Originally published in the May-June 2003 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 252).
The following is the production story behind the 1949-1951 Lincolns and Lincoln Cosmopolitans based on reports of management meetings, January 1949 and April, 1950 furnished by Charles Berry, Naples, Florida.
The establishment of the Lincoln-Mercury Division in 1945 was the first step in the company’s plan for decentralization under the new management, which replaced the elder Henry Ford and his cohorts. This was not simply a plan for designing and producing automobiles. It included all phases of production and distribution including accounting, dealer organization, plans for expansion, and marketing. All phases of the organization were under the leadership of Benson Ford working closely with Henry Ford II, Ernest R. Breech and the corporate executive staff. It is interesting to note that the Lincoln-Mercury Division executive offices were the same executive offices that Lincoln occupied since the beginning, 1922.
When the Lincoln-Mercury Division was created in 1945, only the production of Lincoln cars was separate from Ford; and even this was under the direct supervision of the Rouge Manufacturing organization. All the accounting, the purchasing, industrial relations, sales, service, and financial control was handled by the same organizations that handled this work for the Ford cars.
During World War II, the Lincoln plant had been more completely converted to war production than any other Ford Motor Company plant. This all had to be reconverted to civilian car production. The Lincoln Office Building, with the exception of the first floor, was little more than a warehouse prior to 1946. So the offices had to be expanded and modernized for all of the functions of a full and separate division. Housed in the Lincoln Office Building after the war were offices for manufacturing, quality control, purchasing, administrative control, accounting, industrial relations and sales.
We mentioned in the previous article that prior to World War II Lincoln and Mercury had a weak sales organization, and this contributed significantly to Lincoln and Mercury’s poor market share. In 1934 the medium and high-priced car market amounted to 28 per cent of all passenger car business. By 1940 it represented 46 per cent. In 1941, there were 1,603,000 cars sold in these price classes, but Lincoln produced only 17,700 cars in 1941 and Mercury produced only 80,000. (Lincoln and Mercury together accounted for less than 6 per cent of the market.) By 1947, medium and high-priced cars accounted for 50 per cent of the market. It was Henry Ford II and Jack Davis, head of all Ford sales, who decided to really go after this market, and the only effective way to do it would be to establish a completely independent Lincoln and Mercury dealer organization. In the past, Lincoln and Mercury had been sold almost entirely by Ford dealers whose main interest was to sell the Ford line which was an easy sell against Chevrolet. Mercury was not an easy sell against the wide number of competitive makes in the medium-priced field and Lincoln was a very tough sell in the high-priced field. In fact, by the end of World War II there were only 38 separate Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the entire United States.
The first jobs of the Lincoln-Mercury sales department were to establish a separate dealer organization from Ford, to determine what their sales and merchandising policies would be, where the market was for these automobiles, how many dealers there should be, what kind of dealers they should be, and where they should be located. Lincoln-Mercury sales divided the country into 21 districts, as distinct from the 33 Ford sales districts. By January, 1947, there were 401 exclusive Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, and by January, 1948, there were 666. By January, 1949, eight months after the new models were introduced, there were nearly 1,000 dealerships. By the same token, by January, 1947, there were were only 395 Ford dealers handling Lincolns and Mercury s. While it would never be possible to eliminate all Lincolns and Mercurys sold through Ford dealerships, in certain parts of the country the population was too sparce for separate Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, the primary goal was to expand the number of Lincoln and Mercury only dealerships.
Their policy was to pick the very best dealers they could get. They wanted to make this franchise as attractive as possible, eventually expecting to parallel Cadillac with their exclusive Lincoln-Mercury setup. In other words, wherever there is a Cadillac dealer, and most Cadillac dealers even then sold some other GM car, usually Oldsmobile, there would be a Lincoln-Mercury dealer. Supplementing the Lincoln-Mercury dealers would be exclusively Mercury dealers.
Once the new dealer organization was in place and with a service organization trained to handle the new cars, the new cars were introduced in April, 1948. These were the first new 1949 cars presented by the new Ford Motor Company.
In 1946. the Lincoln-Mercury Division produced a total of 84,000 Lincoln and Mercury cars. This represented 13 percent of total Ford Motor Company production. In 1947 the division produced a total of 153,000 Lincoln and Mercury cars which represented 16 per cent of total Ford Motor Company production. In 1948, the division produced 240,000 automobiles or about 20 per cent of total Ford production.
There was no such thing as an industrial relations department at Lincoln from 1922 to 1946. Labor relations, employment, personnel records, medical, plant protection, employee rights, etc. was all new with the new Lincoln-Mercury Division. Also prior to 1946, all Lincoln-Mercury purchasing was done through Ford, which was hardly the way to buy parts and supplies most efficiently. But what was really needed was a completely new plant layout to produce the new automobiles.
Therefore, in June, 1946 a new program was started to rearrange and modernize the old Lincoln plant to build the new automobiles. But that was only the beginning. Plans were laid out to build three new assembly plants which would build the new 1949 automobiles. Ground was broken for new plants in Metuchen, New Jersey, St. Louis, Missouri, and Los Angeles, California. These plants were completed so rapidly that they were able to start production with the introduction of the new 1949 model cars. It is interesting to note as a sidelight that after February 1, 1948, the old Lincoln plant ceased producing 1948 Lincolns and only built 1948 Lincoln Continentals until the end of Lincoln Continental production in the spring of 1948. But this did not mean that the old plant ceased producing automobiles altogether. To the best of our knowledge, it continued to produce Lincolns until Lincoln completed its Wixom, Michigan plant in 1957. The old Lincoln plant never did produce Mercurys; they were produced in Dearborn and at five other Ford plants until the new Lincoln-Mercury plants were completed. Once the new Lincoln plants were completed all Lincolns and most Mercurys were completed at Lincoln-Mercury plants, although some Mercurys continued to be produced at the Ford plant in Dearborn. Once the new plants were completed, all Lincoln Cosmopolitans were produced in the modernized 1922 Lincoln plant. The 121 inch wheelbase Lincolns were produced at the Metuchen, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Detroit Lincoln plant. Mercurys were produced at the Metuchen, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Dearborn plants. The Chester, Pennsylvania plant handled the exporting of the 121-inch Lincoln and the Mercury.
The modernization of the old Lincoln plant, the construction of three new plants, and the tooling for the three new lines of automobiles represented an expenditure of approximately $75,000,000. The last department to be established was quality control, in December, 1947.
Lincoln and Mercury’s advertising agency for the 1946-48 models was J. Walt Thompson which also handled the 1946-48 model Ford advertising. Beginning with the new 1949 models, Lincoln and Mercury hired its own advertising agency, Kenyon & Eckert. One of their first major advertising adventures was sponsorship of the Toast of the Town, later renamed The Ed Sullivan Show, featured in the last issue of Continental Comments. Later, Lincoln went all out to sponsor cars in the Mexican Road Races, which was another aspect of Lincoln-Mercury promotion.
On January 18, 1950, Benson Ford, Vice President and General Manager of the Lincoln-Mercury Division, spoke at the management meeting of the Ford Motor Company in the Ford Rotunda Theater in Dearborn. Here, in part, is what he said:
“The last time that we of Lincoln-Mercury presented a report of our organization and objectives to the management group, we closed by stating that our goal was: ‘To continue penetration into medium and high priced market until we achieved sales leadership in our field. That’s all our goal—or part of it. And, as you will see today, we are making steady progress toward its attainment. I said sales leadership was only part of our goal. During the past year or so we at Lincoln-Mercury have—well, raised our sights. We had a little more experience in solving problems of being on our own. As a result, we’ve evolved a new ambition — almost a new philosophy to guide us in our future years. That new and expanded ambition is this —we at Lincoln-Mercury want to build a reputation not only as producers of the finest cars in the world, but to build a reputation as an organization unexcelled in the entire industry. We want Lincoln and Mercury names to represent the pinnacle of excellence from every possible aspect. That means product, policies, practices, and people. To reach that eventual goal there are four major things that we have to achieve. First, and most obvious, our cars must represent the finest in conception. Any quality product must be soundly —skillfully designed and engineered for sale in its particular market. Next, we know that to reach our goal, our cars must be built with the finest of materials. Because, as everybody knows, no product can be any better than the materials out of which it’s made. Thirdly, our cars must represent the finest in automotive manufacturing craftsmanship. And, lastly, our cars must be backed by the finest possible organization of people. That means the right number of people who are highly skilled in their individual jobs of tool making, grinding, inspection, painting, accounting, selling, administrating, or whatever that job may be. Along with a skilled organization, we want to build a loyal organization of individuals who not only feel—but are given every reason to know that they are an important part of the whole—that they belong. I’m talking about people who are proud and happy in the feeling of security that goes hand and hand with well paid permanent, and important jobs, be those jobs on an assembly line, in an office, or out in the field. In other words, we want an organization of people—a complete payroll of individuals who know that ‘Nothing could be finer 9 than their jobs of creating and selling the products of Lincoln-Mercury.”
We will not reprint Benson Ford’s entire presentation. It covered improvements in purchasing parts from 1,500 vendors , scheduling the arrival of parts, the controller’s office, quality control, engineering, manufacturing and industrial relations, public relations, sales and dealer relations. He did make a few points on service that will of interest to Lincoln collectors today.
Mr. Ford said: “Here is just one of many examples of the way our Service Department is building customer goodwill. Late in 1949, we made quite a few changes in the 1949 Lincoln. Our dealers called all the customers who had bought earlier models of the 1949 Lincolns and offered to bring them up to date at no charge to them. That cost us a lot of money, but it was worth it in customer good will. We haven’t the intention of making this procedure a Company policy, but we feel it symbolizes the spirit of Lincoln-Mercury. Here is a letter, typical of the thousands we get from our customers. ‘You can well imagine our surprise when we where informed by the dealer that if we could bring the automobile in, at our convenience, they wished to bring it up to date at no cost to us. We have never heard of any other company who has gone this far in an attempt to establish owner satisfaction and good will. We have told many of our friends about your unusual service policy and feel such procedure will go a long way to make friends and make secure your present business and add greatly to your future.’ “
In the management meeting on April 19, 1950, Benson Ford concluded by saying: “The distinctiveness in design of the Mercury and Lincoln cars and the degree to which they are up-to-the-minute in technical development are the key factors in determining public acceptance. Don’t forget that if any one of General Motors middle-priced products fails to ring the bell in any given year, there are two other good alternatives for the public to turn to. Not so with our products. We can take no chances. Our cars must have their own character, and their own distinction. The importance of this point cannot be over-emphasized.
The Mercury car did not go from two percent of the total market to over five percent just by happenstance. The manufacturing organization had quality hammered into it. It wasn’t too long before the American public found they had a new distinctive good-looking, fairly priced car, that possessed high quality, good performance, and efficient service.
We intend to keep giving them this kind of product. This, then, is the competitive position of the Lincoln-Mercury cars in the middle-price market. There is nothing static about it. Our product, our manufacturing facilities and our dealer organization taken as a whole, are the one big new factor in the middle-price field. The effect of this new factor on competition in the field is going to be tremendous. The ability to keep graduates from the lowest price field in the Ford family is already a big factor in the position of the Ford Motor Company as a whole. It will be even more so as we climb to our rightful place in the middle-price field.”