When Bill Boyer arrived in Australia in mid-1973 to join Ford’s local design efforts, he came with serious resume.
Those with inside knowledge of car styling would have known that Boyer had been part of the team that styled the original 1955 Thunderbird, and influenced every Thunderbird design since then.
They would also have known that he designed Ford’s 1955 Mystere dream car (which informed the design of the ’57 Ford), had a role in shaping the first Falcon and gave the Lincoln Continental Mark III its classic looks.
Bill Boyer began his design career at GM and then, in 1952, was asked to move to Ford by another ex-GM designer, Franklin Hershey, who was then boss of Ford styling.
By the early 1950s Hershey had already established himself as influential car designer, having penned the 1948 Cadillac (with tail fins), put the silver streaks motif on Pontiac, created the 1938 Opel Kapitan and drawn the 48-215 Holden shape in 1946.
When Hershey hired Boyer he set him to work on the Thunderbird.
Boyer did much of the work on the wraparound windscreen and the rear end.
Not long after the Thunderbird was released a special styling studio was created for it and Boyer was put in charge.
It was in mid-1956 that Boyer and his team re-interpreted one of car styling’s most iconic design themes, the wide, flat, formal C pillar and applied it to the 1958 Thunderbird.
The “Thunderbird” C pillar, as it became known, is a shape that has been copied by just about every car manufacturer in the world wanting to convey a theme of chic elegance and performance.
The car’s centre console was also a Boyer innovation.
He originally had one built for his own car to hold maps and loose change.
So unique was the idea that incorporated into the production T-Bird.
Soon other car companies were copying it and the rest, as they say, is history.
After the three years in Australia, where he contributed to the XC and XD Falcons, Boyer returned to the United States where he headed the team that created the 1983 Thunderbird and worked on truck designs.
He retired from Ford in 1985 and then wrote a book, Thunderbird: An Odyssey in Automotive Design, which covered the first 30 years of the car’s design history.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au
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