Back in 1951, conversations began about having a “true Ford sports car.” It wasn’t long before “paper sports cars” were created in the Ford design studios in an effort to have this new car in production for the 1955 model year. May 1, 1953, became the target date for a full-size clay model of this future Ford: the Thunderbird. But it wasn’t actually until May 18 of that same year when a complete, painted clay model that closely resembled what would eventually become the final version of the first T-bird was finally done.
Creating future vehicles by way of sketch and clay model continues today. The process allows engineers and designers to experiment with everything from looks to aerodynamics. Even when it came to reducing noise in the new Ford Escape, engineers made changes to the vehicle’s shape, notably the mirrors and A-pillar, during the clay model stage to test theories and validate expected results.
Sketching and clay modeling are not only about drawing and sculpting a vision; they are art forms that are both creative and technical. When creating a vehicle, designers and engineers consider the delicate balance of form and function; it must function as a reliable and fuel-efficient mode of transportation, but also resonate with the customer, to express a personality and inspire a connection.
The process typically involves interior and exterior designers developing renderings that then become the basis for a clay model, which is gone over by engineers in fine detail before a vehicle goes into production. With about 160 clay modelers worldwide, Ford relies on the artistry and craftsmanship of sculptors working side-by-side with designers and using tools such as rakes and finishers to smooth the edges while molding and shaping a vehicle. Traditional craftsmanship, such as clay modeling, and new advancements in digital 3D modeling unite to allow Ford designers to create an expressive new vehicle.
Yet some methods for creating future vehicles have become even more innovative since the early Thunderbird days. Ford now uses a “global design language” — the global One Ford approach to a design that is about creating a foundation for Ford products used worldwide. The Blue Oval has design studios located around the world, and together these studios collaborate to create a global aesthetic, a vehicle that is appreciated at the global level while also resonating with local customers to provide a unique sense of ownership.