CHICAGO – Like it or not, the future of Ford Div. design rides on the pen of a Brit named Joe.

Joe Baker is the chief designer of Ford’s 427 concept, a sinister, rear-wheel-drive sedan that bowed at the 2003 Detroit auto show, characterized by a grille carrying three solid longitudinal bars and solid body design bound together by straight-edge lines.

Ford’s 427 concept.

Next year, Baker’s gritty styling cues will show up on the ’06 Ford Fusion midsize sedan, and they’ll eventually matriculate throughout Ford’s lineup – including freshened editions of the Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle cross/utility vehicle, company executives tell Ward’s.

“The 427 is really an inspiration for a new look of Ford cars,” says Edward Golden, Ford Motor Co.’s design director-product creation in North America.

At the 2003 Detroit show, Baker said his 427 design was inspired by ’60s-era Ford sedans, including the Galaxy and Fairlane, and his love for that design genre was steeled by his addiction to 1970s films, such as Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver.

The 427’s aggressive personality, which Ford’s Global Design Chief J Mays once referred to as “a fist that could drive through a wall,” is a clear break from the aerodynamic car designs of Ford’s past – most dramatically demonstrated in the nose-to-the-ground ’96 Taurus, Golden says.

427 DNA underpins the next-generation of Ford design.

Golden helped lead the campaign to lift the Taurus to a more confident stance in 2000 and ever since has been calling for an ubiquitous toughness to characterize both Ford truck and car design.

“The whole car side of the business had been beaten down by aerodynamics to the point where aerodynamics was king,” he says. “All the cars were subordinate to the aerodynamics, whereby the trucks’ solution to aerodynamics was to intimidate the wind with their size.

“So, I said we need to get a little bit of that (truck) pride in our cars…make it a little tougher. Who wants to drive a Ford Frail?”

In the future, Golden says Ford-branded trucks and cars will carry more and more interchangeable cues: “I don’t think we’ll be putting Super Duty grilles on our cars, but the 427 grille really (works to bridge that gap).”

The ’05 Five Hundred and Freestyle adopt some of the Explorer SUV’s toughness, Golden says, but that design theme has reached the end of the road and the next-generation has considerable “potential” to carry 427 cues.

In fact, Ford considered holding back the Five Hundred and Freestyle in order to accommodate the new 427 theme, says Paul Mascarenas, executive director-medium and large front- and all-wheel-drive platforms. But the auto maker’s business plan would have suffered needlessly.

“The question is where do you start, where do you finish?” Mascarenas explains. “We did look at whether we should pull ahead the 427 appearance for these vehicles, but we were well into the program before the 427 front end matured and it would have meant delay in the launch. And frankly, delaying the launch just wouldn’t have financially paid back.

“It was better to launch on time with quality and then set up the right cadence in terms of launching the nameplates with the new front end, and then migrating the existing nameplates to that front over time. And it’s more than just a new front end, it’s a whole new look.”

Ford’s makeover will be accompanied by one at Lincoln, characterized by the 2004 Aviator CUV concept’s egg-crate grille and likely to bow with the next-generation Aviator. Golden is careful to point out that Lincoln will become more of an elegant, Bentley-chaser rather than feature a sporty design DNA and risk being called a Cadillac follower.

“Don’t think about Cadillac, think about Bentley…we don’t want to be chasing Cadillac.”

Once Lincoln’s design is on the road, Ford will have three distinct signatures for its domestic brands, including the vertical waterfall look carried by Mercury, Ford’s three horizontal bars and the Lincoln egg crate.

“That sets our designers up to know what it is we’ll be dealing with in the near future,” Golden says. “It’s almost setting up a bill of process for them. Some of them don’t like the constraints, because they want to be creative and start with a clean sheet of paper. And we have those opportunities for them as well, because we’re not going to have the waterfall grille, the egg crate or the three bars forever.”