News : Uwe Bahnsen 1930-2013

Andrew Elphick

The German designer, famous for the Colt (Capri) Erika (1980 Escort) and Toni (Sierra) is no longer with us. Though Uwe classically trained at Hamburg’s Academy of Fine Arts, his association with the Ford Motor Company bore his most famous designs. In addition to the Capri, Escort and Sierra, Uwe also created the European market Taunus and the 1985 Scorpio. Despite previewing the Sierra with the Probe III, the famous ‘Jellymould’ still polarised the public with its futuristic shape.

However, he didn’t just create cars; he also created their designers – through nurturing the talent of Patrick Le Quement, among others. Assisting the light commercial department, he oversaw the design of the Ford Cargo truck and 1985 Transit. In total his career at the Blue Oval spanned 28 years culminating as Vice President of Design, leaving a recognisable aerodynamically-styled family of vehicles in production behind him.


After Ford, Uwe became first a Director at Switzerland’s prestigious Art Centre College of Design, leaving 10 years later to become a board member and President at the ICSID (International Council of Societies of Design). A fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts also beckoned. By creating a range of vehicles produced, sold and still adored across the globe, Uwe was definitely ‘one of us’.

Survived by his wife Maureen, Hamburg-born Uwe Bahnsen passed away on 30 July in France, aged 83 years.

Keith Adams
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  1. A highly influential designer who shaped the future with the SD1 influenced Sierra.

    I remember seeing Probe 3 at motorfair in the very early 80s and being amazed how different it was to the Fortuna.

  2. RIP to a forward looking designer.

    “Uwe also created the European market Taunus” – later Taunus and Cortina models were basically the same (certainly in terms of styling) – would his creations include the latter?

  3. With such notable designs as Capri, Escort MK3 and Sierra under his belt, his place in motor design history is undoubtedly assured. R-I-P

  4. 2nd photo. Looks like a transit prototype with a Mk2 Granada lights and grille.
    I always thought the Capri was a Ford of Britain design.
    The Mk.3 Granada looked like a more acceptable Sierra. I thought the later saloon always looked awkward around the rear end. I guess it was never originally designed to have a saloon version.
    Ford usually seem to get their designed just about right. Even if the Sierra was a bit too futuristic for some. The Mk3 escort was spot on.

  5. Will, Uwe was responsible for the original front wheel drive Taunus – we got the “Archbishoo” @ Cortina. Subsequent Tanus in 1970 didn’t get quite as coke-bottle esq shape with a huge castlated bonnet (and a coupe too).

    The Granada grilled prototype Paul is from the late 70’s and was a commission for French coach builders Heuilez. (Image from my dungeon). The actual mark 3 Transit story is clouded supposedly by the Renault Traffic’s introduction. Wether it was a game changer, or Ford was open to espionage is very (allegedly) very muddy water! But I would love to know the *true* story.

  6. Wouldn’t have been the 85/86 Transit?
    That van was styled to look more like the ‘Aero’ Fords.

    The slatted grille was pure late 70s/early 80s Ford. Perhaps a prototype or facelift proposal for the mk2?

    The Cargo lorry lived a long life, not only beyond the Iveco takeover, but also in the US, living on as a Freightliner, and in India as an Ashok-Leyland

  7. Sad news.

    Many of his designs seemed to set a benchmark, even if they were considered a bit too radical when first launched.

  8. A sad loss to the automotive world. Bahnsen’s Sierra, although heavily criticised at launch, was set to influence the aero trends of the 90s, and set new standards in interior and dashboard design which GM in particular were forced to address in the Mk3 Cavalier – in fact the car was a direct response, in style terms, to the Sierra. The work Uwe’s design studio at Ford produced in the 70s provided a unified and at the time, attractive product range, which perfectly epitomised the idea of ‘family image’ which was used to great effect by all mainstream manufacturers in later years, that the cars in the main were desirable, and capable of producing well executed ‘halo models’ (Capri 2.8i, XR2 etc) from ‘cooking’ models is also a credit to Uwe’s leadership. Finally, he was responsible for the Mk3 Escort, which, NVH issues besides, dragged Ford into the 1980s, and enabled it to take on the Golf on its own terms. It was also, in its purest 1980 form (ideally in Ghia trim) a very handsome car, with a lot of character, which sadly was eroded by too many facelifts.

  9. Very sorry to hear this sad news.The Toni project(Sierra)was certanly a trendsetting design,which doesn’t get the credit it deserves.Maybe thanks to the shock of the Sierra launch we don’t get any new cars with wow factor of the likes of the Citroen DS/SM,NSU Ro80,and Rover SD1 anymore.
    Thanks for memories Uwe.

  10. Incidentally, I’m sure a young Peter Stevens worked for Uwe Bahnsen on the Mk1 Granada’s interior……

  11. the sierra was a very radical looking car for its time (1980? ish) I still remember those Sierra Cosworths beating up Bathhurst – what amazing machines 🙂 alex

  12. This is a man like some other car designers. He will live in our memories when we will see his famous cars he has designed!

  13. He was a fantastic designer, an era closes. One minor nit, Mr. Bahnsen was involved with the Mk1 Capri as part of a team that included designers in the USA, UK, and DE. The lead styling team was in the UK under Phil Clark (an American). Mr. Bahnsen was subordinate to Mr. Clark, who died before the Mk1 Capri went into production (sales began in 1969). However, Mr. Bahnsen did head the styling team for the Capri Mk2, which debuted in 1974. You can clearly see strong elements of his later “slab-sided” designs in the Mk2 Capri, with its clean unfettered purposeful look. Condolences to Mr. Bahnsen’s family and friends.

  14. Wow, I looked at the list of the cars he designed and they’re basically the cars I grew up with. One of the other parties involved in the Sierra was Patrick Le QuĂ©ment who went on to be chief designer for Renault. Having that much talent designing one car must have been a blast..

  15. Sad news indeed, this mans 28 years of service with Ford Europe deserves recognition and respect, he was responsible for some sharp, clean, modern and desirable designs in that time. The 1976 Taunus/Cortina and the Mk2 Capri and the facelifts of these models were the best IMO. RIP Uwe, your work will always be admired.

  16. Am I missing something here? Why does the Escort look like someone styled it with a butter pat, and the Sierra is well, the Sierra? And the same chap was responsible? It send odd to me that they were both around the same time by the same person but are almost pathologically different..
    Incidentally my dad took one look at the original Sierra and we never had another Ford. The last Cortina was replaced by an indestructible Cavalier SRi thats the only car (+ caravan) in living memory to do Porlock on 3 wheels..
    The later Sierras did tidy up quite nicely, does my memory deceive or could you get the 2.3 petrol in them for a very short time?

    Requisat en pace..

  17. Le Quement was the chap responsible if I remember for the interior of the 25 which was very much carried forward into the Safrane. Interesting fact: the presidential limo version of the 25 & the Safrane I both had 2 extra fuel injectors fitted at the base of the B pillar, a button inside the car powered them up and you got two pretty effective if indiscriminate flamethrowers.. Shame it wasn’t an option for mine, could have come in useful..

  18. Some of his cleverest work involved re-skins of existing cars. Turning the baroque, US influenced MK3 Cortina and original Granada into clean European styled cars – MK4 Cortina and MK2 Granada – with only minimal panel changes.

  19. @20

    So much so that the estate variants carried over mostly unchanged, but still looked a variant of the original saloon.

    At least, less obvious than the mk1-mk2 Escort estate carry over.

  20. Thank you for this important tribute.

    I am not sure ‘who’ everone is at AROnlione but I appreciate it & enjoy. i am intrigued by the pic with the Transit ‘revision’ circa 70s. Is the guy with the moustache perhaps le Quement? But who are the others? What were they evaluating?

    Also, although the ‘team’ who were on the first 65 Transit are well documented in books led by Baumgartner – no one ever seems to a) get the design credit B) know exactly where the exterior of the 65 Transit was done – USA; Dagenham or ??

    So my Q – dear mr Elphick – do your vaults shed more light on such matters?

  21. Niall, I’m 90% sure that is Le Quement, but I’m a few miles away from the vault at present, so watch this space.

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