George Walker, Dave Kindig, Tad Leach And The Road To "Maybellene"

George Walker, Dave Kindig, Tad Leach And The Road To “Maybellene”

Achieving consensus is an interesting concept.

It’s challenging for groups of people to choose a movie, decide which restaurant to go for dinner or God forbid, how to achieve world peace.

In post-war Detroit, flamboyant chief designers had no safety or fuel economy standards to deal with and ruled their respective design houses with few people in their way.

Ironically, while these styling czars had free rein the likes of which modern designers could only dream of, they did ultimately have to “sell to the suits.” Check out some of the wild ideas churned out by Ford Design in the late-’50s, which amazingly, were approved by top brass.

These Edsel prototypes were a harbinger of what was to come.

When you think of textbook ’50s cars, big-finned Chryslers and Cadillacs come to mind. Harley Earl invented the tail-fin with the 1948 Cadillacs, but it was Virgil Exner who took the sheetmetal appendages soaring to new heights with the “Forward Look” in 1957. Not to be out done, Earl turned to styling steroids for the 1959 GM line up and beat Chrysler with the biggest fins to date. The 1959 Cadillac especially, scaled to new styling heights with gigantic fins.

Meanwhile, over in Dearborn, Ford was quietly conducting business. Although there were milestone styling achievements, its cars were comparatively staid in comparison to the other Big 2 in the mid ’50s.

To remedy this situation, Ford appointed George Walker as corporate Vice President and Director of Styling and Design in 1955. From this point forward, Walker went friggin’ wild and the Blue Oval turned out some of the most outrageous car styling the world has ever seen.

Although a big cheese, he never solidified star-status like Earl and Exner, Walker’s work was every bit as fantastic and long overdue for the recognition he deserves.

George Walker – Dig the aviation/jet-age-themed designs on the wall in the background.

According to Autolife, “George Walker designed more than 3,000 products in his lifetime, cars, watches, radios, washers, alarm clocks, and more for such clients as Peerless, Graham-Paige, Willys, Burroughs, Admiral, and Kelvinator.

Walker was born on May 22, 1896, on the south side of Chicago. He graduated from both the Cleveland School of Art and the Oris Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. His major accomplishments in auto design included the 1949 Ford, the 1950 Lincoln, the 1951 Mercury, the 1952 Ford, and the 1955 Thunderbird.”

A smiling, dapper George Walker appeared on the cover of Time magazine, as big a star status as the media world of the ’50s could offer. Inside the November issue, readers learned Walker’s backstory and keen observers saw that Walker possessed a marketing sense well in advance of his time.

From 1955 to 1961 Walker and his team fired yearly salvos of overwrought styling madness and is now our most favorite era of Ford design.

From the four-seat “Squarebird,” the gigantic 1958 Lincoln, the 1955 Lincoln Futura (aka Batmobile,) the disastrous Edsel — which was a key factor to Walker’s “retirement”  just three years later–to the entire Mercury lineup through 1960, these rolling sculptures were monumental in scope and sheer outlandishness.

The cars mirrored Walker’s larger-than-life persona as well.  Per, “His vast office was carpeted in soft mouton, his large desk kidney-shaped. A semi-circular banquette and low, round coffee table provided meeting space. Soft music added to the atmosphere. His suits were custom made; his cologne, lavishly applied, was by Faberge.

He owned 40 pairs of shoes. His flamboyance is perhaps best summed up by Walker himself, recounting what he considered his “finest moment” on a Florida vacation: “I was terrific. There I was in my white Continental, and I was wearing a pure-silk, pure-white embroidered cowboy shirt and black gabardine trousers. Beside me in the car was my jet-black Great Dane . . . You just can’t do any better than that.”

He was also either involved in, or holding the reigns of the most bizarre concepts through the ’50s as well. If you thought what made it the the production line was c-r-a-z-y, check out what was on the sketch pads (and in clay)  behind the scenes.

If you’re a concept car fan, this was a very fertile time for Ford.  They showed some of their most “out there” concepts from the late ’40s to the early 60s and most remain unmatched to this day.

Of all the crazy sheetmetal Ford stamped during this period, the 1958 Lincoln probably takes the cake for the weirdest/coolest car that actually made it to production.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when the stylists pushed the 1958 Lincoln concept into a room full of stiff Ford suits, and they said, “Approved.”

A block long, this leviathan, Caddy competitor had canted headlights, a radical reverse slope rear roofline and enormous scallops tooled into it’s gigantic flanks. Many thought it resembled a Wurlitzer jukebox in the prone position.

The prototypes for what eventually would become the 1960 Lincoln were even wilder.

Great minds think alike? Owner Tad Leach was on to something when he suggested ditching the rear skirts, as these prototypes all have open rear wheel wells. Bottom: The proposed taillights here are very similar to treatment on Maybellene, minus the backup lights.

It was a big, heavy complicated car. Rolling off the line at the legendary Wixom, Michigan plant at north of 2 1/2 tons, it under performed in the marketplace. The 1959 and 1960 models sported toned-down styling, but when the 1961 suicide-door Continental by Elwood Engle debuted in the fall of 1960, the Walker styling era was over.

The Edsel and poor overall sales of the rest of Ford’s lineup sealed Walker’s fate and he retired and moved to to the Southern United States in late 1961. As the Sixties rushed in, Walker and his over-styled legacy was derided and mostly forgotten. He was relegated to the scrap heap of automotive history and remained in relative obscurity compared to his contemporaries.

Walker didn’t slow down though. He became mayor of Gulf Stream, Florida in 1976 and died on January 19, 1993 in Tucson, Arizona at ripe old age of 96.

Fast forward to the Grand National Roadster Show this year and I’m standing in front “Maybellene,” Tad Leach’s 1958 Continental Mark III Convertible built by Kindig It Design. I could almost see George Walker’s reflection in the deep-sea blue paint.

Rethunk by Kindig, Walker’s epic Continental III is updated to fantastic effect. Many have made attempts at customizing this era of Lincoln, but most have been transformed into clown cars or worse. With a sympathetic brush, Kindig gentle strokes crystallize Walker’s original design and brings it into the 21st century.

Here was a (unknowingly?) long-overdue, tribute to the overlooked Walker, the 1958 Lincoln and the nameless peripheral stylists responsible for this milestone car.

Look closely and see how Kindig carefully massaged the body. Our favorite element of Maybellene is the scallops on the rear fender. Mirroring the stock front fenders, Kindig doubled-down on this lovely mid-century flourish by duplicating it at the rear of the car. George Walker must be up there smiling.

We recently caught up with Dave Kindig on the phone and he recounted the build to us here at Rod Authority. Based in Salt City Utah, Kindig says,”My customer Tad Leach was looking to do a custom and I suggested the ’58 Continental because I knew of a nice, original example. We went with the Lincoln because Tad liked it and no one had really done a restomod version of the car.”

Owner Tad Leach continues “In watching all the various car shows, I really took a liking to Dave Kindig of Kindig-It Design and his team on Velocity Channel’s “Bitchin’ Rides.” Dave has such great vision and detail, and his team has all the experience and skill to make it happen.

I contacted Dave and liked what I heard, so I went down to his shop. I’d been thinking about a ’56 Lincoln Premiere, as I always liked the look – a true ’50s car with fins. He talked to a local classic car dealer who happened to have a ’58 Continental, which also had great lines and fins. It was a limited run (3,048) and is the longest production convertible other than rare 1934-37 Cadillac V16’s. I looked at it and told Dave I liked it, but there were several things that I didn’t fender skirts and a chintzy stamped panel across the back. Dave showed me a design, which resolved those issues so we went with it. I wanted to have a unique car with unique features and lots of power. ”

From there the build got underway. “We started with a custom Art Morrison air-ride chassis and married it to the body with custom-built belly pans. Remember the 1958 Continental was a unibody car, so a tremendous amount of work was employed here to mate the body to the new chassis.

We also reworked the body itself, smoothing out the door handles and building custom cowl panels, hood, and hood bubble, as well as custom-made front and rear grilles, and bumpers that we tucked and smoothed and then sprayed it out with our own line of AkzoNobel Modern Classikk Teal Later.” Kindig recounted.

Underneath the gigantic hood is a Ryan Falconer Racing Engines all-aluminum 600ci V12 with twin Magnuson superchargers mated to a 4L80E transmission by GM Performance, which makes 940 HP and 1,040 ft-lbs of torque. The car rolls on monster EVOD wheels with built in whitewalls.

The interior is a testament to Walker and his team as well. Although heavily massaged to perfection by Kindig and masterfully stitched by gurus JS Custom Interiors, the shape of the dash, steering wheel and column are essentially stock and are a tremendous tip-of-the-hat to Ford that it still looks fresh and contemporary today.

A herd of cows surrendered their hides to swath the interior in acreage of creamy “Beer Foam Beige” leather along with every conceivable modern creature comfort thrown in for good measure.

We saw the car in person at SEMA 2017 when it debuted and again at the 2018 GNRS and Sacramento Autorama. It is stunning in person, with execution and detail second to none.

Maybellene chocks up awards whenever it’s shown. The car has won numerous trophies in 2018 including; Best Custom at the Grand National Roadster Show, Best Custom and King of Kustoms at the Sacramento Autorama, Best Custom, John D’Agustino Award of Excellence, and Grand Sweepstakes (Best of Show) Award at the Portland Roadster Show.

Of course, the build of Maybellene was documented on “Bitchin’ Rides” on Velocity.

Kudos to Tad Leach and Kindig It Design for taking on the monumental task of customizing a 1958 Lincoln, allowing George Walker to live again and introduce his work to an entirely new audience.

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an editor at Power Automedia. He digs all flavors of automobiles, from classic cars to modern EVs. Dave loves music, design, tech, current events, and fitness.
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