This Old Ford Styling Film Is Incredible And Features A Car That Feels Like The Template For Modern SUVs

Aurora Top

I realize this particular 1964 Ford styling documentary is fairly well known, and I suspect that many of you reading this have watched it already. If not, you absolutely should, because it’s wonderful, a real document of where Ford was looking in the early 1960s, design and technology-wise. I feel like there’s a lot that can be covered about this short film, so I’m going to allow myself to just focus on one particular car shown here: the Aurora concept station wagon, which, if you look at it through modern eyes, really feels like it ended up becoming a predictive template of modern SUVs. I’ll explain.

First, though, watch the video:

It’s amazing that Ford decided to start with Egyptian chariots to begin their wheeled-vehicle stylistic journey, which shows a real commitment to telling the whole story. The video then transitions to Ford’s specific designs and concepts, focusing on three main concept vehicles: the 1963 Allegro Fastback Coupé (which was part of the early Mustang design story) , the Cougar II GT car that feels like Ford’s answer to the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, and the one I want to focus on here, the Aurora station wagon concept.

Concepts3

Each of these cars deserves its own post, and we’ll get to them at some point. But for now, let’s look at the Aurora and try to see it through the lens of modern SUVs, so I can show you why I think it’s so prescient.

Aurora1

The Aurora was clearly a station wagon, which I know many of you are thinking are near-extinct, but I’m going to argue that SUVs are just taller wagons on bigger tires. The body design is essentially the same, and the goals they accomplish are effectively the same, too. The Aurora didn’t predict our weird current fetish for height or huge tires, but that’s okay, because what it did predict I think is more on target for modern cars, anyway: a focus on tech.

The Aurora was a 1964 tech demonstrator, and as such contains a surprising amount of indications of what we take for granted today.

Aurora2

The lighting, for example. Look at the lower center picture above: the Aurora used a dozen one-inch sealed beam headlights for its forward illumination, which feels close to the sort of LED-based, multi-light-source headlamps and other lighting we see today. Plus, accent lighting was pioneered on this concept, with electroluminescent streaks down the sides, which reminds me of the sort of LED lighting effects we normally see inside modern cars, though puddle lights are also an exterior modern car affectation that feels similar.

Inside, on the dash, we see the first glimmers of a center-stack screen with navigation (even if that screen looks like it houses a paper map), as Ford describes a “position indicator map” that “automatically adjusts to the location of the car.” This is Ford’s early dream of what would become GPS satellite navigation decades later. Oh, and there’s a yoke steering wheel, as seen on some modern Teslas and Lexuses, and like the Lexus one, it even had variable-ratio steering, a lesson from 1964 Tesla could have learned from. Aurora Dash1

Also fascinating and what may be the first ever attempt to make a truly digital, dot-matrix dash instrument display, Ford talks about a “lane speed indicator” that seems to show speed limits lane-by-lane.

What I find incredible is that the speed is indicated via numbers rendered on several 11 x 7 dot-matrix screens. What display technology is Ford using here? Could these be liquid crystal displays (LCD)s? If so, they’d be among the very first, certainly the first used in an automotive context, as the LCD display was invented that same year, 1964. They look like early reflective black and white LCD screens. I’ll try and confirm this, because if they are, this is actually a pretty significant automotive milestone.

Auroraint1

The whole interior was really incredible, and while modern SUVs tend not to have awesome white-leather swiveling captain’s chairs or L-shaped loungers, the multiple radios, TV screen, audio recorder, and integrated drink refrigerator/heater certainly sets the precedent for modern SUVs filled with screens, advanced audio systems, separate rear-seat infotainment systems, and even, sometimes, integrated drink coolers.

Aurora Rear

Modern SUVs also tend not to have such fantastic clamshell tailgates exposing a rear-facing third row, but third-row seating is definitely common on its own.

Aurora Woman

The roof also features a glass section, an incredibly common option on modern SUVs, and like those SUV glass roofs of today, the Aurora’s blocked UV rays and reflected heat.

There’s so much at the core of the Aurora that feels like a premium SUV today from many automakers: big, roomy, jam-packed with the latest tech, prioritizing comfort and gadgetry, an inside-out approach to a car. I’m not judging this here, just pointing out how this fascinating and dazzling concept from nearly 60 years ago so closely reminds us of where we are today.

 

 

(Pictures from Ford, Henry Ford Museum. And thanks to Michael!)

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27 Responses

  1. That video is like the Academy Awards, so self-important that you can’t enjoy the good parts because your BS meter is constantly pegged on 11. Then again, maybe there is an echo of King Tut’s sarcophagus in the roofline of the Thunderbird.

  2. So that video was basically a long commercial for the 1964 1/2 Mustang (confusingly referred to as the “Mustang II” since it came after the Mustang I concept car)- surely one of the most beautiful and iconic American cars, ever. And I love the pretense that “the public will decide” what future automobiles will look like. Will they, though? Was it “the public” who decided to bloat the original Mustang until it became unsellable? Did “the public” demand the second generation Mustang (i.e. – a poorly disguised Pinto)? Sure the public wanted smaller, more fuel efficient cars in 1974, but gods, Ford could have kept selling the original-sized Mustang from 1964 until now with barely a styling change if they’d just left well enough alone.

    1. The Mustang needed to be changed.
      The Falcon based subframe was well past it’s ‘Best used by’ date by time Ford upsized the Mustang to ‘Personal Luxury’ size for 1970, where all the Big Four thought the main auto market was headed.
      But they were also all working on the smaller economy cars to fight the Beetle, the Maverick and Pinto, and Vega from Chevy, and Gremlin from AMC
      Mopar brought over the Mitsubishi supplied Galant, aka the Colt, that was also terrible, just in different ways from the above vehicles.

      Now what Ford should have done was keep the Mustang a bit smaller, rather than making it Torino sized. They already had an Intermediate, why make two?

      But it did need an update. My idea would be to keep in the ‘Pony Car’ market, so back to 1967 size
      For power, would offer two Four bangers, the 2L from Europe for fuel economy, plus do what Mercury, not the FoMoCo division, but the Boat guys did
      Take a 460 block, use one bank and cast it out of aluminum, making a 230 cu.inch Four, and then fit an add on Overdrive to the C4 tailstock. Light weight, decent power
      Then have regular V8 as option

      This should have been the Mustang, taking the place of the Maverick.

      1. The Falcon and its platform did get an update when it effectively became the Ford Maverick and Mercury Comet. And the old Falcon platform lasted until 1980… with the last vehicle being the 1980 Ford Granada/Mercury Monarch.

        And a 230 cid 4 cyl would have been a rough-running lump of an engine.

      2. For sure. That’s why I said “Ford could have kept selling the original-sized Mustang”. They definitely needed to keep up with the times, adding disc brakes, and other safety features, and different engines, etc., as the technology improved, but the basic design and size could have stayed essentially the same and they would have kept selling the shit out of them, IMHO.

  3. Love that Allegro (and Jason’s accent on coupe is just perfect).

    I have a “Big Book of Mustangs” (not it’s actual title, but you get the idea), and the best part IMO is the pre-production section. It has pics of all the concepts/studies, the cougar badging still on designs shockingly close to production, etc.

    It’s intriguing how the Allegro looks so European whereas the Aurora looks very American. I’ve always enjoyed how Ford’s design often seems to ping-pong back and forth, and how style from one side of the Atlantic can pop up on the other.

    Like how the Ford Anglia of the ’50s had all these era-specific American design cues, just smaller in execution.

    1. Probably via a system like Loran-C, which used low-frequency radio signals for triangulation of your current position (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loran-C.) When I was a radar operator in the Navy back in the 1980’s, we used the Loran system to help compliment our positioning, in addition to using the ship’s radar systems to get distance to known physical features, when we were close to land in order to ensure we wouldn’t run into anything. The paper map system could have been keyed to an original reference location and adjusted based on current signals it was receiving.

      1. Either that, or a dead reckoning system. Make the maps for specific trips (from AAA or similar), and have the display tied to the speedometer/steering rack. Set the map to your starting point, and the map scrolls according to speed and turns along with the steering wheel. No radio needed, so it can be used in places that don’t have beacons. All you need is a reasonably accurate road map and a properly calibrated speedometer.

        1. You’d need an accurate map, a properly calibrated speedometer, and calibrated steering, wheels that always tracked true on the road and never slipped, brakes that never locked, tires that were perfectly inflated 100% of the time and didn’t change size as they wore down. Plus a few other things, too.

          Small errors repeated often add up quickly over large distances.

          1. This wasn’t trying to rival any existing technology at the time, so I think a fairly simplistic system that allowed for manual correction of accumulated mistakes on the go is more plausible. That in itself would be dependant on the driver’s capability to interpret maps against the roads they’re driving, but they could at least “sell” the concept as something that would work everywhere, unlike a more complex radio frequency setup that would only work where there’s beacons for triangulation.

  4. Kind of a predictive template for the Subaru SVX,s windows as well.
    Do those rear windows roll down? If so you get what 4” 5” of open window?
    So it’s also predictive of so many horrible 80’s sedans whose rear passenger windows did nothing but keep it stuffy back there.

  5. Amazing what interior designs could be dreamed up before seat belts were mandatory.
    Dad put seatbelts in our ’64 F100 crewcab shortly after buying it in ’65. However since they predate the retracting belt era, they are fixed length meaning that one person in our family can not use the seat belt due to insufficient length. I really should find an extender. Way back when they could be purchased at your FLAPS. I suspect I’ll have to find a matching buckle set and make one.

    1. I am sure the l-shaped bench seat will provide excellent comfort as unbelted kids slide from one door to the other in a pile of limbs.

      I know modern cars also follow a design language and concept probably involving Latin based language terms to be conveyed but those three cars by one manufacturer feel distinct and interesting. I cannot for the life of me think of any brand today that has three cars I would even put in my driveway. It may be focus groups or design by committee but everything feels uninspired now. Get off my damn lawn.

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