MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Award-Winning Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives and the Detroit Free Press
Published 2.21.2024

Chris Young Detroit Free Press 6Ford Designer Chris Young (Detroit Free Press)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue our observance of Black History Month with a look at Ford Motor Company designer Christopher Young, who is continuing the tradition began with Ford’s first Black designer, McKinley Thompson.

One of the best-looking vehicles on the road today is the new Ford Bronco, which many thoroughly enjoy. The Bronco has a great legacy with Ford Motor Company and is also a part of our great truck heritage. Recently, designer Chris Young worked with the Ford design team to move forward with a new idea for the next generation Ford Bronco.

McKinley Thompson Jr designer of the first Bronco Ford Motor Company Archives 2McKinley Thompson Jr, designer of the first Bronco (Ford Motor Company Archives)

The original Ford Bronco styling idea in 1966 began with McKinley Thompson Jr. (November 8,1922 - March 8, 2006), who was the first African American auto designer in the world and started working at Ford in 1956. He was hired by Ford designer Alex Tremulis (January 23, 1914 - December 29, 1991). Last year, Thompson was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.

Christopher Young as a child with his Matchbox collection Detroit Free Press 1Christopher Young as a child with his Matchbox collection (Detroit Free Press)

Young grew up with a passion for Matchbox cars as a child. As a toy car collector myself, I can see how miniature toy cars can change and motivate your outlook for accomplishing many automotive goals in life.  For Young his passion and artistic ability has led to the creation of many different automotive projects. He is a very talented designer at Ford, and as a young African American, he has been a role model motivating individuals from all over the world with his great personality, talent and passion for automotive design. He is a true car guy.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Ford Motor Company Archives 3The 2021 Ford Bronco (Ford Motor Company Archives)

Young once said, “I remember as a child the mailman came by, and I told him I wanted to be a car designer.” He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in industrial and product design from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial and product design from the University of Bridgeport. Young also has a very impressive automotive resume, which includes restoration work as an Aston Martin apprentice in Connecticut and later work on Jaguars and Porsches as well. Over his 25 year career, Young has also been a part of the Ford Mustang design team and created new style themes for the Lincoln Continental, Lincoln Navigator and many other Ford projects.

Ford Bronco designs Ford Motor Company Archives RESIZED 4Ford Bronco designs (Ford Motor Company Archives)

In addition to Young as lead senior creative designer, the next generation Bronco design team also included Paul Wraith, program chief designer; Robert Gelardi, design manager; and Daniel Kangas, exterior lead designer.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Interior Ford Motor Company Archives 5The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Interior (Ford Motor Company Archives)

In conclusion, McKinley Thompson Jr, who was a great friend of mine, had a huge passion for automotive industrial design and played a large role in the original Ford Bronco models in 1966. Today, Christopher Young continues that design tradition in the next generation Bronco while bringing Thompson’s trailblazing career full circle.

Christopher Young Detroit Free Press 7Christopher Young (Detroit Free Press)

Ford Bronco design Ford Motor Company Archives RESIZED 8Another Ford Bronco design (Ford Motor Company Archives)

Bibliography

Foote, Brett. “Bronco Sport Designer Finds Inspiration from First-Gen Sketch Artist.” Ford Authority, July 17, 2020.

Nash, Michael. “Ford’s Design Team on the New Bronco.” CDN Car Design News, July 13, 2020.

Wall Howard, Phoebe. “2021 Ford Bronco Designer Follows in the Footsteps of the Jackie Robinson of Car Design.” Detroit Free Press, July 13, 2020.