CC Design Comparison: 1958 vs. 1961 Lincoln – A Study in Pure Forms

A recent post featured a Cohort photo of a 1958 Lincoln accompanied by some not-so-glowing commentary about the styling of the car, and this brief post resulted in an astounding 118 comments!  With that in the back of my mind, I happened to come across eBay listings for a 1958 and a 1961 Lincoln with lots of close-up photos, and I thought: Let’s compare them side-by-side and see just how radical the change was from the 1958-60 generation of Lincolns to the iconic, ground-breaking 1961 design.

To quote Paul in his Lincoln post, “But this was such a mess, most of all the front end. It’s like every cliché was thrown in a blender . . .”  Lincoln advertisements used somewhat different language: “Lincoln’s brilliant new beauty heralds its distinctive superiority.  Its sweeping simplicity stamps it as a car of grace and dignity.” 

Ah, but then came 1961, and “Now America has a new kind of fine car, one that combines even greater luxury with 14 inches less length.”  Longer/lower/wider is OUT.  So apparently are heavily sculpted sides, tailfins, wrap-around windshields, and lots of other things.  If 1958 represented simplicity, what is this–austerity?   No, you see–“Less is More”; “Pure Elegance”: now we have center-opening doors, a 4-door convertible, hydraulic windshield wipers, and a 2-year, 24,000 mile “pledge of excellence.”

To see how the styling of these cars came to be, we have to look at the experimental dream cars they were based on.  We can see how the ’58 strongly resembles La Tosca, which is actually a small scale radio controlled car, built so designers can see how the car looks in motion, as well as standing still.  This is a brilliant idea.  One thing I’ve noticed–not only do late ’50s cars look like rockets when parked, but the effect is amplified as you watch one zoom past you!  Alex Tremulis (of Tucker fame) had a hand in this, and if you want to see it tooling along, click here.

In this mock-up of a Continental Mark III that was never produced, we can see a morphing taking place from the sleek, extruded look of La Tosca to the more upright, squared-off look of the production ’61.

Here we see something close to 1961’s final form.  But this is actually a Thunderbird prototype, before the decision was made to make this T-Bird the basis for the 1961 Lincoln.

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So now, let’s look at a group of comparison shots showing the dramatic difference between what was offered as a Lincoln in 1958 & 1961.  I like these close-up photos because they give you something more like the experience of seeing the cars in person, which is often very different from just looking at pictures.

We can really see the La Tosca resemblance here.  And how the new quad headlamps had to be canted to fit into the front fender shape.

The rear view is the best feature of both of these cars (my opinion).  However, not everyone was so impressed . . .

(From John Keats’ book, The Insolent Chariots.)   It looks like a ’58 Continental rear stuck on the front.  Artistic license–you get the idea!

The gentle flow of fine chrome moldings atop front fenders vs. a dramatic scooped-out front fender scallop, led by a fishtail front bumper.

I see a little bit of the ’64 Mustang here.  Rounded corners versus . . .

. . . sharp points!

Both these front ends are designed to knock your eye out!  I would say the ’62 grille/headlight arrangement was an improvement over the ’61–more in-tune with the overall lines of the car.  Among 58-60s, the ’58 is the “purest” (if I may use that word) expression of the concept; the ’59 is OK–a little simpler (except for chrome winged pods for parking lights), with a toned-down scallop; the ’60–ehhhh, that’s really an acquired taste–bigger “fangs” and a re-work of the bumper and grille make it a real angry monster–ready to do battle with the ’59 Dodge!

’60 vs. ’62:  Aggressive versus . . . submissive?

After 1960, the Lincoln star disappeared, and all Lincolns become Continentals, with their own distinctive emblem.

The shooting star, soon never to be seen again!

Profile views.  The ’61 could be “coming or going”, but the ’58 definitely has a sense of “forward thrust”, combined with a look of formality.

The kickup in the beltline is retained, but that’s about all!

I don’t know if the wood is fake or real, but it’s about the nicest I’ve seen!

Starships don’t have wood!

A return to Art Deco?

A draftsman, looking for inspiration, had a protractor sitting on his drawing table.  Hmmm . . . I’ll just trace around this!  By the way, the crack down the middle–“They all do that!”

So which model year do you prefer?  A little known statistic previously mentioned on Curbside is the fact that the ’58 actually outsold the ’61: 29,684 to 25,164.  But the ’61 truly pointed the way forward–its boxy, unadorned look set the pattern for American car styling as the 1960s progressed.  Lincoln sales increased with each new model year, with evolutionary rather than revolutionary updates.  The 1958-60 generation quickly became passé, and, I’m sad to say, almost universally scorned for its alleged “garishness”.

Partly it’s a question of whether you prefer clean, unadorned, spare lines (which ironically is what the ’58 claimed to offer); or if you enjoy exuberance and richness of detail.  The classicist versus the romanticist.  While I can certainly appreciate the genius of the classic, minimalist approach of the ’61, I find the ’58 much more fascinating with its Rocket  Age flair and tour de force mentality.  And I appreciate the fact that Curbside, unlike previous automotive print literature, allows all individuals with divergent tastes and preferences to express their views, even if they depart from mainstream opinion.