The 1990 Lincoln Town Car – The Inside Story

The 1990 Lincoln Town Car – The Inside Story

The 1990 Lincoln Town Car – The Inside Story

by Howard Payne

Originally published in the March-April 2004 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 257).

My involvement with the design development of the 1990 Lincoln Town Car was one of the high points of my design career at Ford Motor Company. After my June, 1956, graduation from The Cleveland Institute of Art, I was hired by Ford Motor Company, and assigned to the Lincoln Studio. My first project was to design a quad headlamp for the Mark II. The Mark II vehicle was later cancelled. Just a few weeks later, I was in the Interior studio and assigned to design the steering wheel for the 1958 Mark III. About a year or so later, John Orfe, a fellow designer, and I convinced management to let us “do our own thing” for the 1961 Lincoln Continental. Our design was well received, but it was not approved.

This was pretty heady stuff for a young designer so fresh from art school. A few years later, found me in Art Querfeld’s Studio working on the Continental Mark III. All were great experiences. It seemed that I just kept coming back to the Lincoln Studio.1990 Town Car Two Designs

In the fall of 1986, Gale Halderman requested my transfer to his Luxury Vehicle Studio, where I was assigned to the Mark VIII, and worked with Dennis Reardon and Rick Wells on a Lincoln show car we called “Slide and Slice”, but that is another story for another time. We were just finishing it for casting it in fiberglass about mid-January. Little did I know as that project was ending, another adventure was about to unfold.

Months earlier, the new 1990 Lincoln Town Car (code named FN-36) design had been approved and was moving into the “feasibility” phase. This phase is where studies are conducted, and necessary changes made to assure the vehicle can, in fact, be built with quality and maintain cost targets. We had watched the progress of the FN-36 from across the studio, and were pleased with the theme as it had all the hallmarks of a sure winner. Final design responsibility rested with Gale Halderman, director of Luxury Vehicle Studio.

The 1989 Town Car had evolved from the original 1980 design, and this series was eating away at Cadillac sales. The new design had to pick up on its predecessor’s success and move it into the ’90’s. It carried on the good looks of Lincoln, with a strong front end, and strong shoulder element running from the front fenders through the doors culminating in the distinctive Lincoln taillamps. It was a simple clean elegant Lincoln identity from every angle. Modem design for “newness” sake was not Gale’s way, and he made sure it would be recognized instantly as a Lincoln.

When the feasibility phase is initiated, the vehicle is turned over to the Body and Assembly Division whose task it is to build it. At this stage, production engineers from the assembly plant, suppliers, and Purchasing were working to make the vehicle perfect and ready for the market. Sometimes minor revisions have to be proposed. For these reasons, the design studio is still involved to assure the original design intent is preserved.

Upon approval of the FN-36 design, a formal event within the company, Ford had several new vehicles in the “pipeline” which all required immediate funding and staffing with feasibility expertise. Adequate staff was unavailable. This forced a decision to ” go outside” the organization and obtain the needed expertise on the open market. The rationale behind this was that a few Ford people could direct scores of other experts, multiplying their talent while saving the Company money and getting the job done, too.

The project was let out for bids to several automotive engineering firms. While not something new to Detroit for Ford, the size of the job to be done with outside help was a first. The decision was made to go with I.A.D. (International Automotive Design) of Worthing, West Sussex, England, just West of Brighton on the South Coast. I.A.D. was not new to the automotive scene, as they had a good reputation, good facilities, and had completed many programs for Rolls Royce and Volvo.

FN-36Soon, dozens of Ford people were on their way to England, with assignments of one to two years, long hours, and hard work preparing the new Town Car for “Job 1.” ” Job 1″ is automotive parlance for the first production vehicle of that model series.

Surface digitized drawings and the final clay model of the new FN-36 were prepared and shipped to Worthing. A Design Manager for Interior, a design Manager for Exterior, and a “resident Engineer” also followed the model to England. Almost immediately, problems started. The plane’s landing must have been rough, as the final clay model was broken into more pieces than one can count.

It was then up to I.A.D. to recreate the model using the scanner drawings accompanying the model, with the direction from those sent from the studio assigned to the program. Back in Dearborn, this was a major concern, knowing from experience how difficult it would be to restore a design without changing it, and our Design Management became very nervous.

In mid January, I received a call to come directly to Mr. Halderman’s office. It was late on a Thursday afternoon, and I had no idea why I was being summoned. I remember walking to his office wondering just what the cause was for my being
called.Two factory press releases

Once in his office, Gale was direct and to the point. “The FN-36 is in trouble,” he told me. “And it may not make Job 1!” (With federal regulations requiring airbags in 1990 model year, carrying over the old model was not an option.) “If it doesn’t” he went on- “It’s going to cost the Company one million dollars a day until we make Job 1! I’d like you to go over to I.A.D. and take over as Manager of Exterior Design. We’re also sending over a new Interior Design Manager.”

To his credit, he did not elaborate as to what was wrong, what had happened over there, nor what was going to happen. He was all business, “Talk it over with your family first, but” he continued “I must know by tomorrow first thing!” It was obvious to me that Gale was strained and not his normal self.

My wife and I discussed it, and reminded ourselves that our two youngest would both graduate from college in May. We decided we could work it out, albeit with a bit of “pond hopping” on my part, and we did. We knew that if the on-site management was failing, I could do no worse. With 31 years of design experience at Ford, I knew I could do better. The decision seemed simple.


Hood ornamentFriday morning, first thing, I reported to Gale’s office. His secretary, with a sweep of her arm, directed me into his inner office. Seated, I told him I was available, I would go. At that, he turned and asked his secretary to connect him with the studio in Worthing. She must have had them on hold, as he immediately started the conversation with the Manager in England without a hello or any pleasantries. He directed the two Managers to, “Be in my office first thing Monday morning!” and the call was ended. Now the urgency began to really sink in.

In short order I was on my way to England, not really knowing how long my presence would be required or exactly what I would find once I was there. However, upon arriving at the Worthing Studio, I was quickly brought up to speed. The studio engineering supervisor/manager Norm Ziegert, a good friend and an excellent engineer, showed me around. I was quite surprised at the number of items that were incomplete, but my biggest surprise was toward the rear of the clay model.

The Town Car used a carryover floorpan from the preceding 1989 model. The floorplan was something you knew you had to live with, as changing it meant developing an all new part which we didn’t have funding, nor time, for. Yet, there on the lower rear quarter panels was the trunk floor protruding through the rear fenders 1 1/2 inches on each side!! Unbelievable! This required top priority and immediate action.

“Norm,” I asked, “why aren’t there any door handles on the model?” His reply only increased my worries. “Well,“ he began, “We’re on design number 20, but still haven’t come up with anything Dearborn will approve.”

At this point I looked down to see if I just might be sinking into the concrete floor! Within two weeks we had an approved door handle design, thanks to long hours with a very talented I.A.D. draftsman. But with the “Cube Review” coming up in just four weeks, I knew we were in deep trouble. Together we started a list of what needed to be done, and prioritized each item. Most of them had four stars. Bumpers, body side moldings, tail lamps, head lamps, vinyl window moldings, grille, it went on and on.

Howard Payne with grillThat very first night we worked until 9:00 right along side of the modelers, which I was told they appreciated. I made my own quarter panel templates, went to the board, and quickly surfaced the rear quarters to cover the trunk floor with the required clearances. By 9:00 the next morning we had the rear fenders finished.

A “Cube Review” is an important step in verifying the dimensions of all the parts of the vehicle body. It is conducted on a surface plate. This plate is a very large platform of very thick steel, sometimes solid, that is dimensionally stable. With grid lines etched into the surface, measuring can be highly accurate, which permits verifying if the part will fit the whole. The cube review utilizes a cube or block of highly stable laminated wood with one side duplicating the surface of a section of the vehicle. This surface is developed from the surface drawings which are released to tool the vehicle. A cube or block for a door, a cube for a fender. Slide all the cubes together and you have a glossy black exact representation of the vehicle. With several bright lamps lighting on the surfaces, the highlights, (the reflected light can be checked to ascertain that they flow from one panel to the next. This is the designers’ last chance for any revisions as from these cubes the stamping dies will be cut. The cube review is one more formal event for the Company. This is a highly critical step in the feasibility process, and to fail this deadline can be fatal for a program (not to mention the personnel). From these approved cubes, the stamping dies will be cut.


Town Car Tail LampThe cube review would be conducted by Press Patterns in Nuneaton, near Coventry, as they had the contract to fabricate the die models. It was 150 miles to Nuneaton, but with the problems we faced, it might as well have been a million miles away.

Twenty or so Ford B&A engineers and six or so representatives from Ogihara, the Japanese metal stamping company who had the contract to do the sheet metal stamping for the FN-36 were also there.

As soon as the meeting started it was a disaster! People were mumbling and grumbling instead of focusing on the business at hand. Surfaces did not flow from body panel to body panel, the highlights (reflected light) jumped at every joint, doors didn’t match fenders, fender surfaces were lower than the hood or deck (trunk) lid. Good design practice locates the fenders surface 1 to 2 mm. above the hood or deck, so your eye will follow the surface and not look into the opening. The meeting was a very humbling experience. We did not want Dearborn to know what was being shown, yet somehow hoped they would understand what we were up against. Meeting members started to make comments like, “we’ll never make it, we’ll never get it right, what a mess; who allowed this to happen? You are not ready for this review” .

Rather than let the negativism continue and get out of control, Norm and I grabbed white grease pencils and started to  mark the various black cubes where corrections were required. Soon, a more positive air began to develop, solutions were offered, and group effort prevailed, and it continued for the duration of the program.

This was a pivotal point, as now the whole team knew that design had a problem and needed their help. A new attitude grew towards Norm and me, and strange as it may seem, this group was now looking at us to save the program.

I’m convinced that the FN-36 program produced a superior Town Car because of the re-examination of every part of the car. Instinctively, we knew that each and every part had to be re-evaluated and, in most cases, redrawn. Without holding a witch hunt, I think the fault lay with I.A.D. employing young inexperienced CADCAM draftspeople who had yet to master the basics. Always put the adjoining parts on the same drawing, insuring the pieces join and match. All surfaces must accelerate into the next surface, thus avoiding break lines and tangent lines in the surface. Always compare your drawings by overlaying the ‘release’ drawing (black line) to the scanner drawing from the studio (red line) to insure design intent is maintained. The draftsmen did not understand that the designer may put a twist in a body line for a reason, they just considered it a mistake and corrected it.

The second area of responsibility falls to the on site design management effort, as someone simply just was not watching the shop. At this point in developing a vehicle it is a cooperative effort, Design (Styling) , Engineering, Body and Assembly, and the Suppliers.

We found the headlamp and tail lamp frames were cocked, not level with the world. Grille bars, for example, were all drawn parallel, not splayed out to look parallel. I’m convinced we caught all the errors in a timely manner, but the pressure was constant. It was about this time that I became aware of five or six of the more knowledgeable IAD engineers who would come to me and ask to speak in private. Then, a suggestion would be made that I look at a certain drawing—for instance, the deck lid lock surface in relation to the latch mechanism. Sure enough, there would be a problem.

After six months Norm and I returned to the States and our previous assignments. However, I continued to fly to the UK and Worthing every two or three weeks and stay as needed. I’d check drawings, meet with part suppliers, and attend B&A meetings. When back in Dearborn, Norm and I started work on the 1991 model bumpers and body side moldings, while trying to keep a distant eye on the FN-36 in the U.K.

Town Car Deck and TrunkDesign intent was to have window moldings that were as smooth as possible, for the most flush condition possible. The molding supplier said they could only manufacture them with a vulcanized patch in the corners. This being a new design, a new direction for window design and construction, you find you must listen to the guy who is going to make it. Still I was not happy with the window moldings with the 3 to 3 millimeter lumps in each corner. The new Taurus and Sable were still quite new, and two of them were in the hallway just outside of the studio. For some reason, I decided to examine them. One had the required patches (it was built in Chicago) while the other had the smooth surface we desired (it was built in Atlanta), but both were from the same manufacturer. We set up a meeting, and we got smooth moldings, but no apology from the supplier. Why that company’s representative did not go the extra mile for a vehicle of the class of the Town Car and make sure it maintained the design intent I’ll never know.

Peeking sealSome readers may be wondering why a vinyl roof option was not offered. We designed one, and Arvin Industries in Columbus, Indiana, was to produce them. I thought it was a good looking option, not my cup of tea, but it looked good. It was a three piece design with appliques on each rear door and a cap on the roof. B&A assembled one on a prototype with the roof option in silver vinyl and installed on a maroon body (that combination looked horrid). Someone parked it in the Design Center courtyard shortly before Lew Veraldi, vice president of Product Development, walked across the courtyard with a cadre of assistants close behind. I’m told he stopped, looked at the FN-36, studied it and then announced, “I don’t want to see a Town Car with a vinyl roof.” The next thing we knew there was no vinyl roof option. It even  disappeared from the product assumption book, which outlines each and every feature for the vehicle. Lincoln lost control of the vinyl roof design, and a sizeable profit went to the dealers who did it themselves, sometimes not too wisely.

There is one more story readers may not know about: the Lincoln- Zephyr touring sedan. IAD, trying to improve relations with Ford and create some more income, came up with the Zephyr. They directed their designers to customize a Town Car prototype, to develop a Touring Sedan, and then send it over for our approval. It was not a design success. Gale proposed that I do some sketches showing IAD what should be done to improve the appearance. The moldings were crude, tail lamps and headlamps were devoid of any detail, and the front and rear did not say “Lincoln.” We made up a leather portfolio containing my sketches, and both it and the Sedan were returned to IAD never to be seen nor heard of again.

To the credit of everyone who worked on the FN-36, the Town Car was an instant hit in the marketplace (our court of approval) sales zoomed, and it was awarded the Motor Trend Car o f the Year for 1990.1 will always be proud of the 1990 Town Car, an elegant luxury vehicle.



Howard Payne was raised in Goshen, Indiana, and discovered his automotive interest when he built a ’32 Ford High Boy in 1950. Displaying his artistic talent caused relatives to send him a news article about George Walker an alumnus of the Cleveland Institute of Art who was heading Design at Ford Motor Company. Payne applied to CIA and was accepted. The summer after his third year, Joe Oros hired him as an intern in Alex Tremulis’ Advanced Studio, and he was offered a job at Ford when he graduated.

In 1956, he started his design career in John Najar’s Lincoln Exterior Studio, and then was rotated to the interior studio working on the 1958 Lincoln and Continental. Rotated back to the exterior group he then worked on Rulo Conrad’s Lincoln Envoy. Unhappy with the direction the studio was taking on the 1961 Lincolns he and John Orfe, convinced Najar and John  Reinhart to allow them to use the former lunch room to design and build a 1961 proposal which was well received by management.

Upon completion of the Continental proposal Payne was transferred to the Mercury studio where he was assigned the 1963 Mercury Marauder show car. Don DeLaRossa then had Payne moved to the Lincoln studio again where he worked on John Aiken’s 1966 Lincoln Continental, Then a transfer found him working on the Mark III in Art Querfeld’s studio, and then a move to Ford interior studio where he designed the 1972 Thunderbird instrument panel which was then shared with the Mark IV. Payne was responsible for designing the interior of the infamous “Anaheim Buck” which became the Mustang 11.

Promoted, he was then assigned to an advanced studio working on the ‘Bobcat’, ‘Fox’, and ‘Panther’ programs. An assignment in international studio led to his designing the Ford Probe II interior, and the Lincoln Concept 100. After a stint in the Koln Germany studios working on a Fiesta for Bob Lutz, Payne was transferred to Gale Halderman’s Luxury Vehicle studio. There he was assigned to the Mark VIII group, and was one of the three designers on the Lincoln,” Slide and Slice” . After his assignment on the 1990 Town Car he designed the Mark VII 1/2, and worked on the Mark VIII, before moving to the Color and Trim studios where he had Color Development and Color and Trim Design for Trucks and small Cars. Payne retired in January of 1997 after almost 41 years at Ford Motor Company Design.Howard Payne

Connie Goes to Palm Springs

Connie Goes to Palm Springs

Connie Goes to Palm Springs

by Richard Gierak

Some triumphs take a quite a while to happen.  For my wife Shirley and me, showing our ’57 Lincoln Premiere, known as “Connie,” in May at the LCOC Western Region National Meet in Palm Springs was the culmination of a long journey.

But first, a little history…

My grandfather, Adam Gierak, drove only Lincolns his entire life.  He and my grandmother, Connie, moved to Palm Desert around 1965 from Concord, California.  I remember being driven to school in Concord in my grandmother’s Lincoln; I don’t recall the year or model, but it was large and beautiful.

Around 1981 I moved to Palm Desert to live with my grandparents and attend nearby College of the Desert.  At this time my grandfather was driving a 1977 Lincoln Continental and my grandmother a 1973 Mark IV. (This white-on-white Mark IV would later become my first Lincoln.)  Grandpa also had two 1957 Premieres covered in his yard which he would uncover and start once a month.  One was yellow and eventually landed with my Aunt Candy.  The other was turquoise and white with a Continental kit on the back.  Grandpa said the turquoise car was better but the yellow one looked nicer.

I arrived at my grandparents’ house driving a 1972 Honda Coupe with a 36 cubic inch, air-cooled engine with front-wheel-drive and 10″ wheels.  Unfortunately, I managed to blow the engine on my little Honda Coupe while running an errand for grandpa to Twenty Nine Palms.  I’ll never forget the white-knuckle ride home as grandpa towed me behind his Continental at 75 miles per hour!

Grandpa decided I would drive the turquoise and white Premiere until he could find me a suitable car. So, I drove this massive car to school and around Palm Desert for a couple months until he found a nice 1974 Ford LTD which I would drive for the remainder of my time there.

Fast-forward to October 1997 when my grandfather passed away just short of his 80th birthday.  I traveled to Palm Desert from Clayton California to be with my grandmother.  When she asked me if I wanted the turquoise and white Premiere, I enthusiastically said “yes” and returned the following month with a car trailer to bring the Premiere north.

For the next few years, I would start the car and drive it around the block every other month.  Eventually I became lazy and the car sat in my side yard, but in 2011 I had a garage built for it and began to get it running.  The LCOC was hosting a National Meet in Concord in 2012 and I was hoping to bring the car.  There was quite a bit of work to do.  Once the engine was running, the water pump seal gave out.  Next it became frighteningly clear that the brakes didn’t work – at all!  All four wheel cylinders were rusted completely solid.  I resolved these issues and thought she was ready to drive, but the night before the meet she wouldn’t start.

I spent that Friday night working to get the car started.  A little gas down the carburetor and she would fire, burn the gas off and stall.  Late in the evening I took the top off the carburetor and found the float bowls and body full of sand!  A little blowing and vacuuming along with a fresh fuel filter in the line and the car started just as I was ready to accept defeat.

Connie 2

Over the next five years Connie made some trips to Bay Area club gatherings and a few lunch outings.  In May of 2017 I decided to restore Connie to her original condition and began with pulling the engine and transmission. The biggest aspect was the body and paint work which took longer than I had hoped.  Connie came home with her new paint in December 2021 and I began re-assembling.  During her time in the body shop I cleaned, polished and refurbished literally every part of the car.  I had Connie parts stored in about 60 boxes and locations in the garage, all cataloged in a Google spreadsheet.

Connie gets her name

The Saturday morning of the meet I started the car to back her out of the garage.  On the seat next to me was a photo of my grandparents which is still in the car today.  As I began to back the car out,I heard a voice, as though my grandmother who had passed away in 2005 was saying clear as day:  “My name is Connie.”  I get flushed every time I think of that moment, even now.  Connie had been named!

I drove the 7 miles to the Concord meet with lots of attention from other drivers and Connie made her LCOC debut. 

Connie 3

Again, I was hoping to make the next LCOC Western National Meet, this time in Palm Springs and 10 years after Connie’s first national meet.  In addition to my assembly activity, Connie spent 3 weeks at the upholstery shop getting her new interior installed. She was completed in late April and what a sight!

Off to Palm Springs

We were finally ready to go to Palm Springs!  Heading south on Interstate 5, Connie glided down the road in style.  I was surprised to find her 368 V8 averaging about 15 miles per gallon on the highway, about double what my ’73 Mark IV would do with its 460 motor.

Connie 4We arrived Thursday evening in Palm Springs and truly enjoyed the weekend with so many LCOC friends that we hadn’t seen since the San Diego meet in 2015.  We participated in a tour and lunch with the club on Friday morning before driving to my grandparents’ house in Palm Desert.  They are long gone and yet it was very special for me to photograph Connie in the driveway of their former home, the photo of them on the back seat as always.

Connie looked fabulous on the show field Saturday and took home a 2nd place Primary Division award with a score of 92 points!  Needing to get home Sunday, we headed for the highway early that morning.  After hitting 3 little rainstorms rolling west toward Pasadena, we headed north on I-5 over the Grapevine.  Connie ran strong and fast up the mountain with nary a rise on her temperature gauge.  As we descended on the north side, I noticed a bit of a rumble in the front end; I assumed it was the road surface and made note to pay attention.

Homeward Challenges

As we reached the valley floor heading north, I also smelled burning brakes.  Again, I dismissed this as belonging to trucks since they all smoke their brakes by the bottom of the hill.  Then a vehicle to my left honked and instead waving or offering a thumbs-up they pointed at my left front wheel—just in time for me to make an exit to a large truck and auto plaza.  As I slowed and cornered very carefully to park in the near-empty RV parking lot, I could hear lots of rattling coming from the left front wheel.

Getting out of the car, I could see smoke pouring out of the hubcap!  Just in case,I grabbed my fire extinguisher.  Removing the hubcap, I found, rattling loose inside, the grease cap, pieces of the cotter pin, the castle nut, the washer AND the outer wheel bearing.  The hub had cocked a bit and was riding on (and grinding away) the threads on the spindle.

Having purchased a cotter pin and some grease at the truck stop, I raised the car and removed the wheel and the brake drum/hub.  The brake shoes were curled at the bottom and some lining had been burned away.  The spindle had about one fourth of its diameter, including the threads for the castle nut, ground away. I began working on the threads to see if I could get the castle nut to engage.  A few minutes with a file from my toolbox and some turning with the nut and I had ‘good’ threads again on the spindle.  I greased the inner wheel bearing and installed the brake drum.  I greased and installed the outer wheel bearing, washer and castle nut.  I tightened the castle nut as much as I dared given the compromised spindle threads, but it wasn’t far enough to get the cotter pin through the hole.

I put the wheel on the car and drove a couple of laps around the parking lot hoping to seat the bearings enough to allow some more turns on the castle nut.  I was able to get the nut far enough to allow half of the cotter pin to squeeze through the hole.  I folded the cotter pin over the end of the spindle, installed the grease cap and hubcap and we headed for home.  The temporary repair took about an hour and we drove 350 miles home without further incident.  At our next fuel stop I removed the hubcap and found (to my relief!) that the hub was cool to the touch which meant we had enough grease and smooth-rolling bearings.

Connie made it home in fine shape and sat for 2 weeks until we moved our home 100 miles northeast to Sutter Creek.  I checked the wheel bearing adjustment, adding a few turns and a new cotter pin.  Connie made the drive to our new home and I’ve since replaced the spindle, brake shoes and outer wheel bearing.  It was quite the adventure and we couldn’t be happier with how Connie looked, drove and brought us home safely.

Getting Connie restored and successfully showing her at Palm Springs was a long journey, but well worth the time and energy.  We look forward to showing her around our new community and joining the local car show in October.  I’m blessed and glad to honor my grandparents by restoring and driving this beautiful car, the last Lincoln remaining in our family.  If you’ve read this far, you know most of my story with Connie.  If you would like to learn more about her restoration process, she has a little website:

Stay well and I hope to see many of you at future LCOC gatherings!