Journal: What Do We Really Want in a Modern Lincoln?

What Do We Really Want in a Modern Lincoln?

By Michael Banovsky
March 31, 2015
13 comments

There’s a brouhaha right now between designers for Lincoln and Bentley over the new Lincoln Continental design, which is a shame because the American luxury maker is loved by many of us…but since the mid-’70s seems unable to make vehicles that enthusiasts find desirable.

Both Car Design News and Jalopnik have excellent stories on what was said between Bentley and Lincoln designers about the just-unveiled Lincoln Continental Concept, and I encourage you to read them.

First, everyone disagrees with wholesale copying of designs—this has been a problem everywhere, not just in China—and for years judges and juries the world over have heard arguments for and against the creators of so-called copies. Ever hear the one about Volkswagen settling out-of-court with Ringhoffer-Tatra for 1,000,000 Deutsche Marks in 1965 over the alleged copying of the Tatra V570 prototype by Ferdinand Porsche? And the car? The Beetle.

That case had serious merit not only because of Ferdinand Porsche and Hans Ledwinka’s friendship and regular correspondence, but also because the two cars shared a very similar design DNA from the tires to the roof that’s pretty hard to ignore.

These days, however, the differences are often in styling—and in a line here, grille there, who can really lay claim to having an Aston Martin-like grille or Audi-like tail lights? Because this is Petrolicious, it’s worth exploring design nuances all of us appreciate, and it’s also a chance to explore some of the strong heritage that Lincoln could have drawn upon.

First, modern car companies are analyzing the same things in order to predict future trends—designers don’t work in a vacuum, nor do the firms who predict future trends.

That said, I’m no expert in the design of modern cars, so I asked Drew Meehan, design lead for Car Design Research Ltd. The firm works closely with automakers to create their next generation of vehicles and if there’s anyone who understands the industry from a design perspective, it’s him.

In the case of Lincoln “copying” Bentley, Meehan suggests there’s much more at work than a similar grille and headlights—and complaints between designers about modern cars end up becoming much more nuanced.

The Tatra V570 prototype and Volkswagen Beetle were similar not just in styling but also in mechanical design—close enough to see Volkswagen award Tatra in an out-of-court settlement.

“To use a well-known grill design from another marque while ignoring the myriad other options, including your own—current or historical—is possibly what set Donckerwolke off,” Meehan says, “More egregious, however, and likely to upset a designer is actually the treatment of the surfaces and details, like the movement of the shoulder line, the placement of the side vent, or even the wheel arch treatment—which is astonishingly similar between a modern Bentley and the Lincoln Continental concept. These are the little things that designers take pride in, so to see them on another car feels more personal, more like “stealing” perhaps, than the overall thing.”

I find it interesting that among designers, it’s often not the major styling features that cause concern; Meehan says a good example of this is why Bentley isn’t bothered by the Chrysler 300C, for instance—or why the new Ford Fusion’s grille doesn’t keep anyone from Aston Martin awake at night.

We share the same sentiment when it comes to blame being placed on vehicle regulations, crash standards, and all that bull. Meehan confirms my suspicions: headlight technology is such that nearly any shape desired can now be manufactured—especially on a flagship concept—and he says a modern car “grille” is now almost exclusively ornamental…for branding purposes.

That’s right: “branding purposes.” You may cringe, but we live in a world far removed from Lincoln’s success with iconic cars like the Zephyr and Continental models Mk. II–V.

Subconsciously, it’s the little design details that we love about cars like the Porsche 911—a car that will probably look largely same in 50 years. For enthusiasts, often what upsets us most is when we’re able to look at an automaker’s back catalogue and wonder why it’s so difficult to bottle some of that magic and slap a Monroney sticker on it.

“A brand with a glorious past and a tenuous future should be looking straight ahead rather than cribbing its answers from the smart kid next to them,” Meehan says. “It feels like they’re using Bentley’s words to tell their own story, rather than write it themselves. Those details aren’t likely to be noticed by the press or public, but the design community obsesses over them.”

We all love classics, and no doubt have an idea in our heads about what we wish to see from new cars. At this point I’ll turn the story to you: What should a modern Lincoln be…and what should it look like?

Image Sources: bentleymedia.com, media.lincoln.com, wikipedia.org, autoevolution.comarab4x4.com

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Wayne Strawbridge
Wayne Strawbridge
6 years ago

Bentley Pffft – it looks extraordinarily like an Audi A8 – which I think I prefer over either, with it’s aluminium chassis and lightweight turbocharged 4l V8. But I’d say the Lincoln is a relatively handsome car.

Barry Koch
Barry Koch
6 years ago

The evolution of luxury car design in the U.S. has inverted the roles of the two major marques, it seems. Lincoln traditionally took bigger chances in the early postwar period to wrest away some of Cadillac’s sales, notably from 1956 to 1961. When introduced, Cadillac’s aggressive, Gen X themes stole Lincoln’s march, and left them with little to do but go conservative. Their response, with its baleen frontage teeters on the border between classy and boring. This new Continental exercise returns to the Engle philosophy of starting with a good shape and working from there, but the shape doesn’t define a new idea of “Lincolnness” apart from other cars, be they Cadillac, Bentley or anyone else. The way Lincoln have moulded details in the haunches of the last few Continental models to overstate the importance of their star logo projects worries that the car can’t be recognized without it. A look at the grille of the new car does nothing to change this.

José Silva Leoz
José Silva Leoz
7 years ago

Everything in the american automotive industry is vulgar. Someone has to notice them once which big is not equal to luxury.

Mark Fahey
Mark Fahey
7 years ago

When Edsel Ford had a Lincoln Zephyr customized into the first Contenintal in 1938, the world saw a well proportioned coupe many called the most beautiful car in the world at that time. In the early 1950s Ford held a contest open to competitors designers to pen what would become the next Contenintal – the Mark II. The winners came from Fords own design staff and again, one of the most beautiful cars in the world was created, with direct styling cues from Edsel’s masterpiece interpreted into a modern car of the time. Next, and by far the most successful in terms of sales came Elwood Engle’s 1961 Lincoln Contiental suicide door marvel. This car alone set all the worlds automobile designers into a Firenze, not only did Chrysler and Cadillac soon follow the Lincoln’s square minimalism but so did the styling salons of Europe. Today, if you study the lines and overall progress of those 3 cars you may come to the conclusion that it was Bentley that has been stealing from Lincoln all along.

Raman Dooman
Raman Dooman
7 years ago

As someone aptly commented on Autoblog, Bentley is angry because the Lincoln looks much better. I’d have to agree. Im tired of the Bentley design. Its old.. move on

Dan Glover
Dan Glover
7 years ago

I think the Lincoln rips off the Chrysler 300 every bit as much or more than it does the Bentley. Not sure if its conscious, just shows that automotive designers are too quick to jump on styling band-wagons. See this: http://www.thedetroitbureau.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2015-Chrysler-300.jpg

Bradley Price
Bradley Price
7 years ago

I feel I must mention something that all these articles fail to–which is that there is no two way dialogue on this topic. The Bentley Design Director is a hothead and posted a comment on the Lincoln Design director’s personal facebook page. Which is really disrespectful. The story was somehow picked up by CDN. The Lincoln designer did not respond and has issued no comment on the matter. So it isn’t a dispute between designers. It is a matter of one guy getting upset because his ego is out of control, and a website reporting something that happened on personal facebook pages–which is somewhat unethical, IMHO.

To be fair: There have always been references made between American luxury Lincoln/Cadillac and English luxury Bentley/RollsRoyce over many many years. I don’t think this design steals a single thing from Bentley, but clearly is making reference to it. Lastly, it is far better executed than the Flying Spur (having seen both cars in person). I think David Wiles has it right here 😉

bob forrest
bob forrest
7 years ago

In the past I have complained about design articles with few photos. Today you have done me proud. The article like the others does a good job. The photos do an excellent job of enhancing the points made by the author. Great job.
The new Continental is very derivative. The obvious inspirations being Bentley, Jaguar and even Kia. The details that differentiate the design are gimmicky repeats of the Continental insignia in the grill and headlights. The one standout feature is the interior with features that probably will not make production. It isn’t a bad design but is a let down after the build up in the press about the importance of rebuilding the brand. Lincoln certainly needs a new direction but is this it?

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson
7 years ago

As designers we tend to be protective of our “offspring”.
How much of what is finally unleashed on the roads that remains the indisputable intellectual property of the designer remains an interesting subject for discussion.
As designers, we are insignificant. Despite what we like to think.
Balance sheets do the talking in the car business.
Ultimately, both will probably both sell to their prospective clients.
Some of these clients will be petrolheads, others simply people in search of a status symbol.
As far as the cars themselves go, neither hold a candle to the icons they claim to be inspired by.
And taste is a commodity.

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers
7 years ago

I want to see Lincoln go full Superfly. As a child, whenever a Mark III , IV, or V showed up in movies and tv shows, it conveyed right away the driver was a person of significant influence. If I had the space to keep an additional vehicle I would try to buy one to restore.

Robert Spina Jr
Robert Spina Jr
7 years ago

I have to agree with David Wiles. Bentley design isn’t exactly groundbreaking. This new Lincoln is STUNNING.

JB21
JB21
7 years ago

…to go away…?

David Wiles
David Wiles
7 years ago

If I had designed a crushingly boring car like the Bentley, I really wouldn’t want to talk about it much less claim that someone is copying me.