Classic Car Designer Still Creating Automotive Art 70 Years Later

Being a car lover involves many different types of dreams: dream cars, dream trips, and dream jobs, to name a few. Maine native Allen “Rod” Williams has definitely been vying for his dream job in the automotive industry. After serving in the military, I was fortunate enough to take a design role with none other than Ford Motor Company. Plus, his designs are featured in many of the classic cars we know and love today. 70 years later, Williams and his passions are still going strong.

How did Allen “Rod” Williams get started designing cars for Ford?

Ford Thunderbird 1957 | Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Growing up on a dairy farm in Maine, he was a far cry from the automotive titan that was Detroit. He was always in trouble as a schoolboy. Williams doodled and doodled and daydreamed, earning him the irritated stare of his teachers. After a short stint in collegiate art life, he joined the United States Navy to earn a GI Bill for his post-service training. Little did he know his talents would impact a generation of classic cars.

Williams was lucky with his posting in the military. His leadership in the Navy placed him in a position designing visual aids at an educational institution in Boston, Massachusetts. There, Williams had access to a full studio, where he regularly stayed late to park cars. Williams served in the United States Navy until he separated from active duty at the age of 23. He had no formal training in design, but he had a wonderful attribute: he was a visionary.

What has Williams done for Ford and its classic cars?

Classic-car-designer-still-creating-automotive-art-70-years-later.jpg

1957 Ford Fairlane | George Rinhart, Getty Images

After a nice friend submitted some of his designs to Mechanics Illustrated, the offers started rolling in. GM, Chrysler and, of course, Ford all sent Williams offers, and he chose to work for Ford.

Williams worked for Ford in Detroit for years. He wrote the designs for many cars, including the iconic 1957 Ford Fairlane and the 1957 Ford Thunderbird. Williams’ long-bodied, finned, and bold designs were striking and brilliantly conceptual. He tried his hand at rounded taillights, dramatic fins, two-tone colors and chrome accents. Fans can clearly see the impressive results of the Fairlane and Thunderbird. Perhaps it’s appropriate that he was a sailor, given the radical porthole design of the classic car favourite, the Thunderbird.

What is Allen “Rod” Williams doing for classic car culture today?

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After Allen “Rod” Williams and his wife, Caroline, decided they were done with Detroit, they moved back to Maine. Specifically, the couple didn’t care about the pace and politics of Detroit. It only took a few years for Williams to get completely fed up with them and uproot them. However, he did not leave Motor City without having had a profound impact on automotive design. During his short time in Detroit, he was involved in the design of some beloved Ford and Chrysler finned cars.

Although Williams has been retired for some time now, he remains active in design. He regularly writes logos and packaging designs for farm-to-table startups. Plus, his designs continue to stun classic car enthusiasts every day. More recently, Williams was invited to show several of his vintage design paintings in Arundel, Maine. “It’s satisfying to find out that people still love my designs,” Williams told the Bangor Daily News.

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