Lincoln's 1961 models had timeless
style that gave the marque a template for sorely needed design
consistency. But if an impatient Robert McNamara had been a bit more
insistent, the stunning 1961 Lincoln Continental -- or any other Lincoln
-- never would have been seen.
During its 80-plus years, Lincoln has almost gone under three times. On
each occasion, it was rescued at the 11th hour. Each "salvation" was
followed by cars that were critical or commercial successes.
Sometime before 1920, Henry Ford's wife, Clara, discovered she liked
chauffeur-driven cars, which Cadillac produced but Ford didn't. By 1922,
Lincoln, a new Cadillac competitor, was in bankruptcy and facing
Henry Ford bought Lincoln from the bankruptcy court to get his wife out
of a Cadillac and into a Ford product. Then he turned the day-to-day
operation of Lincoln over to his son, Edsel.
Artistically, Edsel Ford was gifted, but by 1935, after years of
building beautiful cars, the Great Depression had reduced Lincoln's
sales to a trickle and Lincoln was once again in mortal danger. Only the
new mid-priced Lincoln-Zephyr, championed by Edsel Ford and introduced
in the fall of 1935, saved Lincoln from certain extinction a second
The marque faced the ax a third time in the summer of 1958, when Robert
McNamara, Ford Motor Company group vice president for vehicle
operations, told Lincoln management that its product ought to be
discontinued because he saw little hope of reversing Lincoln's long-term
losses. (Lincoln was then on its way to $60 million in losses for the
The 1961 Lincoln Continental came about as a last-ditch effort to save
Lincoln by making it profitable. As such, it proved to be a testament to
the notion of the "last chance": Not only did it begin a period of
rising sales, but it won new prestige for Lincoln, as well.
But before charging ahead with development of the 1961 Continental,
Lincoln management wanted to determine why the car-maker had fallen
behind its competitors.
Lincoln Institutes Design Study
Lincoln took a hard look at itself before the 1961 Lincoln Continental
was planned. In May 1955, George Walker, a design consultant to Ford
since the late 1940s, was hired as the company's vice president of
design. Walker's primary assistants were Joe Oros for the Ford lines and
Elwood Engel for Lincoln-Mercury.
On Engel's recommendation, Walker appointed longtime Ford designer John
Najjar head of the Lincoln design studio, and Najjar and Engel set about
designing the 1958 Lincoln.
The ultimate failure of the 1958 Lincoln, and the backlash it created,
resulted in Najjar's replacement by Don DeLaRossa as head of the Lincoln
studio in October 1957. DeLaRossa wanted something different -- and
smaller, but because of budget and time constraints, he was able to
generate no more than superficial changes on the 1959 and 1960 Lincolns.
Ford executive Ben D. Mills instituted a study to determine what Lincoln
had been doing wrong and, more importantly, what had to be done to make
Lincoln profitable. Mills, who had been named general manager of a newly
freestanding Lincoln Division in 1955 and who later headed a short-lived
Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln (M-E-L) group, set up a small internal committee.
It included DeLaRossa, who enlisted the help of Gene Bordinat, then in
charge of the Mercury studio, to consider why Cadillac had been so
successful, and why Lincoln had not achieved the same level of sales,
respect, or profitability.
Bordinat and DeLaRossa eventually concluded that Lincoln lacked design
consistency during the 1949-1958 period. Cadillac appealed to the same
market year after year with cars that at least looked like they were
related. Lincoln did not.
Mills saw the problem as far more complex. He felt an unduly influential
Walker had pushed the 1958 Lincoln on Ford's Product Planning Committee
without sufficient consideration of its profitability. Mills and
McNamara shared a general belief that Lincolns were too big, and that
they relied on too many design clichés that were likely to go out of
style all too quickly.
Mills concluded that the fastest way to make Lincoln profitable was to
extend the time between model changes, a concept that went against
conventional industry wisdom. He suggested stretching Lincoln's design
cycle from three to as many as nine years.
At about the same time the study was completed, Bordinat and DeLaRossa
played musical chairs. Bordinat was placed in charge of a consolidated
Lincoln-Mercury studio, and DeLaRossa became his executive stylist.
Rulo Conrad, who had been a manager in the Lincoln-Mercury studio and
one of the primary designers of the award-winning 1956 Lincoln, was
named to replace John Reinhart as head of Lincoln's preproduction
studio. Conrad's job was to complete the next-generation Lincoln that
had been started by Reinhart.
The designers in Conrad's studio included John Orfe, Merle Adams, Bob
Chieda, Howard Payne, and Joe West. Conrad desperately wanted to change
design directions, but he was told the car he was designing had to show
continuity with then-current production Lincolns.
Next, learn how about the design and development process for the 1961
Lincoln Continental resulted in two different proposals.
1961 Lincoln Continental Development Begins
The car that was originally meant to become the 1961 Lincoln Continental
was changed at least three times during its design process. When it was
completed, there were actually two different proposals, each with a
Those alternate proposals represented differences of opinion among the
designers and management about what the 1961 production Lincoln should
Design chief Gene Bordinat wanted a winged roof on the upcoming Lincoln
to counter General Motors' cantilever-roof four-door hardtop design
instituted for 1959. Designer John Orfe was asked to prepare renderings
of a car with an overhanging roof but, except for Bordinat, nobody else
liked the concept.
Since Bordinat was studio head, designer Rulo Conrad and clay modeler
Doug McCombs struggled on night after night without success trying to
come up with an acceptable winged-roof design.
Not all designers agreed that the next iteration of the Lincoln needed
to show continuity with the Lincoln then on the market. Many designers
felt that Lincoln needed a fresh start and the sooner the better.
Orfe and Howard Payne, two relatively new Lincoln Studio designers, were
frustrated with what their own studio was proposing for the
next-generation Lincoln. Although they were not alone, they were brash
enough to express their frustrations openly.
In mid 1957, they told John Najjar, head of the Lincoln design studio,
and designer John Reinhart that they disagreed with the design direction
being proposed for the next Lincoln. To their surprise, Najjar and
Reinhart told them they could build a full-sized clay model of their
idea for the car.
Payne and Orfe were given a small makeshift studio under a staircase in
a room that had previously been a coffee shop. Fitting it in between
other assignments, they designed and -- with clay modeler Joe Seibold --
built their proposed 1961 Lincoln over a period of about six months.
Design vice president George Walker and Elwood Engel liked the concept
enough to order two full-sized fiberglass models of it built. Before
building the fiberglass models, designer Ray Slate suggested that stubby
fins be added to the top of the front fenders and dropped down over the
grille area, dividing the dual headlights on either side. Slate's idea
was incorporated on the the full-sized models, although the stubby fins
were later removed during one of the design reviews of the car.
Between them, Orfe and Payne had a total of only three years experience
at Ford, and neither had a champion for their work. Almost immediately
after they finished their proposal, Engel began work on the alternate
1961 Thunderbird that eventually became the 1961 Continental.
One of the most vocal dissenters at Ford's Styling Center who had not
been directly involved in the design development of the next-generation
Lincoln was Wes Dahlberg. As a result of his disagreement with Bordinat,
he was promoted out of Dearborn and placed in charge of Ford's design
studio in Cologne, Germany. One of the first cars he designed after he
arrived there was the Taunus 17M.
As one of George Walker's primary assistants, Engel made frequent
overnight trips to Cologne. One of those trips occurred in June 1958.
Dahlberg's head clay modeler was Fred Hoadley, who accompanied Dahlberg
Both Dahlberg and Hoadley recall that during Engel's visit, he expressed
an unusual interest in the just-completed 3/8-scale theme model of the
Taunus 17M. They remember that Engel returned several times to study
their Taunus 17M model, and that he asked numerous questions about its
Dahlberg doubts the Taunus 17M had any direct influence on the design of
the 1961 Continental. Hoadley, on the other hand, believes there was a
connection, although he is unaware of any direct statement by Engel that
Hoadley returned home for a vacation about a year after Engel's visit
and, while at the Styling Center, he saw the proposed 1961 Continental
for the first time. Hoadley thought then, and continues to believe, that
the Taunus 17M -- with its straight-edged fenderline and ovoid headlamps
-- had a direct influence on the Continental.
1961 Lincoln Continental and 1961 Ford Thunderbird
How the proposal that Elwood Engel's design studio intended as a
Thunderbird became the 1961 Continental first requires some explanation
of the difficulties Joe Oros' Ford Studio designers had in coming up
with an acceptable design for the 1961 Thunderbird.
By 1958, the new Ford Division head, Jim Wright, had decided that the
1961 Thunderbird had to be even sportier than the previous model. Design
vice president George Walker and Oros didn't agree, but since Wright
supposedly had the last word, Oros directed his designers to begin work
on a sporty new four-passenger Thunderbird.
The design of the 1961 T-Bird didn't come easy, but after many
renderings and 3/8-scale clay models, the design direction was reached
during an all-night session in which designers Bill Boyer and Jim Powers
developed a full-sized clay model that established its basic lines.
Because the Ford Studio was having so much trouble establishing a design
direction for the 1961 Thunderbird, Engel decided to design his own
According to a narrative statement Engel gave the Henry Ford Museum in
June 1984, after he returned from his oversight trip to Cologne,
Germany, he asked Walker if he "could have a studio to develop an idea
for a new Thunderbird." Engel was given a small room in the basement of
the Styling Center. (The room left barely four feet on either side of a
full-sized clay model.)
The site was nicknamed the "stiletto" studio by designer Colin Neale
and, even though it was later claimed that the name referred to the
long, narrow layout of the room, Neale now acknowledges that the name
was coined as an irreverent jab at the production studios with which
they were competing.
Engel decided to base his 1961 Thunderbird proposal on the recently
discontinued Continental Mark II; the Orfe/Payne proposal; the
Quicksilver, a concept car designed in the Ford Studio that eventually
became the 1960 full-sized Ford; and a smattering of features from the
The designers assigned to the project were all handpicked. They included
John Najjar, Neale, Orfe, and design analyst Bob Thomas. Designers Dick
Avery, Gale Halderman, and Phil Payne -- Howard Payne's younger brother
-- came into the studio as the car was nearing completion, but they did
very little work on it.
Orfe was assigned to supervise the clay modeling. Harry Strickler was
the lead modeler on Engel's 1961 Thunderbird proposal, and on all the
changes the car went through in the studio on its way to becoming the
Studio clay modelers who worked on the car during its various stages
included Seibold, Cecil Perkins, Ross McLean, Art Rockall, Wolfgang
Konietzko, Ray Trombley, Rolland McDonald, and Toby Melone. The stiletto
studio designers all confirm that Engel, too, spent much of his time as
a hands-on designer working on the alternate 1961 Thunderbird proposal.
Preparing the package layout for the 1961 Lincoln Continental would
prove challenging for the design team. Continue reading for the details.
1961 Lincoln Continental Gets New Design Chief
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
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.
1961 Lincoln Continental Design Proposals
The designers in Elwood Engel's Lincoln design studio completed two
full-sized 1961 Thunderbird proposals in clay, and they were both ready
by late June 1958.
On the more conservative proposal (the one eventually selected to become
the 1961 Continental), designer Colin Neale designed a rear end with
large Ford-like round taillights.
John Najjar suggested a grille he asked John Orfe to design for the car.
The grille Najjar proposed had been incorporated on several prior design
proposals and was commonly referred to as a "Schick razor front end."
Najjar also suggested a horizontal bar in the middle of the grille to
make it distinctive, and grille blocks inside the grille to lessen the
electric shaver look.
At Engel's suggestion, the beltline and fender edges on the more
conservative proposal were capped by a narrow band of brightwork. Engel
told Orfe he got the idea from the Quicksilver, which had been completed
several months earlier in the Ford Preproduction Studio.
Orfe felt the bodysides should come to a point at the front of the car
rather than end bluntly, which he thought made the car look chopped off
and unfinished. While he was drawing new front ends for Engel's proposed
Thunderbird, design chief George Walker came in looking for ideas for
the Ford Studio's Thunderbird proposal.
He liked one of Orfe's renderings with a distinctive grille and pointed
fenders, so he took the drawing; it became the Ford Studio's Thunderbird
front end and grille proposal. Engel, meanwhile, vetoed all of Orfe's
pointed-fender ideas for his alternate 1961 Thunderbird in favor of the
squared-off front fenders that became a part of the production 1961
Before the competing 1961 Thunderbird proposals were presented to the
Product Planning Committee, Walker asked designer Joe Oros to support
Engel's proposal over that of his own studio designers.
Oros knew Walker favored Engel to succeed him when he retired, and
although he wanted to support his friend, he told Walker he couldn't
back Engel's Thunderbird because he honestly believed the Ford Studio
proposal was the better of the two.
Under continued pressure, Oros told Walker the best he could do was
remain silent when the planning committee reviewed the competing
designs. Which design would the Product Planning Committee choose? The
answer is in the next section.
1961 Lincoln Continental Product Planning Meetings
Two design proposals were presented at a Product Planning Committee
meeting in late July 1958 -- one of which would be chosen for the 1961
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
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.
1961 Lincoln Continental Almost Discontinued
Heated meetings almost led to the discontinuation of the 1961 Lincoln
Continental. Robert McNamara was still new to his post as vice president
in charge of all car and truck programs, having recently replaced Lewis
Crusoe, who retired in 1957 due to ill health.
Having headed the Ford Division before his promotion, McNamara was
familiar with its plans, but he wanted a full explanation of what was
brewing for Lincoln, so he instituted a series of biweekly meetings with
Lincoln's management. The meetings were attended by Ben D. Mills,
general manager; Harold MacDonald, chief engineer; Emmett Judge, chief
product planner; and support staff. No one from Styling was included in
Because MacDonald expected that McNamara would ask about features
planned for future Lincolns, he asked Harold Johnson, his executive
engineer for advanced projects, to attend. The subjects for discussion
at the first meeting included sales, finance, and projections. The
second meeting dealt with new products and planned technical features.
Johnson remembers being very involved in the presentations made at the
second meeting, which included such topics as proposed suspension
advances and how to install curved glass in future production Lincolns.
By the time the third and fourth sessions were held, they had become
presentations with little discussion, except when McNamara asked
Partway through the fourth meeting, that all changed. According to
McNamara, he stopped whoever was making the presentation and said it was
time to "clear the deck and put all the cards on the table."
Everyone but Mills, MacDonald, and Johnson were asked to leave the room,
and then McNamara announced that, based on Lincoln's dismal financial
projections, he had decided to recommend that the car line be
terminated. He didn't like the direction Lincoln was heading, didn't
like the fact Lincoln had never made a profit, and he hadn't heard
anything from Lincoln's management that changed his mind.
For a few seconds, Johnson says, you could have heard a pin drop.
Everyone in the room took McNamara, who was not known for his sense of
humor, as dead serious. Then Mills, who had come to Ford in 1946 with
McNamara as one of the "Whiz Kids," asked, "Bob, you can't really do
that, can you?"
McNamara responded, "You bet I can do it." A heated discussion followed,
with everyone in the room arguing against McNamara's proposed
recommendation, but none of the arguments made a dent on McNamara, who
gave no sign of changing his mind.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mills was finally able to persuade
McNamara to back off, something not often done. Mills argued that the
Ford family wouldn't agree to discontinue Lincoln, especially since the
Continental Division had been dissolved only a year and a half earlier,
and the Edsel was likely the next to go. Besides, Mills argued, it was
unfair to employees, dealers, and customers to stop making Lincolns
"cold turkey" without some sort of advance warning.
McNamara reluctantly told Mills that he would agree to one more Lincoln
production cycle, but only on specific conditions. One of the conditions
was that the next Lincoln had to be a lot smaller.
Recalling the events of that meeting more than 40 years later, McNamara
emphasized that his biggest concern was that future Lincolns had to make
a profit. He told Mills, MacDonald, and Johnson that he had recently
seen a clay model of a formal Continental-like Thunderbird downstairs in
Engel's studio that had been rejected in favor of a sportier T-Bird
McNamara told them that if that design could be made into a four-door
and profitably built as the new Lincoln, "without significantly
increasing its size," he would "go with the program." According to
Johnson, no one else in the room except Mills knew anything about the
clay model to which McNamara was referring, but, as the meeting broke
up, Mills turned to MacDonald and Johnson and said, "You'd better get
down there ASAP. Your jobs are cut out for you!"
It was late when the meeting broke up, so, early the next morning,
Johnson and one of his assistants, Bill Davis, hurried to the Styling
Center to look at the clay model. When they saw it, they decided they
really didn't know what McNamara meant about not making it significantly
They picked up the package drawings for the car and returned to Lincoln
advanced engineering to study them. Ultimately, they decided not to take
a chance, but to only lengthen the car the bare minimum needed to make
it a four-door.
Johnson and Davis then returned to the Styling Center, where they asked
Engel to lengthen the car by 10 inches, add two more doors, and also
build a separate seating buck based on their hastily modified package
More work would have to be done to ensure McNamara's approval,
1961 Lincoln Continental Prototype Approved
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
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
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.
1961 Lincoln Continental Engineering
In Lincoln vice president Robert McNamara's biweekly meetings with the
engineering team for the 1961 Lincoln Continental, the topic of
discussion was almost exclusively how to solve past problems, especially
those that had resulted in perennial large losses.
The 1958 Lincoln had originally been planned for a 126-inch wheelbase,
but was subsequently increased to 131 inches so the engine could be
moved five inches forward to make the transmission hump lower.
Because the 1961 Continental was to be shorter, the engine and
transmission had to be moved as close to the firewall as possible. That
meant that the transmission hump in the front-passenger compartment
became huge, threatening to limit passenger capacity to four instead of
six, something unacceptable for a Lincoln.
One of the problems Harold Johnson had to solve as chief engineer at
Continental Division was a tendency for the Mark II driveline to
vibrate. He asked Dana Corporation to come up with an inexpensive
constant-velocity, double-cardin universal joint. It never was used on
the Mark II, but it was revived for the 1961 Lincoln, where it allowed
the transmission and the propeller shaft to be angled downward.
The end result was that the 1961 Continental was built on a 123-inch
wheelbase, yet remained a six-passenger car.
At one of the biweekly meetings, McNamara brought up the subject of
Lincoln quality -- or what he saw as a lack thereof. With chief engineer
Harold MacDonald and Johnson's enthusiastic support, vendor cooperation,
and new testing methods, a 24,000-mile warranty and even universal oil
standards were pushed through as standard features on the 1961
At 25,164 units, the 1961 Continental sold slightly better than the 1960
Lincoln and Continental. But in a weak year for the industry, that
modest increase amounted to a 60-percent gain in market share.
More importantly, the profit the new-style Continental made ($20 million
between 1961 and 1964), the praise it received, the design awards it
won, and increasing sales over the next decade assured that Lincoln
Manufacturer: Lincoln (Ford)
Assembly: United States: Wixom, Michigan (Wixom Assembly)
Body and chassis
Full-size luxury car
430 cu in (7.0 L) MEL V8
460 cu in (7.5 L) 385-series V8
462 cu in (7.6 L) MEL V8
3-speed Turbo-Drive automatic
3-speed C6 automatic
Wheelbase: 123.0 in (3,124 mm)
Length: 212.4 in (5,395 mm)
Width: 78.6 in (1,996 mm)
Height: 53.6 in (1,361 mm)
5,000–5,700 lb (2,300–2,600 kg)
Original Price $6067 (1961 sedan);
$6713 (1961 convertible)