DETROIT -

Most people in Detroit know the name William (Bill) Clay Ford only as owner of the Lions, but his career in the family business -- building cars -- started back in the 1940s while he was still in college.

While the Lions were William Clay Ford's passion, the family business was his calling. Born in Kansas City in March of 1925, he was one of Henry Ford's four grandchildren.

As the story goes, he learned to drive in a Model "A" with the man who designed it sitting in the passenger seat.

Bill Ford senior went to Yale, but the wheels on his automotive career were already turning. While still in school he was named to the Ford Motor Company's board of directors and would keep that position until 2005.

Bill Ford had a keen eye for design and is credited with bringing the company's cars into the modern era, notably with the rollout of the 1955 Continental Mark Two, regarded as one of the most innovative of its time.

Bill Ford never ascended to the company's top seat, his brother Henry took that role. His most lasting effect on the carmaker may have been his stubborn insistence that the family not give up control of the company when it went public in 1956.

By demanding that the family retain 40 percent of the voting rights through a special class of stock, Bill Ford ensured the family's influence that his grandfather's company would stay in place for generations to come.

A statement from Bill Ford Jr. said his father "was a wonderful family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather who will continue to inspire us all."