Lincoln is an American luxury automobile brand, operated under the Ford Motor Company. Founded in 1917 by Henry M. Leland and acquired by Ford in 1922, Lincoln has been manufacturing vehicles intended for the upscale markets since the 1920s. Lincoln's prevalent competitor Cadillac, was also founded by Henry M. Leland having acquired the assets of the Henry Ford Company, Ford's first company. While Lincoln was the best selling luxury marque in the United States as recently as 1998, Lincoln lost ground to its competitors. To combat this recent slide in sales Lincoln has unveiled three new models, the MKZ sport sedan, MKS luxury sedan, and MKX crossover sport utility vehicle.
The company was founded in 1917 by Henry M. Leland. Leland, one of the founders of Cadillac (originally the Henry Ford Company), left the Cadillac division of General Motors during World War I and formed the Lincoln Motor Company to build Liberty aircraft engines. After the war, the company's factories were retooled to manufacture luxury automobiles.
The company encountered severe financial troubles during the transition, and was consequently bought by Ford Motor Company in 1922, who still owns and manufactures cars under the Lincoln marque in its Lincoln-Mercury division. The purchase of Lincoln was a personal triumph for Ford who had been forced out of his second company by a group of investors led by Leland. Ford's original company, later renamed Cadillac, would be purchased by rival General Motors and become Lincoln's chief competitor. Lincoln quickly became one of America's top selling luxury brands alongside Cadillac and Duesenberg. In 1927, Lincoln adopted the greyhound as their emblem, which was later replaced with diamond that is currently in use.
In 1932, responding to Ford's V8 Model 18, Lincoln introduced the V12-powered KB. Its sales were disappointing. The same year, Eugene T. "Bob" Gregorie (1908-2002), at the styling studio created by Edsel Ford, began designing what became the Continental, eventually the most important car made by Lincoln. It started as a one-off project car for Edsel, who wanted a European-style car unlike the boxier designs his father's company produced, to drive around on vacations in Florida.
The Zephyr gave Gregorie his chance. Introduced for the 1936 model year, the sportier Zephyr featured a 1.8 liter (110ci) V12, and was so successful it almost became a brand name, rather than just a model. Its first year increased Lincoln sales almost nine-fold. Gregorie simply sectioned a 1938 Zephyr Coupé 10cm (4"), allowing most of the existing dies and tooling to be retained (a trick that would be repeated in the 1953 Buick Skylark), adding the hallmark vertically-mounted spare tire. This became the Continental, eventually the most important car made by Lincoln; by the time it ended production in 1948, 5322 were built, almost entirely by hand. The Zephyr, on which it was based, stopped production in early 1942 when Ford converted to war work, and was not revived. The Continental's spare tire mount was so distinctive, those who work on custom cars still call adding a similar mount a "Continental kit".
The Continental Mark II revived the concept. It was produced by the short-lived Continental division from April 1955 to July 1956 before it was returned to the Lincoln marque. The Mark II had a basic list price of $10,000, the same a Rolls-Royce that year. The Edsel division merged with Lincoln-Mercury in January 1958 to form the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division until the Edsel was discontinued in 1960.
The Continental became Lincoln's flagship model until 1981 when the Town Car, previously the Continental's top trim level, became its own model and took over that role.
As recently as 1998 Lincoln was the best-selling luxury brand in the United States, helped by the massive success of the Navigator SUV, and a redesign of the Town Car as well as the Continental. The company was also part of the Premier Automotive Group from 1998 to 2002, but was pulled out due to Ford's new marketing strategy to separate its "import" brands from its domestic marques. In recent years, however, the company has fallen behind Japanese, European, and American competitors for a lack of new models. The company is working to remedy this, however, and is sharing parts and platforms with other Ford divisions worldwide in an attempt to bring more new models to market faster. The company promises five new models in the four years 2004-2008, and has already begun with the new 2006 Mark LT pickup, Zephyr (upgraded and renamed Lincoln MKZ for the 2007 model year) and the MKX Crossover SUV.
Lincoln vehicles are currently available in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, South Korea, and the Middle East.
Leland named the brand after his longtime hero Abraham Lincoln, for whom he had voted in the first presidential elections for which he was eligible.
Lincoln had a long history of providing limousines for the U.S. President. The first car specially built for Presidential use was the 1939 Lincoln V12 convertible called the "Sunshine Special" used by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It remained in use until 1950. A 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan called the "Bubble Top" was used by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and once by Johnson. It was retired in 1965. The Kennedy car was a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible. It was in use from 1961 to 1977, having undergone extensive alterations which made it an armor-plated sedan after Kennedy's assassination. A 1969 Lincoln was used by Nixon and a 1972 Lincoln used by Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. A 1989 Lincoln was the last Presidential Lincoln as of 2004. Cadillac supplied Presidential limousines in 1983, 1993, 2001, and 2004.