Gear Head Tuesday – The ’58-’60 Land Yacht Lincolns

Gear Head

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Land yachts: the ’58 – ’60 Lincolns were huge: 131″ wheelbase; 229″ overall length and some models weighing in at 5,200 pounds – all on a unitized body. Pictured here are the ’58s.

In April of 1957, Ford Motor Company opened a new plant in Wixom, Michigan that was built specifically to produce unitized body (as opposed to body-on-frame) cars. The initial production at Wixom was the new-for-’58 “Square Bird” Ford Thunderbirds and the totally revamped for 1958 Lincolns. Ultimately, the Wixom plant encompassed 4.7 million square feet of space. Wixom, in its 50 year lifespan, produced over 6.6 million Ford Motor Company vehicles.

The luxury market had recently lost a competitor with the demise of Packard in 1956, and Ford wanted to blunt Cadillac’s growth with these new unitized body Lincolns built at Wixom. (The ’57 – ’58 “Packardbakers would never be considered luxury cars.)  Former Packard president James Nance had landed at Lincoln-Mercury after Packard closed, and, while (given the long lead-times to bring cars to market) most of the planning for the ’58-’60 Lincolns would have been done by the time Nance arrived, it is safe to assume that he helped shape the final product introduced for 1958, both for Lincoln and Mercury.

Had Nance been able to finance the planned ’57 Packards, those Packards would have had styling and other features that we saw on the next generation Lincolns and Mercurys. Two obvious examples are the flow-through fresh air ventilation system adopted on some Mercurys and the design of the roof “C”-pillar and rear window on the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser,  Lincolns and Lincoln Continentals. The shape of the roof with the incorporated fresh air intakes at the top of the windshield originated with the ’56 Packard Predictor show car. The styling themes of the Predictor largely shaped the cars Packard planned for 1957. Ironically, much of the styling work on the Predictor and the planned new Packards was done by former Ford stylist, William Schmidt, who had done much of the work on the ’56 Lincolns. The ’56 Lincolns are considered to be one of the best designs of the 1950s.

1956_Packard_Predictor

Above: The 1956 Packard Predictor show car.
Below: the planned 1957 Packard Four Hundred hardtop.

Packard-1957

Below: 1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

'58 Mercury

The Predictor’s rear window will retract down behind the rear seat. The ’58 – ’60 Lincoln Continentals put that feature into production. While it is strictly speculation on my part that the “greenhouse” design of the new-for-’58 Lincolns and Mercurys was urged by Nance, and I’ve never been able to confirm that Nance indeed ordered these features on the cars, it seems to be more than mere coincidence that Lincoln and Mercury brought these Packard ideas to the buying public. Packard’s use of the general shape of the “greenhouse” has its origin in the 1953 Balboa show car, which was designed by Richard Teague. Teague worked with Schmidt on the Predictor and the planned ’57 Packards.

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1953 Packard Balboa show car (above). 1956 Lincoln (Mike Doyle collection), below

56 Lincoln

The overall shape of the new unitized body Lincolns was largely the work of John Najjar, with Elwood Engel and George Walker also involved. Walker was Chief of Styling for Ford. While Walker was a talented designer, he was also ambitious, and (as we have seen previously), had happily claimed as his own the design of the very successful 1949 Ford, which was actually largely the work of Robert Bourke. Engel was the lead designer for the still beautiful 1961 Lincoln Continental and later went to Chrysler after the fall of Virgil Exner (who had come to be known as “Virgil Excess”.) Najjar had designed the “La Tosca” show car while at Ford and, whatever influence James Nance may have had on the “greenhouse,” it was from Najjar’s “La Tosca” that the ”58 – ’60 Lincolns took much of their body shape.

La Tosca f3:4

Lincoln “La Tosca” show car

La Tosca r3:4

As outlined above, the new Lincolns, alongside the new “Square Bird” 4 passenger Thunderbirds were unitized body cars were built in Ford’s new Wixom plant. Those Lincolns were the largest unitized body cars ever attempted – before or since. They were larger than the contemporary Cadillac, having a wheelbase of 131″ and an overall length of 229″ – 19 feet long! Only some very long wheelbase cars of the 1930s, which of course were of body-on-frame construction, exceeded these Lincolns in length.

Because of their length and width, the bodies needed extra bracing, particularly on the convertibles. As a result, curb weight on these Lincoln land yachts was between 4,900 to 5,200 pounds. To move all of this metal, the 430 cubic inch V-8 was installed in the engine compartments. In an effort to reduce the amount of fuel the engines would use, the 430 only got a 2 barrel carburetor. The engine made 315 horsepower.

The interiors were space age sumptuous and these Lincolns were one of the first cars to offer an AM/FM radio. Given the mass of the car, the ’58 – ’60 Lincoln offered vast interior room. Front shoulder width measured 63.1″ and the rear shoulder room was only .1 less. No modern car offers this much shoulder room. The instrument panel on the passenger’s side was pushed back as far as possible to help create the sense that these cars were living rooms on wheels.

Living room on wheels: 63″ – more than 5′ of shoulder room. Note the “space age” pattern in the upholstery fabric. The door panel offered a comfortable arm rest and, smoking not being verboten in those days as it is now, a large ashtray with the Lincoln script on its cover. A heating/air conditioning duct carrying air to the rear passengers was incorporated into the door panel. On the passenger side, the instrument panel was pushed back as far as possible to give more passenger room.  (Click to enlarge.)

Lincoln built their land yachts in three series: the Capri, Premier and Continental. The Capri was the “entry level” Lincoln for ’58 and ’59, but the name was dropped for ’60, when it became simply “Lincoln.” The Premier was an upgrade from the Capri, offering nicer interiors and more standard features. The convertible was only offered as a Continental.

The beautiful Continental Mark II only had a 2 year run – ’56 and ’57 – but the Continental name continued as a separate make (despite sharing the body) with the Capri and Premier land yachts: Mark III for ’58, Mark IV for ’59 and Mark V for ’60. The Continentals had still more sumptuous interiors and standard equipment than the “lesser” Lincolns. And, the Continentals got the “Breezeway” rear window.

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Although they shared their bodies with the “lesser” Lincolns, the Continentals were sold as a separate make. There were trim differences, but the main distinguishing feature of the Continentals was the “Breezeway” rear window.

The land yacht Lincolns arrived in 1958, just in time for the short but very sharp 1957 – 1958 economic recession. Intended to take market share away from Cadillac, they utterly failed and sales plummeted, with each of the three years of production seeing fewer cars built than the last, despite the uptick of the economy in 1959 and 1960. Lincoln lost $60 million in three years.

Ford Motor Company was in crisis. There was rampant backstabbing among managers across all divisions. The internecine strife at Ford drove former Packard president Nance out of the company – and out of the car business. He went into banking. The Edsel was a horrible mistake – other issues aside, its launch in the second year of the recession saw to it that the Edsel was doomed. Ford finance manager, Robert McNamara, who was not a “car guy,” saw to it that Edsel was killed off. Mercury had been little more than a fancy Ford, but had found its own voice with the ’55-’60 models, though Mercury, too, suffered with the ’57-’58 recession. McNamara, one of Henry Ford II’s “Whiz Kids,” with his bean counter mentality, reduced Mercury back to being nothing more than a fancy Ford beginning with the ’61 models, and the brand never recovered. McNamara had Lincoln in his sights as the next car line to kill at Ford, but Lincoln was saved by a chance viewing of the ’61 Thunderbird development. And that will be a story for another Gear Head Tuesday.

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The 1960 Lincolns got a Thunderbird-style roof line, while the Continentals retained the Packard Predictor-inspired “Breezeway” roof line.

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Rest in Peace: Mike Doyle

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Mike Doyle’s splendid ’32 Duesenberg SJ, with his ’55 Packard Caribbean in the background.

Local car collector, Mike Doyle, whose cars we featured here, here and here, died on Sunday 6 March. He was 77. A longtime chain smoker, lung failure contributed to his death. He had been hospitalized the previous week, and, being Irish through and through, the first thing he did upon being released from the hospital was stop at the Buckhorn, the local bar where he held court, and with a cigarette in one hand and oxygen tank in the other, order 5 shots of Irish whiskey.

Mike had become wealthy by buying property in and around town and renting the properties for income. Despite his wealth, he lived modestly, in later years indulging his wealth in a motorcycle collection that at its peak numbered 130 bikes.

He then listed all but one motorcycle with the Mecum auction house and turned to collecting cars, specializing in ’50s American made convertibles.

He had one building where he warehoused most of his collection and another where he supervised a crew of employees who did much of the restoration work on cars he had acquired for restoration. (He collected both cars that had already been restored as well as finding cars for restoration.) His most recent restoration project was a ’60 Ford Thunderbird convertible, built in the Wixom, MI plant where today’s featured Lincolns were built.

Shortly after I met Mike, he told me (evidently knowing he probably didn’t have much longer to live) “Before I go, I’m going to own a Duesenberg.” He then traded most of his collection to Mecum and acquired a splendid 1932 Duesenberg SJ. Included in the cars that he traded was his ’53 Packard Caribbean, but I was happy to see that he retained his ’55 Caribbean, the 184th of only 500 built.

3 Comments

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  1. Beautiful cars.
    I especially want the futuristic so very long pink spacecar !

    cheers, parsnip

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  2. Regarding 1958-60 Lincolns… Yes, they migrated the design of the Balboa, Predictor and even the 1957 Detroit Packards. At that time, Continentals were not considered Lincolns–which is why it was originally intended there would be no “Lincoln” convertibles for this period. This separation only began to be blurred in 1960 when brochures broke down and began using the term, “Lincoln Continental.” It was with the debut of the 1961 models that the term went mainstream and stuck to this day. And know that the reverse-slant rear window (which could be lowered) appeared on the 1954 fiberglass Mercury Beldone sedan. So Ford didn’t wait until 1958. And yes, my Bolero Red 1959 Continental Mark IV convertible had a rear window that lowered, optional plastic “venetian blind” sunvisors and optional factory FM radio. The interior could only be described as beautifully cavernous and moderne. Seating was Bridge-of-Weir leather.

    Regarding La Tosca… the actual designer was largely Alex Tremulis and it as Alex who named the car. Bill Schmidt had influence in this design as well. The greenhouse was largely influenced by Ford FX-Atmos. Despite myths of today, La Tosca was not an actual car, but rather a motorized scale model that was operable via radio control. Alex took the car out and drove it on city streets around the Ford styling center and on Ford’s Dearborn test track.

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    • Leeedy – thank you for visiting and adding insight into this post. I had intended to point out that La Tosca was not an actual car but I left it out and didn’t catch the omission when I was editing before publication. So thank you for filling in that “blank.”

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