• Jul 7, 2009
Click above to watch video after the jump

Former Ford President Robert McNamara passed away in his sleep yesterday at the age of 93. McNamara joined the Blue Oval in 1946 and quickly ascended the ranks, becoming the General Manager of the Ford Division in 1955.

During McNamara's tenure, the Ford brand bested Chevrolet in U.S. sales for the first time in 22 years. McNamara's biggest success was the 1960 Ford Falcon, which sold 500,000 units in its first year. McNamara also made the decision to convert the sexy two seat Thunderbird into the less attractive but more salable four-seat version. As unattractive as that decision seemed at the time, Thunderbird sales increased four-fold after the change.

After only one month as President of Ford Motor Company, McNamara went to Washington to be the Secretary of Defense for John F. Kennedy. He held the position until 1968. After his time in politics, McNamara spent 12 years as the head of the World Bank. Hit the jump to watch a commercial touting the 1960 Ford lineup, including the introduction of the Falcon.

[Sources: Mustang Monthly; Autoweek]



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  • 27 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      It needs to be added that he admitted that Vietnam war was terribly wrong, and apolgized for our involvement. I sure thats nothing for the people and their families who lost loved ones, and had their lives devastated. People thought very differently in the 60's. The 60 Fords were great looking cars. My X-Wife had a 60 galaxy 4 door. We drove it from 1977 until 1980, lent it to he Uncle who promptly totaled it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I really like and would drive any one of those 3 Fords. Rest in Peace Mr. McNamara.
      • 5 Years Ago
      despite his many mistakes (starting and escalating the Vietnam war, to name one) I have tremendous respect for this man and the vast accomplishments he has made throughout his life. I never knew he was in charge of Ford, but this only increases the level of respect i have for this larger than life man, RIP Robert McNamara.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ford outsold Chevrolet in 1957 due to the prolonged UAW strike against GM, not because of product.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Not because the 57 Ford Fairline 500 was all new bumper to bumper, and the 57 Bel-Air was a face-lifted, and tail pinched 55? It was received as an "ugly duckling" when it came out, only in later years did it become so beloved, even by me.
      • 5 Years Ago
      You answered your own question. The cars are much safer, environmentally friendlier and thus heavier. Physics sucks. Also, their 30 MPG was probably measured strangely.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Since the Falcon was the basis for the Mustang that would make McNamara the Mustang's Grandfather.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Some of the best cars in America was in the 60's and very early 70's. It all went downhill after that oil crisis.
      • 5 Years Ago
      McNamara has often been described as an opposite to Lee Iacocca. While Iacocca was sometimes a master at flash, repackaging, superficial trendiness, and self-promotion, McNamara reportedly favored a more conservative “appliance motoring” "bean-counter" approach.

      Thus, McNamara was a key figure in the development of Ford’s first modern compact car: The Falcon. Although the Falcon was initially a massive hit – and a well-needed one in the wake of the Edsel debacle – its prosaic styling, bland specifications, and tepid initial performance were clear counter-points to its platform cousin, the Iacocca-championed 1964 ½ Mustang. In fact, under the skin, the first production Mustangs were little more than gussied-up McNamara Falcons (albeit with optional V8s, bucket seats, and other “youth market” frivolities).

      * * * *


      Yet the Falcon wasn’t small enough or elemental enough for McNamara. He was a strong supporter of the V4-powered, FWD “Cardinal” project. Although the Cardinal followed in the tire tracks of Sir Alec Issigonis’ revolutionary 1959 BMC Mini and was somewhat predictive of the direction the auto industry would be forced to take fifteen to twenty years later, Iacocca promptly killed it, even though McNamara had reportedly devised a virtual "no loss" plan to domesticate it as a VW Beetle fighter.

      McNamara’s practical “appliance motorist” streak directly lead to Corvette’s five decades of mostly unchallenged hegemony at the crest of the American sports car marketplace. McNamara failed to understand the need to fight Corvette in the “halo” true sports car class. Thus, although the first generation Thunderbird outsold Corvette and at times outperformed it in speed trials, McNamara bought the idea of a heavy, bloated four-seat boulevard tourer for the T-Bird’s second generation.

      McNamara’s 1958 “Square Bird” marked the end of any serious retail challenge for the two-seat sports car market. Although Carroll Shelby’s rare and hyperexpensive Cobras would sometimes rule the racetrack and Ford would occasionally dabble in mostly irrelevant, low-production mid-engined two-seaters (Pantera, Ford GT), McNamara’s myopic abandonment of the two-seat high performance niche has consigned Ford to “second class” status on the streets for decades. Hundreds of thousands of Ford owners have switched to Chevrolet over the decades simply because Ford offered no legitimate V8 sports car as a capstone to the Ford line-up. Ford’s failure to contest the “Corvette” market has also held back development of several generations of Ford V8s. Much of Chevrolet’s grassroots motorsports dominance since 1955 has flowed from the wellspring of Corvette development.

      McNamara poisoned the developmental well for Ford by taking the Thunderbird out of the game only a few short model years from inception.

      McNamara’s heavyweight “Square Bird” did, however, predict the later explosion of interest in the personal luxury market. In fact, the four-seat Thunderbird virtually created this segment (probably much to the consternation of the utilitarian McNamara). But the death of Ford’s production challenge to Corvette marked a certain “flabbiness” that persists to this day. A real “car guy” would never have ceded the nationalistic high ground of sports cars to Zora Arkus-Duntov and Corvette.

      Robert McNamara was no “car guy.”

      Moreover, McNamara’s FoMoCo was content not to compete in the World-Class luxury car segment (Bill Ford’s Continental Division had already been shuttered when McNamara was the first outsider to assume Ford’s presidency). McNamara’s oversight opened the door to European and Japanese luxury dominance after the 1970s. The leaner “bullet” Thunderbird-based Continentals were conceived on McNamara’s watch and became an icon of McNamara’s next employer – the Kennedy Administration. But McNamara’s Lincolns were actually a mass-produced retrenchment from attempting to lead in the upper echelons of the world luxury market or even to
      • 5 Years Ago
      Actually I believe the Viet Nam thing started with Eisenhower , and when Kennedy saw the folly of that war his intensions were to get the hell out but the industrial war complex (machine) saw to it that he would not stop their profit machine nor would his brother .
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, the origins of the Vietnam war go back to the 1945 when Truman allowed France to retake the now independent and unified country of Vietnam. France ruled by terror largely due to funding by the US (at the behest of Truman.) When France finally surrendered and ran away, the US was left holding the proverbial bag.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Swede,

      You forgot develop plan to firebomb japan leading to 900,000 civilian deaths.

      but win war so your not a war criminal

      CHECK
      • 5 Years Ago
      There's no doubt that McNamara left his mark. A couple of good books that cover his life, particularly in the auto industry are "The Reckoning" and "The Whiz Kids."

      Wikipedia's "The Whiz Kids" entry is a pretty good summary.
      • 5 Years Ago
      My 1961 Ford Falcon Futura will pour out a little oil for it's home boy
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