Roy Brown remembered as father of the Edsel

In 2007 at the 50th Anniversary of the Edsel in Dearborn, Mich., Chief Stylist Roy Brown (right) visited with another Edsel alum, C. Gayle Warnock, head of PR for the Edsel Division.

In 2007 at the 50th Anniversary of the Edsel in Dearborn, Mich., Chief Stylist Roy Brown (right) visited with another Edsel alum, C. Gayle Warnock, head of PR for the Edsel Division.

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.



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5 thoughts on “Roy Brown remembered as father of the Edsel

  1. Dee Reilly

    Since when is the Cortina a highly sought after british Ford?My neighbor had one of these.I seem to remember it being rather problematic.I,on the other hand had a ’73 Capri{the sexy european}which was essentially a Pinto engine and trans stuffed into a somewhat longer and better looking body style with rack and pinion steering.The last time I saw one was in Hemmings motor news classifieds,for $12,000. For as much flack as they took,I’d still rather have a Vega than an Edsel.

    1. Jerry Holder

      I’m not sure how many Edsel critics have actually taken a ride or a drive in one, but if most of them had their opinion would change. As far as the look, 33% hate it, 33% dislike it and 34% could take it or leave it. With that said, for its day it didn’t look anywhere near as bad as a current day Nissan Cube, a Toyota Scion XB, a Honda FCX, etc. I could go on and on. I wonder why no outrage on ugly cars today but people still harp on the Edsel. I guess being different today is more acceptable than back then.

      My brother bought one in 1960 and it was one of the most advanced and best riding cars in had ever been in. At that time I was to young to drive but you could seen it on his face how much he enjoyed driving his Edsel.

      I’m sure there were more popular, faster, even better looking cars but there was not another car at that time more advanced for the price point. So for all of the people who are basing their opinion on old preconceived ideas I say you don’t know what you missed. It’s to late now but from now on everyone should go there and do it. Not just believe what you hear.

  2. Ken Sousa

    The Edsel was characterized back in the day as “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon”. The car itself was just a sheetmetal variation on the full sized Ford/Mercury that came to market just as the demand was shifting to compact cars like the Falcon. As far as the comment about the Vega, I would gladly give you my share of the remaining Vega population (if there truly are any). Those weren’t a marketing mistake. They were an exercise in manufacturing and design disaster. Horrible cars built to meet customer demand, but quickly found out for what they were. BTW, I had a 2.7L 77 Mercury Capri Snow Cat as an executive lease car from my employer (which was a subsidiary of Fomoco) and loved it. Hardly a Pinto in wolf’s clothing, it was comparable to the 72 Datsun 240Z that it replaced in my garage in both performance and handling.

    1. Jerry Holder

      The reason for my additional comment is I forgot to say goodbye to Roy. I didn’t know him but I’m sure he was a man of great character to put up with the insults people made about the Edsel and the design team. May Roy rest in peace and smile because the Edsel design was vindicated with the design of the Toyota Prius.

      Last, I had a friend who owned a Capri. He thought it was a great car and loved driving it.

  3. Tom Lohmann

    I couldn’t see anything wrong with the Edsel but I never got a ride in one wish I had.I’ve always wanted one but had other cars around taking up parking Jerry above there are a lot of cars that are completely hideous & he mentioned some like the scion xb & the cube,he didn’t but I will mention the honda element & the kia soul,in fact there are a lot out now that look bad & they all look the same.back then you could tell them our shop most of the vegas we ran into used oil a lot & a friend had the only one I knew of that had plenty of power that didn’t use had a transplanted V8 & they had an awful time making it fit.


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