic Model T. He was responsible for the color, style and trim of the Model A, introduced in 1927 to replace the Model T.

In the late 1930s, Edsel Ford was inspired by the design and elegance of the automobiles he saw on a trip to Europe, which led him to challenge Eugene “Bob” Gregorie, head of the Ford design department, to work with him to create a stylish new Lincoln.

The result was the streamlined 1938 Lincoln Zephyr, an industry smash with its iconic grille and sloped hood, which led other manufacturers to copy its classic design. The first Lincoln Continental, designed by Gregorie, was dubbed “the most beautiful car in the world” by Frank Lloyd Wright, who purchased two of them. Edsel Ford had become so passionate about the Continental that he was known to stop by the design studio daily to monitor its progress and offer suggestions.

Gregorie deferred credit for the iconic Lincoln to Edsel Ford. “He had the vision,” said Gregorie. “I did the work of translating his vision into workable designs.”

Edsel Ford’s time was cut short – he died of cancer at age 49 – but his influence on the early decades of Lincoln design was clear. There is nearly 80 years’ worth of Lincoln product history available to view and download in the Ford Heritage Vault. Click here to take a look.

(Editor’s note: The Heritage Vault is experiencing heavy traffic on launch day and the archives team is working to get the site back to full speed for your trip down memory lane.)  

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