Pablo Picasso owned a 1961 Lincoln Continental, a car marked by understated chrome finishes, sheer body sides and center-opening doors.
To Gerry McGovern it is a design worth remembering. As Lincoln's design chief, McGovern is nurturing the rebirth of Lincoln as a luxury brand that is born in America but thrives worldwide. Since joining Ford in August 1999, McGovern, 44, has built Lincoln's design organization from the ground up.
On April 10, McGovern will unveil at the New York auto show a Lincoln concept coupe crafted as a modern luxury car but with understated chrome finishes and clean body sides drawn from Lincoln's past. The coupe is the first look at what McGovern envisions for Lincoln. That vision also includes a new flagship sedan that would someday embody the 'DNA' that McGovern wants to create for the brand.
Ford Motor Co. has decided it is time for Lincoln to become a top-echelon player in the luxury market. And design will be a huge factor.
Lincoln today is an independent business within Ford Motor Co. The challenge: to join the ranks of luxury automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Ford has given Lincoln its own product development team drawing from engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, marketing and design.
A diverse team
McGovern was given a free hand in shaping Lincoln's design team, and brought together a 30-member group representing 22 different ethnic backgrounds. They arrived from such competitors as BMW, Audi, Saab, Renault and Volkswagen. Some have built careers in office and home interior design and furniture design.
McGovern, a native of England, is the former director of Land Rover design who created the Land Rover Freelander. He rejects the term automotive styling, preferring to focus on how design contributes to the the product.
'I'm not interested in styling at all,' he said. 'I'm trying to get rid of the word. It belittles what we do.'
Since joining Ford, McGovern has examined an array of design disciplines and Lincoln's design legacy, including the 1956 Continental Mark II and the 1961 Continental. After more than a year of work, McGovern has codified his vision for Lincoln design into an accessible PowerPoint presentation to communicate the brand's global luxury aspirations.
For example, the 1961 through 1969 Lincoln Continentals featured center opening doors. McGovern is exploring whether such a feature could be produced today while meeting safety and engineering requirements.
Because there is no central pillar, engineers have to restore the vehicle's structural integrity. One exercise included adding an aluminum ring frame around the door openings.
Not just cars
Similarly, McGovern looks to exemplary design outside the auto industry. He cites everything from Contax cameras to Alberto Meda chairs.
For example, making Lincoln cabins feel more spacious is a priority. So the design team looked to the legendary lounge chair created by Charles Eames in the 1950s.
The result is an interior concept that includes a floating pair of seats mounted off the vehicle's central tunnel with open air beneath the seats.
Similarly, McGovern used the cabin of a racing yacht, the Wally B, to illustrate the indulgent luxury that can be contained in a small space. Another exercise resulted in a concept trunk capable of sliding out of the rear of the car for easy access.
For now, Lincoln retains its American luxury theme. But it hopes to cast Lincoln as an American company in the tradition of piano maker Steinway & Sons, which manufactures in America a product with worldwide appeal.
McGovern seeks to appeal to a new generation of luxury buyers with a heightened design sensibility. It will be four years before McGovern's team delivers an all-new vehicle to Lincoln showrooms. But Lincoln vehicles will now be sourced from a single product development group.
Before January 2000, Lincoln cars were developed in Ford's large and luxury car center; Lincoln trucks were created in the company's truck center.
Today, a team of executives leads Lincoln: Al Kammerer, product development; Bill Asselin, manufacturing; Jim Rogers, marketing; and McGovern, design. All report to Mark Hutchins, Lincoln Mercury president.