Cadillac’s rise to dominance of the luxury car field in the 50s was not all its own doing. It certainly had the right looks, drive train, and market positioning. But it got more than a bit of help from the competition, like this 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Coupe.
Although the 1949 Lincoln arrived one year after the first new post-war Cadillac, it showed up for a knife fight with a…wet bar of soap. Actually, its design was decidedly more modern than the Cadillac’s, but that turned out to hardly do it any favors, especially so when Cadillac rocked the industry with its 1949 hardtop Coupe de Ville. Yes, this two-door sedan that looked like a Mercury is all Lincoln had to go up against the new Coupe deVille.
The results were highly predictable. Why else do you think the Lincoln looks so sad?
It’s probably not necessary, but let’s take a quick look at what Lincoln was up against. I covered the design development of the new post-war GM cars here, but in a nutshell, GM’s VP of Design Harley Earl rejected the aero-inspired, used-soap-bar-slab-sided “pontoon” look that the industry was all gaga about and rushing to adopt. Instead, Earl’s new 1948 Cadillac (1949 coupe shown) stayed decidedly conservative with a tall, proud front end and rear fenders that were anything but flush with the body. This added a critical break in what could readily become monotonous, at least in Earl’s eyes. And of course the iconic tail fin added a whole new upkick to the heavily-sculptured rear end.
Bold, yet conservative. And utterly in tune with what Americans related to and aspired to have in their driveway.
Then just one year later in 1949, Earl unleashed a monster with the first regular production hardtop coupe, the seminal Coupe de Ville. It wouldn’t be until 1952 that Lincoln would offer a hardtop coupe. The CdV forced everyone’s hand, and Lincoln essentially folded, the slowest to respond in the premium field.
Let’s not even bring the poor “pregnant whale” Packard into the equation. “Suddenly it’s 1941!”. This is exactly what Earl was avoiding at all costs.
And I’m not sure I should bring Chrysler into this comparison either. As well built it undoubtedly was, this New Yorker coupe, all new in 1949, looked like what it essentially was: an elongated eight-cylinder Plymouth.
Just in case you didn’t believe me…but the Plymouth has nicer bumpers.
The 1949 Lincoln was styled by Eugene T “Bob” Gregorie, who had done such fine work for Edsel Ford with the original Continental as well as a number of Fords, perhaps the most attractive American cars in the 1933-1937 era. And the ’49 Lincoln is hardly without merit, although it and the similar 1949 Mercury are perfect examples of the pitfalls of the bar-of-soap pontoon look.
Starting with the front end, which just looks sad, due to the drooping grille. And the deep-set headlights, which had originally been planned to be hidden, only enhance that depressed mood. Needs some Prozac. Compare it to the eminently confident and upbeat face of the Cadillac.
Ironically, Lincoln was in the process of handing the keys to the most exclusive and desirable coupe from its own Continental to the Coupe de Ville, as 1948 was the last year of that classic. But it was ten years old, and its face was hardly aging well, having been injected with fillers and flashy dental implants.
One of the issues with the new ’49 Lincoln was the utter lack of stylistic continuity, unlike Cadillac, which had long cultivated a distinct look, one which Earl was not going to ever ditch quickly. But then Lincoln was not in that enviable position, especially with its non-Continental models, like this ’48 sedan. They were a direct evolution of the original 1933 Zephyr, which was an eternity ago. So Ford was willing to start fresh. More like needed to.
1949 was essentially a reboot of the whole Ford Motor Company’s products. Henry Ford II oversaw a complete transformation, with the ’49 Ford, Mercury and Lincoln finally ditching all of grandpa Henry’s beloved but long-obsolete Model T underpinnings: the transverse springs and solid front axles, the torque tube drive, the skinny frame and tall bodies. A total house cleaning was affected.
The initial plan was for a 118″ wb Ford, a 121″ wb Mercury and a 126″ wb junior Lincoln “Zephyr” (plans for a new senior Lincoln Continental was shelved), all to share the same basic chassis and significant portions of their bodies, especially the Ford and Mercury. That would have continued the previous pattern of the Mercury being little more than a slightly longer deluxe Ford. But two things rearranged all of that.
In 1947 HFII merged Lincoln and Mercury into the Lincoln-Mercury Division, in order to more effectively compete against GM’s mid-upper brands, which had their own larger bodies. And around the same time, Ford’s policy committee, led by Ernie Breech and Harold Youngren, decided that the new ’49 Ford should be built on a smaller 114″ wb, with a unique body.
That resulted in a crash development program, and outsider Richard Caleal’s design won the competition over the in-house design team, and the production ’49 Ford (above) was almost unchanged from it. The result was a quite distinct difference between the Ford and the larger cars, unlike what had originally been intended.
So the 118″ wb ex-Ford was pushed up the ladder and became the ’49 Mercury. And it was an unqualified success, setting new records for the oft-struggling brand during its three-year run and hitting the #6 sales rank in some of those years. What was working so well for Mercury would not work quite so well with Lincoln.
The ’49-’51 Merc became a favorite of the early “lead sled’ customizer set, being chopped channeled and frenched to various extremes. This one I shot a while back is fairly mild.
So the 121″ wb car that was originally going to be the Mercury now became the junior (Series EL) Lincoln. In other words, a Mercury with a new front end.
So now there were two Lincolns in this ’49 – ’51 era. The Cosmopolitan (red), with a 125″ wheelbase was the “senior” Lincoln.
The junior Lincoln’s prices were decidedly lower than the Cadillac or Cosmopolitan. Like with the low end Packard models, which were even cheaper, having a mid-priced Lincoln may have expanded total sales, but did little to enhance the prestige of the brand.
This is where Cadillac really nailed it; after the war they pushed upwards while Lincoln and Packard put a lot of resources into the mid-price sector. Cadillac even dropped its somewhat cheaper and shorter Series 61 after 1951, which pushed the brand even further upmarket. Which turns out to be exactly what the market wanted: a luxury brand unsullied by cheap versions. Something Cadillac forgot later in life, with the Cimarron and other missteps downwards.
The frame, chassis and suspension of all three (Mercury, Lincoln and Cosmopolitan) were essentially all the same. It was a modern chassis, with an X-member braced low and wide frame (for the times), coil spring independent front suspension, Hotchkiss-style rear axle supported by longitudinal leaf springs, hydraulic drum brakes, and “balloon” tires on 15″ wheels. Front and rear track are the same (58.5″/60″); the only material difference was in the wheelbase length, and of course the bodies. As said, the Mercury and Lincoln bodies were essentially identical except for front end styling and length.
But the Cosmopolitan’s body is somewhat wider as well as lower as the Mercury and junior Lincoln, and obviously has a totally different roof structure, door construction and external sheet metal all-round. yet it does share a significant amount of its inner structure with the others. It also got a single pane windshield.
In addition to styling very different from Cadillac, the Lincoln was equally different under the hood. But in an inverse way, meaning decidedly less modern. Yes, the miserable Zephyr flathead V12 was finally gone. Apparently Lincoln wanted to develop a new V12 engine (ohv?), but it was not to be. Given the lack of other options, the “big” Ford truck flathead V8 with 337 cubic inches displacement was adapted for the Lincoln. It’s not like Cadillac was going to sell Lincoln its superb new ohv lightweight V8 along with the Hydramatic.
Given the original intended use of this engine, in Ford’s biggest F-7 and F-8 trucks, it was obviously designed to be tough, so durability was not going to be an issue.
This big block flathead was new in 1948 for Ford’s large trucks, and although it looks a lot like its smaller siblings, it is physically much larger as well as heavier, weighing in at a hefty 800-850 lbs. The crankshaft alone weighed 105 lbs. One obvious difference is the rear-mounted distributor.
Like the smaller Ford flathead V8s, it’s a very undersquare engine, with a 3.50″ bore and 4.375″ stroke. The version used in the 1949 Lincoln, which even got hydraulic lifters, was rated at 152 gross hp @3600 rpm, and 265 lb.ft of torque @2000 rpm. Looking at it, it says “1939”, not “1949”.
The 337 has much larger valves, smoother ports and other significant advantages over the 24 stud Ford/Mercury V8, and could easily make 250+ hp with the right modifications. It has terrific torque. And of course that unique flathead exhaust sound. It also has the potential to be bored and stroked up to some 400 cubic inches. Because of its weight, it never developed much of an aftermarket for performance parts, other than a dual carb manifold and these Edmunds aluminum heads, both of which are now extremely rare. Cams had to be custom regrinds.
All this immersion into these Cosmopolitans and that big 337 flathead has given me my newest MM object: a Cosmopolitan sedan with a warmed over 337 like above, three speed, and overdrive. And of course genuine dual exhausts to share the flathead music with the world. I’d prefer one with original paint and a bit of authentic patina, steel wheels and blackwalls. It would make a great stablemate to my other recent MM object, that 1951 Hudson I shared with you a while back. Flatheads in my head, especially big ones!
Transmission choices were the standard three-speed manual, with overdrive optional. Automatic? Sorry, none available. But GM feels sorry for you, so starting in 1950, GM’s four-speed Hydramatic, was optional. It would be until 1955 that Lincoln had its own automatic. Meanwhile, the take rate on Hydramatics on ’49 Cadillacs was probbaly getting pretty high. Another chuckle is heard from Cadillac.
Now to the back end. Needless to say, this is where the Cadillac and Lincoln diverge the most. The Lincoln’s rear end is eminently modern, sleek, flat, smooth, tight, innocuous, European, and…droopy. Forgettable, in Americans’ eyes, unless you were into the lead sled look.
The Cadillac’s couldn’t be more different. Earl knew exactly what Americans wanted in a butt, 60 years before so many Americans became obsessed with a certain Kardashian’s rear end. Unforgettable, for better or for worse.
Speaking of bodies, we should also take a quick look at Lincoln’s four door sedans. In the Cosmopolitan series, there were no less than two, including this fastback Town Sedan. What made Lincoln think that a fastback four door sedan would be the wave of the future in 1949? Ever since the 1938 Cadillac 60 Special, the trend had been away from fastbacks, especially four door luxury sedans.
The Tatra influence was a lasting one. But the Lincoln Town sedan is handsome. Looking at it is like looking at a car from Russia; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the flesh. All these Lincolns from this era were exceedingly rare on the streets after 1960 when I arrived as a kid. Maybe even before.
The Cosmopolitan Sport Sedan looks even more European. If I told you this was a 1949 Ralbot-Tago Super Roush Gran Lux, you might believe me. It should have been called “Continental”. Actually “Cosmopolitan” nails it pretty well. This is the most “European” American car of the 50s.
The Cosmopolitan’s similarity to the little 1950 French Ford Vedette coupe is not coincidental. They were both styled by “Bob” Gregorie, who also did the 1949 Mercury. Its origins were in a small Ford to be built in the US , but ended up being built in France (full story here)
In a two-year old response to the Coupe deVille, for 1951 Lincoln gussied up its Cosmopolitan two-door sedan into the Capri Coupe, But a padded top and some new upholstery wasn’t going to hold a candle to the CdV, which was now already in its second generation, as Cadillac had a substantial restyle in 1950.
The junior Lincoln also offered a padded roof coupe dubbed “Lido”. Meanwhile, all the GM divisions, even Chevrolet, now had two-door hardtop coupes. Too little, too late.
So how did the Lincoln fare during the ’49 -’52 era? Not so well, despite a very good start in 1949, due undoubtedly to the post-war buyer’s market being not quite done yet. And perhaps because the new ’49 Lincoln appealed to a certain buyer looking for something more understated and yet modern. But if so, those buyers were quickly exhausted, as sales cratered in 1950.
Cadillac sales rose steadily from 1949 -1951, as much as production could keep up with demand. 1952 sales drooped, undoubtedly due to Korean War related supply issues, which probably also explains why they dropped the low-end series 61 that year, to focus production on the more profitable models.
Packard enjoyed a very short-lived boost in 1951, thanks to the arrival of all-new cars that year. But that would be its last good year ever, as it then went into a steep terminal dive.
Lincoln did a total design about-face in 1952, ditching the smooth nose, faired-in headlights and slab sides for Harley Earl-approved jet-intake rear fender extrusions, along with a decidedly more Cadillacky look all-round. It didn’t help sales any, as they slid further, undoubtedly also in part because of the the Korean War. But it did set Lincoln on a new direction.
And thanks to its new Y-block ohv V8 and competent chassis, that new course included race courses, in the form of the Pan American Road Race, which it won in 1952 and 1953. And sales finally perked up some in 1953. But the 1950s were a difficult decade for Lincoln, and the plug was almost pulled on the brand by Robert McNamara after the failure of the radical 1958-1960 models, which imitated nobody.
A bit of a stylistic postscript: Harley Earl eschewed unbroken slab sides (and horizontal trim that accentuated them) for the rest of his career, until the 1959s were essentially forced on him. It must have been hard, for the man that had done everything possible to keep the eye from moving from front to back without being forced to stop at least once or more often. And now the tables were turned; the ’59 Cadillac’s unbroken sleek flanks owed more than a tip of the hat to the ’49-’51 Lincoln.
There’s no doubt that the grafted-on jet engine intake (and garish tapering trim) on the 1959 Sixty Special sedan was Earl’s doing. The ’59s may not have been his idea, but he was going to put his signature extruded and chromed stamp on at least one of them. As such, it was his final shot at GM, harking back to the time when that approach had won Cadillac’s race against the slab-sided Lincolns and Packards in 1948-1949.
But Lincoln would have the last laugh, at least stylistically. After giving up on copying and trying to out-do Cadillac in the 1950s, in 1961 Lincoln went back to what might be considered a rather direct evolution of its 1949 slab-sided design, right down to the suicide rear doors. And the ’61 Lincoln’s design influence would ripple throughout the industry for decades to come, including Cadillac. Thank you!