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Lincoln opens historical archives for century-long tour

The Model L was Lincoln’s first car.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Lincoln turns 100 This year. To commemorate the centennial, Roadshow took an intimate tour of the company archives in Dearborn, Michigan. On display were carefully selected historical documents, important memorabilia and of course iconic cars from the luxury brand’s past, artifacts that celebrate the highs – and acknowledge the lows – of Lincoln’s history.

The early years

At the behest of his wife, Clara, and son, Edsel, Lincoln was purchased by Henry Ford from fellow Henry, machinist and renowned contractor Henry Leland for the modest sum of $8 million on February 4, 1922. As a result , this 100th anniversary marks the year Lincoln was acquired by Ford, not the date of its founding, which was a few years earlier in 1917. lincoln was created to build aircraft engines during World War I and perhaps not coincidentally, the notion of flight is something the automaker has emphasized throughout its history and continues to do today. today.

After the surrender of Germany and the end of hostilities, Lincoln began producing its first vehicle, the Model L. “Leland was known for his precision engineering, however, he was not known for style or beauty. of his cars,” explained Ted Ryan, who led our tour. He is responsible for the archives and the heritage brand at Ford. An imposing, if not flamboyant vehicle, the Model L on display nevertheless has an important historical provenance – Henry Ford gave this car to his mentor and friend, Thomas Edison.

Henry Ford gave this Lincoln Model L to Thomas Edison.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

A wind of change

But the man who would completely revamp Lincoln’s model line and transform its image from old-fashioned to designer was none other than Edsel Ford. A lover of the arts, he became president of the brand shortly after its acquisition. Lincoln’s makeover began with the beautiful Model K, which cemented the company as a maker of well-designed and tastefully styled cars.

Unfortunately, the expensive Model K did not sell well during the Great Depression, so Edsel led the development of a more affordable model. “He quickly pivoted, built and designed what is considered a… classic today, the Lincoln Zephyr“, Ryan said. Introduced in 1936, “It wasn’t the very first streamlined car in the world,” he noted, alluding to designs like the star-crossed Chrysler airflow and various Tatras, “But it was the first that was widely accepted by the public.”

Named after a westerly breeze, the Zephyr is a design icon and one of the most beautiful Lincolns ever. Built to cheat the wind like an airplane “even the teardrop logo once again calls out the aerodynamics,” Ryan noted.

The Zephyr was, and still is, an icon of automotive design.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

The Ford Archives contains approximately 16,000 cubic feet of archival and historical documents. To prevent degradation, some 3 million photographic negatives are stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms, while more than 10,000 film and video titles are kept in separate coolers. The company history preserved in these archives is irreplaceable.

Iconic designs

the Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche 911 and Honda-Civic are all revered, but Lincoln’s most iconic nameplate is almost certainly the Continental, a car of curious beginnings. After a vacation in Europe, Edsel was inspired by the dramatically styled vehicles he saw in the old world, so he ordered a unique version of the Zephyr with an extended hood and short rear. The Continental was born.

After it was built, Edsel took this custom car on a trip to Florida. The vehicle proved so popular that Ryan said it “would have returned with orders for over 200 Continentals”, which was enough for it to officially join the Lincoln lineup. One look at Edsel’s personal model from 1941 and it’s easy to see why. The car is gorgeous, and its flathead V12 engine delivered, for now at least, a heady 120 horsepower.

This is the Lincoln X-100 concept and it’s packed with modern features.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Jumping forward, the 1953 Lincoln X-100 prototype, with its jet-inspired design, is another marque highlight. Built to celebrate Ford Motor Company’s 50th anniversary, the car is a laboratory on wheels. Ryan said: “It’s supposed to be your Jetson’s car of the future, with every innovation known to man.” Amenities like a rain-sensing sunroof, heated seats, a telephone and even integrated hydraulic cylinders were included – and way ahead of their time. The vehicle even had a variable volume horn and an electric shaver. Yes, you could shave on your way to work.

Another legendary Lincoln is the Continental Mk 2. Its introduction was led by William Clay Ford as a tribute to his late father, Edsel. Production of this fine machine began in 1952 and only 3,000 were built. Highlighting its exclusivity, celebrities and dignitaries from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra to President Dwight D. Eisenhower all owned one. But this car is not only important for its sultry looks. “The other interesting story with the Continental Mk 2 is the star,” said Ryan, Lincoln’s logo for decades. “The star was designed the day before the board meeting where they actually selected the vehicle and selected the emblem,” he added. Yes, Lincoln could have easily had a different logo than today.

A near-death experience

The next-generation Continental was sort of a step backwards. These massive cars were much more ordinary than their predecessors and they looked showy, which was hardly surprising in the late 1950s. Yet what emerged was one of the most iconic vehicles of all. the temperature.

Showing a stack of original company documents, Ryan explained that in a meeting on January 5, 1959, the Product Planning Committee decided on the future of the Lincoln brand. The group was presented with four options: they could continue with their current range, the company could develop an entirely different range of vehicles, Lincoln could create a new model similar to the Ford Thunderbird in its appeal or they could close shop altogether. and leave the luxury market. And you thought CEO Alan Mullaly was the first to consider firing Lincoln. In the end, the product planners chose option three, “and the resulting car is the 1961 Continentalsaid Ryan, who is a motoring legend, big but not ostentatious, sleek but not bland, big but smaller than her rivals of the day.

Do you think boxy is foxy?

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Arguably, another low point is the 1979 Continental Mk 5 Cartier Edition on display during our tour. No, this yacht-sized two-door isn’t out of step with its era, but the car’s aggressively boxy body (and the 460-cubic-inch V8 that delivers fair 202 horsepower) looks surprisingly outdated compared to its more restrained predecessors. Still, buyers at the time liked what they saw, “And it became such a popular edition of the Lincoln Continental that at one point a quarter of all Continentals sold were Designer Series” , Ryan said. “And that continued for several decades…additional designers were added to the series after the fact.” This included jewelry and fashion houses like Bill Blass, Pucci and Givenchy. These outlets helped build cars with unique colors, stripes, and special interior details.

From the 1970s to the 2000s, Lincoln was lost. It didn’t have a strong brand identity or seemingly any idea what it should be. But even in those dark days, there were still some hits, like the Navigator which arrived in 1998. Based on the Ford Expedition, this vehicle helped rekindle the luxury SUV craze we are still experiencing. today. In fact, Lincoln’s 2022 U.S. lineup is comprised exclusively of utility vehicles: the Corsair, Nautilus, Aviator and yes, Navigatorwhich has just been refreshed, with an updated style and hands-free highway driving capability.

The future and beyond

But what are Lincoln’s future plans? Well, like other automakers, the brand has plans to go electric in a big way, but it’s unlikely to abandon its core ethos. “Quiet Flight” has been Lincoln’s slogan for a few years, but it’s nothing new. “[Certainly] aviation is inspiring, but sometimes…mechanical aviation can be a little loud and overbearing,” said Robert Gelardi, Lincoln’s chief interior designer. “So we tend to look at nature too,” he noted, pointing to 1920s advertisements that include colorful paintings of exotic birds, a campaign that could easily work today.

Going forward, Gelardi said, we can expect to see vehicles with strongly horizontal interior and exterior design cues as well as restrained exuberance. “We never look back to try to resurrect anything, do we? We always look to the future, and you’ll soon see some of that.”


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