Fred A. Bernstein | Partner News

At the Pebble Beach Concours, Lincoln Looks Back to Look Forward

Design Observer has teamed up with Lincoln Motor Company to preview this year's Concours d’Elegance of Pebble Beach. At a time when Lincoln is working to reestablish brand identity, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance has zeroed in on its extraordinary heritage of fine design.

As the leading international gathering of automobile design aficionados, the Concours d’Elegance of Pebble Beach has been called “the Olympics of car shows." The ultimate judged car show in the world, it features la crème de la crème of classic autos, selected by experts and displayed, for one day only, on the fabled 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Not merely the culmination of a week of car-related events on the Monterey Peninsula, it is also a yearly reminder that the finest automobiles are examples of design equal to the world’s outstanding works of architecture and decorative arts.

On August 18, the cars of the 63rd annual Concours will be driven onto the fairway in the early morning mist.  Impeccably dressed attendees will circulate among some of the world’s most impeccably designed automobiles. Winners will be announced in the afternoon —some years, car lover Jay Leno takes the mic — “and then it all goes away like Brigadoon,” says one regular Concours participant. 

Edsel Ford, who died in 1943, never made it to the Concours, but his presence will be felt this year. Unlike his father, Henry Ford, who triumphed by producing transportation for the masses, Edsel set out to create vehicles recognized for their styling, and he succeeded, transforming Lincoln Continental into one of the most exalted names in automotive history. Now, at a time when Lincoln is working to rebuild brand loyalty, the Concours has zeroed in on that extraordinary heritage:  Lincoln has been chosen as the Premier of the featured brands, or marques, at this year’s Concours. “It’s the endorsement of the community of experts,” says John Clinard, a Lincoln spokesman and Concours regular, of the company’s selection.  “And it came as a surprise.”

In fact, as the New York Times reported earlier this month, the challenge for the Concours, where tickets this year start at $225, is “to make sure the aesthetic qualities are not overtaken by the commercial interests.” That parallels a challenge faced by Lincoln: to keep design in the foreground as it finds a new customer base. The Lincolns on the fairway this year, with a variety of custom carriages, should help both the Concours, and the Lincoln Motor Company, achieve their goals of maintaining the focus on design.   

The Lincolns at Pebble Beach range from the ultra-conservative 1930 Lincoln Model L Judkins Coupe, a true “horseless carriage” with upright cabin walls and running boards the size of steamer trunks, to the very bold and sporty 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Boano, a bright orange concept car that evokes the meeting of Hollywood glamor and space age enthusiasm.

Kandace Hawkinson, an executive of the Concours, says judges were very enthusiastic about a number of other Lincolns that appeared (having been restored or rediscovered) in time for the show.  In their opinion, she says, “Lincoln had an amazing way of being slightly conservative yet ultra elegant with lines that were subtle but could still surprise.”  She added, “There are very few companies of which that’s true.” 

Some of the Lincolns coming to Pebble Beach were custom made for company executives. One of them, a 1956 MK II, was ordered by Henry Ford II  (president of Ford from 1945 to 1960) for his wife, Anne, with a one-of-a-kind Haartz cloth top.  The car is also unique in that it was made without a hood ornament, the preference of Mrs. Ford, a devotee to quiet elegance.

That MK II belongs to Rick Schmidt, whose father, Jim, learned of the dilapidated car from a classified ad. The Schmidts already owned a 1956 metallic mint green MK II that had belonged to Benson Ford, and a 1956 sapphire blue metallic MK II that had belonged to William Clay Ford Sr. – brothers of Henry Ford II. Schmidt explains, “It seemed only right to have the trio of 1956 MK IIs originally owned by the Ford brothers, so we bought the car and dove into the project, taking on our biggest restoration challenge yet.”  In addition to the Lincolns being shown by private collectors, several are coming from museums, including the Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, in Grosse Pointe Shores.

Lincoln hasn’t been a featured marque in many years; the honor more commonly goes to companies like Alfa Romeo and Bugatti, and specialized makers like Simplex and Vanvooren.  But Lincoln has attained another distinction this year:  The 1956 MK II is also the subject of the commemorative poster for the Councours, painted by Ken Eberts, founder and president of the Automotive Fine Arts Society (organized in 1983 to call attention to the importance of auto aesthetics).  Eberts, himself the owner of a sky blue 1956 Lincoln Continental, recalls: “In 1965, as a designer in the Lincoln Studio, I was inspired by the MK II.  And today, in creating the poster art for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, I am proud to be portraying this car’s classically simple, subtly sculptured, impeccable design. With just the right amount of jewelry in the form of chrome, it was a statement of exquisite taste and elegance.”

Those are the same qualities that made Lincoln central to the Concours.  Says Hawkinson, “The decision to feature Lincoln came at a time when the company was looking toward its own heritage, part of a concerted effort to move Lincoln into the future.”  She adds, “Especially now, there are many great reasons to look at what Lincoln has done.” Advertisement

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