Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bunkie Knudsen's Long-Nose Cars

Semon Emil "Bunkie" Knudsen (1912-1998) was the son of General Motors' President William S. Knudsen who didn't quite gain the GM presidency himself, and so in February 1968 was hired by Ford Motor Company to be its president.

Knudesen then hired Larry Shinoda of Corvette styling fame to stir up Ford's design efforts.  This and others of his initiatives, combined with resistance from Ford people resulted in his August 1969 firing by Henry Ford II and eventual replacement by Lee Iacocca.  Knudesen's Wikipedia entry is here, and here is an appreciation from Hemmings.

One curious legacy of Knudsen's short Ford tenure was the introduction of long "noses" on the grilles of some of Ford's models.  The generally accepted story is that they were inspired by Pontiac front ends of the second half of the 1960s.  Knudsen was general manager of Pontiac 1956-61 and is credited with drastically changing the division's reputation and improving sales.  So even though he went on to other duties at GM, it's highly likely that he kept a fatherly eye on Pontiac.

Pontiacs began to grow noticeable central grille noses by around 1965 and these became fairly large by the 1969-1970 model years.  Even though he had left General Motors before the 1969 Pontiacs were announced in the fall of 1968, there is little reason to doubt that he was aware of the direction Pontiac styling was taking.  He liked this theme, and so had it applied on some 1970 Ford company models whose styling was set while he was president.

Here is some visual evidence:


1965 Pontiac Grand Prix - Mecum auction photo

1968 Pontiac Bonneville - Barrett-Jackson auction photo

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Examples of Pontiac styling that might have inspired some 1970 Ford Motor Company designs.

1970 Mercury Cyclone

1970 Mercury Montego Brougham

1970 Ford Thunderbird

The Ford Motor Company cars shown above have more extreme noses than the Pontiacs.  All of them, especially the Thunderbird, seem poorly protected from frontal impacts.

Aesthetically, I think the Thunderbird comes off best thanks to its more logical prow shaping.  The Mercurys feature a flat center section on their noses whose slightly blunt effect strikes me was less "natural" than the possibly ship-inspired Thunderbird nose.  The "gunsight" motif on the Cyclone is an actual design distraction that probably was a concession to marketing a high-performance car.

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Footnote: Here is the 1970 Ford Thunderbird Tridon concept car.  It was probably intended to help legitimize the long-nose styling theme, but quickly disappeared not long after Knudsen's departure from Ford.  Lee Iacocca had other ideas to implement such as vinyl-covered roofs and small "opera windows" on C-pillars.

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