Ford Carrousel – The Story Continues
For this last Holiday Card, I included a non-holiday photo of an vehicle I worked on in my youth at Ford – the Ford Carrousel concept and asked who could identify the vehicle. A few who were working at Ford at the time correctly identified it, but all misspelled it. The prototype used an unusual spelling of Carrousel with two “Rs”. Many though it was Hal Sperlich’s MiniMax concept from the late ’70s at Ford, or a prototype of an early Chrysler minivan. Nope.
So, responding to the folks who guessed, I sent this response:
The Ford Carrousel project was a low roof seven passenger van based on the short wheelbase “Nantucket” platform. The Nantucket was the 1975 onwards big Ford van. The Carrousel was styled by the Ford Truck Studio, hardpoints by Light Truck Product Planning, package by Light Truck Advanced Engineering, fabrication by Carron & Company in Inkster, Michigan. I coordinated the package design and prototype fabrication for Light Truck Advanced Engineering.
This project was happening about the same time as Hal Sperlich’s MiniMax front wheel drive minivan design. The Carrousel had nothing to do with Sperlich or the MiniMax. In fact, Sperlich hated the fact that the Carrousel existed.
Using the Nantucket platform meant the Ford Carrousel was body-on-frame. It was powered by a 460CID V8 and had Ford’s Twin-I-Beam front suspension. The clay model was scanned at the Design Studio and Carron made kirksite dies. Most of the sheetmetal was hammer-formed, but in essence it was a sculpture in bondo. Ford Glass shaped unique float glass for each opening. The drop glass rear window exploded during its first lap of Ford’s Dearborn Road and Handling Course and was replaced by plexiglass.
There was a sliding side door on the passenger side. The rear auxiliary air conditioning was cobbled from the Nantucket and ran down the driver’s side of the vehicle.
The front power seats were straight out of the Thunderbird of the day as was the instrument panel and tilt steering wheel. The power windows and switchgear were also from a T-Bird. The folding rear seats were designed and fabricated by Lear and trimmed by Carron.
The woodgrain bodyside trim was unique to the Carrousel and provided by 3M.
The Carrousel was included in Ford product research in 1973 or 1974 (its colors were mandated by Research – gold exterior color and tan super soft vinyl for the interior – all research properties during this era were strip painted and re-trimmed to prevent color bias – imagine the cost!). The results of the research were not what Ford management hoped for. The Carrousel buried the Ford Country Squire wagon outscoring it handily in most measurements.
This $67 million program was buried likely because it did not have a defined segment to compete in. Ford management did not understand it and being very risk averse at the time (since GM had not already done one) they cancelled it.
If Ford had gone ahead with this product, they would have launched a segment that was to boom during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. While the Carrousel was rear wheel drive and not as space efficient as the front wheel drive minivans to follow (especially Sperlich’s Dodge Caravan), it would have set Ford up as a leader at a time when the company was a not-so-quick follower. But thinking of it another way, if they had launched it in 1978 or 1979 they would have launched a fuel-inefficient V8 into the midst of Jimmy Carter’s fuel crisis.
Years later, I saw the prototype behind Ford’s Truck Operations Building among a line of engineering hulks. It was on four flat tires and its paint was peeling.
By the way, Carrousel is correct… two “Rs”.
My friend Gary Vasilash, Editor-and-Chief of Automotive Design and Production magazine published a great article about the Carrousel and what it represented. You can read “The Road Not Taken” here. Later, he got a letter from a man who lived with the Carrousel after its life as a concept vehicle was done. You can read the letter below the fold:
Your column in the February 2014 issue of Automotive Design and Production caught my attention. I started reading it casually, but immediately my attention became focused. “Ford Carrousel!” A truck that I came to know very well.
Sometime late in 1976 (I think) I transferred into the Ford Light Truck Advanced Design group. In the basement of our building, in a room adjacent to the executive garage, we had a store room. In it were many parts from various experiments along with extra components for various projects. Against the wall, half buried in junk, was an odd looking E-Series. It looked something like the Nantucket, but, as you describe in your column, it had fake wood grain on the side and the hood was different. The hood was a single slope instead of the double slope used on the Nantucket. I asked what it was and I was told it was the Carrousel, an idea that was dropped.
About a year or so later, we had to clean up the storage room, so we moved the Carrousel into the executive garage, put air in the tires and a battery under the hood. Then, filling the two fuel tanks, we parked it in the outside lot. For the next two years, or so, we used it for transportation.
Here are a few (perhaps) interesting facts about this truck. As you mentioned, it had the 460 cubic inch engine. This drove through a C6 transmission. The front seats were very comfortable; they were Thunderbird seats. The sloping hood was an early design for the Nantucket that was dropped. The rear quarter side glass curved through the D-pillars. This glass was especially ordered for this truck and was (I am told) rather expensive. The two fuel tank fill ports were accessed through one elongated fuel door on the left side. I do not know what this truck weighed, but it had lots of Bondo and filler material, and it was heavy.
I drove this unit often. It was kind of fun primarily because it always attracted attention. One time when I was returning to the office on Outer Drive, I stopped for a traffic light. A gentleman in the adjacent lane rolled down his window and wanted to know if it was next year’s model. I assured him that it was not and that it was, in fact, obsolete.
The Carrousel had adequate pep, but handling was not its forte. Driving it was something like piloting a river barge. Too much weight and soft springs.
I eventually lost track of this truck and I am not certain what was done with it. I suspect that it was scrapped, but I had fun with it for a while.
J. O. Bartlett