Henry Ford’s Last Surviving Grandson, William Ford Clay Sr., Passes Away

williamclayfordImagine taking your first driving lesson with Henry Ford, or going on your first flight with Charles Lindbergh. Those might sound like wild fantasies for all of us, but for the late William Clay Ford Sr., it was one of the privileges of being the grandson of Henry Ford. Unfortunately, William Clay Ford’s illustrious life came to end Sunday as he passed away in his sleep from pneumonia at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores. He was 88 years old.

Born on March 14, 1925, William Clay Ford led a privileged life, but he never took his foot off of the gas pedal. Instead, he always looked to push himself to the limits and build a life of his own accord. At just 18 years old, Ford became a member of U.S. Navy Air Corps during World War II, and later on in 1949, he graduated from Yale University with a degree in economics. These, of course, are major accomplishments for any man. Adding to the foundations of his life, Ford was also married in 1947 to Martha Firestone, heiress to the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.

continentalmarkiiEventually, William Ford became involved in his grandfather’s company, showing a flair for design and acumen for business. Both skills were of great benefit to the company. In 1956, one of Ford’s greatest styling contributions came with the design 1956 Continental Mark II, which is viewed as one of the most iconic cars of all-time. Former Ford Motor president, Nick Scheele, says, “He had a great eye for styling. You could see it in his Continental Mark II.”

However, William Clay Ford’s biggest contribution may have come when he stubbornly insisted that the Ford family not give up control of the company when they went public in 1956. Through his leadership, the Ford family retained 40% of the voting rights through a special class of stock, helping the company continue forward into the modern world.

timeDuring his life, Ford became so prominent that he appeared on the May 1953 cover of Time Magazine with brother Benson and father Henry. Adding to his infamy, William Clay Ford bought the Detroit Lions in 1964 for 4.5 billion dollars. “My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community,” William Clay Ford Jr. said in a released public statement. “He also was a wonderful family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, yet he will continue to inspire us all.”

William Clay Ford Sr. is survived by his wife Martha, children William Jr., Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hemp, and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis, as well as 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The Pick-up Trucks Late Evolution in Fuel Efficiency

2014 Ram 1500Yesterday, the 2014 diesel-powered Ram 1500 pickup was given the top rating in fuel efficiency for any pickup in the United States. It registered an astonishing 28 miles per gallon! The Ram 1500 was just one of the many stories that have come out in the past month concerning the improving fuel efficiency of pick-up trucks. In fact, it was just a few weeks ago that the new Ford truck was reportedly shedding an unbelievable 700 pounds, which would increase speed, power, and efficiency. It’s fair to say that this year has been monumental in the history of fuel efficient trucks. But, I wish it had come a little earlier.

Growing up, my father was a carpenter that ran his own crew that ranged anywhere from four to five men. In the sweltering Florida sun, my Dad and his crew worked from 7 AM to 4 PM, losing five to ten pounds in sweat per day. Working in those conditions, their skin became leathery and their hands were calloused half an inch high. Their joints ached, and their elbows popped with pain from swinging a hammer all day. But he never complained, and he never missed a day of work. Most importantly to my Dad, there was always dinner on the table at home.

In order for my father to make his small business work, he needed a company on wheels. That’s just how the construction game worked. So, he went out and bought himself a trailer, and he packed it with all of his work tools: saws, nail guns, generators…everything a carpenter could imagine. Of course, he also needed a big, powerful Ford truck to haul this trailer around. Establishing all of the essential elements to a small business, my father thrived, and times were good.

My Dad owned a 1998 Ford F-150

My Dad owned a 1998 Ford F-150

In the late 90s and early 2000s, there wasn’t a complaint that could be heard. The housing industry was strong. And on a day-to-day basis, he didn’t have to spend exorbitant amounts of money on gas (Man, I miss those 99 cent per gallon days!). My Dad was paying the typical dues, while making money and plowing forward.

But as the years went on, the housing market crashed, and adding insult to injury, the gas prices spiked to $4 per gallon. Soon, my Dad realized that this lifestyle, this job, was now a dead end. Our family would struggle to make ends meet for the next five years. We moved into a smaller 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house. My brother and I would rotate between using the living room as a bedroom and the couch as a bed.

gasFor a while, 3 or 4 years I think, my Dad continued on as a carpenter, picking up side jobs here and there. He’d place a slider for a little old lady, or he’d build an entertainment center. It didn’t matter; he would take any work. But the money wasn’t enough to keep his “business on wheels” going. Gas prices were costing too much to drive 30 miles away, and his truck was too big and swallowed up too much gas. He was losing a couple of hours’ worth of pay each day. Eventually, he decided that it wasn’t worth it. He sold his truck and put his business, twenty-five years of his life, to the side.

Fortunately, my Dad had the guts to go back to school, get a degree, and start a new career. He now teaches a high school history class. But part of me wonders what it would have been like if things were a little easier, if the housing industry didn’t plummet, and if it didn’t cost so much to have a “business on wheels.”

Ford Gets Involved in the Autonomous Car Race

Ford's 2014 F-150 Image courtesy of musclemustangfastfords

Ford’s 2014 F-150
Image courtesy of musclemustangfastfords

In 2013, a Ford F-150 sold every 41 seconds, which helped to make the company a 7.6 billion dollar profit. In the years leading up to their financial crisis, Ford may have ridden this success and stayed with the same formula. But, that’s not the mentality that they have going into 2014. Recently, Ford has been getting a lot of publicity for a new line of F-150s that will debut this year. These new trucks have shed an astonishing 700 pounds to the overall truck weight, while still maintaining the full body size.

Across the board, consumers and dealers seem to be excited and are applauding the move. Ford feels the same way; Chief executive Alan Mulally was quoted as saying, “You’re either moving ahead and you’re improving and you’re making [your vehicles] more valuable and more useful to the customer or you’re not.” Even more impressively, this new truck will be able to haul more and tow more because the engine won’t be working as hard to carry excess weight.

This well-received innovation could have been enough for America’s most historic automaker. But once again, it wasn’t. Within the last few days, reports have emerged from the Washington Auto Show saying that Ford is making a serious push in the autonomous vehicle department, as well. At the Auto Show, Ford showcased its automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research car to onlookers that included President Obama. Impressed by theFord displays, Obama said, “When you look at all these cars, it is a testimony to the outstanding work that’s been done by workers, American workers, American designers.”

Moving forward, Ford is propelling this venture by partnering up with two of America’s finest universities- Stanford and MIT- to perform research. Ford higher ups have said that MIT research will focus on ways to predict the actions of other vehicles and pedestrians, while Stanford research will focus on how the vehicle will maneuver in ways to allow sensors to visualize around obstructions.

This investment was very important for the company. In the upcoming years, Ford will be competing with a slew of rival automakers that are all struggling for control of the road’s future. It is believed that by 2025 automated cars will dominate the road (check out more about this here), meaning there is billions of dollars up for grab.

Ford’s chief operating officer Mark Fields agrees, “In the long term, we see a future of connected cars that communicate with each other and with the world around them to improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and

Ford's autonomous research car

Ford’s autonomous research car

achieve major environmental benefits… Our goal is to offer a level of technology in which a driver is still in control and still able to enjoy the driving experience, but in a better, safer and more efficient way.”

Even though the future of innovation is uncertain as far as the roads go, there is one thing that we do know: Ford will be in the mix.

Ford Was Involved in the Space Race, Too (Kind of)

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The ’54 Ford FX got a little spacey

In the early 50s, the world was overtaken by a fascination with space and the moon and the solar system. It was all uncharted territory, and everyone wanted to be a part of the history. By the mid-50s, there was even a space race between the Soviet Union and the United States to see who could launch the first artificial satellite. In 1957, this race led to the introduction of Sputnik- the world’s first artificial satellite.

Back on earth, auto manufacturers sensed the fascination and started to craft concept vehicles that mirrored the space mentality. One of the first companies to hop on the bandwagon was Ford, who released the Ford FX-Atmos in 1954.

This vehicle- originally launched at the 1954 Chicago Auto Show- was designed to have two joy sticks that would sit on both sides of the driver and was envisioned to run from nuclear power!! Even stranger, though, was the vehicle’s body: it featured a glass dome roof, tail fins, and a rocket like exhaust. Basically, it was a car that would be seen on the Jetsons.

This car never made it to the road or serious production, but it did influence a slew of upcoming cars like the ’56 Mystere and the ’58 La Galaxie. But, none would become as popular as the car Ford put out in 1955.

The La Galaxie was one of the more popular concept vehicles that were showcased at the Chicago Auto Show.

The La Galaxie was one of the more popular concept vehicles that were showcased at the Chicago Auto Show.

Enter Stage Right- The Lincoln Futura

One year after the release of the Ford FX-Atmos, Ford’s Lincoln division was at it again, releasing the Lincoln Futura in 1955. Unlike the ’54 FX-Atmos, the Lincoln Futura was pushed into commercial production and even made it onto the road. The vehicle featured an opened variation of the previous year’s glass dome roof, making it more like a convertible. It also kept the tail fins and rocket style exhausts.

The Lincoln Futura became the most popular of the spacey 50s cars.

The Lincoln Futura became the most popular of the spacey 50s cars.

But the Lincoln Futura will forever be known for one thing: being the Batmobile on the Batman television series that starred mayor of Quahog Adam West. After a series of modifications that increased speed and gave the car more of a “bat like” look, the car stayed with the show for 3 seasons and one incredibly wacky movie (side note I loooooved this movie as a kid; I even had the movie’s pillowcase and sippy cup and poster). The Futuras run on the popular show cemented the legacy of the “spacey 50s car” in the American consciousness for all-time and helped Ford demonstrate how great and innovative they could be.

The infamous Batmobile.

The infamous Batmobile.