Classic Car Designer Is Still Creating Automotive Art 70 Years Later

Being a car person involves many different types of dreams: dream cars, dream trips, and dream jobs to name a few. Maine native Allen “Rod” Williams definitely wrangled his dream job in the automotive industry. After serving in the military lucked into a design position with none other than Ford Motor Company. Furthermore, his designs are present 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 start designing cars for Ford? 

Classic car designer is still creating automotive art 70 years later
1957 Ford Thunderbird | Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Growing up on a Maine dairy farm, he was far removed from the automotive titan that was Detroit. He was always getting into trouble as a schoolboy. Williams would doodle, scribble, and daydream, which earned him the irritated gaze of his teachers. After a short stint trying the collegiate art life, he joined the United States Navy to gain a G.I. Bill for his post-service education. Little did he know that his talents would impact a generation of classic cars.

Williams got lucky with his assignment in the military. His Navy leadership put him in a position designing visual aids at an education facility in Boston, Massachusetts. There Williams had access to a full studio, where he routinely stayed late to pen automobiles. Williams served in the U.S. Navy until he separated from active duty at the age of 23. He had no formal design training but he did have one wonderful attribute: he was visionary. 

What did Williams do for Ford and its classic cars? 

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1957 Ford Fairlane | George Rinhart, Getty Images

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

Williams worked for Ford in Detroit for years. He penned the designs for many cars, including the iconic 1957 Ford Fairlane and the 1957 Ford Thunderbird. Williams’ long-bodied, finned, and daring designs were striking and brilliantly conceptual. He dabbled in rounded tail lamps, dramatic fins, two-tone colors, and sweeping chrome accents. Admirers can plainly see the impressive results in both the Fairlane and the Thunderbird. Perhaps it is appropriate that he was a sailor, given the radical porthole window design in the unmistakable classic car favorite, the Thunderbird. 

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

After Allen “Rod” Williams and his wife, Caroline, decided that they were done with Detroit, they returned to Maine. Specifically, the couple didn’t care for the pace and politics of Detroit. It took only a few years for Williams to be completely fed up and uproot them. However, he didn’t leave the Motor City without making a profound impact on automotive design. In the short time that he spent in Detroit, he had a hand in the design of some beloved finned cars from both Ford and Chrysler.

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

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