By Phil Skinner
It is considered one of the biggest automotive flops to ever come off any assembly line, but to those who own, drive and restore an Edsel automobile, it is a beautiful creature, designed by a truly talented man, Roy Brown. On Sunday, Feb. 24, Brown, at the age of 96, died near his home of the past 45 years in Brooklyn, Mich.
Brown came to work for Ford Motor Company in the late 1940s and his talents were recognized. He worked on a number of special cars and was a major force in the design of the famous Ford Futura show car that would eventually be turned into the original Batmobile.
In 1954 he was tapped to become the chief of styling for the new E-car being developed by Ford’s Special Products Division. Taking a different approach to design, he wanted this new vehicle to be recognizable from a block away. His team noticed all the modern cars looked remarkably the same — a horizontal grille, and headlight placed in the front of the fenders. While he had some basic package restrictions, the front-end design was open for development and the center vertical grille flanked by a pair of horizontal grilles was soon established at the front of this new E-car.
Brown’s design team pushed for the use of the name Ventura and the “V” theme was used heavily in the trim and logos on early studies, mock-ups and even to the prototype stage. As with many people involved with the project, he and his team didn’t particularly care for the name Edsel when the car was officially named on Nov. 19, 1956, but the crew created all the lettering and final logos in just a couple of days.
The 1958 Edsels received one of the biggest announcement programs ever seen in the industry, but the front-end styling was controversial to say the least. However, as Brown told this writer, “try and find a bad line on it, you can’t.”
Brown’s involvement with the Edsel began at the start of the project and, by the time the 1958 models had hit the show room floor, final touches were being added to the 1959 models, which were toned down a bit in some of the design elements.
After the Edsel was met with market resistance, Brown was transferred to other design concerns, first in the Lincoln-Mercury Division and eventually to England, where he was the design leader behind several very popular British Fords, including the highly sought after Cortina. Some of his design elements from the Edsel can be found on both British- and German-built Ford products. Brown once said, “In the long run, I made a lot more money for Ford Motor Company than the Edsel ever lost.”
As the popularity of the Edsel grew as a collectible, Brown was considered the “father of the Edsel,” and along with his son Reggie, attended a number of Edsel meets across the country. He even produced several limited pieces of artwork depicting his ideas towards a modern interpretation of what the Edsel would look like in modern times.
Always an artist and a true gentleman, Roy Brown will be remembered by the fans of not only the Edsel, but the Ford Cortina and even as the man who really created the basis for the popular Batmobile.
Ford fans should check out these Blue Oval resources from Old Cars Weekly:
- Standard Catalog of Ford 1903-2002
- Just Fords: Fascinating Finds & Great Machines From the Blue Oval