Designer of the Mk1 Cortina dies aged 96

| 1 Mar 2013

Roy A Brown – who designed Ford’s Mk1 Cortina among a string of other machines – died at the age of 96 last Sunday (24 February).

Born on 30 October 1916 in Ontario, Canada, by the age of 20 Brown had graduated from the Detroit Art Academy and landed a job at Bill Mitchell’s newly formed Cadillac studio. He would go on to work at establishments including the Oldsmobile Design Studio and Dizer.

By ’53, Brown was directing the clay-modelling process for the Linclon Futura concept (which would become the original Batmobile), and was soon in charge of the E-car project.

Christened the Edsel, it was intended to fill the gap between the Ford and Mercury ranges.

The prototype was well received by the US firm’s bosses when it was showcased in ’55, but the public wasn’t keen on its looks and the top brass pulled the plug in ’58.

Brown picked up much of the flack for what would be called “Ford’s biggest flop” when it was branded ‘ill judged’ by the company’s suits, and his career took a nosedive.

He was transferred to Ford of Europe where he found salvation.

Brown was the first permanent member of American staff to be placed at Ford’s UK base in 1959, at the behest of Sir Patrick Hennessy who would later say: "He used to love styling, and would come in every Friday morning to have coffee with me. He used to say ‘What are we going to sell to the board of directors this week?’ and would rearrange everything beforehand; a sort of friendly collusion. He had excellent taste and a very good understanding of design.”  

Brown’s first mission was to bring order to the prototype MkIII Zephyr/Zodiac project. Running 18 months behind schedule, the design had been rejected for being ‘too American’.

He was given two weeks to resurrect the job and, with just 30 staff, they managed it.

The Cortina – codenamed ‘project Cardinal’ – was a different kettle of fish. As Brown put it: “We really started from scratch. It was an ideal situation because by that time I knew all the engineers, they knew me, and we respected each other.”

The Consul Cortina would be launched on time and, as demanded by Hennessy, before Ford of Germany’s front-wheel-drive Taunus. The iconic Cortina was described by C&SC as a credit to Brown thanks to its ability to combine ‘transatlantic design ideas on a European scale’ (see the September 2012 issue).

By ’64, though, Brown was back in America after a clash of wills with Ford’s UK MD Allan Barke and, 11 years later, took the executive designer’s position at Lincoln-Mercury.

Brown’s memorial service was held yesterday and, in lieu of flowers, the Brown family has asked that donations be made to the National MS Society.