1961 Lincoln Continental

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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