Lincoln Motor Company: History of the Marque

by | Jun 29, 2017 | Greystone Mansion Concours d'Elegance

Lincoln Motor Company: A Brief History

Henry M. Leland, co-founder of Cadillac, left General Motors in August of 1917 to found the Lincoln Motor Company. The express purpose was to build the Packard-designed Liberty aircraft engine under license for the war effort. Ironically William C. Durant’s refusal to manufacture war material — Durant was a pacifist — led to Leland’s founding of Lincoln and his involvement in a second great automobile company.

An engineer, Leland anticipated building automobiles after the war and quickly prototyped what would become Lincoln’s revolutionary Model L V8 based on advanced aircraft engine design.

The first Lincoln automobile was made available to the public in 1920. Although it was a technical and engineering success, the post-WWI recession took its toll and the company soon required financial assistance. In 1922 Henry Ford, upon the advice of his son Edsel, purchased Lincoln Motor Company, thus establishing a luxury brand under the helm of Ford Motor Car Company.

Continuing the high level of engineering sophistication that Lincoln was known for, Edsel elevated the brand by sheathing the cars in stylish attire with semi-custom and custom bodies by coachbuilders such as Locke, Willoughby, Judkins and LeBaron.

The cars sold well in the Roaring ‘20s, and a new luxury brand was born. Lincolns continued to sell and the company’s engineering continued to flourish in spite of the Depression of the 1930s. It was during this period that Lincoln’s famous 12-cylinder engine was developed, the zenith expressed in the 1932 and 1933 Lincoln KB automobiles.

Lincoln downsized its V12 engines to better suit the market, and Edsel Ford had an innovative design that would appeal as well. The revolutionary Lincoln Zephyr was introduced in 1935 to aesthetic and commercial success.

Edsel’s next master stroke evolved as the Lincoln Continental for the model year 1940. This iconic automobile would continue postwar production until 1948 after the automobile manufacturing hiatus of WWII.

1949 through 1955 were not not successful years for Lincoln. Lincoln champion Edsel Ford had passed away in 1943 and during these postwar years Lincoln shared a body shell with the lower-priced Mercury line.

In 1956 Lincoln returned with its powerful styling statement of the Continental, with the introduction of the Continental Mark II. As these cars cost more to manufacture than they could be sold for, the run was only short-lived. Lincoln then settled in to the manufacture of the iconic “slab-sided” Lincoln Continental, a model closely associated with the Kennedy presidential administration. The next major redesign followed in 1968 with the Continental Mark III, with Marks IV and V following in subsequent years.

In the modern era Lincoln has had success in the form of their now ubiquitous town car lines as well as a successful move into the luxury SUV market. The present day Lincoln Navigator is the foremost example.

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