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In the 1930s, Ford designers began work on a vehicle that would have more features and styling than was offered on any other current Ford product. As the vehicle neared completion in 1938, Edsel Ford and Ford Sales Manager Jack Davis decided to launch an all-new brand for the premium range to set it apart from the mainstream Ford Blue Oval products and Lincoln luxury cars. And, with that, Mercury was born.
The vehicles from Mercury would compete with mid-level offerings from GM, Dodge and Chrysler’s DeSoto, but would slot in just below the Cadillac lineup. Mercury filled a niche between our deluxe Ford V-8 and the Lincoln Zephyr V-12.
Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, chose the name for this new lineup. Mercury, the winged god of commerce in Roman mythology, symbolizes dependability, speed, skill, and eloquence. Ford’s vision for the Mercury brand included improved power, ride, handling, stopping distance, internal noise, and enhanced styling.
The first model, the 1939 Mercury 8, sold for $916 and had a 95-horsepower V-8 engine. More than 65,000 were built the first year. The offerings included a two- and four-door sedan, a sports convertible, and a town sedan. Just two short years after Mercury debuted, America entered World War II and production was halted. When the war ended in 1945, Mercury was coupled with Lincoln, and the Lincoln-Mercury Division was born.
In 1949, Mercury introduced the first of its “new look” integrated bodies, which became a favorite of the hot-rod generation. Movie buffs saw James Dean’s customized version of the ’49 Mercury Series 9CM when he drove a de-chromed version of the car in the 1955 movie classic Rebel Without a Cause.
The 1950s featured even more modern styling and innovations such as the industry first fixed sunroof/moonroof on the 1954 Mercury Sun Valley, with a transparent Plexiglas top. In 1957, Mercurys grew wider, longer, lower, and more powerful with what was called “Dream Car Design.” Mercury had entered its heyday as a premium brand with models like the Montclair, Monterey and Turnpike Cruiser.
During the Ford Division’s 1960s “Total Performance” era, Mercury added performance and speed with vehicles such as the S-55 and Marauder, which found some success in racing. In 1967, the Cougar was introduced, which was Mercury’s version of the Ford Mustang. The 1970s saw the introduction of the Grand Marquis, Mercury’s best-selling nameplate. Mercury sales peaked in 1978 at an all-time high of 580,000.
February 4th, 2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the purchase of The Lincoln Motor Company by Ford Motor Company. The real result of that purchase is that for more than 100 years Lincoln products have reflected the design sense of a true automotive industry visionary, Edsel Ford. The DNA of the brand and its vehicles from the earliest days have been based on Edsel Ford’s sense of grace, beauty, art, spirit and design. We will get to the vehicles that show Edsel’s and Lincoln’s contributions to automotive history in a bit, but let’s set up the story first.
Henry Leland founded Lincoln in 1917, after he left GM and the Cadillac Division, in a patriotic move to build airplane engines during World War I. Leland named the company after Abraham Lincoln, who he claimed was the first President he ever voted for. The firm built Liberty V12 engines during the war under a $10 million governmental bond. After the war, relying on his previous experience, Leland shifted the production to automobiles, with the company finally producing the Model L in 1920. Unfortunately for Leland, Lincoln was plagued with production and design issues. Customers who placed orders for the Model L waited up to a year to receive their cars, and while Leland’s reputation for fine engineering was well deserved, the Model L styling was drab and lacked appeal to car buyers in the post war environment. Given these factors, The Lincoln Motor Company suffered financially and by 1922 had entered into receivership with nearly $8 million still owed to major creditors.
At the request of Edsel and his wife Eleanor, and his own wife Clara, Henry Ford was convinced to place an offer for Lincoln. The ultimate sale price was set at $8 million which was used to pay off the principal creditors of The Lincoln Motor Company. The sale date was set as February 4th. Edsel Ford was named President of the company shortly thereafter.
In one of his first moves, Edsel Ford showed his true character in authorizing additional money after the purchase saying, “in addition we voluntarily paid all of the general creditors. This additional amount, aggregating more than $4 million, was paid purely out of generosity and without any obligation whatsoever to do so. In addition to this, a gift of $363,000 in cash was made to Mr. Henry M Leland on his seventy-ninth birthday, which was the equivalent of his investment in the old company.” That was quite a birthday gift, adjusted for inflation it would be comparable to over $6 million today.
Edsel Ford’s impact on the vehicles that Lincoln began to produce was nearly as profound as his business decisions. The oft used quote from Edsel that “Father made the most popular car in the world. I want to make the best car in the world” became the operating vision of The Lincoln Motor Company and was quickly noticeable in the vehicles and the company advertising.
Contrary to the concerns of Henry Leland at the time of the sale, Edsel not only embraced the engineering quality of the cars, he worked to improve them. He also understood that “a Lincoln not only has to function perfectly, it also has to look perfect.” With that goal in mind, (as is covered so eloquently in the 1996 Concours program) Edsel began to utilize the services of the greatest coachbuilders of the day. Names that ring down in automotive history like Brunn, Judkins, Fleetwood, Holbrook and LeBaron began to build the custom bodies coveted by Lincoln customers, raising the prestige of the brand. Edsel also changed the way Lincoln operated by ordering some of the body styles in batches of 50 and 100 units, which offered luxury at a relatively affordable price. The sales at Lincoln reflected the sweeping changes that Edsel Ford was making as 5,512 Lincolns were sold in the year after the purchase, effectively doubling what the Lelands had been able to sell the previous 17 months.
The Model K was introduced in 1931 to replace the Model L, which debuted under Leland’s ownership of Lincoln. For 1932 the Model K was split into the Model KA and KB series. The KB was the longer wheelbase at 145″ and sported a 447 cu. in. V-12 engine. The KB series badge sported a blue background, while the KA had a red background. There were nearly two dozen standard and customized body styles available. On May 30, 1932 Edsel Ford drove a Lincoln KB Murphy bodied roadster as the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. The Model KA and KB were only used through 1934 MY. In 1935 they reverted back to Model K and were designated by wheelbase. Some of the custom body designers were Derham Body Co., Willoughby, Brunn, Dietrich, Murphy, LeBaron and Judkins. Eventually, the Model K was discontinued after the 1939 Model Year as prices and tastes changed. The final few Model K’s were sold at 1940 MY.
In 1932, Edsel met Bob Gregorie, who had been designing yachts until the depression drove him to find work in the Detroit auto industry. Edsel, Gregorie, and John Crawford, Edsel’s executive assistant and shopmaster, formed a three-person design team for the Ford Motor Company and Lincoln. Two of the first projects they turned their attention to were the 1936 and 1938 Zephyr, both considered design classics for different reasons. The Briggs Body Company had been a featured coachbuilder for both Ford Motor Company and the Model L luxury Lincolns, but with the beginning of the depression and declining sales of ultra-luxury automobiles, they began to look for an alternate vehicle. Briggs designer John Tjaarda had done some preliminary studies of streamlined prototypes which were shown to Edsel Ford who immediately saw the potential in the vehicle.
The 1936 Zephyr was based on that aerodynamic shape (that Tjaarda had shown at the 1934 World’s Fair) but was converted to a front engine vehicle with a special version of the Ford flathead V-8, which had been converted to a V-12. While the 1936 Zephyr was not the first aerodynamic automobile produced, it was the first to achieve broad public acceptance. The aerodynamic design of the car was captured in its teardrop shaped logo and headlights that evoked the spirit of the “west wind.”
With the 1938 Zephyr, Bob Gregorie and Edsel Ford achieved one of the most successful makeovers of an existing automobile line. The original Zephyr sold well, but Gregorie and Edsel felt that it could still be improved. Gregorie changed the position of the radiator, necessitating a new lower front grille, which he designed with a horizontal pattern that was soon copied by the automobile industry. One pundit stated that while the Zephyr had been considered a successful streamlined car, beginning with the 1938 model it was beautiful as well.
n October of 1939, the Lincoln Zephyr Continental was introduced, and in many ways achieved Edsel’s vision of the perfect luxury automobile. The Continental was an immediate design icon and was displayed by the Museum of Modern Art in 1951 as one of eight cars epitomizing design excellence. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright considered it “the most beautiful car in the world” and bought two.
The inspiration for the Continental began with a trip by Edsel and Eleanor Ford to Europe in 1938. Edsel was impressed by the design and elegance of European automobiles. When he returned from the trip, he challenged Gregorie to work with him to create a new and stylish Lincoln.
The team began with the existing Lincoln Zephyr chassis. Gregorie designed a special convertible coupe, or cabriolet, by October 1938 with a 10th scale clay model produced shortly thereafter. The car became a passion point for Edsel Ford as he stopped by the design studio daily to monitor progress and offer suggestions. Gregorie later said of Edsel Ford “He had the vision. I did the work of translating his vision into workable designs.” In one instance, Gregorie wanted to hide the spare tire in the trunk, but Edsel insisted on keeping it mounted to the rear of the car to reinforce the image of a low speedy automobile. Special panels were added to lengthen the hood by 12 inches, while four inches were removed from the body to lower the car. The low, sleek Continental design was born.
By the beginning of 1939, as work on the prototype Lincoln-Zephyr Continental neared completion, Edsel liked it enough to order two more for his sons, Henry II and Benson. These vehicles were only eight inches longer and three inches lower than the original Zephyr, which became closer to the future Continental standard. With that order placed, Edsel headed to his winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida with instructions that the prototype be delivered to him there. According to legend, the car turned heads among his friends in Florida and Edsel returned to Dearborn with orders for 200 more! Sensing the demand, Edsel, Crawford, and Gregorie worked on a plan to produce the cars at a greater rate.
On October 2, an assembly line was set up to begin manufacture of the Lincoln-Zephyr Continental. By the end of 1939, 25 had been produced and were designated 1940 models. In all, 404 Continentals were produced the first model year, 350 cabriolets and 54 coupes. Each car was essentially hand built using Lincoln Zephyr branded trim pieces, with the upholstery a combination of leather and whipcord. The cars featured a Model H V-12 engine and prices began at $2,640 for either the cabriolet or the coupe.
With the 1941 Model year, Zephyr was dropped from the name plate and the car was known simply as the Lincoln Continental. Upgrades and modifications remained constant, as the goal was always to produce the finest automobile possible. Demand remained high and there were always standing orders for all of the cars produced. With the beginning of WWII and the conversion to wartime production, the manufacture of the Continental was discontinued in 1942.
After the war, the Continental was built from 1946 to 1948, but changing tastes and production techniques made it difficult to maintain sufficient manufacturing quantities. There was no longer room in the market for a small production, highly personalized luxury automobile. In order for The Lincoln Motor Company to continue the Continental line, a total redesign would have been required, and Edsel Ford passed away in 1943, leaving a void in vision and design for a new model.
This first generation, later designated Mark I, of the Lincoln Continental offered driving excellence and design elegance for a generation of auto enthusiasts. Ultimately, 5,324 Continentals were produced, 3,047 coupes and 2,277 cabriolets, all manufactured individually and hand constructed. The vision of Edsel Ford and the design expertise of Bob Gregorie led to one of Detroit’s classic cars.
LEARN THE HISTORY OF THE DESIGN CLASSIC, THE LINCOLN CONTINENTAL.
“Father made the most popular car in the world. I want to make the best car in the world.” With those words, Edsel Ford, President of the Lincoln Motor Company, stated its operating mission. In October of 1939, the Lincoln Zephyr Continental was introduced and in many ways fulfilled Edsel’s statement. The Continental was an immediate design icon and was even selected and displayed by the Museum of Modern Art in 1946 as one of the eight cars epitomizing design excellence. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright considered it “the most beautiful car in the world” and bought two. So what were the origins of the vehicle?
While the Ford Motor Company was known more for dependable transportation and the power of the V-8 engine than stylistic automobile design, Edsel wanted Lincoln to be different. In 1932, Edsel met Bob Gregorie, whose background had actually been designing yachts until the depression drove him to find work in the Detroit auto industry. Edsel, Gregorie and John Crawford, Edsel’s executive assistant and shopmaster formed a three-person design team for the Ford Motor Company and Lincoln. The inspiration of the Continental began with a trip by Edsel and Eleanor Ford to Europe in 1938. Edsel was impressed by the design and elegance of the European automobiles he saw. When he returned from the trip, he challenged Gregorie to work with him to create a new and stylish Lincoln.
The team began with the existing Lincoln Zephyr chassis as its basis. Gregorie designed a special convertible coupe (or cabriolet, keeping with our European theme). The drawings were ready by October 1938 with a 10th scale clay model shortly thereafter. The car became a passion point for Edsel Ford as he stopped by the design studio daily to monitor the progress and offer suggestions. Gregorie later said of Edsel Ford “He had the vision. I did the work of translating his vision into workable designs.” In one instance, Gregorie wanted to hide the spare tire in the trunk, but Edsel insisted in keeping it mounted to the rear of the car to reinforce the image of a low speedy automobile. The car had that look because special panels were added to lengthen the hood by 12 inches while four inches were removed from the body to lower the car. The low, sleek Continental design was born.
By the beginning of 1939, as work on the first prototype car, then called the Lincoln-Zephyr Continental, neared completion, Edsel liked it enough to order two more for his sons, Henry II and Benson, but these were only reduced to eight inches longer and three inches lower which became closer to the future Continental standard. With that order placed, Edsel headed off to his winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida with instructions that the prototype be delivered to him there. According to legend, the car turned heads among his friends in Florida and Edsel returned to Dearborn with orders for 200 more! Sensing the demand, Edsel, Crawford and Gregorie worked on a plan to produce the cars at a greater rate.
On October 2, an assembly line was set up to begin the manufacture of the Lincoln-Zephyr Continental. By the end of 1939, 25 had been produced and were designated 1940 models. In all, 404 Continentals were produced the first model year, 350 Cabriolets and 54 Coupes. Each car was essentially hand built using Lincoln Zephyr branded trim pieces with the upholstery a combination of leather and whipcord. The cars featured a Model H V-12 Engine and prices began at $ 2,640 for either the Cabriolet or the Coupe.
With the 1941 Model year, Zephyr was dropped from the name plate and the car was known simply as the Lincoln Continental. Upgrades and modifications on the car remained constant as the goal was always to produce the finest automobile possible. Demand for the car remained high and there were always standing orders for all of the cars produced. With the beginning of WWII and the conversion of the plants from automobiles to wartime production, the manufacture of the Continental was discontinued in 1942.
Ford Motor Co. purchased Lincoln Motor Co. out of debt a century ago and established a luxury brand that would forever impact automotive design and pop culture.
Henry Ford, with a nudge from his wife, Clara, and son, Edsel, acquired the company from engineer Henry Leland for $8 million on Feb. 4, 1922.
“Lincoln is really a chance for us to stop and think about Edsel Ford, who, too often, is overshadowed by his father,” said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn.
“Edsel Ford had free rein at Lincoln, where he could spread his wings and leave a legacy apart from his father,” Anderson said. “Edsel gave the cars a sense of design and style, and built the company into one of America’s leading luxury automakers.”
Ford introduced the Lincoln Zephyr in 1936, pairing style and aerodynamics
“Its flowing teardrop shape suggests motion. Its V-shaped grille slices the air,” says thehenryford.org museum site. “Headlights blend smoothly into the front fenders. Rear fenders hug the body and fender skirts hide the rear wheels. Even the tail lights are streamlined.”
Then came the Continental in 1939, a car so gorgeous that the Museum of Modern Art in New York City selected it to display as one of eight cars that epitomized design excellence, according to the 1951 MOMA catalogue.
“Henry Ford’s only son played a key role in the creation of what many feel was the most beautiful automobile ever designed,” Ad Age said in 2003.
First, we owe a big thank-you to automotive historian Bill Munro, who shared the link to this video with us. (See our review of his excellent book Traction for Salehere and check out all his books at his Amazon author’s page here.) Next, we thank the Ford House, the caretakers of Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s beautiful home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan for producing this moving video.
President Dwight Eisenhower called the Jeep “one of three decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII,” and General George Marshall called it “America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.” The Ford GPW had predecessors in its 1923 4×2 Reconnaissance Car, the Bantam Reconnaissance Car of the American Austin Company, and the Willys MB. Ford’s prototype, the “Pygmy” was approved in 1940. It used a modified Model N tractor motor. The “G” in GPW stood for “Government” contract, the “P” indicated an 80in wheelbase, and the “W” referred to the design and engine licensed from Toledo, Ohio-based Willys-Overland Motors. The original origin of the “Jeep” nickname is debated to this day.”
Opening titles (0:07). Dedication: “This film is respectfully dedicated to the officers and men of the United States Army in the name of American Industry…” (0:27).
A trio of Ford 4×4 Reconnaissance Cars or GPW “Jeeps” exit a Ford River Rouge Plant garage in single file. Edsel Ford, president of the Ford Motor Company delivers the initial order of 1,500 U.S. Army cars to then-Brigadier General Charles H. Bonesteel III, speaking into a WXYZ radio microphone (0:45).
Under a Jeep’s hood, “the final nuts are turned,” putting the finishing touches on a new “scout car” (W-2017422) in a staged photo-op. The front fenders, wheels, grill, and headlights are seen in closeup (1:12).
Edsel Ford and General Bonesteel climb aboard. Ford smiles behind the wheel and reads a prepared statement (1:24).
Ford shifts the GPW into gear and drives ahead (2:09).
A Ford GPW drives wildly across a snowy Michigan winter landscape, bouncing over hills at high speed. Industrial buildings in the background (2:22).
The three vehicles race past an assembled crowd of onlookers, jumping over a bump in the off-road terrain to demonstrate liftoff. The trio drives straight at the camera head-on from two angles (2:37). In a closer view, the 45 horsepower Jeeps skid into a sharp curve and climb muddy hills with ease (3:01).
Ford and General Bonesteel watch approvingly in closeup (4:02). The GPWs drive over weeds and branches up steep hills (4:08). The Jeeps continue proving themselves, circling around warmly dressed officials in the foreground (4:37). A closeup reveals chained tires. The Jeep, driven by a man in aviator’s goggles, brakes, then drives down a steep hill, seemingly unharmed (4:54). A Jeep carrying two passengers bounces up and down a hill in a loop, dodging barren trees (5:15).
A driver and General Bonesteel behind the windshield. Edsel Ford holds onto his hat in the rear seat. The Jeep proceeds more cautiously, and General Bonesteel grips a canvas side panel (5:55). A GPW splashes through a narrow canal filled with water, spraying streams from either front wheel well (6:35).
Another car with two passengers and its hood flipped open, blocking the windshield. Water splashes over the exposed engine. Steam rises, yet the Jeep continues driving on (6:51). More Jeeps “rolling off the assembly line” of the River Rouge Plant. A wider shot reveals the outline of the Rouge plant, and other early 1940s Ford vehicles parked outside. Jeeps drive over railroad tracks (7:10). A seemingly endless stream of Ford GPWs drive forth from a gated service road (7:21). “The End” (7:33).
This film shows the achievements of Ford in Britain during the 1930s. It includes hill climbs and other reliability tests featuring the Model A, the 8hp and the 14.9hp (“Popular” and “Fourteen”). We also see the building of the Dagenham plant, with the first turf cut by Edsel Ford. NB. This film is silent
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