Glory days are in rearview mirror for 4 models Ford is discontinuing

Their histories are long, but their sales have come up short recently

January 12, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The four vehicles being dropped by the Ford Motor Co. include some storied names, but none of them have sold well lately.

The best known is the Lincoln Continental, with a history that goes back to the end of the Depression.

The first one was a customized 1939 Lincoln Zephyr designed by E.T. Gregorie and built for Henry Ford's only son, Edsel, who admired the looks of cars he had seen in Europe, with their long hoods and short decks.

After the younger Ford used the car on his winter vacation in Florida, the sensation it created spurred Ford to put it into production the next year. In 1940, 404 were produced. The number grew to 1,250 in 1941.

Frank Lloyd Wright called it the most beautiful car in the world. Unfortunately for the younger Ford, his name was attached to the ill-fated Edsel rather than the car he more directly inspired.

In the mid-1950s, Ford created a Continental division distinct from Lincoln to market the Continental Mark II, a low-volume two-door model sold in 1956-1957 for $10,000, a then-astronomical price that was twice what the most expensive Cadillac cost.

The Mark II was intended to compete with the best European cars, but it was never profitable and the Continental division was scrapped.

Perhaps the best known Lincoln Continental was the luxury car introduced in 1961. The lineup included one of the few four-door convertibles ever built, and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in its limousine variant.

Continentals of the 1960s are considered American classics. Picasso owned one, and the look is still fresh today.

"The Lincoln Continental is just an outstanding car," said Douglas Mattix of Rowlett, Texas, president of the 4,500-member Lincoln and Continental Owners Club.

The Lincoln division recently displayed a design for a possible future Continental that hinted at the popular 1960s versions. The concept car featured a cigar humidor, a briefcase holder and crystal drink dispensers.

"The concept was really neat," Mattix said. "I hope they use it as the basis for a relaunched Continental."

Once the top of the Lincoln line, Continental, a front-wheel drive car, has been replaced in that role by the Town Car, which is larger and has rear-wheel drive.

The Mercury Cougar is another Ford car whose glory days were in the 1960s. The Cougar, with a sporty flair and an upscale image, was introduced in 1967 as a companion to the Mustang. But the Cougar soon gained weight and a more staid clientele.

The 1999 Cougar offered front-wheel drive and something of a return to its roots as a sporty coupe with Ford's youth-oriented "new edge" design. But the distinctive styling quickly looked dated.

"We're disappointed that the name is being retired yet again," said Scott Ferguson of Burnaby, British Columbia, president of the 1,200-member Cougar Club of America.

The Ford Escort, introduced in Britain in 1968 as a replacement for the venerable Anglia, has a more enthusiastic following in Europe than in the United States. The Escort's days were numbered when Ford introduced its new small car, the Focus, in 1999.

The Mercury Villager minivan, built in a joint venture with Nissan in Avon Lake, Ohio - Nissan sells a version called the Quest - was too small to capture much of the mainstream van market. The Villager made its debut as a 1993 model. A facelift for 1999 did little to help sales.

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