Car Show Classic: 1957 Lincoln Premier – How to Spoil a Good Design

Several months back, when I stumbled across a 1957 Lincoln Premiere at the Brain Melting CARS Dealership, I commented on how the 1957 Lincolns had not yet gotten a proper Curbside Classic treatment, and promised to write one up myself. Fate seems to be determined to make me keep my word, and keeps sending 1957 Lincolns my way as not so subtle reminders. Since making that original post, I’ve seen two more 1957 Lincoln Premieres, starting with the green coupe above at a car show in June.

As if that weren’t reminder enough, I found this stunning red example at another car show in July, taunting me that I still hadn’t kept my promise. I got the message: Here’s my post. Now please quit sending 1957 Lincolns my way!

For 1956, the Lincoln lineup was all-new from the ground up. Prior to 1956, Lincolns had a reputation for being among the smallest vehicles in their class, which was something Ford was looking to rectify in 1956. At 223 inches, The 1956 models were almost 7 1/2 inches longer than the 1955 model it replaced, riding on a wheelbase three inches longer (126 inches). These dimensions would continue to grow over the next several years, and Lincoln would eventually produce the largest post-war cars ever made.

 

1956 Lincoln

 

Styling for the 1956 Lincolns was inspired by the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept, which would be better known in its later incarnation as the Batmobile in the 1960’s Batman TV series. If you squint closely, you can see some hints of that car here, especially around the headlights.

The 1956 models sported relatively clean (for the day) styling, notably devoid of side chrome except for a small spear near the base of the doors. It also sported the ultimate version of the Lincoln Y-Block V8, punched out to 368 cubic inches, and sporting a 285 (gross) horsepower.

Lincoln also revamped their product lineup to better position themselves against Cadillac, with to models: The entry-level Capri, which matched up to the Cadillac Sixty-Two, and the new for 1956 Premiere, which was priced to compete with the Cadillac de Ville. The Cosmopolitan nameplate was shown the door, never to return.

Due to their handsome new and larger bodies, Lincoln sold a record 50,322 units in 1956. Even more impressive, a vast majority of these sales (41,531) were of the higher level (and higher margin) Premiere trim.

 

The car that started it all: 1957 from C.A.R.S. dealership

For 1957, Lincoln continued to inflate the dimensions of their cars. While the wheelbase remained the same (126 inches), Length was up another 1.5 inches, to 224.6 (mostly due to longer bumpers), and width had increased by almost half an inch as well (mostly due to larger tail fins). Most of the styling changes, as we shall see, were not very successful.

 

No review of the 1957 can begin or end without discussing these model’s peculiar headlight treatment, so lets address the elephant in the room right now. While quad headlights were technically legal in most states in 1957, they would not become legal in all fifty states until 1958. With a few notable exceptions (the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham and the 1957 Nash Ambassador), most U.S. cars would not start sporting quad headlamps until the 1958 model year. The 1957 Lincoln setup was not a true quad headlamp system: The lower lamp was not a high beam, but rather a “road” light, which could be switched on and off independently of the headlights.

So the 1957 Lincoln headlight setup was an attempt to anticipate the coming 1958 quad headlamp standard, but it had to do so while fitting within the fender stampings of the single headlight 1956 models. The narrow opening necessitated the awkward vertical arrangement, while the flat faced bezel awkwardly juts out from the canted hooded openings of the 1956 models. See the picture of the 1956 model earlier in this post for an idea of what they had to start with to adapt to a “quad” lamp setup.

 

Running changes for 1957 included bumping the engine compression ratio to 10.0, which increased the horsepower of the 368 Lincoln Y-Block to an even 300.

Lincoln -1957

Starting price on this 1957 Premiere was $5,294 (about $46,000 in 2017 dollars), and included such standard equipment as power steering, power brakes, power windows, and power seat. Power door locks and power vent windows were newly available options for 1957.

 

Mirroring the industry in general, 1957 saw a dramatic increase in the amount of gingerbread Lincoln applied to their vehicles. The previously unadorned sides now blossomed fake scoops, and the previously tidy rear end sprouted huge tail fins and ginormous bumpers.

 

The featured car sports the somewhat rare (22% take rate) factory A/C option. By 1957, Lincoln was virtually alone in still using trunk mounted A/C systems. Almost every other brand (even stablemate siblings Ford and Mercury) had switched over to integrated cowl mounted air conditioning setups.

 

 

The buying public did not respond well to the “improved” 1957 model. Between the aforementioned changes and competition from all-new vehicles for 1957 at Imperial and Cadillac, Lincoln sales slipped almost 20% in 1957, to 41,123. As in 1956, the vast majority of these sales were of the Premiere model (35,223). One can see the seeds of Lincoln’s near death experience (before being saved by the brilliant 1961 Continental) already being sown here.

As a result of the styling “improvements,” the 1957 models are among the least loved of the modern Lincolns. They don’t carry the cachet of the later Continental and Mark series models, and are rarely seen any more today, even at car shows. This makes the fact that I ran into three of them in the last three months all that more amazing.