Meet the woman who helped design the new Ford Bronco and see why she considers the legendary SUV a multigenerational passion (F)

Molly Gillies has been a fan of the Ford Bronco since she was 16.

Now 25, Gillies is a clay modeler at Ford. It’s one of those jobs that everyone in the automotive world knows about, but few outside have ever heard of. And for Gillies, it’s a multigenerational experience: her grandfather, Frank DeBono, was a clay sculptor at Ford for 40 years — and had worked on the original Bronco from the mid-1960s. (DeBono died just as the new Bronco was launched last week.)

Gillies created clay models of the new Bronco using handmade tools passed down to her by her grandfather. 

“The concept of the tools is the same,” she said in an interview with Business Insider, right before the new Bronco’s debut. “They’re tried and true, and they’ve kept their quality.”

Frank DeBono's tools
Frank DeBono’s tools.

Gillies learned how to be an artist and a craftsperson quite literally at her grandfather’s knee. The two built birdhouses together when she was a child. She later moved on to making pottery in high school, and then went to art school before joining Ford, initially as an intern.

For Bronco, she worked closely with a master modeler, who would assign her to work on part of the design. Clays are created in various sizes, from tabletop models to full-size mock-ups of a vehicle that showcase every detail and character line. Car designers typically learn how to work with clay when they’re still in school. And modelers such as Gillies play an essential role in the new-car development process.

Frank DeBono Bronco
Frank DeBono working on the original Bronco logo in the 1960s.

“It’s a lot of trial and error,” Gillies said. “We could spend weeks working on a fender, making minute changes.”

Designers have an urgent need to see what they’ve created in a sketchbook or digital drafting program translated into reality. For Bronco, it was even more imperative, as the entire program was guided by “human-centric” design, a passion of Ford CEO Jim Hackett. The Bronco was designed from the beginning to be used for serious off-roading and outdoorsy activities.

“The designers are working in two dimension, and they want to see what their line really looks like,” Gillies said.

Molly Gilles Bronco
Gillies working on a full-size Bronco clay model.

Thus far, Gillies and her Ford colleagues have been rewarded for their attention to detail. The Bronco is among the most eagerly anticipated vehicles of the past few years; enthusiasts have been pining for a new version of the SUV since the previous generation was discontinued in 1996. And when the new Bronco family of vehicles was revealed — a two-door, a four-door, and a smaller Sport trim, all with proper four-wheel-drive — Ford was confronted by so many $100 preorders that the website set up to receive them briefly crashed.

Gillies could have anticipated that reaction.

“It’s easy for people to view cars as hunks of metal,” she said. “But so much time and passion goes into these vehicles.”

That was a revelation that her time with her late grandfather had prepared her for.

“It’s more than just model making,” she said.

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