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.
This story is actually a comment to one of the earliest stories written by VehicleVoice – “Nobody Ever Talks About the Carrousel”. The story can be found in “History, Heritage and Yarns”. The subject was the Ford Carrousel concept vehicle which was conceived, designed and fabricated in 1973/4. Dick Nesbitt, who wrote this long comment, was the Carrousel designer. He refers to the vehicle as the Carousel (one “r”), but the official code name was with two “r”s – Carrousel. But that’s academic. Dick’s comments are truly insightful from someone else who was there.
Dick Nesbitt’s Comments Concerning the Development of the Carrousel
The Carousel significantly influenced the Chrysler Minivan success story.
–Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca have often referred to the MiniMax as being the inspiration for the Voyager/Caravan–Although it was a very small urban vehicle created as a possible solution to overcrowded city traffic problems.
The MiniMax was a four passenger front wheel drive commuter concept with almost no storage capacity and no real future.
The significance of the Carousel proposal was that it offered a dramatically improved alternative to the interior-space-restricted station wagons of the 1970′s.
The interior plans for the Carousel included everything from conventional front facing bench seats or captain’s chair variations to some very unusual layouts.
One of the most interesting versions incorporated a combined rear and side facing “U” shaped rear seat proposal.
The instrument panel was all-new and specific to the Carousel to further enhance it’s unique character and the proposed upholstery trim levels were all very high grade materials similar to Ford’s LTD Brougham in quality.
The key “Nantucket” variation design and marketing directive was to create a lower “garagable” overall height compared to the Econoline van range from which it was derived, combined with more automotive-like styling.
The non-garagable height and truck-like styling of the Econoline Club Wagon series were seen as major obstacles to realize any kind of high volume sales typical of contemporary station wagons–but the interior room available in a van had obvious advantages.
–The Carousel was intended to represent the best of both worlds, and was seen by Ford as a major marketing breakthrough opportunity.
Chrysler’s Minivans were and are not really “mini” at all–and achieved monumental success as a more space efficient alternative to contemporary station wagons combined with “garagable” height and automotive-like styling as a direct extension of the original Carousel idea from 1972.
–It was an honor and a privilege to have been selected as the designer responsible for the Carousel styling effort.
During the time of it’s creation and development, HF II (Henry Ford II, The Deuce) himself thought the Carousel was going to be as significant and as successful as the Mustang was in 1964. It was a top prioity at the Ford Boca Raton,Florida New Product Strategy Review Meeting in 1973.
The OPEC oil restrictions beginning in late 1973 brought about drastic changes dramatically effecting Ford’s future product planning.
Henry Ford II was most enthusiastic about the modest development costs and the market share increases the Carousel would have achieved, but he pulled the plug on anything that wasn’t a direct replacement for an existing product line during the deep recession of 1974.
The launch was intended for 1975–and no doubt would have been a spectacular success for 1976-1977-1978.