There was little love lost between Henry Ford and Henry Leland.
So it may have seemed strange, indeed, when Ford rescued Leland's Lincoln Automobile Co. from bankruptcy court. But maybe it wasn't so strange, after all, because Ford became Leland's boss, just as Leland had been brought in to look over Ford's shoulder two decades earlier.
Being in control of Leland's company must have pleased Ford. And Leland's descendants just as surely must be pleased that the Fords have continued to build Leland's car for 81 years.
Ford's success in auto racing attracted investors who helped him establish Henry Ford Co. after his October 1901 upset victory over one of the nation's leading automakers, Alexander Winton.
While Ford dreamed of building "a car for the great multitude," he also had commercial ambitions to fulfill in racing.
"If an automobile were going to be known for speed," Ford said, "I was going to make an automobile that would be known wherever speed was known."
While Ford was working on a new race car, his financial supporters were focusing on building the vehicles that would provide a return on the $30,000 they had invested in the previously unheralded mechanic.
Clash of titans
To further that program, they brought in Leland, a well-known engineer who was skilled in precision tool working and who had developed the engine used in the Curved Dash Oldsmobile.
Immediately, Leland and Ford clashed.
"It was a confrontation between an educated craftsman - Leland had built devices able to tool parts to within a tolerance of 1/100,000th of an inch - and an inspired trial-and-error mechanic," wrote Peter Collier and David Horowitz in The Fords: An American Epic.
Ford didn't appreciate being second-guessed. In March 1902, he left the company with $900 in cash, the plans for his race car and an agreement that his name no longer would be associated with the business he had launched.
Ford's new race car, the 999, proved to be a sensation on the track and attracted new investors for the founding of Ford Motor Co. in 1903.
Meanwhile, Leland was appointed chief engineer of what became Cadillac Automobile Co.
Equipped with Leland's new engine, the Cadillac was the first American automobile to receive the Dewar Trophy for automotive achievement from England's Royal Automobile Club. From that honor, Cadillac's "Standard of the World" motto was developed.
Billy Durant and General Motors bought Cadillac in 1909. Leland and his son Wilfred were part of the deal. The two stayed until 1917, when they quit in a dispute over issues of quality and GM's role in the war effort.
The Lelands go it alone
The Lelands started their own company and named it after Abraham Lincoln, the first president for whom Henry Leland had voted. The company built engines for World War I aircraft. After the war, Lincoln Motor Co. became Lincoln Automobile Co. But while the Lincoln Model L was advanced mechanically, its styling was dated, and production delays and the postwar recession landed the company in receivership.
Edsel Ford saw in Lincoln the potential to bring elegance and luxury to the Ford lineup, so he and his mother persuaded Henry Ford to buy it. On Feb. 4, 1922, Ford bought Lincoln for $8 million through the bankruptcy court.
The purchase agreement for Lincoln Motor Car Co. on Feb. 4, 1922, was signed by, clockwise from upper left, Henry Ford, Henry Leland, Wilfred Leland and Edsel Ford.
Depending upon which history you read, either Edsel Ford said: "Father made the most popular car in the world, and I would like to make the best car in the world," or Henry Ford said: "We have built more cars than anyone else, and now we are going to build a better car than anyone else."
Calvin Coolidge was the first in a long line of U.S. presidents to use Lincoln models as his official state vehicles.
While Henry Ford built boxy, black Motel T and Model A cars for the masses, Edsel pursued art, color and design.
Edsel's elegant designs
Edsel hired yacht designer Eugene "Bob" Gregorie to head Ford's new styling studio and work with John Tjaarda of coach-building specialist Briggs to develop a Lincoln model, the Zephyr, which would become the first streamlined car to be a sales success. In addition to its teardrop-shaped body, the Zephyr offered a luxurious interior. Lincoln had sold only 2,370 cars in 1935. With the
V-12-powered Zephyr, sales soared to 15,567 in 1936 and to 25,242 in 1937.
Three years later, in Paris, Edsel became fascinated by fine European cars. When he returned home, he put Gregorie to work on a one-off convertible, a car that Edsel reportedly wanted to be "strictly Continental." A prototype was produced, and Edsel drove it on his winter vacation to Hobe Sound in Florida.
The car created so much interest that it was put into production as the Lincoln Continental. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright called the new 1940 Lincoln Continental "the most beautiful car ever designed."
But fewer than 2,000 were built before Lincoln shifted its production from cars to engines for tanks and bodies for Jeeps and amphibious vehicles for World War II.
That time, Lincoln came back strongly after the war. Ford's first postwar concept car was the Continental Nineteen Fifty X. That car, which set design themes that lasted 15 years, was unveiled in 1952, the year Lincoln began a three-year sweep of the prestigious Pan-American road race. That success was followed by the launch of the Continental Mark II, which became an instant classic when it was introduced in 1956.
The new generation of coupes began with the Lincoln Mark III in 1968, but Lincoln left the luxury-coupe market when it discontinued the Mark VIII after the 1998 model year.
The Town Car split from being a version of the Continental to become a separate model in 1981.
In 1998, Lincoln introduced its first truck, the Navigator SUV. The short-lived Lincoln Blackwood, a pickup, joined the lineup as a 2002 model.
A new, smaller and sportier Lincoln sedan, the LS, debuted as a 2000 model. Seventy percent of buyers were newcomers to the brand launched by Leland and saved by the Fords.