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Uwe Bahnsen 1930-2013
by Jens Meiners   
Uwe Bahnsen 1930-2013. Portrait © Alistair Morrison. Click for larger images
1982 Ford Sierra – once controversial, now seen as a milestone in modern car design
Bahnsen is remembered as a truly professional designer
1986 Scorpio/Granada was one of his final projects before leaving Ford

The design world remembers Uwe Bahnsen, who passed away on 30 July aged 83. Born in Hamburg, he studied Fine Arts at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste before joining Ford in 1958. His final position at the blue oval was vice president of design, which he held until 1986.

After retiring, Bahnsen joined the Art Center of Design's European subsidiary in Vevey, Switzerland in 1986, where he quickly rose to the position of director. He served in this capacity until 1995. His retirement was spent in Southern France.

One of his first projects at Ford was the 'bathtub' Taunus P3
Bahnsen oversaw the redesigns of the Ford Escort (above) and Capri (below) into their second generations

Soon after joining Ford, Bahnsen was involved in the design of Wes Dahlberg's forward-looking 1960 Taunus P3 ‘bathtub'. Down the road, he oversaw the shaping of many successful Ford models, including the European-market 1973 Capri II, the 1975 Escort II, and the ultra-clean 1977 Ford Granada. 

He reached the height of public recognition with the launch of the 1982 Ford Sierra and the 1985 Ford Scorpio/Granada, both of which were designed under his tutelage. Some of his designs were controversial in their time, but are considered milestones today.

Bahnsen is fondly and respectfully remembered both by his former colleagues at Ford and by his students at the Art Center in Vevey. Ford designer Wolfgang Gotschke describes him as a "true gentleman" and an "excellent boss"; former CCS teacher and Detroit-based designer Marc Florian, who graduated at the Art Center in Vevey, said that he "spent a lot of time with each individual student" and remembers his "quiet and distinguished style." German-based designer Roland Ihrig says: "Uwe made a lot possible for designers today."

Bahnsen's influence on car design is mirrored in some personal comments by former Renault chief designer and the co-founder of the Sustainable Design School, Patrick Le Quément, who describes Bahnsen as a mentor and patron. He remembers Bahnsen's "continuous battle to promote a rigorous discipline and professionalism, values that I shared with him. We both wanted to eradicate the type of comments that result when designers arrived late at meetings and where someone would inevitably utter 'Ah, those artists!'."

Bahnsen believed that a new generation of designers should be groomed to become senior managers and be the equals of financiers and engineers, says Le Quément, and this made him a visionary among his peers. He remembers him as "a sensitive, a courageous man, talented and caring about his team, his people. When I think of him I have an image of a meticulous, smartly dressed individual, holding a long cigarette in one hand and a 3H pencil in the other."

After his tenure at the Art Center in Vevey, Bahnsen served as president of the ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design). The racing enthusiast spent his retirement in Southern France, devoting a lot of his time to the field of art. Besides creating his own masterpieces, Bahnsen was an avid collector of Russian Constructivist art. He is survived by his wife Maureen.