GreatGarages: Lincoln at 100

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 10/2020
  • posted in: Great Garages

The first vote Henry Leland cast was for Abraham Lincoln in 1864; more than five decades later, he named his car for his hero. That great automotive marque, Lincoln, is 100 this year.

Leland was one of the founders of Cadillac, which joined General Motors in 1909; he stayed on in an executive position until 1917, when he and the company’s president, William Durant, squabbled.

In August of that year, Leland and son Wilfred founded the Lincoln Motor Company, making Liberty V-12 engines for World War I, then Lincoln cars. The company had a tough road transitioning to a peacetime economy, and it was placed in receivership.

1933_Lincoln_KA12_Roadster

The Ford Motor Company, at Edsel Ford’s suggestion, purchased Lincoln from bankruptcy for $8 million February 4, 1922. To date, 3,407 Lincolns had been produced, according to Ford Motor Company Archives. The Lelands stayed on to manage, but father and son were removed in June.

Beginning the next year, you could obtain a Model L with coachbuilt bodywork, following other luxury cars such as Duesenberg and Rolls-Royce. That year Ford produced 7,875 cars from the Detroit plant, almost doubling the Lelands’ output.

The company has posted a number of firsts. In 1961, Lincoln Continental offered the industry’s first 12-month/12,000-mile warranty which was soon upped to 2-year/ 24,000 miles when other companies matched the one year/12k.

1939_Lincoln_Zephyr_Special_for_Edsel_Ford

And, in 1989 the automatic overdrive transmission and the electronic instrument panel were standard. Dual air-bags also became standard on Continental models that year. The standard radial tires on the Continental Mark III and the optional Sure-Track Brake System are also American firsts. And, in 1974 the Quick Defrost system debuted for the windshield and rear window in the Continental Mark IV.

Lincoln produced its one-millionth car March 25, 1968, at the Wixom Assembly Plant. In October 1997, the five-millionth vehicle was built. In 1978, the Ford Motor Company released a Diamond Jubilee Edition Continental Mark V to celebrate the 75th anniversary.

In July 1998, the company’s first SUV, the Navigator debuted, powered today by a standard 450-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter engine.

1939_Lincoln_ Model_K_V_12_body_by_Brunn

Lincolns have starred in the movies as well as on the street, especially the 1964 Continental: Goldfinger (1964): Animal House (1978); The Matrix (1999); and, on television, a 1965 Continental, Entourage (2004–2011).

Abraham, Henry and Edsel

1920 Lincoln “L” –– Henry Leland released his first car September 14, 1920, in Detroit. An ad promised the coupe delivers “consummate ease, comfort and convenience.” Even more, “The entire bearing is one of grace, dignity and individuality.”

1946_Lincoln_Indy_500_Pace_Car_for_Henry_Ford_II

The car was to rival luxury cars such as Cadillac, Pierce-Arrow, Peerless, Marmon, Packard, Duesenberg and Rolls-Royce. The “L” series cars were powered by an L-head V-8 engine based on the Liberty V-12 which he and Wilfred had produced for World War I.

After Ford took over, the cars became “a combination of Henry Leland’s precision production of his company’s best chassis, Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing, and Edsel Ford’s dedication to stylish coachwork,” says the company archives.

Calvin Coolidge, elected president in 1924, chose a Lincoln L as his presidential car. In 1939, the Secret Service leased the “Sunshine Special” for President Franklin Roosevelt; six-feet high, the armor-plated car weighed 9,300 pounds and was 21 ½ feet long. He used it at Yalta, Casablanca, Teheran and Malta, and the limo stayed in presidential service for 11 years.

1956_Continental_Mk_II

The final year for the “L” series was 1930. The outstanding “K” cars followed, the first model produced completely by Ford; three available wheelbases could be chosen, and 20 coachbuilders created cars. The “K” series cars were produced through 1940.

Both later “L” and “K” cars carried the greyhound logo designed by Rhode Island master silversmith Jabez Gorham to note their grace, elegance and speed.

1939 Lincoln Zephyr Special (for Edsel Ford) –– The V-12-powered car was designed by Eugene ‘Bob’ Gregorie (1908–2002), a brilliant high-school dropout who became head of the Ford’s Design Department.

1962 Lincoln Continental

The original limited-production Lincoln Zephyr Continental Cabriolet was a 1940 model and the division’s top of the line; in 1941 it became a separate model Lincoln. This was America’s first popular streamlined vehicle.

Edsel Ford presented the first one (of 104) to actor Mickey Rooney who had filmed Young Tom Edison at Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Michigan. Henry Ford established the campus in 1933; here he relocated and reconstructed historic buildings, including a replica of Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory.

In 1940, the Zephyr finished the 306.5-mile Gilmore Yosemite Run. Officially discontinued two years later because of World War II, the car appeared under the Lincoln brand until 1949.

1962 Lincoln Continental convertible

1946 Lincoln Indy 500 Pace Car –– For this year’s Indy 500, Henry Ford II drove a 1946 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet pace car. Fourteen years earlier, his father, Edsel, had driven a 1932 Lincoln KB Murphy Model 248 two-door convertible to begin America’s great race.

Other Lincolns have fared well on the track. In 1921, W.W. ‘Bill’ Bramlette guided his 1921 Lincoln Road Runner to a first place at the Nevada 1000-Mile race. In 1954, a Lincoln entry in the Mexican Road Race was first.

1956 Lincoln Mk II –– In September 1938, Edsel Ford returned to The United States from Europe determined to build a car exemplifying continental elegance; he and Gregorie chatted about ideas.

1961_Lincoln_Continental_brochure_coach_doors

On March 1, 1939, Edsel Ford received the inaugural Mark I at his Florida home. The first publically available car was a 1941 model, also known as the Lincoln Continental. The last Mark I appeared in 1948. In 1959, Time magazine ranked the model number six out of the “100 best-designed commercial products of modern times.”

Well received and wider and longer than its predecessors, the 1956 Continental debuted at the Paris Auto Show October 6, 1955, but its price of $9,695 outpriced the market. The car is not a Lincoln, however, as a new Continental division was established in 1955, lasting just two years. The signature four-point star badge first appeared on the 1956 Continental Mark II, designed by Robert Thomas.

Lincoln and Lincoln Continental built only 3,000 Continental Mark IIs from 1955 to 1957. Nelson Rockefeller had one as well as Barry Goldwater, Frank Sinatra, Cecil B. DeMille, R.J. Reynolds, Bill Harrah, Elvis Presley and the Shah of Iran

1965_Lincoln_Continental_Sedan

1961 Lincoln Continental –– On October 3, 1960, the company debuted the now famous coach or “suicide doors”: Both front and rear connect to the “B” pillar, opening in the middle.

“Notice the doors,” an advertisement began, touting the car’s glamour and elegance. “And notice how they open. From the center, to make everyone’s entrances graceful.”

The car is powered by a 300-horsepower 430-cid V-8. Notable owners included Walt Disney, Neil Young and Pablo Picasso. The center-opening doors are available through 1969.

1969_Lincoln_Mark_III

They inspired no suicides, the company says, and collectors love them for that dramatic Hollywood door placement as well as the chrome-accented upper shoulder line.

1965 Lincoln Continental four-door sedan –– Fitted with a 429-cubic-inch V-8 and an automatic, this classic “boat” has 320 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. At 5,475 pounds, it could do about 120 mph and offered around 10 mpg, but no one cared about the cost of gas then, even premium. Equally fetching is the four-door convertible.

1969 Lincoln Mark III –– On April 5, 1968, the 365-horsepower Lincoln Continental Mark III debuted, weighing a luxurious 4,470 pounds in pre-gas-crisis times. The famous Lee Iacocca charge to the designers: “Gimme a Thunderbird with a Rolls-Royce grille.”

1979_Lincoln_Mark_V_Bill_Blass_Edition

Three years later, on Sept. 17, 1971, Ford revealed the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. To celebrate Ford’s 50 years as owner of the marque, a Lincoln Continental Golden Anniversary Town Car also premiered.

1979 Lincoln Mark V Bill Blass Edition –– Named for the Indiana-born clothes designer, William Ralph Blass (1922–2002), the division produced the special edition from 1976 to 1992 to recall “an all-American yachting party on the Fourth of July.” With two-tone paint, gold pinstripe, choice of roof styles, the fashion designer car in 1979 added $2,744 to the sticker of a standard Continental.

In July 1979, the Lincoln Continental Mark VI appeared, and in November 1983 the 1984 Lincoln Mark VII, with the word “Continental” dropped. The 1993 Mark VIII, the last of the Mark series, appeared in December 1992. In June 1998, a Mark VIII Collector’s Edition was offered in limited numbers with special paint, trim and other details.

80th Anniversary Lincoln Continental

Valentino, Versace, Cartier, Pucci and Givenchy also created special editions. Jack Nicklaus took a swing at Lincoln design, too, for the 1992–1993 Signature Series Town Car, a model introduced in 1990.

2019/2020 Lincoln Continental Coach Door –– The top-of-the line model was limited to 80 for 2019 –– the 80th Anniversary Edition –– and continues through 2020.

Power comes from a 3-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, with 400 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Drivers personalize their road experience with three modes, Normal, Sport and Comfort.

1921 Leland Lincoln ad. Courtesy Lincoln Motor Company

Lincoln added six inches to the wheelbase for larger coach doors and more legroom. And, buyers can take advantage of Lincoln’s Black Label options, including Chalet and Thoroughbred.

“This Lincoln Continental echoes a design that captured the hearts of car enthusiasts around the world,” said Joy Falotico, president, The Lincoln Motor Company, at its release. “It’s something bespoke or unique only Lincoln can offer in a thoroughly modern way.”

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