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Roy Brown Jr. Dies: Ford Edsel Designer Passes At 96

Ford Edsel Designer Dies

Roy Brown Jr., a leading car designer, died at the age of 96. Brown was best known for designing the 1957 Ford Edsel — also referred to as Detroit’s greatest flop.

But despite the Edsel’s great failure, Brown was also known for creating the Cortina, one of Ford’s greatest successes.

The Ford Edsel was created by Brown in the 1950s as a mid-priced response to General Motors‘ Oldsmobiles and Buicks. Unlikely names for the car included the Intelligent Whale, Forde Faberge, Mongoose Civique, and Utopian Turtletop.

Finally, Ford settled on the Edsel as a tribute to founder Henry Ford’s late son. The Edsel, designed by Roy Brown Jr., was launched in August 1957 to great fanfare. There were seven versions of the car over its short production span: the Ranger, Corsair, Pacer, Citation, Bermuda, Villager and Roundup.

Initial reviews of the new car were enthusiastic, with Popular Science claiming the car “takes off like a gazelle one jump ahead of a drooling lion.” But it wasn’t meant to be. The car was essentially a hybrid of existing models with updated gimmicks. The new parts were also difficult for workers to put together correctly. This resulted in several quality problems.

But despite this, Roy Brown Jr. was satisfied. He remarked in 1985, “I’m proud of the car. There is not a bad line on the car.” He loved the car he designed so much that he drove one well into his 90s. After the Edsel’s failure, Brown and other designers were banished to different parts of the world.

Ford Edsel Designer Dies

Brown found himself in Dagenham, England. As head of design, he was able to redeem himself by designing the Ford Consul, as well as the 1962 Ford Cortina. The Cortina went on to become the most commercially successfully car in Britain.

Brown was a native of Hamilton, Ontario, though his family moved to Detroit when he was a teenager. His father was a Chrysler engineer, making him close with cars from the beginning. After he was banished, Roy Brown Jr. returned to the US in the late 1960s. There he designed Thunderbirds and Econoline vans before he retired in 1979.

Roy Brown Jr. died on February 24 and his passing was announced in Michigan news media outlets. Brown is survived by his wife of 42 years, Jeanne Brown; four children from a previous marriage, Georgianna Byron, Reginald Brown, Penny Beesley and Mark Brown; a sister, Betty Klepinger; five grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

[Image by Brian Snelson from Hockley, Essex, England (Ford Edsel Ranger) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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5 Responses to “Roy Brown Jr. Dies: Ford Edsel Designer Passes At 96”

  1. Tom Rigg

    It was not the "Ford Edsel," it was the Edsel by Ford. Also, although introduced in 1957 it was a 1958 model. Roy would have wanted it correctly said that way. PS: I'm a former Edsel owner.

  2. Judy Decker Steele

    The first time I saw an Edsel, I fell in love, for the first time. They came out before I was born, but, a neighbor had one, when I was a kid. I thought it was the coolest looking car, of the time. The Edsel is very sleek and sexy. It is too bad that it wasn't a better seller. There were too many beautiful cars to choose from, as I cannot think of a single make or model of car that I would consider ugly, that the Edsel was a car out of another time. If the Edsel came out a few years earlier or even later, I think she would have had more of a following. Those that have loved the Edsel, later, bought them, fixed them up nicely and now drive them around, with much pride. I wanted to buy one a few years ago, the asking price on it was $5200, as it needed a small bit of work done on it. By the time I got out to see it, with my money in hand, the owner had sold it. Thank goodness others love the Edsel, as much as I do, so this beauty will continue on.

  3. Marilyn DeJulio

    My high school boyfriend has an Edsel. He still has it. We cruised that car like Rock Stars in 1977 and years after. Thank you Mr. Brown. What a great ride.

  4. Todd Ka'imi Espinda

    amazing what bad press will do to a reputation, from all accounts the Edsel didn't have anymore problems then any other car of that era other than it's name! classic lines, power train and a part of Americana! Wish I had one and probably so do many of it's detractors from back in the day.