by James Kraus
Ford is not the oldest automotive manufacturer, being predated by Peugeot, Daimler, Benz (separate companies at the time) and Fiat. It was however, the first mass-market producer. The origin of their current script logo dates back to the days of the Model T, and the characteristic blue oval background arrived with the debut of the Model A in 1927.
Despite the recognizability and brand equity inherent in the traditional Ford script in it’s blue oval, its use lasted but a decade. The blue oval was dropped after 1936, and the classic Ford script was unceremoniously scrapped in 1948. For the next few decades, it was destined to appear only sporadically on door sill plates, castings and other barely-visible locations with or without a surrounding oval.
After releasing the famed flathead V8 engine, the elder Ford became more and more conservative. He disliked hydraulically actuated brakes, finally allowing them in response to consumer demand in 1939. He never allowed independent front suspension under his watch. The senior Henry finally relinquished control after World War II and engineers began work on the first genuine Post-Ford Ford.
The resulting 1949 model was the most redesigned Ford since the Model A. Freed from the constraints imposed by Henry, the engineers added independent front suspension and Hotchkiss drive with parallel leaf springs at the rear. Designer George Walker bid adieu the traditional separate-fender look both front and rear with a sleek new flat-sided pontoon body in the style of the 1947 Kaiser-Frazer.
Apparently, Ford executives convinced themselves that the classic Ford script wasn’t suited to this futuristic machine and the famous icon was sent packing. The 1949 Fords bore no logo whatsoever. Subsequently, someone in marketing or advertising decided that the lack of a logo was a not such a good idea.
As a result, the 1950 Ford debuted with a new red, white and blue heraldic crest that according to the company was “derived by Ford stylists from an authentic coat of arms which dates back to 18th century England.”
The lead designer on the project, L. David Ash, indeed filled the new badge with traditional heraldic imagery. The shield was divided into three coloured sections by a chrome-edged black chevron that contained five chrome bezants. Each section depicted a chrome passant lion.
Curiously, the new logo was only affixed to North American cars, leaving European and Australian Fords logoless. Thus, some of the most enticing Fords of this era, the Cortina Mark I and II and the rear-drive Escort, carried no logo, crest or insignia of any sort.
Among European models, only the GT40 was granted a logo, with the model name enclosed by a red, white and blue circle, quite similar to the Pepsi logotype of the period.
Back in the U.S., the new Ford crest was destined to appear only on standard full and intermediate-size Fords and early Falcon models. Meanwhile, Ford’s prolific graphic artists worked overtime creating unique logos for nearly every other new U.S. model within the Ford range, beginning with the Thunderbird.
The original 1955 Thunderbird sported the new Ford heraldic logo over a pair of crossed chequered flags. For 1956, Ford graced the Thunderbird with their first ever model-specific logo. The turquoise coloured insert used from 1956 to 1965 was very much in keeping with the period.
Next came bespoke logos for the Ranchero, Falcon, Mustang and Country Squire:
Most curious was the rise and fall of the elegant Country Squire emblem with its horse head over crossed polo mallets. Although the popular wood-paneled Ford was sold from the early-fifties through the early nineties, the logo was only used from late 1964 through the end of the 1967 model run.
Any contemporary brand manager would recoil at this diverse graphical strategy since the resulting broad proliferation of imagery dilutes the equity of the main brand.
Ford eventually came to this same conclusion and in 1976 a modernized blue oval appeared on the grill of the new Fiesta and the redesigned Taunus, the first exterior applications of the corporate logo to be seen in Europe since the pre-war German Ford Eifel. It was slowly reinstated globally, appearing on nearly all Ford-branded vehicles worldwide by 1983.
The only Ford model-specific logo to survive is the Mustang emblem, which carries on to this day.