Posted by: Kath Usitalo | June 17, 2009

Different by Design

Edsel Ford's drafting tools are front and center at the new exhibit honoring his vision

Edsel Ford's drafting tools are front and center at the new exhibit honoring his vision

It’s time, says Edsel B. Ford II, that his grandfather “got his fair due” for the impact he had on automobile design. The original Edsel was a toddler in 1896 when his father’s first horseless carriage rolled through the streets of Detroit. The only child of Henry and Clara Ford grew up with the Ford Motor Company, which was founded on June 16, 1903. He skipped college to start working at FoMoCo as an apprentice right out of high school.         


Edsel Ford II

While Henry was the inventor and the brains behind the mechanics and production of the automobile, Edsel was always more interested in design. He and his father often differed, but finally, “after years of lobbying” by Edsel, in 1935 Ford Motor Company established its first formal design department.

Edsel’s talent, understanding and interest in the subject inspired “Different by Design: The Styling of Edsel Ford,” a new exhibit housed in the garage of the home he and his wife Eleanor built on Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores.

No oil soaked rags in this garage. The immaculate, Cotswold-style gatehouse mimics the sprawling lakeside home where Edsel and Eleanor raised their four children: Josephine, Benson, Henry II, and William Clay (father of Edsel II).

The garage now houses two treasured family vehicles, their 1934 Brewster Town Car and 1938 Lincoln K Brunn Brougham. And a gorgeous 1941 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet. Developed under Edsel’s supervision, people who know consider that Lincoln a design masterpiece. Its streamlined style made it “the most beautiful car in the world” in its day. It sure beats the Altoids tins we may be driving in the near future.

The exhibit has some hands-on activities including a kiosk that allows you to test your car design skills.

Edsel's Lincoln reflected in a garage mirror

The Lincoln reflected in a mirror of the sparkling Ford garage

The beautiful 1941 Lincoln was developed on Edsel's watch

The beautiful 1941 Lincoln was developed on Edsel's watch

But I was just as interested in the garage itself, and I wanted more of the recorded oral history about the life of the Ford’s chauffeur and his family; I expected Audrey Hepburn and the rest of the cast of Sabrina to show up any minute.


The Cotswold style of the garage/gatehouse matches the gracious lakeside home

The new exhibit nicely complements a visit to the mansion (formally known as the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House) and 80-acre grounds, and adds another dimension to the man who was overshadowed by the accomplishments of his father. As his grandson said, “It’s a wonderful way for us to showcase what Edsel’s impact was.”

And no, Edsel the elder was not responsible for the late 1950s car with his nameplate. He’d died at the estate in 1943.


Attention to design even on the garage downspouts

“Father made themost popular car in the World, I want to make the best car in the world.” Edsel B. Ford


Car show in our driveway

Car show in our driveway

On some days our driveway looks like a classic car show, with a rotating display (depending on what’s in service) of son Graham’s 1951 Packard, 1961 Metropolitan, 1988 Jeep Wagoneer, and, of course, our Splattered Van. Plus our new Jeep.

But for the wheel fans in our family, this weekend kicks off a summer-long series of opportunities to gawk at other peoples’ prized vehicles:

June 19-20 Antiques & Classics On The Bay, St. Ignace: Vehicles 1984 and older cruise across the Mackinac Bridge on Friday, are on display in St. Ignace on Saturday. Not familiar with this one, but it’s produced by the same company that hosts the show and parade the following weekend (see below).

June 20-21 Motor Muster at Greenfield Village, Dearborn: 700-plus examples of vehicles from the 1930s to the 70s. See them static and on parades through the Village. If the weather’s good, we’ll head there late Saturday afternoon; on this occasion the Village is open until 9 p.m. and you get a different vibe there in the evening.

June 21 Eyes On Design at Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, Grosse Pointe Shores: 200-plus classic and current cars on the beautiful Lake St. Clair estate; benefits the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology. This event is an annual Father’s Day tradition for TJ and Graham.

June 26-27 Down Memory Lane Parade, 7 p.m. Friday; 34th Annual St. Ignace Car Show and Swap Meet, Saturday. We’ve been to this event and it’s very cool to enjoy beautiful cars with the bayside backdrop.

Go to for more car events and shows.

Take a Model T ride during Motor Muster at Greenfield Village this weekend

Take a Model T ride during Motor Muster at Greenfield Village this weekend


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: