Above Photo: A proposed 1949 Lincoln Continental Convertible. Photo courtesy National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library
Lincoln Continental – The Lost Years
by Jim Farrell
Originally published in the November-December 1996 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 213).
The last of the HV-12 Continentals, a 1948 coupe, came off the assembly line at the old Lincoln plant in late March, 1948. By that time, it was known there would be no 1949 Lincoln Continental. Ernest Breech, hired by Henry Ford II to teach him how to turn a floundering automobile manufacturing company around, thought it best to concentrate the limited resources available on new Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns that could be built on the assembly line, sell in maximum numbers and presumably make Ford Motor Co. a healthy profit. Any new, limited in number Continentals that bought prestige at a loss would have to wait until finances at Ford Motor Co. could be rebuilt. In hindsight, it was a wise decision, but in the years before the Mark II was built, the idea of a new Continental was never far from the corporate consciousness at Ford Motor Co.
With the introduction of the 1949 Lincolns and Cosmopolitans in April, 1948, the buying public started to write to Mr. Ford and Mr. Breech taking exception to the lack of a Continental in the Ford Motor Co. new car lineup. Over the next few years, the letters kept coming. That type of loyalty helped create a belief at all levels of the Company that sooner rather than later the Continental would be reborn. In mid-1952, planning began in earnest for a new Continental which was eventually introduced in late 1955 as a ‘56 model.
By mid-1953, the new Continental Mark II had been designed and a full sized clay model built. On July 7, 1953, the final go ahead was given to build a new Continental Mark II, and in October, 1954, the first public announcement of the forthcoming Mark II was made at a Lincoln Continental Owners Club national meet hosted by William Clay Ford at Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan. The Mark II was introduced to the public October 22, 1955, seven and a half years after the last HV-12 Lincoln Continental.
The development of the Mark II has been well documented, but attempts to produce other Continentals after the demise of the HV-12 Lincoln Continental and before the birth of the Mark II remain sketchy, at best. Bill Schmidt, who in 1945 became head of the Lincoln Design Studio did a rendering of a proposed 1949 Continental that has survived and is now in the Henry Ford Museum. That rendering, done in 1945, shows the heritage of the 1946-48 Continental. Reportedly, in 1945-46 there was even a full sized clay model of a proposed 1949 Continental made. Bob Gregorie, head of the Ford design studio at the time, says that the clay of the proposed 1949 Continental was so ungainly, it was quickly destroyed.
Another reason given for the lack of a Continental in the 1949 Ford Motor Co. lineup was the supposed inability to adapt the design of the “bathtub” 1949 Lincoln to a Continental using the same body structure. (Whether that’s true or not, bathroom fixtures had nothing to do with the design of the 1949 Lincoln. The strongest influence on the design of the ‘49 Lincoln was contemporary aircraft, especially the planes developed just before and during World War II. If there’s a specific plane that influenced the look of the ‘49 Lincoln, a good candidate is the C-56, known by its civilian designation as the L 749A Super Constellation. It first flew in 1943, the same year the close-to-final design of the ‘49 Cosmopolitan was transformed into clay.)
Surprisingly, this one is a four-door sedan. The rendering is not attributed to a particular designer, is unsigned and is attributed in Archives’ records to “Ford Motor Co.”. According to Mr. Gregorie, this drawing was done after he left. (Gregorie’s resignation was official December 31, 1946, but his last day at the Design Center was approximately two weeks earlier.) John Najjar, a designer at Ford at the time believes the drawing to be the work of a design apprentice done to show his mentor what he could do. Absent the skylight type second windshield, (typical of some earlier Brunn built custom bodies) the Continental shown in the drawing is probably representative of what was being proposed at the time and fairly close to what the proposed 1949 Continental would have looked like if built. There are no known photographs of the full size clay model of the proposed ‘49 Continental Gregorie says was destroyed.
Between 1945 and as late as May, 1947 designers were trying to figure out a way of designing a ‘49 Lincoln Cosmopolitan that had a trim scheme similar to the Continental. The built-in continental kit, the pronounced back fender line, the extra side trim and the fabric roof on models photographed in May, 1947 were considered as trim variations on the ‘49 Lincoln Cosmopolitan so it could borrow a little of the luster of the discontinued Continental. (Luckily, the fin in the center of the trunk never made it out of the design studio on any car!)
From the Collection o f Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
Although the fabric top was later used on ‘50 and ‘51 Lincoln Lidos and ‘50 and ‘51 Cosmopolitan Capris, nothing in the 1949 Lincoln lineup reminded the buyer of the Continental. It was apparently thought best to make a clean break—at least for the time being.
A proposed 1951 Continental was done in clay in about 1949. It has few, if any of the traditional Continental design cues and looks something like a DeSoto.
In about 1950 a design for a proposed ‘52 Continental was also translated into clay. The proposed ‘52 Continental has the traditional long hood/short deck look of the original Continental and more importantly looks something like a Continental. It also has the same blind “C” pillar area as was used on the Mark II and the Thunderbird. It’s probably not possible now to determine how seriously these Continental proposals were considered, but they do indicate the Continental was not forgotten after 1949.
In 1950 or’51, the design studio also began work on the Continental 195X. It was introduced early in 1952 as a show car and it was hinted strongly that it might soon be built as the new Continental. As soon as it was decided to build the Mark II, the name of the Continental 195X was changed to the Ford X-100. When the X-100 was reintroduced to the public in 1953 at Ford’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, it was emphasized that it would not be produced and that it was not a new Continental.
The pictures of the proposed ‘51 and ‘52 Continentals and the Continental 195X give us an idea of what stylists at the Ford Design Center had in mind if the go ahead had been given to add a Continental to the new car lineup between 1949 and 1952. Different designs were being considered, including non-sporty four-door sedans. It’s likely that after the decision was made not to build a 1949 Continental, it was also decided that any new Continental built would have a separate body rather than share body panels with the regular production Lincoln. Judging from the pictures, the decision to build a separate Continental, not based on the production Lincoln, was made several years before the Mark II project got under way.
Since the Mark II, all Continentals and Mark series Lincolns have shared running gear, but unlike the HV-12 Continental, they have not shared their body panels with production Lincolns, even if modified. The accompanying photographs of the the full-size fiberglass Mark II model show how much different the new Mark II was from the original HV-12 Continental and from the design proposals that came in between. Although the Mark II was meant to pay homage to the Continental, it was no longer even called a Lincoln. The progression of design is apparent, but more so are the differences.