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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