At the close of WWII, Ford Motor Company found itself in a tight spot. American carmakers were selling anything they could bolt together to a product-starved postwar market, but CEO Henry Ford II was nervous--he knew he’d face a fiercely competitive market that once supply caught up with demand. Ford needed a stand-out car to ensure competitiveness, but his hopes sagged when he saw his designers’ dowdy-looking proposal. He hired independent stylist George Walker (whose company supplied trim for Ford cars) to submit an alternate design.
As Walker set to work, Dick Caleal, a young designer who’d been recently fired from Studebaker, applied for a job. Walker gave Caleal a shot, offering a position if he designed an acceptable postwar Ford. The hungry young stylist assembled a team of cronies including Bob Bourke and Bob Kato, to work up a proposal after hours at Studebaker.
Dick Caleal's design was refined by Walker and submitted to Ford where it won easy approval and was immediately scheduled for production. The new "shoebox" Ford, as it's become affectionately known, was a sensation that went on to sell over a million copies in its three year run. The rounded, yet boxy design brought Ford profits that propelled the company safely into the 1950s.
Little wonder, as the car's clean, uncluttered “envelope” design was just right for its time. When most cars still sported vestigal rear fender bulges, the '49 Ford wore the clean, slab-sided look that characterizes cars to the present day. The shoebox’s “bullet” front end, oval tail lights and trim size added up to a winner. Ford’s 1949-51 Country Squire station wagons marked the end of the company’s true “woody” era, as subsequent models would substitue decals.
The new Ford wasn’t just a beauty make over. It featured a new ladder type frame, improved brakes, coil spring front suspension, an updated drive line and an engine moved forward to improve space in its cabin.
The "Shoebox" Ford line continued with minor changes after its three-year product cycle ended with the 1951 model. George Walker was hired to helm Ford's in-house design department full-time and commisioned to design its replacement.
Ford's 1980s design chief Jack Telnack placed a small oval opening front and center on the groundbreaking 1986 Taurus as a tribute to the revolutionary 1949 model. Today, the 1949-51 Ford remains a favorite of hot rodders, customizers and preservationists alike, enjoying a long reign as a true American classic.
Written by Jim Cherry