Roy Brown Jr., believer in Edsel

A 1958 Edsel, introduced in 1957. The distinctive grille drew comparisons to an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon or worse, but Brown never stopped driving an Edsel.
A 1958 Edsel, introduced in 1957. The distinctive grille drew comparisons to an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon or worse, but Brown never stopped driving an Edsel. (UPI)

Designer's car flopped famously, but he said it was just bad timing.

Posted: March 08, 2013

Roy Brown Jr., 96, the defiantly proud designer of the Edsel, the chrome-encrusted, big-grilled set of wheels that went down as one of the worst flops in automotive history, died Feb. 24 at a hospice in Ann Arbor, Mich.

He had pneumonia and Parkinson's disease, his wife, Jeanne Brown, said.

More than five decades after Mr. Brown's creation debuted and promptly vanished from dealerships across the United States, the term Edsel remains synonymous with failure.

Among auto enthusiasts, however, the car generates deep nostalgia for a bygone era of American motoring.

Mr. Brown was a veteran automotive designer in the mid-1950s when the Ford Motor Co. put him in charge of overseeing a new car. It was to be more sophisticated than the standard Ford, less expensive than the Mercury, and so distinctive, he once said, as to be recognized "from a block away."

It was named the Edsel in honor of Henry Ford's late son, and only after executives rejected suggestions solicited from poet Marianne Moore, including Intelligent Whale, Ford Faberge, Mongoose Civique and Utopian Turtletop.

In the era of conspicuous consumption, Mr. Brown did not build a car for the motorist who drove. He made a behemoth for the driver who cruised - with room enough for five friends in tow.

The Edsel's most recognizable attribute was its vertical grille, a design throwback. After the car was released in 1957, the grille drew comparisons to an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon, a toilet seat, and other cruder images. "There are people that have toilet-seat minds," Mr. Brown told the Sun Sentinel in Florida.

Ford had hoped to sell 200,000 but ended production by 1960 after the sale of about 118,000. The company lost more than $300,000 a day during production.

Mr. Brown said he "cried in my beer for two days" but then returned to his work with vigor. He attributed the failure to "bad timing."

Ford transferred Mr. Brown to the company's office in England, where he was the chief designer of the Consul and the compact Cortina, which Automotive News described as "one of the company's most successful products in Europe" and the best-selling car in Britain in the 1970s.

His credits from earlier in his career include a show car that helped inspire the Batmobile.

Until the end of his life, Mr. Brown expressed pride in the Edsel. And amost until the end, he drove one, his son said.

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