Ford 'Fair Games' Its One-Night Stands

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ford fair games its one night stands
True story: Many, many years ago I briefly dated a young woman who, at the age of 16, was the subject of a custody battle between her hard-luck mother and her suburban aunt. You’d expect this to go the way of the aunt, and you’d be right. But what you would not expect is that the aunt was married to a fellow who, some 15 years earlier, had been L. Ron Hubbard’s personal bodyguard. He was deeply involved in the “Sea Org” and a bunch of other Scientology-related stuff. He also claimed to have been a Green Beret and a decorated Vietnam veteran. (More information on the dude here, if you’re interested.)Scientology in general, and my girlfriend’s foster dad in particular, was notorious for “fair-gaming” its lapsed members and anybody else who gets in the way of the organization. “Fair Game” is an L. Ron Hubbard phrase that means, basically, no action that can be taken by church members against the person in question is off-limits. It’s okay to attack them, kidnap them, have their home “SWATted”, destroy their careers or their credit rating. Being “fair gamed” by the Church of Scientology is very far from a picnic. The Church now disavows “fair gaming”. (More info here.)The Ford Motor Company, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too reluctant to “fair game” a few of its lapsed members, as you’ll see.Spen King’s 1970 Range Rover was that rarest of things — a truly original automobile. And although “0.1 percent” of the time was spent on the styling, it was a fortunate fraction because from the very start it was the look of the Range Rover that captivated buyers, not its admittedly prodigious capabilities. The Range Rover is one of those vehicles that everyone recognizes, even though it was utterly absent from the United States for the first-third of its lifetime.The pathetic necrophilia that infects the hind brains of nearly every modern automotive stylist and absolutely every single automotive marketing department in the Western world has led to a situation in which the golden seam of that original Range Rover design language has been strip-mined more or less to exhaustion. The shape of the bonnet, the “floating roof,” the slab-sided doors, the relatively forthright and unfussy nose treatment, the tucked-under rear fenders — it’s been applied over and over to every product in the current Land Rover family with roughly the same subtlety shown by Oldsmobile in its mid-Eighties distribution of “Cutlass” badging.One particular strand of that DNA has seen wider use than any of the others: a folded bonnet (hood, if you like) edge that runs parallel and close to a wide grill flanked by headlight housings that are level with the grille on top, with the model designation in block letters across the leading edge of the bonnet. The idea itself was very far from original; you only need to look at a late-Sixties Ford truck to see some of the inspiration. Yet the execution was brilliant in its modern simplicity. In an era where chrome trim and elaborate lettering were standard equipment on the humblest economy car, the Range Rover’s grille/headlight/bonnet combination was the equivalent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House: simple, focused, modern, and horizontal.Every Range Rover since the original has maintained this basic design principle, although a sort of creeping Dubai-Baroque crassness has overwritten the 1970 model’s simplicity. It’s been extended to the Discovery, the Freelander, and all the successive models to fill those niches, usually with “Land Rover” in place of “Range Rover.” None of the brand’s three non-English custodians has dared tamper too much with the idea.The second of those custodians, however, is Ford. Seven years ago, it handed Land Rover to India’s Tata. All of the intellectual property changed hands at the same time. Yet in the time since then, the Ford Explorer has come to resemble the Generic Range Rover Look more and more. The absolute apex of this is the 2017 Ford Explorer Sport, which offers a front end that meets all three of the major 1970 characteristics. The relatively simple grille nestles between a pair of headlamps and combines with those headlamps to make a flat top line that mirrors the leading edge of the bonnet, on which we have a set of unassuming block letters reading “E X P L O R E R”.
You can argue that the Explorer’s current front fascia incorporates many cues from the 1990 original, and you’d be right to do so. You could also point out the Explorer’s pronounced body-color C-pillar goes a long way to divorce it from any Range Rover. Finally, you can argue that the 2011 Ford Flex Titanium was actually a closer riff on the third-gen Range Rover than the Explorer is on the current model. But none of this contradicts the central fact that Ford’s prestige volume SUV shares an uncomfortable amount of brand DNA with Ford’s former luxury brand.
The pre-facelift Ford Fusion shares a similar amount of visual language with the generic “modern” Aston Martin look that started with the DB7 and continues through the current lineup. The grille isn’t exactly the same shape, and the Fusion’s headlights actually anticipated the flatter, smaller look of the current DBS and Vanquish, but you’ll still search in vain for a mass-market family sedan that the Fusion resembles as much as it does an Aston Martin. Again, this riff took place a decent interval after Ford sold Aston Martin to the Kuwaitis, and there are extenuating circumstances; the rest of the European Ford lineup has similar grille shapes. Only on the Fusion does it quite approach the old DB5 shape, although the higher trim levels of the C-Max uncomfortably resemble the abortive Aston Martin Cygnet.Still, Ford could have done any number of things to keep the Fusion from looking anything like an Aston Martin. Those things were very carefully not done and as a result we have an admittedly handsome sedan that nevertheless provides the viewer with a strong sense of deja vu. If this offends the customer, the sales figures don’t reflect it.I’m not aware of JLR or Aston Martin taking public exception to the appearance of either Explorer or Fusion. Most likely they figure that domestic-car styling trends tend to be short-lived and that this, too, shall pass. Furthermore, the prestige of both the Range Rover and Aston Martin marques is more than strong enough to survive a short-lived association with lesser machinery. This is not always the case with copycat cars; one can argue that the fortunes of Infiniti’s J30 were significantly undermined by the appearance of the similar-looking Nissan Altima a year after the J30’s debut, and I doubt that Infiniti G35 Coupe sales were helped in any way by the Altima Coupe that resembled it with the kind of detail that non-poisonous butterflies employ when they imitate the appearance of the monarch.The amusing possibility, of course, is if customers become attached to the design language of these two reminiscent Fords. If that turns out to be the case, then the designers in Dearborn will find themselves in the same pickle that must dominate the thoughts of their counterparts at Land Rover and Aston Martin; how do you make the car look new without upsetting the buyers? Wouldn’t it be funny if, long after Spen King’s departure from this vale of tears, Ford was forced to join the ranks of the men who continue to be forcibly guided by the low-percentage effort of his dead hand?[Images: © 2016 Matt Posky/The Truth About Cars, Ford]
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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Dec 09, 2016

    Ford had wasted so much money saving these morbid British brands so it deserves to use any parts from their respective part bins and rip off their design ideas any way it likes - nobody should blame them for doing that. And BTW former JLR owners had screwed up Ford big way playing GM vs Ford to get unrealistically high price (While FIAT got Chrysler for free and blackmailed GM for billion $$) - talk about Europeans hugely outsmarting their Americans counterparts at every turn. Europeans are very smart while Americans are naive and usually try to solve problems by throwing as much money as they can on things that proven to not work (like public schools e.g.) and trying to overwhelm just by sheer quantity.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Jan 10, 2017

    This is pretty much the Jack Tramiel playbook, isn't it?

  • JamesGarfield Re: Getting away from union plantsAbout a dozen years or so ago, Caterpillar built a huge new engine plant, just down the road here in Seguin TX. Story has it, Caterpillar came to Seguin City council in advance, and told them their plans. Then they asked for no advanced publicity from Seguin, until announcement day. This new plant was gonna be a non-union replacement for a couple of union plants in IL and SC, and Cat didn't want to stir up union problems until the plan was set. They told Seguin, If you about blab this in advance, we'll walk. Well, Seguin kept quiet as instructed, and the plan went through, with all the usual expected tax abatements given.Plant construction began, but the Caterpillar name was conspicuously absent from anywhere on the site. Instead, the plant was described as being a collective of various contractors and suppliers for Caterpillar. Which in fact, it was. Then comes the day, with the big new plant fully operationa!, that Caterpillar comes in and announces, Hey, Yeah it's our plant, and the Caterpillar name boldly goes up on the front. All you contractor folks, welcome aboard, you're now Caterpillar employees. Then, Cat turns and announces they are closing those two union plants immediately, and will be transporting all the heavy manufacturing equipment to Seguin. None of the union workers, just the equipment. And today, the Caterpillar plant sits out there, humming away happily, making engines for the industry and good paying jobs for us. I'd call that a winner.
  • Stuki Moi What Subaru taketh away in costs, dealers will no doubt add right back in adjustments.... Fat chance Subaru will offer a sufficient supply of them.
  • Dartdude Lorenzo, the reason for low manual transmission here is that most dealers won't stock them. I wanted a 2012 Kia Koup with manual tranny it was available, but no dealers ordered any from the factory hence there was none available. Go on any car manufacture's web site and price and build and build your model and you would be lucky if the model existed and was available.
  • The Oracle Good news is that based on the model years many of these have already been junked or experienced terminal engine failure.
  • Lou_BC I'm confused, isn't a Prologue a preview? This would be a preview of a preview.