Thanks to George Lehmann's financial backing and Robert Peterson's practical know-how, Lincoln was presented with an opportunity to compete with Cadillac and Imperial for the limousine trade in the 1960s with the 1963-1970 Lincoln Limousine.
A world of possibilities lay before George "Skip" Lehmann in autumn 1962. Just 23 years old, he had finished college and was fresh from a stint in the United States Army. He was an heir to his grandfather's estate, which included the famous Fair Stores. He was also steeped in his hobby of racing sports cars. Surely this set of circumstances would send him down one interesting path or another in life.
Of all the places fate could have taken Skip Lehmann during that fall, it chose to route him through a Chicago garage. It was there that he met Robert Peterson. In short order they would team up in an audacious enterprise that invigorated the select market for limousines in America and added a chapter to Lincoln history in the 1960s.
Bob Peterson ran a very successful customizing shop. Ten years older than Lehmann, he had gained a well-deserved reputation as a mechanical genius who was able to handle practically anything automotive. He also had a background in racing as a driver and a mechanic.
Lehmann happened to stop by Peterson's shop when he learned that a race car he'd once owned, a rare Scarab, had been severely wrecked. Peterson had rebuilt the car in just a few weeks; Skip Lehmann was impressed.
At the time, Lehmann rode around in a Cadillac limousine, but yearned for something different. He had already had more than a year to admire the new slab-sided Lincoln Continental. In fact, he liked it so much that he bought his mother, Morella, a brand-new 1962 Continental. It was during one of his visits to Peterson's shop that Lehmann asked Peterson if he could make a limousine out of his mother's Lincoln. Peterson looked in, around, and under the car, and said, "Nothing to it. Twelve days."
For more on the first Lehmann-Peterson Limousine and its features, continue on to the next page.
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The first Lehmann-Peterson limousine was built in late 1962 or early 1963. Meanwhile, Skip Lehmann and Bob Peterson's friendship grew and they decided to go into business together.
Lehmann-Peterson and Company was formed in 1963. (Its shop at 2710 N. Sawyer Ave. in Chicago would be the company's home throughout its lifetime.) With Lehmann's money and salesmanship skills, plus Peterson's superior mechanical ability, they began a quest to win approval from Ford Motor Company to provide Lincoln-based limousines.
The limousine body style was in one of its periods of retreat at Lincoln in the early 1960s. Long-wheelbase formal sedans and limos had been cataloged from the marque's beginning in 1921 through 1942. Then for 1959 and 1960, professional-car builder Hess and Eisenhardt, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was commissioned to convert limited numbers of those years' production Continentals into formal sedans and divider-window limousines, albeit on the standard 131-inch wheelbase.
Luxury-market rivals Cadillac and Imperial had no such lengthy interruptions in their limousine programs, however. As the 1960s began, Cadillac was turning out almost 1,000 Fleetwood Series 75 limos a year while Imperial was selling tiny handfuls of very expensive Italian-built Crown Imperials.
To get Ford's attention, Lehmann and Peterson made an unannounced visit to corporate headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. When they rolled up in Morella Lehmann's modified Lincoln Continental, they were met at the front of the building by an official whose perhaps predictably skeptical attitude was along the lines of, "Right, you want to build our limousine for us."
The pair was told to drive around to the rear and wait by a garage door. After the limo pulled up, a crowd of 40 to 50 Ford Motor Company personnel quickly gathered. Soon an agreement was reached that allowed Ford to extensively test the car for the equivalent of 100,000 miles.
Ford research showed that any car stretched more than a few inches would suffer greatly from metal fatigue. The Lehmann-Peterson experimental limo was lengthened by a full three feet in the center section, which Ford engineers believed to be a weak point to begin with. Thus, the engineering department gave the car an acid test whenever possible.
Years later it was learned that even top executives joined in on the torture tests. At lunchtime, they would jam the car full of people and speed it over various test-track road surfaces, finally launching it off built-in rises, all in an attempt to break it. It didn't.
To read about the first 1963 Lincoln Limousines made by Lehmann and Peterson for Ford, continue to the next page.
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1963 Lincoln Limousine
Based on the test results and Skip Lehmann's enthusiasm, Ford signed a contract and immediately ordered two more 1963 Lincoln Limousines based on the 1963 Lincoln adapted by Lehmann and Peterson. They were also tested by Ford and driven at least 100,000 miles each.
It was these cars that were used in all the early advertising, as Lehmann-Peterson did none of its own. An added stipulation was that the two cars never be sold to the public.
And so, in 1963, Lehmann-Peterson was in the limousine business. A regularly updated survey begun by Lincoln and Continental Owners Club (LCOC) member H.W. Schofield revealed that two additional 1963 limos were produced for public sale; other records indicate that one of them was bought by comedian Jerry Lewis. In 1964, Lehmann-Peterson and Company became Lehmann-Peterson, Inc., "Builders of the Lincoln Continental Executive Limousine and Automotive Specialties."
The limousines and special projects were handcrafted with state-of-the-art coachbuilding techniques. Ordering was done by picking out a car at a Lincoln-Mercury dealership and choosing from the vast Lincoln and Lehmann-Peterson options lists.
At the factory, Ford would install a "Limousine Conversion Kit" consisting of a beefier suspension with an added leaf spring in the rear and stiffer front coils, heavy-duty shock absorbers, and larger tires. Lehmann-Peterson would then strip the car, cut it in half, and add a section between the front and rear doors.
From 1964 on, this added section was 34 inches long, which produced a wheelbase of 160 inches -- though at least two cars were built with a stretch of just nine inches for owners who wanted something that would be appropriate as a chauffeur- or owner-driven car.
Apart from a lengthened driveshaft, the powertrain was stock Lincoln. This included a 430-cubic-inch V-8 good for 320 horsepower through 1965. A 340-horsepower version of this engine enlarged to 462 cubic inches served from 1966 through early 1968 when it was replaced by a completely new 460-cube V-8 that made 365 horsepower.
Although Ford built the Lincoln Continental to extremely high standards of body rigidity, annual testing revealed that after conversion, the limousines were even stronger. Because of this, Lehmann-Peterson was the only coachbuilder granted the right to have its cars covered by the same Ford Motor Company warranty as the factory-produced cars. Furthermore, Lincoln began advertising the limos in its brochures in 1965 (though for some unknown reason they weren't included in the 1968 and 1970 literature).
From the beginning, Lehmann-Peterson reached exciting new heights of luxury. For example, the eight-passenger seating arrangement allowed all passengers to face each other rather than stare at or talk to the back of someone's neck. The options list tested the buyer's imagination. After piling on what Ford had to offer, then came Lehmann-Peterson's list.
First there were the no-charge items, like a chauffeur's "escort umbrella harnessed below front seat" for nasty-weather days, or the choice of an AM/FM signal-seeking radio with power antenna or AM stereo tape player for the rear compartment.
Typical extra-cost items (in 1968 prices) included a two-inch increase in head room ($950), which came off very well because of the size of the limo. Also offered were air conditioning ($350 rear only, $503.90 including the front), a divider window ($250 manual, $350 power), 11-piece beverage service ($200), rear-compartment floor foot rests ($48), companion-seat foot-rest pads ($54), television with built-in antenna ($295), and many other neat and glitzy gadgets that could make a mobile dream come true.
To follow the story of the Lincoln limos into 1964 and 1965, continue to the next page.
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1964 and 1965 Lincoln Limousine
The 1964 and 1965 Lincoln limousines made by Lehmann-Peterson continued to succeed. At $15,153 to start in 1964, the Lincoln Continental Executive Limousine was priced fairly squarely between Cadillac's Series 75 at $9,960 and the $18,500 asked for a Ghia-built Crown Imperial. Output rose to 15 units, making the Lincoln an instant -- though very distant -- number two in the three-way domestic limousine sales race.
Lehmann-Peterson's experience in producing limousines for Lincoln put the firm in line to carry out some critical special jobs. In September 1965, the Vatican announced that Pope Paul VI would visit New York City on October 4. Ford was enlisted to supply an appropriate vehicle and it gave the job -- and the publicity that went with it -- to Lehmann-Peterson.
There was only one catch: The car had to be ready in five days! "The impossible can be done right away," goes a saying, "but miracles take a little longer." This project fell somewhere in between, because the shop ultimately was granted an extra day to finish it. At a cost of $15,500, a crew of 40 worked day and night to complete the job.
The famous "Popemobile" was based on one of the special-order limousines Ford had requested for testing in 1963. (It had a 1964-style grille.) Special features included:
- A seat that could be elevated for the pontiff, per a church rule that the pope always be above the public.
- A cutaway section of the roof with a "flying bridge" windscreen to protect standing riders.
- Lights to illuminate the pope when inside the car.
- A public-address system.
- Flag holders on both front fenders for United Nations, U.S., and papal flags, plus lights to be shown on them at night.
- Oversized retractable running boards at the sides and rear for use by security personnel.
Meanwhile, in Lehmann-Peterson's main business, Executive Limousine output tripled in 1965, with about 50 units sold. The 1966 model year saw a continued refinement of the Continental design, with the most extensive restyle since 1961. This, of course, carried over to the Lehmann-Peterson limousine, which enjoyed another tripling of sales to 159 units.
See the next page to follow the Lincoln Limousine into 1966 and 1967.
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1966 and 1967 Lincoln Limousine
The 1966 and 1967 Lincoln limousine explored new territory. In 1966, Bob Peterson flew to Washington to present to the government his ideas for replacing the aging Kennedy-era presidential limousine.
Armed with his knowledge of lightweight metals and plastics, he set out to convince the government that a new car could do all that was demanded of it and still retain the strength of armor plating without as much weight. He succeeded, returning home with orders for a White House limousine and two new Secret Service security-detail convertibles.
The Secret Service cars were equipped with 11-inch-wide running boards, which extended the length of the bodysides between the wheels, plus assist handles and bars for agents to grasp. The rear doors were reworked to allow entry from the running boards while the car was in motion. This was achieved by cutting the doors in half and hinging them to allow the front portion to slide over the rear half, not unlike the way modern minivan doors operate.
For normal entry and exit, the rear doors opened and closed in the conventional manner. The rear bumper was hinged so that it could swing down to form a platform that was operated hydraulically so it could be adjusted to the optimum height for the men standing on it. An assist bar for them to grab could be retracted flush into the trunklid when not needed.
Convertible tops were made of transparent vinyl trimmed with black cloth. The divided front seats were altered so that a man could ride facing the rear on the portion between the seats. Front and rear seats and the convertible top were elevated three inches for better visibility. As far as security goes, the car was a rolling arsenal.
As the Secret Service didn't take delivery of the convertibles until October 1967, the cars were trimmed as 1968 models. That made them more unique; Lincoln had dropped ragtops from regular production after 1967 due to declining public demand. The presidential limousine would take a bit longer.
Trim on the Executive Limousine was changed a bit for 1967. A new privacy shield just behind the front doors became standard. It added to the overall lines of the limo, plus helped to break up the mass of glass seen in profile on earlier models. Inside, the companion seats could now be folded up like theater seats. Dictation equipment, high-intensity reading lamps, and a rear-seat center armrest storage compartment were new options. Sales came to 110 units.
By the end of the year, Lehmann had recouped his initial $600,000 investment and the company was operating in the black. Now, more than ever, his attention was focused on keeping the company on this upward swing. He also entertained thoughts of marriage in the not-too-distant future. But he began having migraine headaches, which he passed off as a consequence of work-related stress.
Being co-owner of a successful business was a big enough job, but Lehmann managed to find time for some special pet projects. He built a dune buggy and he had a Ferrari Testa Rosa reworked so that it wouldn't stall at every red light. With other adjustments, this small, brutal, blindingly fast racing machine was made street legal. He also owned and enjoyed a 1935 Packard Twelve.
Meanwhile, Peterson's spare time was spent researching and developing economy ambulances based on Ford and Mercury station wagons. All were fully equipped once a prefabricated unit was installed. Plus, another company was purchased; it customized full-sized buses into motorhomes before that became a popular trend.
See the next page for information on the 1968 Lincoln limousine.
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1968 Lincoln Limousine
The 1968 Lincoln limousine turned out to give another banner year for Lehmann-Peterson -- but not in sales, although a healthy 91 units were built.
Rather, it was due to the notoriety of the new presidential limousine. Planning, research, development, and construction of this masterpiece took more than 15 months in 1967 and 1968. Its price -- $500,000 -- put it in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Some of that considerable cost was explained by the fact that the limousine had more than two tons of armor and a fighter-planelike canopy. (In fact, the windows and canopy were thicker than the glass used in U.S. Air Force fighters.) This shielding could stop a .30-caliber rifle bullet or a barrage of Molotov cocktails.
The car ran on four heavy-duty truck tires; inside of each was a large steel disk with a rubber-rimmed tread, which allowed for driving up to 50 miles at top speeds with the tires flat.
This car replaced the $25,000 limo that President John F. Kennedy had commissioned in 1961. It didn't even have bulletproof glass until after he was assassinated in 1963 and Ford spent $300,000 to partially armor-plate it in a 1964 revamp.
Of the presidential limo, Skip Lehmann said, "It is designed to look like a perfectly normal car one minute, and the next minute it will look like no other car you ever saw before." The interior featured the two inches of added headroom optional in "civilian" Lehmann-Peterson limousines. The car was not unlike a communications center, with "the button" always within arm's length in the event that a national security crisis should arise while the president was riding in it. Like the two Secret Service vehicles, it was a 1967 car with updated appearance details.
Ford Motor Company absorbed the estimated $500,000 in cost and then leased the car back to the government for a nominal $100 per month. Delivery to President Lyndon Johnson was scheduled for August 1968, but its arrival was delayed until October, by which time the car was updated again with 1969 styling touches. Its first use the following month actually wasn't by the nation's sitting chief executive, but by President-elect Richard Nixon, who was in Washington to visit Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Notably, 1968 also saw the first major round of federal auto safety regulations that were destined to have an extensive impact on the industry as a whole. Because of their low annual production, Lehmann-Peterson limousines were excluded from any kind of government crash or endurance tests.
Ford, however, wanted the first limo produced every model year for its own tests and held it to a higher standard than even the production cars. (This goes a long way in explaining why so many Lehmann-Peterson limos have survived.) Then, in 1966, a driver fell asleep during a simulated 100,000-mile run and plowed into a ditch. Except for the passenger compartment, the car was a total loss. Ford deemed the annual high-mileage testing unnecessary after that; driving a new limousine into a fixed barrier at 35 mph every year would take its place.
Even though the Lehmann-Peterson limos passed every test given them, it's believed that a fear of the unknown gave Ford an excuse to begin withdrawing support from the limousine program. By 1970, the firm would lose all financial backing. But that was still a couple of years in the future.
In the meantime, Lehmann-Peterson was as strong as ever, and both partners believed their company could make a go of it independently if need be. Plans for expansion were discussed, perhaps into Mexico to take advantage of a strong U.S. dollar and inexpensive labor.
Follow the Lincoln limousine into 1969 and 1970 on the next page.
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1969 and 1970 Lincoln Limousine
The 1969 and 1970 Lincoln limousine saw production rise and fall. In 1969, production rose slightly to 93 units. Aside from making Executive Limousines, Lehmann-Peterson also dabbled with the idea of converting Lincoln's new entry in the "personal-luxury" field, the Continental Mark III hardtop coupe, into a four-door sedan.
Such a car was built for Ford Product Planning, equipped with the Mark III's narrow grille and hidden headlights, wheel covers, trunklid with tire hump, rear bumper, and taillights. Like the Ford Thunderbird four-door sedan, it had frameless door glass and rear "suicide" doors.
The idea never went any further than that as far as becoming a factory-built Lincoln. However, that didn't stop Lehmann-Peterson from making one to order for a paying customer.
In a March 20, 1970, letter to prospective client Grover Hermann, the former chairman of Martin-Marietta Corporation, George Lehmann explained that such a car had just been completed for Henry Ford II at the cost of $13,000. Included with the letter was a snapshot of the car. (Another Lehmann-Peterson photo exists showing a 1969 Mark III four-door nearly completed.)
Hermann chose to have one built for himself, and it was finally delivered late in the year. Some of the more obvious differences were a 7.3-inch body stretch, rear-seat cushions intended to allow for armrests, and 1971-style back-up lights per a mid-year change.
Curiously, Ford Motor Company has denied the first four-door Mark was ordered by, let alone built for, Henry Ford II. (A rumor at the time was that it was a gift to a foreign nonrelative female.) Perhaps this was the Product Planning car.
The last Lehmann-Peterson Lincoln Continental Executive Limousines were produced in 1970. That year, the big Lincoln reverted to separate body-and-frame construction, dropping the unit-body configuration used since 1958.
With this change came new styling, a backward step that tended to make Lincoln look less distinctive. Gone were the graceful rear-opening back doors, for example, which provided the only proper way to enter and exit a limo. Still, Peterson deftly worked out how to lengthen body and frame on this new-style Continental.
Unfortunately, fewer than 20 Executive Limousines were made for 1970. This was hardly the only problem that faced Lehmann-Peterson, either. Near the end of 1969, automakers found themselves running into a barrage of new federal safety standards, the impact of which on the way they did business was uncertain.
This factor more than any other forced Ford's hand in deciding to deny Lehmann-Peterson any more support. The risk of the unknown was just too great when faced with potential liability from a car that wasn't even produced under its own roof.
In fall 1970, Lehmann-Peterson was forced to close its doors. The company's taxes hadn't been paid for the last couple of years, so the government foreclosed. Most employees left to work for competitors. Lehmann tried to make a go of things on his own, but the brass ring never came around again.
In a few short months, he entered the hospital for the last time and spent a solid year there. Having slipped into unconsciousness, George Walter Lehmann died of a brain tumor on April 6, 1972. He was only 33.
The lengthy hospitalization took its toll on Morella Lehmann. During that time, she contracted a near-fatal case of hepatitis. Upon her recovery, she continued to live not too far from where "it" had all begun in Chicago until she died on August 7, 1989.
Robert Peterson later went on to produce Cadillac limos for Maloney Coachbuilders, also in the Chicago area. He died in January 1995.
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