Retrospective

Original Bronco's design was conceived by Ford's first African American designer

McKinley Thompson Jr. was Ford's first African American designer and his influence lives on today.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford's design studio has churned out some of the most iconic models of all time. They're models so iconic that they need only be mentioned by one name - Explorer, Mustang, Bronco. With the Bronco, the design and engineering teams at Ford created not just the first Ford 4x4 sports-utility vehicle, but an iconic vehicle that has millions of fans nationwide.

McKinley Thompson Jr., like many automotive enthusiasts had his interest in the industry sparked by particular vehicle. The silver-gray DeSoto Airflow caught his eye when he was around 12 years old. "It just so happened that the clouds opened up for the sunshine to come through," he said in an interview documented by The Henry Ford. "It lit that car up like a searchlight." Thompson recalled running toward it, but the light turned green. "I was never so impressed with anything in all my life," he said. "I knew that's what I wanted to do – I wanted to be an automobile designer."

1963 Ford Bronco prototype This is one of the initial prototypes of the Ford Bronco from 1963.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

After high school, Thompson served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, learning drafting and working as an engineering layout coordinator. After the war, Thompson found he couldn't kick his enthusiasm for car design - not that he wanted to. In the early 1950s, he entered a design contest in Motor Trend magazine, submitting a turbine car with a reinforced plastic body. Both of those concepts were trendy in postwar America. That design won him the contest and solidified his decision to go to art

The Queens, New York was hired at Ford Motor Company in 1956 fresh out of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California with a degree in transportation design. Thompson is one of the many noted alumni the college has produced. The extensive list of venerable automotive designers that includes Chris Bangle (former Chief of Design at BMW), Wayne Cherry (Vice President of Global Design at General Motors), Willie G. Davidson (Vice President of Styling at Harley-Davidson), Larry Shinoda (Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Mustang designer), Jeff Teague (former Vice President of Global Design at Ford).

He was the first African American designer that the company hired, 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball but 12 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation was illegal. His first assignments included working on a light-duty cab-forward truck and Ford GT40, and several concept sketches for the soon-to-be Ford Mustang.

Thompson also worked on the futuristic space-age Ford Gyron, a two-wheeled concept car that was on display at the Century of Progress exhibit at the Ford Rotunda in 1961.

Ford Gyron The Ford Gyron, a two-wheeled, gyroscopically-stabilised concept car, designed by Alex Tremulis and Syd Mead, USA, circa 1961. A fiberglass show car was exhibited at the Detroit Motor Show in 1961. Photo by Getty Images

"McKinley was a man who followed his dreams and wound up making history," said Ford Bronco interior designer Christopher Young. "He not only broke through the color barrier in the world of automotive design, he helped create some of the most iconic consumer products ever – from the Ford Mustang, Thunderbird and Bronco – designs that are not only timeless but have been studied by generations of designers."

It was Thompson's sketch of a prospective 4x4 that would influence a buyers for generations. "Package Proposal #5 for Bronco" was rendered July 24, 1963. Its design attributes carried over to the final first-generation Bronco design. In Thompson's proposed design showed the form and function of the wheels positioned at the far corners of the body for a confident and aggressive go-anywhere stance, while the curve of the wheel arches smoothing out conveyed speed.

Package Proposal #5 for Bronco This is Package Proposal #5 for Bronco, the sketch series that set the iconic design in motion.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

"I believe the hardest thing for a person like McKinley to do was working within the constraints given him to make a beautiful product," said Young. "Engineering dictates size and functionality, then manufacturing limits how it can be stamped and assembled, and finance says you have to build it for a low price."

In the years following the Bronco project, Thompson continued to have a transformative influence on the brand, and on the world. From 1969 to 1979, he worked to create high dream car in a rented garage in Detroit. He enlisted the help of Wallace Triplett, who had broken the color barrier as the first African American draftee to play for the Detroit Lions in 1949.

Together, they built a prototype and pitched the plans to burgeoning automakers in developing nations. Thompson hoped to change these countries for the better, much the same way Henry Ford envisioned with the Model T. That project never came to fruition.

1966 Ford Bronco From the first-generation Bronco to today, the model has had an exterior that sends the message that it's adventure-ready.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

After his retirement from Ford in 1984, Thompson moved to Arizona and worked to design and build a concept he envisioned as an affordable all-purpose vehicle named the Warrior. The small utility vehicle was based on a one-piece fiberglass body.

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Ford Motor Company's financial services arm is offering relief to its customers.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Credit Company, the financial services arm of Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) has activated a disaster relief program to allow customers affected by the recent serve winter weather in Texas. The program allows certain qualifying customers impacted by Winter Storm Uri to be able to delay monthly payments.

"We care about our customers and understand many of them are going through a very difficult time right now," said Shannon Mokhiber, vice president, North America Business Center Operations. "We want to help and are offering them some time to recover."

The offer, which extends the deadline for up to two monthly payments, is available only to Ford Credit customers in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) -declared disaster area who are leasing or have purchased vehicles with financing from Ford Credit or Lincoln Automotive Financial Services. Over 60 Texas counties were part of FEMA's recent Texas Severe Winter Storms (DR-4586-TX). It is currently categorized as an active disaster.

Pedestrians walk on along a snow-covered street on February 15, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Customers may initiate a payment deferral immediately using the Ford Credit Account Manager digital tool or may call this toll-free number: 1-800-723-4016. Customers in other areas who need help are encouraged to contact the company. The financial services company will send postcards and/or emails with information on how to request help to customers in the affected areas.

Nearly all Texans were at least somewhat impacted by the early February storm, which left left dozens of residents dead, millions without power, and nearly 15 million with water issues. "All 254 counties will have been impacted in some way by the freeze," Lee Loftis, director of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas, told The Texas Tribune. "That is just unheard of."

Houstonians are also able to receive additional relief for disaster-related issues. The Harris County Appraisal District announced that Houstonians whose home saw at least 15 percent damage and who live in a disaster-declared area are entitled to a temporary exemption of a portion of the appraised value of the property, according to CultureMap reporting.

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The King Ranch trim level has been added to the Ford Explorer lineup for 2021.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The 2021 Ford Explorer is getting a King Ranch trim level. The midsize SUV's new grade combines rugged appearance and premium appointments for a look befitting the Texas ranch's name. Ford currently sells King Ranch versions of the Expedition, F-150, and Super Duty as well.

"In 1853, Captain Richard King bootstrapped the King Ranch in the harsh landscape of southern Texas until it became a shining example of agricultural and livestock innovation and success," said Lee Newcombe, Ford Explorer marketing manager. "Ford Explorer families can now enjoy a piece of the King Ranch's renowned craftsmanship and the multi-generation legacy that still thrives 168 years after its founding."

2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

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The Explorer King Ranch gets a Stone Gray-painted mesh grille insert, 20-inch aluminum wheels with Running W center cap, liftgate scuff plate, King Ranch badging, and quad chrome exhaust tips.

It is powered by a 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine that delivers 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The new version of the Explorer adds a standard Class III Trailer Tow Package, which makes the SUV capable of towing up to 5,600 pounds.

The interior of the new model gets mahogany-colored Mesa Del Rio perforated leather seats. The leather extends to the armrest. Both areas wear the King Ranch Running W logo. Leather door trim rollovers, a leather-wrapped and stitched instrument panel, Sapele wood appliqués, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with Norias stitching and a Salepe wood insert add sophistication.

"Introducing King Ranch's specialty leather, genuine wood, crafted details and signature colors to Ford Explorer elevates the SUV's brand," said Janet Seymour, Ford color and materials manager. "The warm, earthy Norias colorway, natural open pore wood appliqués and rope perforation design on the seats are just a couple ways we were able to bring the King Ranch lifestyle to a whole new group of customers."

Introducing the 2021 Explorer King Ranch® Edition | Explorer | Ford www.youtube.com

Buyers can add the Premium Technology Package to the model, which will give them multi-contour seats with massage functionality, a 10.1-inch informant touch screen, and a 14-speaker B&O Sound System.

Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ is standard on the model.

The Explorer King Ranch edition will start at $52,350 for rear-wheel-drive configuration and $54,350 MSRP for four-wheel drive models. It will be available in dealerships this spring.

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