1961 Lincoln Continental

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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