McKinley W. (Mac) Thompson Jr.

From the time he saw a new DeSoto Airflow on the streets of New York City, Mac Thompson knew he wanted to be a car designer. After he graduated from high school, he served in the Army Corps of Engineers. After he was discharged, Thompson studied mechanical engineering at the Neptune Veteran’s School and then started his career as an engineering layout design coordinator for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Ten years later he was working for the Signal Corps in New Jersey. He was married, had children and was buying a house when he was awarded one of four Motor Trend magazine scholarships to study automotive design at the Art Center College in Los Angeles. He and his family moved to California where Thompson started at the Art Center College in 1953. He graduated in 1956 and was hired by Alex Tremulis as a Ford designer.

Thompson’s first assignment was in Tremulis’ Advanced studio where he prepared sketches for the Gyron concept car. Thompson’s real interest was in designing trucks and, after six months in the Advanced studio, he was assigned to the Truck Pre-Production studio where he helped design the Light Cab Forward. He was also one of the designers of the original Ford Bronco, Big Red, and Project Venus.

Later in his career, Thompson worked in the Falcon and the Thunderbird studios. He also helped design the ‘64 Thunderbird, did early design work on the GT-40 and the 1978-79 production trucks. Because of his engineering background, Thompson established and was subsequently appointed manager of the Appearance Development studio, where design changes proposed by Engineering were modeled for Design Center review. Thompson’s last Lincoln project was supplying the electronics for the 1983 Lincoln Concept 100 showcar.

He retired in January 1985.

Posted by permission from James and Cheryl Farrell
Photos courtesy of Ford Archives.
From Ford Design Department—Concepts & Showcars, 1932-1961 by Jim and Cheryl Farrell
ISBN 0-9672428-0-0
Book review to come.
For book ordering information, email:

1968 Design Center. This is a portion of a Mercury Thompson revised while in the Appearance Development studio.

1974 Design Center. Don DelaRossa (L) and Thompson behind the front clip of the ‘74 Mustang Mac worked on.

Mac Thompson, Jr.

Gyron 1: Thompson helped design the Gyron concept car, here shown being made into a fiberglass model in the Ford shops.

Pre-production ’64 Thunderbird Thompson helped design.

Thompson was one of the designers of the Light Cab-Forward truck, which was the inspiration for the Econoline.

A Sampling of Mac Thompson’s Design Work.

  1. Ken Bowes

    In the frame after the 1974 Mustang front clip, what is that large rotary device resting on his table?

  2. That “rotary device” looks like a tailight housing to me. See the wires coming out?

  3. Lee Shuster

    That’s a Ford tailight bucket, maybe for a 61 Galaxie?


    I enjoy these articles. Keep them comming.

  5. E55

    All done by hand. No CAD. Just a straightedge, pens, pencils and erasers.

  6. Ken Bowes

    Re E55 kidding!
    I spent 4 semesters at Art Center in 1973 to late 74..the prime benefit was spending time listening to Ted Youngkin and Mac, No 3D systems in those days..a well equipped student had an attaché full of markers, and huge package of pastels! Ken B

  7. Norman Gaines

    I wonder what Thompson’s day-to-day reality was like in the “Golden Era” at Ford when he was “colored” at best and, well…..other times? Had to have been “interesting”.

  8. I can only imagine what Mr. McKinley Thompson had to endure.

    While it’s nice he’s now receiving the credit he deserved, it’s very telling, sad, and shameful that Ford took so long to publicly recognize him for his undeniable design influence on the Bronco and their other well known Ford concept vehicles, so long after his passing.

    These slights are magnified when compared to their continued fawning over their white automobile designers in their historical publications. Disgusting.

  9. We strongly disagree with Mr. Dickson. Ford was the first to hire a black designer. Ford also hired a Japanese-American designer (Tony Yuki) just after World war II was over, when it was not popular. Ford hired designers based on talent. It was not until recently that even “white” designers were recognized for the design of a particular vehicle unless they were design directors or executive designers. The book Ford Design Department,Concept and Show Cars highlighted Mr. Thompson’s talent based on in person (alive) interviews with him. Recognition to Mr. Thompson came because retired Ford Design Department management directed us his way. Ford even hired women designers when it was not considered “popular.” Jim and Cheryl Farrell

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