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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

1961 Lincoln

The 1958 Lincoln was mammoth and mighty. There was certainly nothing like it on the road. The automotive press had a field day faulting virtually everything about the enormous luxury flagship from its odd, gaudy looks to the poor design of the unit-construction bodies. 

Sales of the enormous land yacht throughout the Dominion were only 1,001 units for the calendar year. They didn’t get any better in 1959, dropping to 717 units delivered. Lincoln’s sales slipped again badly in 1960 to only 477 units. It was widely rumoured in the press that Lincoln’s days were numbered; that the once great marque was about to join its ill-fated Edsel cousin on that great Number One HIghway in the sky. 

Canadians bought luxury cars but they wanted them to be small and lean. Alfa-Romeo, Daimler, Humber, Jaguar and Rover fit the bill. Studebaker-Packard dealers delivered 2,153 posh captive import Mercedes-Benz automobiles in 1960. Competing directly against Lincoln and Cadillac, the ritzy, compact Ambassador by Rambler with its price tag running as high as $4,000, found approximately 2,500 buyers. 

Stylists in Dearborn were ordered to come up with a replacement Lincoln that would wow the public and sell in decent numbers. It was not an easy task; the project was not going well at all. Using the popular Thunderbird as a benchmark, most of the proposed designs for the luxurious and large automobile were clumsy at best. 

Elwood Engel is the stylist who gets credit for what would become the new Lincoln look. Working alone in Special Projects, he focused on creating an updated look of the fabled 1956 Continental Mark II. His vision was elegant and understated. Top brass got excited about the stately looks of his clay buck and after seeing a four-door version of it, promptly ordered it into production. 

This Lincoln was dressed in a conservative houndstooth-check grille, divided at the mid-section with a chrome light bar that underscored the dual headlamps. Massive bumpers folded effortlessly into the body and raked deeply underneath the grille work. 

The side profile was that of an almost imperceptibly bowed knife blade, running stem to stern on the 123-inch wheelbase. The blade’s raised, chromed beltline was its “sharpened” edge. The subtlest whisper of a kick-up line graced the C-pillar, making Lincoln truly regal. Yet another whisper of elegance was evidenced at the wheel wells, dignified with the slightest hint of a swell. Counterbalanced doors opened on the B-post, a nod to the elegant days of motoring past. 

From the hindquarters, the form was perfectly lean, low and classically daring. The bumper and taillight flowed into a housing that seamlessly completed the edging of the knife blade look. A tasteful recessed cove, fitted neatly between the bumper and the rear deck lid, was emblazoned with the Lincoln crest.

In a rare public acknowledgement that the previous generation of Lincolns might possibly have missed the styling mark, advertising for the new Lincoln Continental noted: “Its beauty is inherent in the design, avoiding excess ornamentation,” and “Here is a luxury car combining full six-passenger spaciousness with a welcome reduction in exterior size.” Another ad noted that it was thanks to advanced engineering that Lincoln avoided excesses in size and bulk. 

Under the hood one loafed the mighty 430-cubic inch V-8 with its rating of 315 horsepower at 4100 RPM, This mechanized Niagara of power responded to the driver’s slightest command “without sound or vibration” and promised to deliver “surging, responsive power, whenever, wherever you want it.” 

The Lincoln cabin was appointed with the finest of nylon broadcloth fabrics, hand-stitched to supple, “Metallic Finish Leathers” in no less than nineteen colours. For those who wished, all leather upholstery in solid or two-tone combinations was just the ticket. And then, by gum, why not go all the way by adding genuine polished walnut throughout the cabin? Windows, door locks, brakes, steering and seats were all of the power variety and referred to discretely as a complete staff of “power servants.” Even the windshield wipers operated on hydraulic motors. 

Lincolns came loaded. Standard equipment included the Dual-Range Turbo-Drive automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, an electric windshield washer, dual exhausts, folding centre armrests, undercoating, carpeting, power windows, power door locks, full foam-cushioned seats (using nearly three times as much foam as used on “other fine cars”), a heater with seven separate front and rear ducts, a fully transistorized radio and a “full complement of convenience lights.”

Air conditioning was an extra-cost item. Few Canadians ordered it, but those who did paid a cool $100 federal luxury tax for the option.  Six-way power seats, Speed control, tinted glass, extra undercoating and a directed power differential were all on the options list, too. 

Colour choices were Presidential Black, Green Velvet Metallic, Honey Beige, Royal Red Metallic, Crystal Green Metallic, Rose Glow Metallic, Turquoise Mist, Sultana White, Summer Rose, Blue Haze, Platinum Regency Turquoise Metallic, Saxon Green Metallic, Executive Gray Metallic, Black Cherry Metallic, Sunburst Yellow, Sheffield Gray Metallic, Briar Brown Metallic, Empress Blue Metallic, Columbia Blue Metallic and Desert Frost Metallic. Those were just the single colour offerings, one could have the body in tasteful two-tones as well.

A single pair of Lincoln Continentals was offered for 1961; a four-door hardtop, designated as Model 82 and a four-door convertible, designated as Model 86.  The four-door hardtop sedan listed for $7,810 and the open car could be had for $8,650. Canadians registered approval of the graceful lines by purchasing 667 lovely Lincolns during the calendar year. 

To honour such restrained classic beauty, the prestigious Industrial Design Institute awarded a bronze medal to the automobile’s styling team. With such a magnificent automobile on its hands, sales of the blue oval’s flagship were finally on the upswing. The automotive press was wowed. Any talk of Lincoln’s eminent death was stilled. From St. John’s to Victoria, Lincoln-Mercury-Meteor dealers reported in with 669 Lincoln sales for the 1961 calendar year. Despite its beauty, it did not do as well as the Cadillac with its 2,957 units delivered but did best Imperial’s total of 330 sales throughout the Dominion. 



The 1961 Lincoln set a new standard of excellence in the luxury car field. The inspired design belied the fact that the four-dour hardtop sedan weighed in at a hefty 4,892 pounds.

Cabin appointments for the 1961 Lincoln included sumptuous hand-trimmed leathers and upscale fabrics. Each automobile was swaddled in more than 200 pounds of felt, sound deadeners and fibreglass pads for an ultra-quiet ride.
Symmetrical instrument panel for the 1961 was as functional as it was elegant and refined.
Centre-opening doors on the 1961 Lincoln were tested with special body gauges to ensure a perfect fit.
The only four-door convertible on the market in 1961, the Lincoln is breathtaking from the rear.

Electrically operated windows were just one of the elegant refinements built into the 1961 Lincoln. They were billed as “power servants.”

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

1932 Chevrolet

If 1931 had been grim for Canadians, hopes for a better 1932 were dashed immediately with the change of the calendar. Long lines of unemployed stood in soup lines in urban centres, farm families starved as drought ravished their lands, civil servants took pay cuts or even went unpaid altogether as 10.4 million Canadians struggled to make sense of a world gone awry.

Intense heat, drought, violent dust storms and plagues of grasshoppers wreaked havoc on the countryside. Farm after farm was abandoned, indeed entire towns emptied out as the situation grew steadily worse.

Factories closed as the call for locomotives, refrigerators, washing machines and hats dwindled to almost nothing. From Sydney to Victoria and thousands  of places between, businesses failed. Traditional pillars of the economy, like wheat and pulp and paper, collapsed. Men and women drifted from town to town looking for work. Often they did not find any. More than 25 percent of the workforce found itself applying for relief (welfare).

Hardest hit was the automobile industry. From a healthy figure of 203,307 passenger cars built in 1929, production dropped to 121,337 units built in 1930 and that was nearly halved again in 1931 as workers turned out only 65,072 units. The industry would suffer another blow in 1932 as production slid to a dismal 50,694 units. 

Ironically, American companies opened subsidiaries in Canada in 1932. Graham, Hupmobile, Hudson and Pierce-Arrow all christened assembly plants in or around Windsor, Ontario to avoid the  40 percent duty on automobiles imported from the United States.

General Motors of Canada closed its passenger car factory in Windsor, Ontario in 1932. There was no need for the extra capacity. Automobiles could easily be supplied to the nation from its plants in Oshawa and Regina. GM Canada’s production had been strong at 104,198 units in 1929—more than half the industry's domestic total—but the following year it plummeted to 55,379 units. In 1931 the company’s total production of cars and truck skidded to 32,719 units and it would drop again to 19,565 units built in 1932.

Against this dark economic backdrop, some of the most striking automobiles in history were built. The 1932 Chevrolet lineup was breathtakingly beautiful—all glitz and glamour. A full baker’s dozen—one more than our American cousins got--all in the Confederation series, was offered to the public. The press noted that this year's crop of Chev's all bore more than a passing resemblance to its ritzy cousins in the Cadillac line.

This year the Chevrolet’s 60-horsepower mill was emphasized heavily in advertising in a bid to compete more favourably with Ford’s new V-8 engine.  The 20 percent increase in power from the bowtie camp wasn’t enough to steal Ford’s thunder—The blue oval’s flathead cranked out an extra five horsepower.

Advertising boasted Chevrolet’s 21 “Points of Superiority for 1932.” These included a smooth, six-cylinder, 60-horsepower engine; 65 to 70 miles per hour of acceleration; silent Synchro-Mesh gear shifting (new this year); powerful, long-wearing brakes on each wheel; an easily adjusted driver’s seat; a non-glare windshield and a variety of beautiful Duco colours but to name a few of the virtues touted.

The marketing department in Oshawa decided to tie Chevrolet's image to fine art and at the same time appeal to the heartstrings of patriotism. A series of full-page, full-colour ads linking Chev to famous Canadian paintings appeared in magazines, including Maclean’s and Chatelaine.

Billed as the “Queen of Values in Old Quebec,” ad copy read, “In Canada the name Chevrolet Six has always meant, in both French and English the smart type of economical transportation. At the recent Montreal Motor Show, Quebec’s elite—must cultured of moderns—paid liberal compliment to the genuine character and beauty of this fine car and to the certain air of quality which sets it head and shoulders above others in its price class. The highways and charming byroads of Old Quebec offers ample evidence of the new Chevrolet’s great popularity.” Shown side by side with the stylish automobile was the painting Horse Racing in Winter, a scene from a small town in Quebec along the St. Lawrence River, rendered by internationally renowned artist Clarence Gagnon.

"Pioneering Mountain Trails" and “Admired at Smart Resorts,” Chevrolet was noted as being a regular part of life in Alberta. “Along the foothill trails of Canada’s Rockies, where gasoline pumps are few and far between, you notice many Chevrolet Six. Around the lodge at Jasper, too, you’ll find that Chevrolets are very much in evidence. For Chevrolet has definitely proved that Canada’s most economical car is also strikingly smart, quality built and thoroughly modern automobile.” The car with Body by Fisher and the Free Wheeling was paired with Mount Robson from Lake Berg, a stunning landscape by Lawren Harris of the Group of Seven.

“Proved on the testing ground of a nation’s roads and byways” was another in the  advertising campaign. “A hundred thousand owners of low-priced cars throughout Canada were invited recently to tell what they through was Chevrolet’s most important story. Like a recurrent theme through thousands of entries received was this conviction—Chevrolet leadership is based on the goodwill of the men and women who have tested the Chevrolet Six in millions of miles of driving.” A truly bucolic landscape was featured with the car, one entitled, An Ontario Side Road, painted by Fred H. Brigden.

Each advertisement boldly announced that the Chevrolet Six was produced in Canada. A young man by the name of Foster Hewett began to broadcast a programme called Hockey Night in Canada—sponsored by General Motors of Canada, Limited. At the time, no one knew that the sportcast would become the most popular  programme in history or that Foster Hewett would be the voice of NHL for nearly fifty years.

Despite all the hype Oshawa could muster, Chevrolet passenger car production slipped from 17,867 units in 1931 to an absolutely abysmal 10,832 units built in 1932. Fortunately, the corner had turned and production would increase in 1933.
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Copyright James C. Mays 2004 All rights reserved.