According to You: What was Ford’s biggest missed opportunity?

Nesbitt's Ford Carrousel Proposal Richard Nesbitt

Good afternoon and welcome back to According to You!

The answers you provided for this week’s prompt were pretty fantastic, and we were even lucky enough to catch the eye of celebrated designer Richard “Dick” Nesbitt, a man whose career at Ford Motor Company speaks for itself. Happily, Dick embraced the “missed opportunity” brief and shared with us some behind-the-scenes information about Ford’s Carrousel minivan proposal, a project he worked on while at Ford’s design studio. We were honored to receive the “Selected and approved” Carrousel renderings, directly from his collection of historical assets. It includes the “Nantucket” proposal, an advanced version of the design that was refined and initially slated for the 1975 model year.

It never reached production. Fundamentally based on the full-frame Econoline and its thirsty V-8, the oil crisis and a round of cost cutting at Ford led to the project’s demise. (Eventually, the Aerostar of the mid-1980s assumed the Ford minivan mantle.) Still, Nesbitt was kind enough to share details about what the development process looked like in those days:

“My Carrousel design proposal was selected and approved for development in 1972. I was a designer with Ford Design assigned to the Light Truck and Tractor Design Studio. My proposal and another (by Ford designer Jim Grey) was done as a full-size ‘Squire’ clay model. I got the passenger side and rear, Jim Grey got the front and driver’s side. After several design clinic reviews, my proposal was selected. I was asked to design a new front for the drivable prototype supervised by Project Engineer George Peterson.”

Richard Nesbitt

Nesbitt was also kind enough to show us his “Family Van design concept,” made in 1963 … when he was still in high school! The decades of ideation behind the minivan proves that some ideas are just waiting for the right company to make them. On that note, let’s proceed with more examples of missed opportunities at the Blue Oval.

Not keeping Iacocca


Any automotive historian knows the great Lee Iacocca, and the idea for the aforementioned Carrousel vanished for a decade amid his departure from Ford. He was instrumental in the creation of the Ford Mustang. He saved Chrysler. And @audiobycarmine made it very clear what Ford did wrong, summed up in four words: “Lee Iacocca as CEO.”

Then again, Iacocca wasn’t perfect. He was quoted in Bob Lutz’s book, Icons and Idiots, with this poorly aged gem: “You picked a good time to leave Ford, lemme tell ya! Those potato cars (Taurus and Sable) they’re coming out with are gonna bomb.”

Killing off cars

2018 Ford Fusion recall brake hose 2023
2018 Ford Fusion Ford

This one is pretty self explanatory, but let’s keep in mind that all the cars Ford canceled (Focus, Fiesta, Taurus, Fusion) were in their late days only selling with heavy incentives and considerable frustrations for dealers and Dearborn executives alike. Maybe they didn’t have to all die in one fell swoop, but clearly the higher-ups at Ford were confident something had to change. Still, maybe just throw us one car aside from the Mustang?

@Russel: I was all set to buy a Focus ST when Ford killed pretty much everything car-like other than the Mustang. Talk about a slap in the face to anyone who didn’t want a truck, SUV or Mustang. Why does Ford think people don’t want cars? All they need to do is look out the window (do ivory towers have windows?) and play “count the Corollas”. So my contribution would be “cars” in general. (BTW, I bought a WRX.)

@Owen: Ford’s biggest mistake was dropping all their car models – not everyone wants or can afford a $100K SUV or pickup truck. It gauls me they dropped the Focus Station Wagon back in 2008. I’ve owned a 2005 since new and it’s the best Ford I’ve ever owned. I’ve been buying new Ford’s for 44 years. My first one was a 79 T-Bird which I still own. Ford just doesn’t listen to their customers and neither does GM or Chrysler. My next car won’t be a Ford sorry to say because they aren’t making anything I want to buy anymore….very, very sad.

@Mike: I think the demise of the Fusion, Focus and Fiesta in the US market will be a decision that they will regret. And will Ford please stop teasing us with that ActiveX Fusion based Station Wagon (there, I said it, the unmentionable word, Station Wagon). I’m a lifetime Ford guy. I wanted an all wheel drive wagon (not an SUV) and they forced me to schlep over to Buick for a TourX. (A lovely car that, par for the course, GM killed as soon as I bought one!) And now I’m over to Subaru for an Outback (which has the worst ergonomics and is a rolling driver distraction to operate.)

@snailish: Ford giving up on North America getting the Focus. I have a decades-long bias against little cars ingrained by my upbringing. I test drove a 2019 Focus amongst other things and had to eat crow. It was a great car and I seriously considered buying it, and the RS version is still tempting (just not at the price point they seem to demand still).

Turning to Personal Luxury


In the late 1950s, Ford did the right thing by switching the Thunderbird to a four-seat, personal luxury touring car. But 1958 isn’t 2023. The T-bird outsold the Corvette for decades until Ford killed it first 1997, revived it, and then killed it once again in 2005 (when it went back to its 1955 roots). Now that the Corvette can boast nearly twenty years of unanswered sales from the big bird, do we think going the luxury route was really the right move?

@DUB6: Considering how many Corvettes there are in the world, and how many things center around that brand (clubs, parts, collections, sales, etc.), it seems to me that Ford missed its opportunity when it turned the Thunderbird into a personal luxury car. Starting as a 2-seat American sports car to compete with the plastic Chevy, the T-Bird of the mid-’50s has shown that it could be every bit as attractive and fun as early Corvettes, but FoMoCo abandoned the idea too quickly. When I think of where it could have gone (think Ford GT, for instance), it just seems to me that continuing to put Thunderbirds up against Corvettes might have given Ford a sports car following that rivals Chevy’s entry.

@Tim: The T-Bird is an interesting animal. On one hand, it was a two-door, two-seat sports car to begin its life, and it should arguably have stayed that way. Imagine what it might have become over the generations. However, one wonders if the market truly hard room for both the Thunderbird and Corvette. On the other hand, one could argue that Ford took the proper approach and make the T-Bird into the car that more people wanted. Sales figures certainly leaped ahead after the it morphed into the car that no one really wanted yet many more people really wanted. In my mind, the first-gen Thunderbird was great, and after that, it took a long time to be great again. We had a turbo coupe in the ’80s, and although it wasn’t at all like Gen 1, it was a pretty great car in its segment.

@snailish: I agree that T-bird has been several different things entirely, and if properly developed several of them probably could have lasted decades. I’d love to see a modern SuperCoupe personal luxury effort.

Not following Europe’s lead?


Ford of Europe has made some extremely impressive cars for middle-class Europeans, while Dearborn’s expertise remains larger, thirstier vehicles for Americans. That said, good luck finding a European with catalytic converters and/or fuel injection back then … but I digress.

When Ford of Europe first worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. mothership on the 1980 Escort, it became the first “World Car” and inspiration for today’s Fusion (USA), Mondeo (EU), and Taurus (China). It was truly a shared initiative, and you can read the details about it here. But could the two businesses collaborated more, and sooner? Hagerty Community member @Thomas might be on to something:

“I believe the largest of Ford missed opportunity was not using their Europe/ UK division’s to design and assist with the development of the small / efficient cars and engines that the North American market required in the ’70s. The Pinto and others just didn’t achieve their goals and let the Japanese makers in the market get established as a leader of that segment. Ford of all the BIG 3 had the global work force and talent to create something special, if they did maybe there would be a small Ford on the road in place of the Corolla!”

Killing models and bringing them back

Compact vs. Midsize Ranger
Strokerduster |

Vehicles cease production for reasons other than low demand, but it’s still a shame to see the rise and fall of famous brands from the Blue Oval. As @Michael put it:

“Ford has a weird thing of taking a successful product then killing it only to bring it back. The Ford Ranger should have never stopped production. Ford should have made the third generation Ranger with 4 doors. The market seems to respond to a non-full size 4 door truck. The Ford Taurus which saved Ford was discontinued then brought back now discontinued. Ford should have built a better performance model of the popular Fusion. A six speed turbocharged sport suspension Fusion would have attracted those who didn’t want to pay BMW pricing but wanted a performance midsize sedan.”

Ford did build the Fusion Sport with the F-150’s beefy 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6, but with a six-speed automatic only.

Excursion, Flex, and Ranchero

Ford Ranchero

And the flip side of the previous thought is the fact that Ford killed off some seriously cool machines … for good.

@snailish: Ford Flex… one of the most neglected sales success stories ever. They are good and people loved them. But it seemed like Ford didn’t even want to admit they offered them.

@Charles: Ford really blew it when they kept the Explorer instead of keeping the Excursion with just using Diesel motors: just look on eBay to see what the internet thinks. My 2004 Excursion with the 6.0 Diesel has 282,000 miles on and still gets almost 20 mpg at 80 mph, it still has all front and rear end parts as originally installed at the factory.

Screwing Robertson screws

Peter Lymburner Robertson

This was a new one to me, but apparently we coulda had more of these instead of the fasteners we now see in America had it not been for Henry Ford. Or as @snailish put it:

“Henry Ford played hardball with the Robertson screw inventor, resulting in an inferior option (Phillips) becoming a standard. We continue to pay the price for this today (every time I have to deal with a rusty screw on my Mustang…)

Something more Model A-like?


My apologizes to the product planners behind the Ford EcoSport, but the anodyne styling did not do it any favors. Some of our commenters think a Model A for the modern era could have been a success. Would the EcoSport have been a good candidate with proper treatment?

@Old Coot: With how new cars are getting lighter and the population older (ie, we don’t like to crawl DOWN into these stupid little roller skate cars with our bad knees and backs), and with the common love of Model A’s, Ford is missing a sales opportunity by not making a new Model A look-alike, with a 3-cylinder engine / plug-in hybrid. Sure these old body styles are not streamlined, and not as safe as many cars to day, but with a little head scratching I think they could make it safer and give us old coots one more chance to enjoy nostalgia (with updated tech) before cars are phased out and we all are forced to live sterile boring lives in high rises.

@Dennis: Agreed 100%. They all should go both ways. I like my AWD in winter but a little wagon set up to run with low hp and be a gas sipper. I don’t know how they think? A lot of people don’t want a computer screen or pull a 40’ trailer. Some just to want to get 50+ mpg. My Escort wagon 5 speed manual could get 34 mpg with a radio and a/c. Keep it simple stupid. Not everyone is feeling e cars are the answer.

@Ben: I agree with the Old Coot about diving into low slung vehicles. I’ve owned some nice Mustangs, but found that the older I get the harder it is to maneuver entry and exit. My solution was the Dodge Challenger. Good looking, easy access, 2 door and extremely comfortable!

Separation of Body and Frame?

Let’s face it, modern trucks are hard to deal with when the warranty expires. They are very complex, and components can be rather hard to access. Some think Fords should still be easy to repair for fleet managers and shade tree wrenches. Hagerty community member @Dale puts this notion into context:

“Ford’s biggest missed opportunity is the current F-150’s and Super Dutys. Ram is catching up to Ford’s trucks (if you believe Consumers Report’s testing). The switch to weight reduction with aluminum bodies was a great move, but there is a big gorilla in the garage that no one is talking about. I am referring to cab and box removal required for serious (gas and Diesel) engine service.

Remain a leader, and take the bold step of designing a tilt front end to ease engine service. All service mechanics and fleet managers will thank you, Ford. It is not rocket science – they did it with the immensely successful C-Series – why not now with their light duty trucks (and some SUVs)? Will GM or Ram beat Ford to it?”

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    I love my 2002 T-Bird. Gives you that warm tummy feeling when driving it! It’s plenty quick enough for me and has great handling, gets great fuel mileage, gets lots of looks and is quite comfortable. It also isn’t every 50th car you see, like its Chevy look alike? LOL. Shares a spot in the garage with my 84 F150 short box hot rod and now my 2020 Continental. All were purchase brand new.

    Like you Thomas I enjoy my 2002 Bird (Ford Blue), top on or off. Yes get lots of looks and I enjoy showing it at the various cruise nights in our area. Happy motoring.

    Ford missed the whole mini-van thing. All the research said it would sell and CEO (Ford) nixed it. Turned out his Lack of Imagination saved Chrysler.
    Almost as stupid as the CEO of Kodak not going digital.

    Kodak invented the digital camera: THE BIG money was in
    developing film SO THEY STUBBORNLY hung on. The rest is history.

    Anton, they still have style. A friend got a top line AWD version loaded to the hills, in a gorgeous dark blue metallic/white top. Some aftermarket rims/Yokohamas, a visit to the high end audio shop for tint & tune, and he totes his family and their Jet-Skis to the cabin in reliable comfort & style. Kids were lil when he got it, teens now fighting over who’s going to get it (neither- Dad’s not giving it up!).

    This, and though he admires the reliability of the Dart and the Slant Six he had no hand it that or any other facet of Chrysler glory years. As for missed opportunit Ford should have hit a home run with the Pinto since the Chevette was total garbage and the Colt was Japanese. Could have dominated the subcompact market all through the 80s.

    I disagree, had a 80 chevette and it was a good little car, 36 mpg on the highway. A big plus UNLIKE a ford it had a non interference engine so if the timing belt broke ( it happened) you lined up the 1/8 inch holes for the cam, put on anther belt an you wrer good to go. NO bent valves etc!

    I had a 71 Pinto with the 1600 engine. I lost the timing belt at 101,000 miles and simply put a new one on. When did that change? Or did that happen to the 2000 engine? Sold mine as a trade in for a 78 Chevy Big 10 just as the second gas crisis hit. I still kick myself.

    The Ford 2.3 was NOT an interference engine man . . . lost the belt on my 87 Turbo Coupe at 80 mph . . . it just stopped running. New Belt and it did another 150,000 miles.
    Most Japanese imports munch the valves when belts break.
    My daughter in-law had a Chevette . . . it was awful.
    Still see the odd Pinto on the road . . . but no H & T stuff or Chevettes.

    I had the chance to drive a Mondeo in Germany in the mid 1990’s. For me, Ford should have brought it here in a “NY minute”. It compared well with the Audi I rented there in 1991 for a long trip ( I remember it as an A40, but maybe an A80 derivative?) a Class C upgrade free, because they didn’t have my Class B reserved at InterRent. Don’t think that (classes) is used anymore. It’s all ore-internet.

    Ford DID bring the Mondeo to the US in the 1990’s. The Mondeo was jointly designed and developed between Ford Europe and Ford North America. It was sold as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique in the US. Most of the powertrain and chassis parts were shared. The SVT Contour with 2.5L DOHC V6 and M/T was a great car!

    Chevette should have had the 2.8 V6 as an option.

    You can still find video on You Tube of an early 70s Impala crash test into the rear of a Pinto.

    The Chevettes that I have driven were all gutless, ill-handling, and uncomfortable. The Pinto was a great little car but Ford made the mistake of not fixing the gas tank problem as soon as they were aware of it. At least the engine didn’t start burning oil at 6 to 10,000 miles like the Vega.

    I had a Colt wagon, & it was an excellent all weather longish range commuter. Body eventually succumbed to road salt, but it was a super reliable vehicle, and as long as ya kept a couple of the wheels down, also a good snow car.
    Chrysler got some nice cars from Mitsubishi and did an OK job of marketing them. Much better cars and values than Ford and the General put on their lots.

    Hummmm. Ford messed up big when they gave away the Minivan. As far as the Dart goes, I still have an original 1966 Dart GT convertible with a slant 6. looks runs as new, inside and out in turquoise.

    That’s all they could afford.
    Remember that was the early ‘80s we were coming out of the second gas crunch.

    Good point. Only old sedans out there are Civics, Accords and various Toyotas.
    I have had good luck with my Silverado.

    They still exist in the non-snow belt.

    There is a guy with a 2 door reliant or whatever it was called that has a 2.2 turbo motor from a Spirt RT. It is ridiculously quick.

    Had about every Ford made. Even had a Mercury Bobcat wagon with woodgrain and a manual 4spd. Now talk about dull…0-60 in 23sec.

    Quite a list of mistakes…. Always liked Fords as a kid in the 50’s but never owned one until 2010 … Taurus Limited AWD fully loaded including massage seats. Wonderful car… Replaced it with identical in 15… it now has 54K miles. Next car.. I dunno… probably won’t be a Ford product… since I want a passenger car. They need to build a luxury 2 door… like a Buick Riviera was… wih a large trunk so we retirees can go on a long driving trip.

    Amen! We need American passenger cars and coupes. Lincoln is the only luxury manufacturer selling cars in the USA not offering a sedan. Why not import the Lincoln Zephyr from China? There was a beautiful Buick coupe concept at the Amelia Concours this year. Why not manufacture it?

    Buick cars are now Chinese market things- they’re really good, but two of the Big Three “know” we all crave $60k+ trucks & SUVs, and the women want lil pretend SUVs to keep up with their friends. Dunno how it is in the rest of the country, but here in the almost Canada frozen north, there is NO driver more dangerous than a female with phone connectivity and AWD. Really. Drunken teens in Hellcat Dodges would be more predictable and easier to avoid. Bring back the station wagon and remove phones from the network any time the vehicle is in gear. We’d all sleep better.

    Leather-lined mustang. 2-door GT cars are the things of Euro brands these days. And even they don’t really like selling them, if the inventor at my local BMW and MB dealers are any indication. Most retirees, when I sold cars, wanted SUVs because of the ergonomics – seating positions, pedal positions, etc.

    I bought my first Flex new in 2014, and it’s versatility was even better than I had hoped. In 2022, I needed to replace it, and I looked at pretty much every 3-row SUV available, and I realized there was no replacement for the Flex. I found a low mileage 2018 Limited (ecoboost, all wheel drive) at a Ford dealer about an hour away. It was Certified Pre-Owned, and it is now mine. Wonderful vehicle.

    Have owned a 2010 Flex (FWD) since new. Ridiculously under powered but it will haul all of your worldly belongings and you can flat tow it behind a motorhome. Has 105,000 miles on it now and I absolutely hate to think about what will eventually replace it!

    The Flex is cool looking . . . makes way more sense than VAN . . .
    AWD & you could order the twin turbo V6 same as the SHO.
    What’s real ugly is the new Toyota lineup . . .

    Speaking of lost opportunities and IHC.
    International selling the “Scout” to VW!
    An electric Scout?🤮
    Most long time IH owners are thoroughly disgusted.

    i have a 2014 ford flex FWD non-turbo. been a great car with nothing more than normal maintaince. its now 9 years old with 37k miles on it and time to replace. i truly dont know what i will get. we have a 2022 suaburu outback touring and my college son has a 2020 honda accord sport. both great cars but i want someting that is easy to get in and out of as im getting older. i wish a car maker would bring back a large sedan or non suv wagon. i would buy one in a minute

    I tlook my 2009 ford ranger in for safety bag recall, on the first of Dec, on Christmass day 2022 I had a accident and totaled it hitting a wall at 55mph an the air bags did not, I say did not deploy, it was a miracle I didn’t get hurt, told a dealer that did the repair, an they couldn’t give me a answer

    T-Bird’s growth always bothered me as a sports car guy. I always thought it should have stayed two door and gotten more sporty, not less. But in my old age, I get it. Look at there E-Type. Born as an all out sports car it became a 2+2 because, simply, that’s what people wanted and Jaguar wanted to sell as many as possible. Was the T-Bird any different?

    At least Jaguar only lengthened the wheelbase to make the 2+2. They kept the sexy body style.
    Ford, on the other hand tried to recreate the Edsel under the Thunderbird name.

    Ford is totally clueless, My first and last Ford, 2014 Escape. Just try to change the battery when the time comes. What a nightmare.

    The 5.4 V-8 in the 150 pickups was among the worst-designed engine installations ever. Most of the time
    when removing the 7 n d 8 spark plugs they would break, and they had to design a tool to remove the broken plug (or remove the head). Who designs stuff like that?

    Ford modular motors aren’t that great.

    You can get LKQ 2V ones for next to nothing.

    Yet even 4.8 LS motors are pricey.

    You should try that in the E150. Constantly moving from inside the cab to outside the hood to fix anything.
    Heaven help you if the EGR pipe needs replacing.
    I’ve replaced all my coils but one. I only ventured to replace two spark plugs and got lucky with them.

    Speaking about killing models… one that surprised me was the Bronco/Bronco II. I’m amazed it took so long to bring that model back.

    The original Bronco was a cheap alternative to a Jeep. They had very few options and were easy to maintain. The new Bronco is a Bronco in name only. Every one I’ve seen so far is loaded up with expensive options and the doo-dads are very expensive to fix or replace. And who in their right mind would go 4-wheeling in the mud and rocks after spending 50 grand on the vehicle. People who buy the new one use it as a status symbol to take to the club and the closest they get to off-roading is sruggling to get to the office in 2 inches of snow. And the new Mach-e is not a real mustang. It’s a 4 door SUV with a horse emblem on the tailgate.
    I remember going to Radio Shack to look for a computer and the sales person insulted me. “Why would you want that toy, how about a new radio.”. Look around for a Radio Shack. They failed to give the customer what they wanted.
    I don’t want a truck!

    I think a number of people do indeed take their new Broncos off-road. Tune in to the Matt’s Off Road Recovery channel on YouTube. There have been Broncos rescued on there lately – mostly with broken steering/front end suspensions. The same one twice, I believe. Yeah Ford, rugged vehicles those – right…
    Of course, someone will point out that there are plenty of broken Jeeps rescued on that channel as well. But I think that is largely a factor of how many more of them are out there. But I will agree that Stellantis Jeeps are no match for older model years.

    Ford had a hit wi to the bifurcation of LD and HD trucks. Super Duty trucks were a radical departure from the F150 redesign.

    Ford had major miss with the rear-drive to front-drive explorer.

    As to the Bronco, the old full-size was okay, but the TTB suspension wasn’t great. The new Bronco IFS off-road is hard on steering parts. In low range, there is a lot of toque steer managed by tie rods.

    By design, a beam front axle 4×4 has significantly less, which is why Jeep guys can run so much tire.

    You’ll hear folks say “death wobble” but they fail to point out worn joints, or a cheap lift that radically changes caster.

    The aftermarket has some massive toe rods for IFS stuff, but OEM parts continue to be the fuse.

    The 4 wheel with $100K Jeeps why no a $50K ford.
    Watch Matt’s Off Road Recovery on YouTube. Amazing

    Ford is a company who has vehicles I like that they never sold here like the high performance Fords from the UK or Australia. They would have absolutely been on my list had they been available for sale in the USA. Ford killing their cars and their current Quality is Job #2 attitude along with their terrible dealers has taken them off my list.

    Yes the #2 has double meaning.

    Many people ask why they can’t just build simple reliable cars anymore for a decent price. Ford always has, from the Model T to the Falcon, to base model Foci, to the hybrid Maverick.
    And people always trash these simple cheap cars. I’ve seen many reviews of the base model Maverick where the reviewer complains about having to twist a key, a key mind you, to start it. As if a car key is a midevil torture device.
    I also talk to a lot of people who call small cheap cars junk and when I ask them what they mean by junk the first answer is most often, “It’s so ugly!” followed by lamenting some absent luxury feature, “No heated seats or infotainment screen! What are we cave men?”.
    You could go broke giving people what they say they want versus what they really want.

    ford chevy dodge if one of these companys would build a good looking car with the floor mats not carpet. air. cd radio. crank up windows. or power which ever is cheaper. with 4 or 6 or 8 options for motors

    I really don’t understand why Ford gave the car business to Korea. The Japanese have kept their market share, but the small car market has become dominated by the new Hyundai and Kia cars. I am on my third Genesis car and they have been great, as good or better then the other cars in the segment, but at a lower price and more features. The market marches on, from America to Japan, and now to Korea.

    Me too.

    They have the content filter on super-nanny mode.

    Back to ZeroHedge.

    GM got roasted by non-car people for the (2nd) Camaro cancellation.

    I have been driving Rangers years and they have been one of the most reliable trucks I have ever owned. My current one has 260,000 miles. I have a another one that’s 20 years old with 125,000. It’s rust free and my back up. Don’t think I will ever buy the newer model.

    Evidence? I’m a pretty young guy and have had four Fords (all bought new) since 2006. All drive well and have been very reliable (2005 Focus ST with 243K miles, two Escapes (2013 with 183K and 2019 with 60K miles), 2016 Focus SE (59K)). That’s a pretty good sample size on which to base my conclusion that Ford makes a good vehicle. (Sadly, I’ll have to look elsewhere for my next sedan, though. What a stupid corporate decision to surrender the sedan/wagon market to import brands.)

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