Remembering Former Ford CEO Harold Arthur 'Red' Poling

By Trevor Dorchies | May 18, 2012
Former Ford CEO Harold Arthur 'Red' Poling passed away last Saturday at his home in Pacific Grove, Calif. at the age of 86. Poling helped navigate the Blue Oval boys through some turbulent economic times back in the 1980's and can also be attributed with saving the automaker from the iron jaws of bankruptcy, and some of Ford's most popular cars came during Poling's watch as well. Known for his hard-line stance on trading with Japan, and practicing just-in-time parts delivery, Poling retired from Ford in 1993 after spending 43 years with the automaker in a variety of roles. Poling began his career at Ford as a cost analyst in 1951 after graduating from Indiana University with an MBA. He began his ascension up the Ford corporate ladder in 1972 when Poling was named vice president of finance for Ford of Europe. Poling was responsible for overseeing the construction of a $1 billion assembly facility in Spain which would produce the Fiesta. Ford would later name Poling president, a role he kept from 1985 to 1987, then vice-chairman from 1988 to 1989 and finally CEO and chairman from 1990 until he retired from the company in 1993. He also served in the Navy as a pilot in World War II and was offered a scholarship to play football at Wake Forest University, but Poling suffered a knee injury while serving effectively ending his college football career before it began. Poling is survived by his wife of 55 years, Marian, whom he met while they both worked at Ford in the 1950's, and his three children, Kathryn, Doug, and Pamela.
In honor of Poling's passing, we've compiled a list of the top five cars Ford introduced under his watch and direction which in essence, saved Ford. 1986 Ford Taurus
There's a reason you see the Ford Taurus everywhere and 'Red' Poling played a major role in getting the sedan onto the road. Poling was the man behind the $3 billion program that brought the Taurus into the fold for Ford. As it stands today, the Taurus is the fourth oldest nameplate in Ford's North American lineup, and has remained in nearly continuous production since 1985. In true Poling fashion, he delayed the initial launch of the Taurus by nine months to iron out some quality concerns. The first generation Taurus revolutionized car design in the mid-priced segment, bringing swooping, European styling that had only been seen on expensive luxury sedans up to that point. The smooth shape became an icon overnight.
1983 Ford Thunderbird
A change in the design leadership following an executive shake-up in 1980 spurred the redesign of the popular Thunderbird. The 1983 model year Thunderbird represented the coupe's ninth generation but also ushered in a more aerodynamic design. Production spanned from 1983 to 1988 with a final tally of 885,745 Thunderbirds made. The 1984 model year saw an optional three-speed transmission added along with a FILA model which featured different wheel designs and paint and as a result, 170,551 units were sold; the most in its brief history.
1981 Ford Escort
When it entered the North American market in 1981, the Ford Escort was merely a gentle redesign of the European variant. The Escort was Ford's first front-wheel drive vehicle built in North America and it had the pleasure of succeeding the Pinto as well as the Fiesta. During its 24 year run, the Escort became one of Ford's best-selling cars globally (although rebadged or renamed for different markets) and it was one of the best-selling models in the 1980's. A little known fact about the Escort is that it was the single-best-selling vehicle in the United States for the 1982 model year and continued to sell well throughout the decade. . Poling also delayed the introduction of an automatic transmission into the Escort until all quality issues could be sorted out.
1991 Ford Explorer
Serving as a replacement for the compact Ford Bronco II, the Explorer burst onto the scene in 1991 and almost singlehandedly started the SUV craze of the 90s. Production started in 1990 and goes on still today with over 3,750,000 units sold at the end of 2011. From 1998 to 2002, Ford moved more than 400,000 units a year. For the first 19 years of life, the Explorer was classified as a mid-size SUV but Ford reclassified it as a full-size crossover SUV starting with the 2011 model year. It's safe to say the Explorer has been one of Ford's strongest pillars since its introduction in 1991.
1979 Ford Mustang
Entering its third generation in 1979, the Mustang  sat atop the longer Fox platform and had its interior redesigned in order to more comfortably accommodate four occupants. With a powerful V-8 engine, the Fox-bodied Mustang reinvigorated the whole "pony car" market, and the easy to modify engine makes these cars popular among enthusaists even now, 30 years later. The Mustang proved so popular that its fans saved it from a potentially devastating decision:  As fuel prices steadily rose in the 80s, Ford began designing a Mustang replacement with front-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine. Development was already far along when Mustang enthusiasts caught wind of the decision...and acted. A letter writing campaign saved the car, and the replacement was renamed the Probe. The Mustang remained a front-engine, rear-wheel drive car, and a redesign forced by fans even earned the car the Motor Trend 1993 Car of the Year.
Source: Detroit News, Ford