The artificial intelligence at YouTube is getting to know me pretty well, because it keeps feeding me cool videos like this gem. It is a vintage film shot by Ford in 1962 at the Wixom, MI assembly plant where the Lincoln Continental (arguably the last great American luxury car) and its platform-mate Ford Thunderbird were assembled. Over the course of six and a half minutes, it roughly follows the assembly process of these fine cars, starting with stampings coming into the plant all the way to finished vehicles being loaded onto rail cars at the end.
There is no sound and the editing is rough: It appears to be more a collection of B-roll footage than a finished film. That is just fine with me, as the lack of voiceover or music allows me to focus on the star attraction: Lots of vintage Lincolns.
The film opens with an exterior shot of the Wixom plant, and the two vehicles that were made there at the time. Why they chose to film this in the dead of Michigan winter is beyond me. Not exactly showcasing Michigan at its best.
One of the first thing that strikes you is how similar the T-Bird and Conti look in their body in white, before all the gingerbread gets added. Above we can see them rolling down the assembly line, literally side by side. Yet despite the obvious similarities between the two, a coupe Continental would not be offered until 1966, and a four-door Thunderbird would not appear until 1967 (with suicide doors, natch).
Also worth pointing out: A very early appearance of a computerized build system. We’ve already discussed about how computers made the wide variety of 1965 Ford Mustangs possible, but this system appears to predate the Mustang one by a few years, and has to be one of the earliest uses of computers in the assembly process.
The film ends with Continentals and T-Birds being hauled off by the train car and truckload. How I would love to hijack one of those trucks!
They sure didn’t waste any time installing the engine/transmission assembly at 4:24.
Variety was certainly possible before computers, especially for luxury cars. A listing of models and body types for the big Lincoln K of the ’30s shows about 60 basic combinations of size and body, not including colors and options. Most of these combinations were produced in one-digit or two-digit quantities per year.
I love seeing assembly line films like this. When you see what human beings are capable of. . . Well, you just can’t give up hope!
I’m also amazed at the similarities between the two bodies in white, and because of that I’m equally amazed that Lincoln didn’t offer a coupe until the 1966 model year, especially when you consider that Cadillac – and even Imperial – offered coupes.
I know the Continental was initially on shaky ground and had to turn a profit (thus limited body styles at first), but I also wonder if the decision was made to avoid cannibalizing Thunderbird sales.
The precarious position Lincoln was in when the 1961 was in development had most to do with the limited body style selection. Affecting the decision to delete the two door hardtop from the series may have been its percentage of overall Lincoln sales. It was not an encouragement, to wit: two door hardtops percentages: 1956: 47%; 1957: 44%; 1958:27%; 1959: 22%; 1960: 18%. Hardly seemed worth the additional tooling cost for what might not only be a poor seller as well as competition for the Thunderbird.
I think Chrysler used a computerized system even earlier, didn’t they?
This reminds me of something I once read about one of the problems with high-end versus low-end vehicles: they’re assembled by the same line workers, using the same methods. Maybe not at the same plants, but the skill-sets are the same. The only exceptions are dedicated, high-end niche vehicles like the Corvette, which has its own plant in Bowling Green. Still, I doubt the Bowling Green employees are any better (or worse) than people working at any of the other GM plants.
That’s why the old NUMMI experiment was so fascinating. The plant was in Fremont, CA, yet the GM vehicles assembled there were every bit as good as their Toyota counterparts built in, say, Japan.
Good point about high-end and low-end cars being built alongside each other, although I hardly think that the Thunderbird of the time qualified as “low-end.” Even at 30% less than the Continental, the T-bird was still over 50% more than a Galaxie four-door.
A major difference in this case may have been in the post-assembly quality checks; according to Aaron Severson (on ateupwithmotor.com) and the brochure of the time, each Continental received “an extensive dynamometer run-in and a 12-mile (19.3-km) road test prior to delivery, so that they were essentially already broken in by the time they reached the dealer.” That same regimen wasn’t mentioned in the Thunderbird brochure.
In 62 the T Bird was definitely high end with base prices ranging from about S4500 for the 2 Dr hardtop to about $5450 for the Sports Roadster. The Continental sedan with no options started at about $5700.
Are you thinking of the Toyota Corolla/Geo Prizm?
Wow, it’s cool to consider the possibility that the white T-Bird they follow down the line could have been the exact car I later owned. I know the odds are against it, but you never know.
It is fascinating to watch the installation, seeing the only really great access to the spark plugs on that 390 disappear as things are bolted down.
I have no doubt that one of the reason these Birds were so well built was that they shared their assembly plant with Lincoln. I understand that Wixom was one of Fords highest quality plants for many years.
I was thinking similar thoughts about the Continental relative to the Junkyard Classic one I posted a couple of months ago!
Curious to see some Galaxies on the train cars at the end.
Can anyone pick out what kind of car we see at 0:10 to 0:12?
A dark colored sedan.
If I had just one guess, I’d say. . . ’61 Dodge Dart or Polara.