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.
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.