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1961 Lincoln Continental

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 clich├ęs 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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