Lincoln Mercury owns two distinctions in Ford Motor Co. history: Established in 1945, it was the automaker's first vehicle division - predating Ford Division by four years.
And it is the only surviving Ford Motor vehicle unit to have been headed by a Ford family member. Benson Ford was general manager from 1948 to 1955. William Clay Ford Sr. ran the short-lived spinoff Continental Division in the 1950s.
The Lincoln-Mercury combination was born of necessity. Many auto veterans say that neither brand could have survived alone. Lincoln vs. Cadillac, or Mercury vs. Oldsmobile? No way.
Stingy with support
Henry Ford never fully approved of the purchase of Lincoln in 1922 or the creation of Mercury in the late 1930s. He was stingy with support for Lincoln and Mercury, which have depended on Ford Division for their existence, says auto historian Richard Wright.
"Both nameplates have been reasonably successful, but neither has ever been a leader in its segment or even a serious contender," Wright says. "They fulfilled Edsel Ford's goal of giving Ford owners something to upgrade to but have not been strong enough to stand on their own. They needed each other."
The two brands have had a mutually beneficial relationship, says retired Lincoln-Mercury General Manager Lee Miskowski.
"It all comes down to the franchise system and supporting the product in the market," he says. "The two should be together for retail purposes."
A satisfying relationship
For Holman Enterprises in Pennsauken, N.J., the relationship between Lincoln and Mercury has been more than satisfying, says Chairman Joseph Holman, whose company has eight Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in New Jersey and Florida.
Holman's father, Steward, was an early Lincoln-Mercury distributor, supplying vehicles to local Ford dealers before World War II. In 1940, he built his first Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Camden, N.J.
Joseph Holman recalls that many Lincoln-Mercury dealers were briefly Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln dealers when the ill-fated Edsel was added to the division's name for 1958 and 1959.
Rules and trends come and go for the division, he says. The Lincoln-Mercury move to California in 1998 was an attempt by Jacques Nasser, then Ford Motor president, to integrate Ford's luxury makes. "We didn't see as many factory people when Lincoln-Mercury was in California," Holman says.
The division returns to Dearborn, Mich., this summer.
Ray Windecker, a free-lance writer in Livonia, Mich., and a former Ford Motor Co. public relations executive who was assigned to Lincoln-Mercury in 1965 and 1966, says they are "like two drunks leaning on each other to hold each other up."
But, he adds, they were and are necessary to the corporation and "it was logical to put them together."