Richard Caleal was a gifted designer that is credited with shaping one of the most significant cars in American history, the 1949 Ford. Caleal was born in 1912 in Lansing, Michigan to Lebanese immigrant parents. His love of cars began when he saw a Rolls-Royce drive down his street at the age of seven, inspiring him to immediately begin drawing cars. His first job was dressing the store windows at a wallpaper store, and he would often decorate the storefront with his drawings. This caught the eye of a manager at Oldsmobile, who encouraged him to apply for a job. Not long after, Caleal began working in GM’s Art and Colour Section as a clay modeler and draftsman.
Caleal would leave GM to work as a stylist for the Hudson Motor Car Company, as well as Oldsmobile and Packard. He would later become a member of the famed Raymond Loewy design team at Studebaker. However, Caleal was released from Studebaker in 1946, and found himself back in Detroit seeking work. He went to see an independent designer named George Walker, who, unknown to Caleal, had just been awarded the design contract for the 1949 Ford. Walker hired Caleal on a freelance basis and assigned him the task of creating a finished design within three weeks. Caleal took his assignment back to Indiana and set up shop in his home, turning the dining room table into a drafting board, and his kitchen table into a stand for the clay model.
Caleal brought his finished model to Detroit and presented his design against several other submissions to the Ford Executive Committee, which included Henry Ford II, Benson Ford, and Ernest Breech. In less than five minutes, the committee unanimously chose Caleal’s model. The design was a huge success, selling well over a million units during its first full year, and turned Ford’s financial fortunes from red to black virtually overnight. Caleal would be hired by Ford to head the company’s Advanced Styling Studio, and continued to influence some of Ford’s most important designs.