The startlingly shaped L’Avion could have been Ford’s first compact-sized car in the USA, two years before the Falcon.
It was championed by Lewis Crusoe, who was vice-president in charge of all of Ford’s car and truck divisions.
In 1955, he commissioned the L’Avion as a small Mercury.
It was styled by Buzz Grisinger, who gave the car its name.
Grisinger created the distinctive wedge side styling and borrowed the reverse angled rear window from the Mercury D528 concept car, or “Beldone” as it was later known.
I’ve written about the D528 in a previous column and its appearance in the Jerry Lewis movie, The Patsy.
It was soon recognised that the styling of the L’Avion, with its angles and indentations, meant the car would be expensive to manufacture.
But given it was to be a Mercury, it could be priced higher than a Ford, and that premium would just cover the manufacturing costs.
But then problems arose.
Crusoe suffered a massive heart attack in October, 1956 and had to relinquish his job.
His successor was Robert S McNamara.
McNamara was keen on small, cheap cars.
The L’Avion might have been small but it would not be cheap.
A full-sized fibreglass model was developed for evaluation.
Meantime, the Edsel had just been released to an underwhelming reception.
With the Edsel under-performing, the 1957/58 Mercury’s garish styling causing buyers to avoid the marque and Ford needing to save money, the L’Avion project was halted.
McNamara pivoted to another small car project that was in progress in the Thunderbird styling studio.
This project became the 1960 Falcon.
But the design theme of the L’Avion did not go to waste.
The distinctive roof line and reverse slanted rear window appeared on the 1959 Ford Anglia and 1961 Consul Classic in the UK.
Indeed, the Consul Classic is as close to a production version of the L’Avion as you will ever see.
The wedge-shaped sides were used on the 1964/65 American Falcon, albeit inverted.
Not long after the 1960 Falcon was released, Mercury got its own version, which was called the Comet.
The Comet’s rear fender fins reflected those on the L’Avion.
The L’Avion was the cover photo of the September, 1959 edition of Motor Trend, with Ford design boss George Walker, headlining a story about how the Falcon was developed.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos
L'Avion concept car
1959 Ford Anglia
1964 Ford Falcon
1961 Ford Consul Classic
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