1955 Mercury Concept Car
The D-528 was a different kind of Ford Motor Co. concept car. It was never intended as a show car, but rather, was meant to be a "research project on wheels". The exterior of the D-528 was designed by Gil Spear and the interior by John Samsen. Design studies for the car began in late 1953 or early 1954, immediately after Spear, anxious for a break from designing 3/8 sized concept cars, left the Advanced Design Studio to take over as head of the International and Canadian Studio. The D-528 was designed and built to test advance concepts in air conditioning, seating, ingress and egress, lighting, front frame crash absorption and Ford's first car without "A" pillars. Even though the D-528 now has only two headlights, it was also designed as Ford's first car with four headlights.
By 1952, Spears had developed a working relationship with Ford's Chief Engineer, Earl S. MacPherson, who appreciated the fact that Spear designed into his concept cars advanced engineering ideas in which they were both interested. During development of the Syrtis, MacPherson publicly told Spear that he thought like an engineer - unlike the rest of the designers. That "compliment" didn't endear Spear to his superiors in the Design Department and quite frankly, it embarrassed him. But MacPherson had a point - unlike some designers, Spear understood that sound engineering was a necessary component of the cars he designed.
The exterior design of the D-528 was meant to be more functional than beautiful and Spear acknowledges that the D-528, as it turned out, was not "particularly attractive". The exterior design of the D-528 started with renderings and was then made into several alternate 3/8 size clay models. Thereafter, a full size clay model was built and from that, plaster molds were cast from which a fiberglass body was made.
The interior of the D-528 was designed by John Samsen and it was chosen by Spear from several alternative designs Samsen prepared. In 1952, when Samsen was first hired as a Ford designer, Frank Hershey and Damon Woods took him on a get-acquainted tour of the Design Department. During that tour, Samsen got his first look at the XL-500 and was especially impressed with its split bumper front end, which he remembered and later used as inspiration for the instrument panel design selected for the D-528.
At the time the D-528 was designed, it was anticipated that air conditioning would, in future years, become an accessory more car owners would demand. Because air conditioning evaporators were so large they had to be located in the trunk, there was a concern that they restricted luggage room. Spear's proposed answer to the problem, incorporated into the design of the D-528, was to relocate the spare tire to the back of one fender and the gas tank to the back of the other fender, with flip-top lids providing access to both. (Several years later, technical advances made it feasible to reduce the size of the evaporator and relocate it in the engine compartment.)
MacPherson originally wanted four headlights spaced equidistant across the front of the D-528, but after making several alternate front ends proposals in clay, each with a different variation of the four-headlight theme, Spear prevailed on MacPherson and was able to group the headlights in pairs. (No pictures have been found of the D-528 with four headlights and it may be that studies of the car with four headlights were done in clay only. Spear, however, believes the grille arrangement originally on the D-528 was slightly different than its present configuration.)
As originally designed by Spear, the roof of the D-528 was shaped like a "T" with the top of the "T" folding downward to form the "C" pillars. The roof was hollow and acted as a conduit for cold air from the air conditioning evaporator located in the trunk. Cold air from the evaporator flowed up through the hollow "C" pillars and into the hollow roof section, exiting from perforations in the headliner. To assure an even distribution of cold air, the perforations were in an increasing larger diameter as they reached the front of the car. Over the doors and extending into the roof, by about eighteen inches, were panels that were hinged towards the middle of the car. For ease of entry or exit, each panel was individually raised or lowered by an electrical motor when a door opened or closed.
The hooded, reverse backlight on the D-528, as designed by Spear, rolled up and down manually. (Reverse backlights were later used on the production '58 Lincoln Continental, the LaGalaxie show car and some production Mercurys of the 1960s.) Several years earlier, Spear had designed and built a 3/8 sized concept car with a reverse backlight. MacPherson liked it and incorporated the idea on his personal Lincoln and from then on, he was an advocate for reverse backlights. Spears' original idea for the reverse backlight was a thick piece of clear Plexiglass, with a prismatic surface on the inside, so that the driver's rear vision lines would be deflected on a more upward angle. The prismatic Plexiglass backlight was designed so the rear vision mirror could be placed higher on the windshield, which Spear thought interfered less with forward vision. Unfortunately, the cost to manufacture the prismatic Plexiglass backlight was too high, so that feature had to be eliminated when the D-528 was built. Another idea Spear proposed, but could not get included on the D-528, was an elevated brake light positioned above the backlight.
The D-528 and its companion car, the D-526, were the first full-sized, fully operational cars built by Ford personnel with fiberglass bodies. Previous Ford Motor Co. concept cars with fiberglass bodies were fabricated at Creative Industries, a Detroit area business that built many of Ford's early full sized concept cars.
The D-528 and the D-526 were started, but not finished, at the Design Department. In May 1955 and as part of an overall restructuring of the Design Department, Ford Motor Co. offered George Walker the job of design director and a Vice Presidency in the Company. Walker had previously been a design consultant and when he became design director, Design became a separate department and no longer a part of or answerable to Engineering. To overcome MacPherson's objections to making Design a separate department, Engineering was given its own design studio and its choice of Ford's designers and modelers to run it. The person MacPherson asked to run his new design studio was Gil Spear. Walker asked Spear to stay and after many discussions with both MacPherson and Walker, Spear and several other designers and modelers decided to accept MacPherson's offer and left the Styling Center. Neither the D-526 or D-528 had been completed when Spear moved, so he took them with him. (The name of the Design Department was also changed to the "Styling Center" by George Walker when he became its General Manager. Designers also became "stylists".)
Wes Dahlberg, also a designer in the International Studio at the time, recalls helping with some of the early design work on the D-528, but his participation ended when Spear and the car left the studio. While the D-528 was still at the Design Department, much of the clay modeling work on it was done by Fred Hoadley, who chose to stay at the Styling Center, rather than move to MacPherson's design studio. The D-528 and the D-526, both of which were in Fiberglass before they left the Design Department, were completed at MacPherson's design studio. Bill Leverenz, modeling manager in the International Studio, went with Spear to MacPherson's design studio as head modeler and supervised the D-528's completion. (When they left the Design Department, the D-526 was farther along than the D-528.)
MacPherson didn't want his concept cars named because he did not want them thought of as show cars. When the D-528 left the Styling Center, it had not yet been named and in deference to MacPherson's wishes, it was assigned the name D-528, which meant the 528th "Design" project started at the Engineering Department.
While at MacPherson's Special Vehicles Department, the D-528 was finished, but it was also revised several times and was not in completed form when the Special Vehicles design studio was disbanded in 1958. Even after the Special Vehicles design department was disbanded, there were more revisions of the D-528. The entire roof structure and the front end of the car were redone at least once after that. "A" pillars and an interior framework to hold the roof up were also installed. (It is probable that the roof was designed to its present form to test the four-door ("B") pillar-less hardtop concept first introduced by Ford Motor Co. in 1956, but that was probably done in the first several months after Spear's move to the Special Vehicles Department.)
When Spear made the decision to leave the Design Department and go with MacPherson, he had no way of knowing that MacPherson would soon be forced to retire because of health problems. MacPherson's successor was not as enthusiastic about having a separate design studio in the Engineering Department and, according to Spear, didn't think it worth the trouble or cost, especially with the losses incurred as a result of the Edsel fiasco, which had severely restricted the budgets in all departments.
At the same time, George Walker, who really didn't like the idea of other departments having their own design studios, was appointed to Ford's Finance Committee, where he was successful in cutting the funding for the Special Vehicles Department design studio. Without a budget, Spear was forced to close up shop and after he found jobs for most of the designers and modelers, he returned to a new position at the Ford Design Center.
When Spear returned to the Styling Center, the D-526 and the D-528 were placed in storage in the EEE Building Annex. Over the years, Spear assumed that the D-528 had been destroyed, because the last time he saw it, it was unfinished. According to Walter Jennfeldt, one of the modelers who had followed Spear to MacPherson's design studio, but stayed on as a clay modeler in Experimental Engineering, the D-528 was moved from place to place for several years and every once in a while, it was used to test some new engineering concept. Because the D-528 was originally built without "A" pillars and relied on the windshield to support the front part of the roof, it had a habit of breaking or popping windshields when driven. According to Jennfeldt, "A" pillars were later installed to provide support for the roof so the D-528 could be used to test several new ideas, including an interchangeable seat idea.
Although the D-526 was renamed the Cougar and was used as a show car by Ford in 1962, it was decided not to attempt to make a show car out of the D-528. In late 1962 or early 1963, the D-526 and D-528 were sent to Hollywood for use in the movie industry. After the D-528 arrived in California, George Barris, who later turned the Futura into the Batmobile, repainted it, removed the name "D-528" from the front fenders that spelled out "Beldone", a stage name selected by Paramount Pictures. (Barris had movie industry contacts and convinced Ford he could get movie and TV coverage for concept cars Ford no longer had a use for.) The Beldone was first used in the 1964 Jerry Lewis movie, "The Patsy". For the movie, the Beldone was equipped with radio controlled remote control devices that opened and closed the doors, trunk, and hood during one of the comedy scenes in the movie. After the studio was through filming "The Patsy", the car was stored on the Paramount Pictures lot and infrequently used in other movies or TV programs, including a 1964 TV series called "The Duplicate Man". It also had a little part in the movie "Back To The Future".
In 1984, Bob Butts, the owner of a San Diego based business that provided cars to the movie industry, purchased the D-528 from George Barris, who had recently acquired it from Paramount Pictures and repainted it again. The VIN number on the car described it as an experimental 1953 Mercury Monterey and Butts was eventually able to confirm Ford's name for the car and that it had originally been a Ford concept car.