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Uwe Bahnsen

(1930-2013), Car designer

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Uwe Bahnsen, by Alistair Morrison - NPG x31072

Uwe Bahnsen

by Alistair Morrison
chromogenic print, 1983
NPG x31072



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Nick Hull

24 May 2016, 11:25

One of the first design recruits to Ford of Germany was Uwe Bahnsen. Born in Hamburg in 1930, he studied at the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg, becoming an accomplished painter and sculptor. He then worked as a window dresser for a department store, spending weekends at the racetracks, where he became well known as an amateur saloon car racer in Germany.
Bahnsen joined Ford in 1958, working closely with Wes Dahlberg on the Taunus range, including the 17M, which was the first Ford design led by Bahnsen.
He was transferred to lead the UK interior studio in Dunton around 1967, then promoted to take charge of the German studio from 1971. In March 1976 he replaced Jack Telnack as vice president of Design in Ford of Europe, being based back in England, where Bahnsen remained for the next decade. Dapper and affable, Bahnsen loved the British way of life and close contact with the RCA in London that his post afforded him, allowing him to speak at conferences or to set up exhibitions, such as the V&A exhibition on the design of the Ford Sierra in 1983.
During the 1970s there was a strategic decision to make Bahnsen more visible as head of Ford of Europe design and promote Ford as a leading brand for design, especially in Germany where Ford’s image and reputation had been seen as somewhat Anglo-American up to that point. Whereas Opel was always accepted as an original German company that happened to be bought by the Americans (as was Vauxhall in the UK), Ford in Germany was in a weaker position, being seen as a purely American outfit, despite the decades of German involvement. Having Bahnsen as a senior German figurehead in the important area of design was a key asset from a PR viewpoint.
Bahnsen’s taste in design was typified by the ‘Eva’ Mk II Granada and ‘Erika’ Mk III Escort: crisp, assured designs that trod a fine balance between latest fashion and yet could appeal to a wide customer base across Europe.
After leaving Ford in 1986, Bahnsen served as director of the Pasadena Art Center of Design’s Swiss-based subsidiary in Vevey until 1995. He died in July 2013 at the age of 83.