Top 10 Car Designs by J Mays

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

In case you haven’t heard the news, J Mays is retiring from Ford. As group vice president and chief creative officer of Blue Oval design he’s kind of a big deal. But that’s not the extent of his achievements. Mays’ automotive career spans more than three decades with tenure at companies far beyond the one headquartered Dearborn, Mich.

He’s played pivotal roles in countless iconic designs, whether as the man pushing pencils, the person sculpting clay or the leadership guiding an entire department. Styling is a team effort; it’s hard to pin any one job on a single person. Really it’s the product of a thousand minds and twice as many hands.

Whether he was a stylist in the trenches or a manager in the corner office here are the Top 10 Vehicle Designs J Mays has played a roll in.

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most iconic cars ever built. It ranks right up there with products like the Ford Model T and Willys Jeep. The original Bug was in production for decades, spanning years between the late 1930s and the early 2000s. How’s that for a run?

When the company decided to introduce a new version of the Beetle they premiered the idea with a special design study; it was called the Concept One. This bubbly-looking car took a bow back in 1994, presaging the release of the New Beetle four years later.

Like a certain name-brand of electric mobility scooter this vehicle was “round for a reason,” featuring an arched roof, curving fenders, circular side-view mirrors and more. It was remarkably similar to the production version that came out in the 1998 model year.

But Mays’ penchant for retro styling didn’t end with his career at Volkswagen; the Ford Thunderbird unabashedly borrows design cues from past models. After a five-year hiatus the car was re-launched in 2002 and hung around until 2005 when executives decided to re-euthanize it… again.

This drop-top features round headlamps, a smiling grille and tapering body that drops from front to back. Drivers could opt for a retractable soft top or a removable hard roof with portholes windows, just like the original T-Bird. This car was part of a larger trend in the industry that saw retro-inspired vehicles such as the Plymouth Prowler and Mini Cooper land on the market.

Jumping from the Blue Oval back to the Volkswagen Group, Mays played a critical role in the creation of an eye-catching Audi, the Avus quattro Concept. This low-slung car featured a 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine and more than 500 horsepower.

Surprisingly this vehicle’s overall design is at least superficially reminiscent of the contemporary R8 supercar, which launched more than a decade and a half later. Like future Audis the Avus featured a weight-saving aluminum body, though its shell was polished to a blinding luster.

The Fusion is one of Ford’s most popular vehicles in North America. Dealers deliver hundreds of thousands of these midsize sedans each year. When the first version of this car went on sale for the 2006 model year it was a way for the company to hit the reset button. They’d lost their position in the market after selling the outdated Taurus for far too many years.

The new Fusion featured an attractively bold body dominated by a shiny three-bar grille. This design cue and many others were introduced on the Ford 427 concept, a vehicle Mr. Mays played a hand in. Beyond its front end the Fusion’s squared-off, circle-shaped headlamps (squircle in design terms) also took a bow on the 427.

Aside from a long, menacing body this concept also featured a 7.0-liter V10. It delivered a claimed 590 horsepower and sent all of that goodness to the rear wheels.

Adore it or abhor it, the Ford Flex is a bold design statement as well as a comfortable people hauler. It’s the Blue Oval’s answer to the minivan, a vehicle segment they’ve never really been able to figure out.

This large crossover is essentially a box on wheels, with a squared-off font end, flat back and familiar three-bar grille. It’s also dressed up with grooves that run down the side of its lengthy body. For better or worse the Flex is a vehicle that’s impossible to ignore.

Before the production version landed at dealers in 2008 the Ford Fairlane Concept showed the world what a vehicle designed with a T-square might look like. This Mays-aided concept car was remarkably similar to the version that went on sale, something that doesn’t happen very often.

While the Flex is a polarizing design not all of the vehicles created during Mays’ term as design honcho were so over the top. The Ford Five Hundred large sedan was a handsome, if utterly boring vehicle.

Introduced for the 2005 model year this car prioritized passenger space and cargo room over bold design. If customers wanted to make a statement or impress their neighbors the Chrysler dealership down the street would be all too happy to sell them a 300 sedan, complete with a massive grille and rear-wheel-drive proportions.

Of course the Five Hundred’s inoffensive wrapper concealed equally anodyne mechanicals. They were hauled around by overtaxed 3.0-liter Duratec V6 engines with scarcely more than 200 horsepower. Resourceful transmissions made the best of a bad situation.

The Ford Five Hundred may not have been very exciting, but at least it was a solid product. It’s questionable whether the Lincoln Blackwood luxury pickup truck was either.

This is a vehicle that probably should have been left on the drawing board. Lincoln ignited the luxury SUV craze when they introduced the Navigator in 1999. Looking to capitalize on this frenzy, they tried to make lightening strike twice with the Blackwood.

Unfortunately this vehicle has gone down as one of the company’s greatest failures. The luxo-truck featured a bed constructed of composites, a crew-cab body and African wenge wood trim on its sides. Despite the visually unique design elements dealers failed to deliver many Blackwoods – even at discounted prices. The model was swiftly – and wisely – dropped.

Like the abovementioned 427 design study Ford’s Interceptor Concept is a very bold-looking vehicle. While it never made it into production the car was a stunner when it was revealed at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

It was created under Mays’ watchful eye and featured a large, long body with narrow side glass, massive wheels and a blunt front end that’s more akin to a cinder-block wall than an automotive grille. But arguably design is not the car’s most exciting feature.

Supposedly this sedan was built on the Mustang’s rear-wheel-drive architecture. As such it featured a six-speed manual transmission and a 400-horsepower 5.0-liter “Cammer” V8 engine sourced from the Ford Racing catalogue; it also ran on E85. Why didn’t you build this car, Ford? WHY?!

Like the Interceptor, Ford’s Shelby GR-1 is another great concept that got away. This stunning two-door took a bow at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show and we haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

This beauty was powered by a naturally aspirated 6.4-liter V10 – that’s 390 cubic inches for all of you old-school muscle enthusiasts out there. It delivered a walloping 605 horsepower. Best of all, that beastly engine was dropped in a curvaceous, eye-catching body finished in polished aluminum for maximum blinding ability on sunny days.

Another benefit of this concept is that it was built on the same architecture as Ford’s other supercar, the one that actually made it into production…

And that right there, folks is a transition. The GR-1 shares the same bones as the legendary – and cut-your-scrotum-off desirable – Ford GT. This modern muscle machine could go bumper-to-bumper with contemporary Ferraris and Lamborghinis and come out on top.

The GT’s design was a modern interpretation of Ford’s Le Mans winning GT-40 racecar from the 1960s. It’s super low to the ground with large, curving fenders and a rear-mounted engine. And boy, what a powerplant it was.

The GT was propelled by a supercharged 5.4-liter modular V8 delivering 550 horsepower. It was matched exclusively to a six-speed manual transmission. High-performance Brembo brakes brought everything to a fade-fee stop.

This vehicle was penned by designer Camilo Pardo but with Mays calling the shots. Of all the work he’s done – and supervised – over the past three decades this car has got to be the most exhilarating both because of the way it looks and the fact that it made it into production.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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  • Vlaz Vlaz on Nov 13, 2013

    The only designs of his that I like are the Ford Shelby GR-1 Concept and the GT.