Above: Keith & Diane Johnson’s 1957 Lincoln Premiere Landau
Originally published in the March-April 2003 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 251).
Reprinted from Mechanix Illustrated, February, 1957
Back in 1953, Lincoln swapped its stovepipe hat for a beanie and gobbled up all comers in the 1,900-mile Pan-American road race. The next year they did it again, as hundreds of little Mexican boys screamed out to the rest of the competition, “They went that-a-way, senor!”
One thing about the Ford organization (which includes the Continental, Lincoln, Mercury, Ford and next year the Edsel) is that these boys are not set in their ways. With their Mexican successes behind them—successes which were accomplished because their cars were not only fast, but roadable and the finest-handling automobiles ever produced in this country— Lincoln switched character. Like the guy who reaches for his carpet slippers after he’s won the girl, or the gladiator who sheaths his broadsword after successfully pigsticking the dragon, Lincoln took off its competition coveralls, slipped into white-tie-and tails, and emerged as a conservative, distinguished gentleman with discreetly concealed muscles. The only holdover from the hell-for-leather “Mexican” Lincolns was the car’s outstanding roadability and handling prowess.
If a big car has ever been built that can out-handle the Lincoln, then I’ve never had the pleasure of driving it. This, plus terrific brakes, makes Lincoln as safe a car as has been built to date.
Performance-wise—meaning top speed and acceleration—Lincoln no longer is making a serious attempt to be the Whiz Kid of the drag strips or the speed trials. Like a retired Derby winner, Lincoln now rests on its laurels. Size went up, engine capacity was increased, and the old champ acquired a smooth but horsepower-robbing new transmission. In 1956, Lincoln was a close contender for the finest-looking automobile ever produced in the land of Soapy Williams and Walter Ruther. The cars were still fast, but had acquired an Ivy League look that made at least one of their competitors resemble the Limehouse Button King. With the addition of Ed Sullivan’s stumping, Lincoln enjoyed the best sales year in its history.
Superb roadability plus terrific brakes make this new 300hp. white-tie-and-tails job “as safe a car as has been built to date,” according to Uncle Tom.
There are many types of buyers of cars in the Lincoln class, and they include the successful man who has made his pile and suddenly realizes he has forgotten to have fun along the way. Lincoln made its main pitch in ‘56 to this well-regulated character of taste who wanted superb and enjoyable transportation in a conservative package, a car that didn’t have to go in for hand-tooled saddlery and a garland of silver dollar decorations that shouted “money” in a loud voice.
From a performance standpoint, give or take a wheel turn or two, there has been no increase in over-the-ground rapidity from the ‘56 jobs. Zero to 60 still takes 12 seconds. When correctly tuned, these big Lincolns will just edge the 110-mph. mark. They do, though, have a way of slamming into a corner or whipping through a bend with all the steadiness of a bowling ball transversing a laundry chute at speeds that would dump some of the competition head over teakettles.
When I tested the ‘57 Lincoln it was under rather odd circumstances. I had been hired by the General Tire Company to rip their new Dual 90 tires apart (if I could—and I could not.) The car selected for this test, by me, was the big Lincoln Premiere. Though my main job during my first runs with the ‘57 Lincoln was to test these tires, I also had quite an interest in saving my fat neck, which was one of my reasons for choosing the car I did. I’m happy to say I didn’t goof. One series of brake and tire tests called for standing on the brakes as hard as I could and bringing the car to a full stop from speeds up to 105 mph. This was on rough concrete. These tests were so severe that the brakes burst into flames, but the Lincoln brakes grooved a straight line down the roadway like a bullet from a tournament rifle, and literally stopped the car in its tracks. It doesn’t take a wagonload of imagination to figure the stress such a test creates, not only on brakes, but on the frame, wheels and every component part. I made nine of these stops, and then went to the highspeed turning area. Here, in a 360 degree turn, less than 120 yards in diameter, I kept this Lincoln going at rollover speeds for more than 40 miles, trying to rip the tires off. (Although I was being paid to test tires, this 1957 Lincoln was getting a helluva test, too.)
Frankly, in a lot of cars I know, I wouldn’t have had the guts to try the tire test I made with the Lincoln. Afterward, I made wetted-hill stopping tests on grades of more than 30 per cent with the car running at a good head of steam. On the roadrace circuit (or road-handing course, as they sometimes call it), I gave the Lincoln everything it had. As to handling in safety, there’s very little more I can say, but that for these professional tests of tires I selected Lincoln to pull me through.
Style-wise, the ‘57 Lincoln has been sharpened up considerably over ‘56. The car is two inches longer and now boasts four headlights which give it the appearance from head-on of Paul Bunyon and his brother challenging you with over-and-under shotguns. The rear fins have been flared out and tail lights now remind you of a fire in a Gothic chapel. The long, uninterrupted hoodline could easily serve as a picnic table for the Notre Dame football squad, and the four-pronged star from the ‘56 Continental has been respoked and now appears not only on the hubs but the tail, front fenders and hood. The rear fender line, which starts just aft of amidships, produces a lowering illusion, as do the flattened-out front fenders. Anyway you slice it, this car is not quite as conservative in appearance as it was in ‘56, but the added garnishes do not detract from the overall dignity any more than a good custom-made striped shirt detracts from an expensive blue suit.
As Ford’s Engineering Division can rustle up more men on it s proving grounds on 20 minutes notice than Nassaer could produce last November for the Canal Aquatic Sports, I wasn’t too surprised to find out that some of these boys had their heads under the hood during the long summer months. The ‘57 Lincoln sports a new Carter carburetor, which is smooth but unexciting, and some other goodies which are too frivolous to note. For my little bag of dough, this is a great automobile, conservative on the performance side, but capable of becoming a wildcat with the addition of a few such things as a hot cam and a transmission that is less of a calorie-consumer. While doing this piece, I had to pinch myself into realizing that Lincoln, once the hottest road car in America just a calendar page or two ago, is reaping a bigger, heavier harvest now by appealing to the man who would rather hear the sound, substantial thud of a Chase Manhattan Bank vault door than the strains of You Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Houn’ Dog.