1961 Lincoln Continental

By January 1959, design of the 1961 Lincoln Continental, Lincoln's "last chance" effort, was finally rounding out. See more classic car pictures.

Lincoln's 1961 models had timeless style that gave the marque a template for sorely needed design consistency. But if an impatient Robert McNamara had been a bit more insistent, the stunning 1961 Lincoln Continental -- or any other Lincoln -- never would have been seen.

During its 80-plus years, Lincoln has almost gone under three times. On each occasion, it was rescued at the 11th hour. Each "salvation" was followed by cars that were critical or commercial successes.

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Sometime before 1920, Henry Ford's wife, Clara, discovered she liked chauffeur-driven cars, which Cadillac produced but Ford didn't. By 1922, Lincoln, a new Cadillac competitor, was in bankruptcy and facing liquidation.

Henry Ford bought Lincoln from the bankruptcy court to get his wife out of a Cadillac and into a Ford product. Then he turned the day-to-day operation of Lincoln over to his son, Edsel.

Artistically, Edsel Ford was gifted, but by 1935, after years of building beautiful cars, the Great Depression had reduced Lincoln's sales to a trickle and Lincoln was once again in mortal danger. Only the new mid-priced Lincoln-Zephyr, championed by Edsel Ford and introduced in the fall of 1935, saved Lincoln from certain extinction a second time.

The marque faced the ax a third time in the summer of 1958, when Robert McNamara, Ford Motor Company group vice president for vehicle operations, told Lincoln management that its product ought to be discontinued because he saw little hope of reversing Lincoln's long-term losses. (Lincoln was then on its way to $60 million in losses for the 1958-60 period.)

The 1961 Lincoln Continental came about as a last-ditch effort to save Lincoln by making it profitable. As such, it proved to be a testament to the notion of the "last chance": Not only did it begin a period of rising sales, but it won new prestige for Lincoln, as well.

But before charging ahead with development of the 1961 Continental, Lincoln management wanted to determine why the car-maker had fallen behind its competitors. Find out what Lincoln discovered -- and how it responded -- in the next section.

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Lincoln Institutes Design Study

Lincoln took a hard look at itself before the 1961 Lincoln Continental was planned. In May 1955, George Walker, a design consultant to Ford since the late 1940s, was hired as the company's vice president of design. Walker's primary assistants were Joe Oros for the Ford lines and Elwood Engel for Lincoln-Mercury.

On Engel's recommendation, Walker appointed longtime Ford designer John Najjar head of the Lincoln design studio, and Najjar and Engel set about designing the 1958 Lincoln.

The ultimate failure of the 1958 Lincoln, and the backlash it created, resulted in Najjar's replacement by Don DeLaRossa as head of the Lincoln studio in October 1957. DeLaRossa wanted something different -- and smaller, but because of budget and time constraints, he was able to generate no more than superficial changes on the 1959 and 1960 Lincolns.

Ford executive Ben D. Mills instituted a study to determine what Lincoln had been doing wrong and, more importantly, what had to be done to make Lincoln profitable. Mills, who had been named general manager of a newly freestanding Lincoln Division in 1955 and who later headed a short-lived Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln (M-E-L) group, set up a small internal committee.

It included DeLaRossa, who enlisted the help of Gene Bordinat, then in charge of the Mercury studio, to consider why Cadillac had been so successful, and why Lincoln had not achieved the same level of sales, respect, or profitability.

Bordinat and DeLaRossa eventually concluded that Lincoln lacked design consistency during the 1949-1958 period. Cadillac appealed to the same market year after year with cars that at least looked like they were related. Lincoln did not.

Mills saw the problem as far more complex. He felt an unduly influential Walker had pushed the 1958 Lincoln on Ford's Product Planning Committee without sufficient consideration of its profitability. Mills and McNamara shared a general belief that Lincolns were too big, and that they relied on too many design clichés that were likely to go out of style all too quickly.

Mills concluded that the fastest way to make Lincoln profitable was to extend the time between model changes, a concept that went against conventional industry wisdom. He suggested stretching Lincoln's design cycle from three to as many as nine years.

At about the same time the study was completed, Bordinat and DeLaRossa played musical chairs. Bordinat was placed in charge of a consolidated Lincoln-Mercury studio, and DeLaRossa became his executive stylist.

Rulo Conrad, who had been a manager in the Lincoln-Mercury studio and one of the primary designers of the award-winning 1956 Lincoln, was named to replace John Reinhart as head of Lincoln's preproduction studio. Conrad's job was to complete the next-generation Lincoln that had been started by Reinhart.

The designers in Conrad's studio included John Orfe, Merle Adams, Bob Chieda, Howard Payne, and Joe West. Conrad desperately wanted to change design directions, but he was told the car he was designing had to show continuity with then-current production Lincolns.

Next, learn how about the design and development process for the 1961 Lincoln Continental resulted in two different proposals.

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1961 Lincoln Continental Development Begins

Two of Lincoln's junior stylists were allowed to develop this 1961 Lincoln Continental concept with prominent front-fender blades in late 1957.
Two of Lincoln's junior stylists were allowed to develop this 1961 Lincoln Continental concept with prominent front-fender blades in late 1957.

The car that was originally meant to become the 1961 Lincoln Continental was changed at least three times during its design process. When it was completed, there were actually two different proposals, each with a different roofline.

Those alternate proposals represented differences of opinion among the designers and management about what the 1961 production Lincoln should look like.

Design chief Gene Bordinat wanted a winged roof on the upcoming Lincoln to counter General Motors' cantilever-roof four-door hardtop design instituted for 1959. Designer John Orfe was asked to prepare renderings of a car with an overhanging roof but, except for Bordinat, nobody else liked the concept.

Since Bordinat was studio head, designer Rulo Conrad and clay modeler Doug McCombs struggled on night after night without success trying to come up with an acceptable winged-roof design.

Not all designers agreed that the next iteration of the Lincoln needed to show continuity with the Lincoln then on the market. Many designers felt that Lincoln needed a fresh start, and the sooner the better.

Orfe and Howard Payne, two relatively new Lincoln Studio designers, were frustrated with what their own studio was proposing for the next-generation Lincoln. Although they were not alone, they were brash enough to express their frustrations openly.

In mid 1957, they told John Najjar, head of the Lincoln design studio, and designer John Reinhart that they disagreed with the design direction being proposed for the next Lincoln. To their surprise, Najjar and Reinhart told them they could build a full-sized clay model of their idea for the car.

Payne and Orfe were given a small makeshift studio under a staircase in a room that had previously been a coffee shop. Fitting it in between other assignments, they designed and -- with clay modeler Joe Seibold -- built their proposed 1961 Lincoln over a period of about six months.

Design vice president George Walker and Elwood Engel liked the concept enough to order two full-sized fiberglass models of it built. Before building the fiberglass models, designer Ray Slate suggested that stubby fins be added to the top of the front fenders and dropped down over the grille area, dividing the dual headlights on either side. Slate's idea was incorporated on the the full-sized models, although the stubby fins were later removed during one of the design reviews of the car.

Between them, Orfe and Payne had a total of only three years experience at Ford, and neither had a champion for their work. Almost immediately after they finished their proposal, Engel began work on the alternate 1961 Thunderbird that eventually became the 1961 Continental.

One of the most vocal dissenters at Ford's Styling Center who had not been directly involved in the design development of the next-generation Lincoln was Wes Dahlberg. As a result of his disagreement with Bordinat, he was promoted out of Dearborn and placed in charge of Ford's design studio in Cologne, Germany. One of the first cars he designed after he arrived there was the Taunus 17M.

As one of George Walker's primary assistants, Engel made frequent overnight trips to Cologne. One of those trips occurred in June 1958. Dahlberg's head clay modeler was Fred Hoadley, who accompanied Dahlberg to Germany.

Both Dahlberg and Hoadley recall that during Engel's visit, he expressed an unusual interest in the just-completed 3/8-scale theme model of the Taunus 17M. They remember that Engel returned several times to study their Taunus 17M model, and that he asked numerous questions about its design.

Dahlberg doubts the Taunus 17M had any direct influence on the design of the 1961 Continental. Hoadley, on the other hand, believes there was a connection, although he is unaware of any direct statement by Engel that confirms this.

Hoadley returned home for a vacation about a year after Engel's visit and, while at the Styling Center, he saw the proposed 1961 Continental for the first time. Hoadley thought then, and continues to believe, that the Taunus 17M -- with its straight-edged fenderline and ovoid headlamps -- had a direct influence on the Continental.

The story of the 1961 Lincoln Continental's development -- and its connection to the 1961 Ford Thunderbird -- continues in the next section.

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1961 Lincoln Continental and 1961 Ford Thunderbird

The Taunus 17M may have colored Elwood Engel's thinking for his 1961 Ford Thunderbird design.
The Taunus 17M may have colored Elwood Engel's thinking for his 1961 Ford Thunderbird design.

How the proposal that Elwood Engel's design studio intended as a Thunderbird became the 1961 Continental first requires some explanation of the difficulties Joe Oros' Ford Studio designers had in coming up with an acceptable design for the 1961 Thunderbird.

By 1958, the new Ford Division head, Jim Wright, had decided that the 1961 Thunderbird had to be even sportier than the previous model. Design vice president George Walker and Oros didn't agree, but since Wright supposedly had the last word, Oros directed his designers to begin work on a sporty new four-passenger Thunderbird.

The design of the 1961 T-Bird didn't come easy, but after many renderings and 3/8-scale clay models, the design direction was reached during an all-night session in which designers Bill Boyer and Jim Powers developed a full-sized clay model that established its basic lines.

Because the Ford Studio was having so much trouble establishing a design direction for the 1961 Thunderbird, Engel decided to design his own competing proposal.

According to a narrative statement Engel gave the Henry Ford Museum in June 1984, after he returned from his oversight trip to Cologne, Germany, he asked Walker if he "could have a studio to develop an idea for a new Thunderbird." Engel was given a small room in the basement of the Styling Center. (The room left barely four feet on either side of a full-sized clay model.)

The site was nicknamed the "stiletto" studio by designer Colin Neale and, even though it was later claimed that the name referred to the long, narrow layout of the room, Neale now acknowledges that the name was coined as an irreverent jab at the production studios with which they were competing.

Engel decided to base his 1961 Thunderbird proposal on the recently discontinued Continental Mark II; the Orfe/Payne proposal; the Quicksilver, a concept car designed in the Ford Studio that eventually became the 1960 full-sized Ford; and a smattering of features from the Taunus 17M.

The designers assigned to the project were all handpicked. They included John Najjar, Neale, Orfe, and design analyst Bob Thomas. Designers Dick Avery, Gale Halderman, and Phil Payne -- Howard Payne's younger brother -- came into the studio as the car was nearing completion, but they did very little work on it.

Orfe was assigned to supervise the clay modeling. Harry Strickler was the lead modeler on Engel's 1961 Thunderbird proposal, and on all the changes the car went through in the studio on its way to becoming the 1961 Continental.

Studio clay modelers who worked on the car during its various stages included Seibold, Cecil Perkins, Ross McLean, Art Rockall, Wolfgang Konietzko, Ray Trombley, Rolland McDonald, and Toby Melone. The stiletto studio designers all confirm that Engel, too, spent much of his time as a hands-on designer working on the alternate 1961 Thunderbird proposal.

Preparing the package layout for the 1961 Lincoln Continental would prove challenging for the design team. Continue reading for the details.

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1961 Lincoln Continental Gets New Design Chief

Elwood Engel elected to not show this "radical" version of a 1961 Ford Thunderbird design to Ford's Product Planning Committee.
Elwood Engel elected to not show this "radical" version of a 1961 Ford Thunderbird design to Ford's Product Planning Committee.

Development of the 1961 Lincoln Continental continued despite changes in management. When John Najjar was replaced as head of the Lincoln studio, he was reassigned to the truck studio. He thought the demotion meant the end of his career at Ford, but when Elwood Engel got his own studio, he requested that Najjar become his executive designer.

Recalling the 1958 Lincoln they had worked on together, Engel and Najjar agreed that their alternate 1961 Thunderbird had to be "clean with no garbage on it." The first thing Engel told the designers in his studio was that he wanted their Thunderbird proposal to be similar in design to the Continental Mark II -- but "taken to the extreme."

Engel asked design analyst Bob Thomas to prepare a package layout for the car, which included blade sides and a Mark II-style greenhouse (including curved glass) set on top of the area between the blades.

Thomas' first step was go to the Ford studio to get the Thunderbird's package dimensions. According to Thomas, the design analyst in the Ford studio told him that the only crucial measurement on the 1961 Thunderbird was the cowl area.

So, based on what Engel said he wanted, Thomas designed the body structure of the car on a large blackboard. He laid out the greenhouse, roof, curved-glass side windows and tumblehome, body structure, and the shape of the front- and rear-wheel cut outs. Thomas says he copied the original design of the Mark II windshield, but without the dogleg he thought impeded entry and exit.

Originally, Thomas suggested the car be designed in a wedge shape, and he recommended that the width of the car at the cowl be as wide as possible to emphasize the Continental-style greenhouse sitting on top of the blades. Engel agreed. Unfortunately, the width of the car at the C-pillars turned out to be wider than the package measurements set by Engineering.

What Thomas didn't realize when laying out the car's package was that the measurements he used were five inches wider at the cowl than the package called for. (The wheelbase was set at 113 inches, with a cowl width of 75.4 inches and an overall body length of 205 inches.)

Thomas recalls that several people, including Walker, asked him if the design was within package limits; although he always said that it was, it must have caused him to recheck the measurements, because he discovered the error the night before the car was to be shown.

By working almost all night, Thomas, Engel, and the clay modelers were able to reconstruct the full-sized clay models to a maximum cowl width of 75.4 inches. Engel wasn't happy about the mistake, and Thomas recalls being cussed out by Engel several times over the course of what turned out to be a very long night.

In the next section, learn what changes were made to the proposals before they were presented to Lincoln's Product Planning Committee.

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1961 Lincoln Continental Design Proposals

1961 Lincoln Continental designer Elwood Engel got the idea for bright beltline moldings from the Quicksilver, a Ford theme model.
1961 Lincoln Continental designer Elwood Engel got the idea for bright beltline moldings from the Quicksilver, a Ford theme model.

The designers in Elwood Engel's Lincoln design studio completed two full-sized 1961 Thunderbird proposals in clay, and they were both ready by late June 1958.

On the more conservative proposal (the one eventually selected to become the 1961 Continental), designer Colin Neale designed a rear end with large Ford-like round taillights.

John Najjar suggested a grille he asked John Orfe to design for the car. The grille Najjar proposed had been incorporated on several prior design proposals and was commonly referred to as a "Schick razor front end." Najjar also suggested a horizontal bar in the middle of the grille to make it distinctive, and grille blocks inside the grille to lessen the electric shaver look.

At Engel's suggestion, the beltline and fender edges on the more conservative proposal were capped by a narrow band of brightwork. Engel told Orfe he got the idea from the Quicksilver, which had been completed several months earlier in the Ford Preproduction Studio.

Orfe felt the bodysides should come to a point at the front of the car rather than end bluntly, which he thought made the car look chopped off and unfinished. While he was drawing new front ends for Engel's proposed Thunderbird, design chief George Walker came in looking for ideas for the Ford Studio's Thunderbird proposal.

He liked one of Orfe's renderings with a distinctive grille and pointed fenders, so he took the drawing; it became the Ford Studio's Thunderbird front end and grille proposal. Engel, meanwhile, vetoed all of Orfe's pointed-fender ideas for his alternate 1961 Thunderbird in favor of the squared-off front fenders that became a part of the production 1961 Continental.

Before the competing 1961 Thunderbird proposals were presented to the Product Planning Committee, Walker asked designer Joe Oros to support Engel's proposal over that of his own studio designers.

Oros knew Walker favored Engel to succeed him when he retired, and although he wanted to support his friend, he told Walker he couldn't back Engel's Thunderbird because he honestly believed the Ford Studio proposal was the better of the two.

Under continued pressure, Oros told Walker the best he could do was remain silent when the planning committee reviewed the competing designs. Which design would the Product Planning Committee choose? The answer is in the next section.

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1961 Lincoln Continental Product Planning Meetings

When shown to the planning committee, Elwood Engel's 1961 Ford Thunderbird proposal had typical Ford round taillights.
When shown to the planning committee, Elwood Engel's 1961 Ford Thunderbird proposal had typical Ford round taillights.

Two design proposals were presented at a Product Planning Committee meeting in late July 1958 -- one of which would be chosen for the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

The more conservative of designer Elwood Engel's 1961 Ford Thunderbird proposals was shown against the Ford Studio proposal at the meeting. One of the first people to comment on Engel's design was William Clay Ford, who said the proposal was "too nice for a Thunderbird," and it "should be the new Continental."

During the presentation, design vice president George Walker argued persuasively that Engel's proposal be picked as the next Thunderbird. Jim Wright, general manager of Ford Division, was just as persuasive in urging that the Ford Studio proposal be selected.

Henry Ford II, who seemed in a real quandary over which one to choose, finally turned to designer Joe Oros and told him that he had not heard from him yet. Oros hesitated, then tried to avoid a straightforward answer; HFII sensed what was happening and asked him for a direct reply. Cornered, Oros responded that the formality of Engel's proposal would look fine as a Lincoln, but he favored the Ford Studio model because it continued Thunderbird's sporty look.

Ford, who had probably already come to the same conclusion, agreed, and Engel's rejected Thunderbird proposal went back downstairs on the freight elevator.

Ben Mills was one of the members of the Product Planning Committee. When he first saw Engel's Thunderbird concept, he thought it was a natural for the next Lincoln. He didn't like the "shovel-nosed" proposal from the Ford Studio, but secretly hoped it would be selected as the next Thunderbird. If it was, Mills had already decided he was going to try to requisition Engel's alternate T-Bird and turn it into the new Lincoln.

Although Mills voted for Engel's design as the next Thunderbird, when the Ford Studio proposal won, he immediately told Engel he wanted his car for the next Lincoln.

When Engel got back downstairs to his studio, the modelers were surprised to see that he was elated. Engel told them that the design from Oros' studio had been chosen as the next Thunderbird, but that both Bill Ford and Ben Mills thought the car they had designed "was too beautiful to be a Thunderbird, and it should become the next Lincoln."

He instructed the studio staff to replace the big round Ford taillights on the clay model with large chrome caps at the ends of the rear-fender blades, to design a squashed horizontal tube in the area between the blades, and to include a separate grille at the back of the decklid. After that, the car sat awaiting either destruction or rediscovery.

Robert McNamara, vice president in charge of all car and truck programs, missed the meeting at which the Thunderbird decision was made by the other Product Planning Committee members. Mills does not recall what, if anything, he told McNamara about Engel's proposal, but, within the next week, McNamara went to the Styling Center, where Walker took him around to the various studios to review the selections the other committee members had made.

When McNamara got to Engel's studio, the rear end of the erstwhile Thunderbird concept had already been redone to eliminate the Ford-style taillights and incorporate capped blades and a rear grille nacelle.

McNamara looked at the proposal for a few minutes and then asked Walker and Engel questions about it. One of the questions he asked was whether it could be made into a four-door Lincoln. Engel said it could, but that it would take about two weeks.

Next, learn how McNamara's concerns about Lincoln's profits almost led to the cancellation of the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

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1961 Lincoln Continental Almost Discontinued

Lincolns, like the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible that was revived that year, were under the gun to reverse the marque's sluggish sales or face the prospect of being discontinued.
Lincolns, like the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible that was revived that year, were under the gun to reverse the marque's sluggish sales or face the prospect of being discontinued.

Heated meetings almost led to the discontinuation of the 1961 Lincoln Continental. Robert McNamara was still new to his post as vice president in charge of all car and truck programs, having recently replaced Lewis Crusoe, who retired in 1957 due to ill health.

Having headed the Ford Division before his promotion, McNamara was familiar with its plans, but he wanted a full explanation of what was brewing for Lincoln, so he instituted a series of biweekly meetings with Lincoln's management. The meetings were attended by Ben D. Mills, general manager; Harold MacDonald, chief engineer; Emmett Judge, chief product planner; and support staff. No one from Styling was included in the meetings.

Because MacDonald expected that McNamara would ask about features planned for future Lincolns, he asked Harold Johnson, his executive engineer for advanced projects, to attend. The subjects for discussion at the first meeting included sales, finance, and projections. The second meeting dealt with new products and planned technical features.

Johnson remembers being very involved in the presentations made at the second meeting, which included such topics as proposed suspension advances and how to install curved glass in future production Lincolns. By the time the third and fourth sessions were held, they had become presentations with little discussion, except when McNamara asked questions.

Partway through the fourth meeting, that all changed. According to McNamara, he stopped whoever was making the presentation and said it was time to "clear the deck and put all the cards on the table."

Everyone but Mills, MacDonald, and Johnson were asked to leave the room, and then McNamara announced that, based on Lincoln's dismal financial projections, he had decided to recommend that the car line be terminated. He didn't like the direction Lincoln was heading, didn't like the fact Lincoln had never made a profit, and he hadn't heard anything from Lincoln's management that changed his mind.

For a few seconds, Johnson says, you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone in the room took McNamara, who was not known for his sense of humor, as dead serious. Then Mills, who had come to Ford in 1946 with McNamara as one of the "Whiz Kids," asked, "Bob, you can't really do that, can you?"

McNamara responded, "You bet I can do it." A heated discussion followed, with everyone in the room arguing against McNamara's proposed recommendation, but none of the arguments made a dent on McNamara, who gave no sign of changing his mind.

After what seemed like an eternity, Mills was finally able to persuade McNamara to back off, something not often done. Mills argued that the Ford family wouldn't agree to discontinue Lincoln, especially since the Continental Division had been dissolved only a year and a half earlier, and the Edsel was likely the next to go. Besides, Mills argued, it was unfair to employees, dealers, and customers to stop making Lincolns "cold turkey" without some sort of advance warning.

McNamara reluctantly told Mills that he would agree to one more Lincoln production cycle, but only on specific conditions. One of the conditions was that the next Lincoln had to be a lot smaller.

Recalling the events of that meeting more than 40 years later, McNamara emphasized that his biggest concern was that future Lincolns had to make a profit. He told Mills, MacDonald, and Johnson that he had recently seen a clay model of a formal Continental-like Thunderbird downstairs in Engel's studio that had been rejected in favor of a sportier T-Bird proposal.

McNamara told them that if that design could be made into a four-door and profitably built as the new Lincoln, "without significantly increasing its size," he would "go with the program." According to Johnson, no one else in the room except Mills knew anything about the clay model to which McNamara was referring, but, as the meeting broke up, Mills turned to MacDonald and Johnson and said, "You'd better get down there ASAP. Your jobs are cut out for you!"

It was late when the meeting broke up, so, early the next morning, Johnson and one of his assistants, Bill Davis, hurried to the Styling Center to look at the clay model. When they saw it, they decided they really didn't know what McNamara meant about not making it significantly bigger.

They picked up the package drawings for the car and returned to Lincoln advanced engineering to study them. Ultimately, they decided not to take a chance, but to only lengthen the car the bare minimum needed to make it a four-door.

Johnson and Davis then returned to the Styling Center, where they asked Engel to lengthen the car by 10 inches, add two more doors, and also build a separate seating buck based on their hastily modified package drawings.

More work would have to be done to ensure McNamara's approval, however. The next section has the full story.

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1961 Lincoln Continental Prototype Approved

McNamara thought Engel's 1961 Lincoln Continental concept had promise if it could be enlarged into a four-door.
McNamara thought Engel's 1961 Lincoln Continental concept had promise if it could be enlarged into a four-door.

One week after the decision was made to enlarge the 1961 Lincoln Continental clay model to a four-door, executive engineer Harold Johnson got a call from someone in designer Elwood Engel's studio, probably John Najjar, telling him the seating buck had been completed and the job had been done.

Johnson and his assistant, Bill Davis, headed back over to the Styling Center that afternoon. Johnson immediately noticed that when the clay model had been rebuilt as a four-door, a hop-up had been placed in the beltline just in front of the termination of the rear door.

They next looked at the four-door seating buck to see how much room there was for egress. The front seat was fine, but when Johnson got into the back seat, he couldn't get his foot back out without kicking the door. At that point, both Johnson and Davis realized a Lincoln with a wheelbase short enough to please VP Robert McNamara would never work with conventionally configured doors.

In his previous assignment, Johnson had been chief engineer at Continental Division when a Mark III Berline proposal was built with back doors that were hinged at the rear. He suggested that the back doors of the 1961 Lincoln be hinged the same way so the thickness of the doors would no longer present an egress problem.

When he proposed the rear "suicide" doors, Johnson also suggested doing away with the B-pillars entirely, and locking the doors to the floor and to each other, as he had done on the Mark III Berline mockup.

He ultimately decided to retain B-pillars on the 1961 Lincoln, however, because he was worried that McNamara might still suggest cancellation of Lincoln if this model became too complicated or too costly. As another cost-saving measure, it was decided that only four-door sedan and four-door convertible models should be produced.

When it was finally revised, the full-sized clay model of the 1961 Continental was enthusiastically supported by Bill Ford and McNamara, and unanimously approved by the Product Planning Committee.

Once the decision was made to produce Engel's alternate Thunderbird as the 1961 Lincoln, the clay model was moved upstairs to Gene Bordinat's M-E-L studio to prepare it for production. There, Don DeLaRossa and his studio designers developed trim and ornamentation for the car. The convertible-top mechanism was worked out, too, using existing technology from the Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop.

Harry Strickler, head modeler in the corporate advanced studio, recalls that even before the car went upstairs to the Lincoln Studio, an instrument-panel buck was started in competition with the design being prepared in Dave Ash's Lincoln Interior Studio.

At one point, Ash brought Engel his proposal for the instrument panel, but Engel thanked him and said he already had his own ideas. Engel's plan for the instrument panel was to group the air-conditioning and radio controls between two boxes housing the instruments on one side and the glove-box on the other.

Although the basic design of the instrument panel is attributed to Engel, Art Miller and Bob Zokas of the Lincoln Interior Studio refined Engel's box-and-tube design into the finished 1961 Continental instrument panel.

Interior studio designers Paul Wong and Ed Albright convinced Ash to let them design the seats for the 1961 Continental based on architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair; their design, although modified, was used on the production car.

In this article's next section, find out what engineering decisions were made for the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

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1961 Lincoln Continental Engineering

The 1961 Lincoln Continental rode a 123-inch wheelbase, eight inches shorter than its 1958-1960 predecessors.
The 1961 Lincoln Continental rode a 123-inch wheelbase, eight inches shorter than its 1958-1960 predecessors.

In Lincoln vice president Robert McNamara's biweekly meetings with the engineering team for the 1961 Lincoln Continental, the topic of discussion was almost exclusively how to solve past problems, especially those that had resulted in perennial large losses.

The 1958 Lincoln had originally been planned for a 126-inch wheelbase, but was subsequently increased to 131 inches so the engine could be moved five inches forward to make the transmission hump lower.

Because the 1961 Continental was to be shorter, the engine and transmission had to be moved as close to the firewall as possible. That meant that the transmission hump in the front-passenger compartment became huge, threatening to limit passenger capacity to four instead of six, something unacceptable for a Lincoln.

One of the problems Harold Johnson had to solve as chief engineer at Continental Division was a tendency for the Mark II driveline to vibrate. He asked Dana Corporation to come up with an inexpensive constant-velocity, double-cardin universal joint. It never was used on the Mark II, but it was revived for the 1961 Lincoln, where it allowed the transmission and the propeller shaft to be angled downward.

The end result was that the 1961 Continental was built on a 123-inch wheelbase, yet remained a six-passenger car.

At one of the biweekly meetings, McNamara brought up the subject of Lincoln quality -- or what he saw as a lack thereof. With chief engineer Harold MacDonald and Johnson's enthusiastic support, vendor cooperation, and new testing methods, a 24,000-mile warranty and even universal oil standards were pushed through as standard features on the 1961 Continental.

At 25,164 units, the 1961 Continental sold slightly better than the 1960 Lincoln and Continental. But in a weak year for the industry, that modest increase amounted to a 60-percent gain in market share.

More importantly, the profit the new-style Continental made ($20 million between 1961 and 1964), the praise it received, the design awards it won, and increasing sales over the next decade assured that Lincoln would survive.

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