To this day, when you see a picture of the 1955 Lincoln Futura, you can't help but get a sense that it was something special. Indeed it was.
The Futura was the most dramatic, and some say the most successful, Lincoln concept car ever built. As the Futura, the car no longer exists. But reincarnated, so to speak, it lives on: You know it as the Batmobile from the campy Sixties TV version of the Batman saga.
It's regularly seen on tour by thousands of people around the world. To car buffs it hurts to have to acknowledge that the Batmobile is more famous and commercially successful than the Futura, but it's true.
The Futura was the brainchild of Bill Schmidt. As Lincoln-Mercury Division's chief stylist from 1945 to 1955, Schmidt was also responsible for the update of the 1950 and 1951 Lincolns, the design of the 1952 Lincoln, the 1953 Lincoln XL 500 concept car, and the 1956 Lincoln. Schmidt was a talented and progressive stylist who got his start at the old Ford Trade School in 1940 and then went to work in the Ford styling studio under Bob Gregorie beginning in about 1942.
At the time he designed the Futura, he was an old hand -- if someone in his early thirties can be referred to in that way. He was not only the leader of the Lincoln-Mercury design team, he was as prolific a stylist as any of the people under him, and as can be seen from the Futura, on the cutting edge or a little beyond it.
Schmidt was responsible for the concept and initial design of the Futura, and with the assistance and suggestions of the other stylists and engineers on the project, he shepherded the dream car into finished form. The Futura, however, was not the product of one person any more than any other concept car has ever been the product of a single person.
The Ford public relations department claimed that Schmidt got the idea for the Futura as a result of a 1952 diving encounter with a shark while he was vacationing in the Bahamas. That's true, but there's more to the story.
That same year, during a cold Michigan winter, Schmidt and Bill Mitchell -- then Harley Earl's second-in-command at GM styling -- vacationed together in the Bahamas. Both men were fascinated by the tropical sea life they saw, and especially by the shimmer of the fish they observed under water.
The trip turned out to have a profound impact on auto history; not only did Schmidt take inspiration from the abundant sea life of the Caribbean, but Mitchell also drew upon the experience when creating the Corvette XP-755 Shark concept car and the production 1963 Corvette Sting Ray.
Find out what other factors played a role in the Futura design on the next page.