For 1 day in L.A., Lincoln salutes its glorious past

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LOS ANGELES -- While other automakers were showing off their latest 21st century creations on the first day of the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday, the Lincoln stand stood apart, filled with restored classics from the brand's glory days. Those grand days were many years ago.

Cynics might say Lincoln hasn't had much to brag about since the stunning blue 1956 Continental Mark II that rotated on a turntable at the center of the display here. Or the gorgeous 1961 Continental with the suicide doors.

As Lincoln has gone about reinventing itself for a new generation of buyers, the stewards of the brand have talked little about the past, or at least the recent past, when Lincoln was known primarily for floaty, boaty Town Cars and one of the most geriatric owner bases in the industry.

Lincoln presented seven cars from its past on the first press day of the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, including the landmark 1956 Continental Mark II.

Photo credit: FORD

By displaying the vintage cars on the eve of the arrival of a much-anticipated new car designed to make Lincoln relevant again -- the 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan -- Lincoln hopes to rekindle a long dormant flame.

"We're not going to dwell on the heritage of the Lincoln brand but people are interested in substantive stories, and we have that in our history," said Matt VanDyke, Lincoln's global sales and marketing chief, speaking at the display. "So we're going to draw from what we were when we were at our best and use that as our inspiration going forward."

Lincoln again wants to be known for "building world class premium automobiles that were bespoke, individual, special," he said. "They stood apart but didn't necessarily stand out. They weren't meant to be No. 1 selling. They were world class. We aim to retake that mantle."

The Lincoln Derham Sport Sedan, left, had a feature virtually unheard of in its day -- a huge, retractable sunroof.

Photo credit: BRADFORD WERNLE

Case in point was the 1937 Lincoln Derham Sport Sedan, a one-of-a-kind car built on speculation by the Derham Coach Co. This black beauty, a long and stately reminder of the days when automobiles evoked elegance and grandeur, never went into production. Edmund Burchman, the owner, found it in a barn in Albert Lea, Minn., in 1977 and spent four years restoring it. The car won best in class at the Pebble Beach Concours in 2004.

The Lincoln Derham Sport Sedan had a feature virtually unheard of in its day -- a huge, retractable sunroof. It's that sunroof that connects the 1937 Lincoln Derham Coupe to the 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan, which will also have a one-of-a-kind retractable sunroof, a massive sheet of curved glass that retracts over the rear window.

Visitors to the Los Angeles Auto Show today will find the beautiful vintage Lincolns have been removed from the stand and replaced by 2013 MKZs.

VanDyke and his team fervently hope that with this new car, Lincoln has finally ended its long and fruitless quest for a proper heir to the brand's grand heritage.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.

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