1961 Lincoln Continental

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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