John J. Telnack

Inducted 2008

Distinguished Service Citation Award 1992

 “the most influential designer since Harley Earl”The New York Times

John “Jack” Telnack shaped some of Ford’s most iconic vehicles. Telnack was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1937. He knew he wanted to design cars as early as 4 years old after seeing a 1941 Lincoln Continental convertible driving down the street and would often ride his bicycle to Ford’s Rotunda building to see the latest concept cars. When Telnack was 15, his father, who worked at the Ford Rouge Plant, arranged for him to visit Ford’s Design Center. “I don’t know how to explain this,” he later said, “but when I entered the studio I felt at home. I knew this was where I was meant to be.”

Telnack graduated from Art Center College in Pasadena in 1958 and was offered a design job at Ford, working primarily on small design details and ornamentation. He got his first big break as a junior member of the original Mustang design team where he designed the original wheel covers as well as the fastback variant. “The wheel covers must have been good,” he once remarked, “because they were regularly stolen.” Telnack moved up the ranks quickly, becoming a manager in just four years. In 1966, he was named chief designer for Ford of Australia, and built the design studio there from the ground up. Telnack returned to Dearborn in 1969 and was later put in charge of the Mustang and Pinto projects. The defining moment in Telnack’s career came in 1980 when then-Ford President Phillip Caldwell came to Telnack and said, “We need a new car, one that will give us an advantage. And I want you to push the envelope on this one.”

The result was the groundbreaking 1986 Ford Taurus. Global car design at the time was very boxy. By contrast, the Taurus’s soft and sculpted “aero-look” was revolutionary, and it soon became the bestselling car in America. Telnack retired from Ford in January of 1998. An accomplished designer and cultivator of talent, Jack Telnack’s career was summed up succinctly by former Ford Chairman Harold Poling when he said “There are great designers and there are charismatic leaders. Jack Telnack is both.”

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