The Contour, shown at the 1991 Detroit Show, was revolutionary in so many respects. Its engine was the first straight-eight since Pontiac’s in 1954 and was mounted transversely to save space. The shape of the car was dramatic with steeply raked screens and a long cabin dominating. It was mounted on an aluminum chassis entirely bonded together. The headlamps were 1 in- (2.5cm-) high arc discharge rods and there were two floating rear spoilers.
Ford vice president of Design JMays recently described the 1991 Ford Contour showcar as one of the most significant concepts in Ford's recent history. That is high praise indeed when it's considered that the Contour concept was developed and released during the tenure of Mays' predecessor, Jack Telnack.
J Mays describes "design" as the integration of engineering and styling and by this description Contour might rightly be called "High Design." The Contour concept demonstrates a cornucopia of advanced concepts, processes, materials and layout. It proposed a radical new front-drive package, a "T-Drive" that its inventor, Donald Carriere, patented for Ford. Its chassis frame is a proposal for an innovative chemically-bonded modular aluminum structure invented by Ford and Reynolds Aluminum. Its body panels were designed to be formed composite structures incorporating polyurethane and polyurea plastics and metal framing. Its lighting system was developed to utilize a Light Engine from General Electric, a high efficiency single source system using fiber optic light pipes to illuminate most of the Contour concept's lighting requirements.The Contour concept is visibly different as well. For starters, it is laterally asymmetrical in an effective and practical layout that complements its goal of being compact and space-efficient.
The Contour concept's interior utilizes a fixed bench style front seat that acts as a body stiffening member. The steering wheel, instrument duster, drivers' controls and pedals are an adjustable assembly to accommodate different drivers.
The T-Drive system proposed in Contour envisions a transversely mounted straight eight engine with the transmission joining the center of the engine's crankcase and driven from a gear in the center of the crankshaft (Vittorio Jano, who put the camshaft, supercharger and
accessory drives of the straight eight Alfa Romeo 8C in the center of his engine, would be pleased with the concept and delighted at the highly integrated structure proposed by Carriere's T-Drive package.). A single large crankshaft-driven alternator resolves accessory drives: everything in the T-Drive concept, even the water pump, is electrically driven. T-Drive also contemplates fulltime all wheel drive with a low-mounted driveshaft passing through a tiny tunnel to the rear differential. Suspension of the Contour concept is conceived as independent with transverse leaf springs doubling as the upper control arm at each corner.
The front spring is located just above the straight eight engine in an area of intense heat. Contour designers dealt with that issue by envisioning forced ventilation of the engine compartment. The front wheel wells are the source of the cooling air... and venting the wheel wells reduces turbulence induced by the rotating wheels and brake discs, reducing aerodynamic drag. "Contour" also appropriately describes the concept's visible design which seems to have no straight lines, outside or inside. The interior is a pleasing, almost melodious, blending of contours. Ford is known for its Blue Oval trademark, and the Contour concept's design expresses a softly-curving oval theme. The front doors are front-hinged while the back doors are hinged at the rear giving unobstructed access to the interior.
Ford's 1991 Contour concept is one of the great, pioneering executions of design. It is visually distinctive and pleasing. It is conceptually innovative. But for all that, it never strays from the art of the possible.