TBT: Ford’s 021C Concept Features Unique Design Inspiration

We recently brought you the story of how the interior of the all-new Ford Maverick Lariat series was inspired by a pair of shoes. Today, we have another great example of how everyday items can influence automotive design.

In 1999 Ford commissioned Marc Newson, an influential product designer known for his furniture, glassware and restaurant interiors (and later the Apple Watch), to create the 021C urban concept vehicle. With the exception of the powertrain, mechanical and electrical systems, Newson designed every part of the car. Aimed at consumers 21 and younger, the prototype was intended to challenge Ford’s own design process.

“As car designers, we tend to approach everything from an automotive perspective,” said former Ford vice president of design J Mays. Mays described the unique design of the urban concept vehicle as “retro futurism,” and said it treats the car as a cultural icon. “We have created a distinct point of view with this car, and if you don’t get it, don’t worry – you’re probably not meant to,” he added.

Built with elements of what was then Ford’s next-generation small car platform, the 021C featured a carbon fiber exterior with simple shapes and clean surfaces. The interior featured a flat floor that curved up to meet vertical surfaces, its spaciousness accentuated by an instrument panel that appeared to float. A variety of textures and materials in this minimalist design included aluminum, used for simple buttons that made up the car’s door locks, as well as rubber. Pedestal-mounted front seats swiveled 90 degrees to help with ingress and egress, while the rear doors were situated on a rear hinge.

“Ask children to draw a car and they’ll draw something like this,” said Newson. “So in many ways, the 021C is a familiar and comfortable project. But it doesn’t use many typical automotive design cues.”

A single horizontal LED headlight was created by an industrial lighting company, while the vehicle also featured a single taillight and retractable slide-out luggage tray. The 021C was powered by a 1.6-liter Ford Zetec engine mated to a four-speed push-button automatic transmission. Built at Ford’s Ghia studio in Italy, the project took nine months to complete.

021C, the name of which is said to also represent the color code for its original bright orange hue, won best concept at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1999. It was shown at International Furniture Fair in Milan a year later – repainted lime green – before being featured at the London Design Museum. It later resurfaced as part of an exhibition of Newson’s designs in Manhattan in 2010, and was part of a similar exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014.

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