Dumb Super Bowl ad aside, is design back in the driver's seat at Lincoln?

February 4, 2013

The automaker Lincoln once made some of America's best-looking cars, particularly the spectacular, minimalist Elwood Engle-designed 1960s Continental with the front-opening rear "suicide doors" and no B-pillar.

You know the car:

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Late last year, the Ford division began remembering from whence it came, with the company adopting the "Lincoln Motor Company" moniker and emphasizing design in its commercials and branding. And although the above goofball ad for the 2013 Lincoln MKZ from Sunday's Super Bowl XVLII does those efforts no favors, the spot--and one more that aired during the big game--at least shows a Lincoln design that looks drastically different and more nimble than the squared-off land barges of recent memory.

"This car tells the story of being very modern, of being transformational," Lincoln director of design Max Wolff told Businessweek last August. "It tells the story of grace, of elegance. On the interior, it tells the story of technology.

Lincoln hasn't produced many truly good-looking cars since the last old school Continental rolled off a Michigan assembly line in 1969. I'm partial to the 1968-1971 Lincoln Mark III and its successor, the Mark IV--even if they were better-dressed Ford Thunderbirds at heart--but for the last 30 years, the carmarker was best known for the big, bland Lincoln Town Car.

The new Lincoln has a sleekness, but the story Wolff speaks of has clearly borrowed a few chapters (and the general look) from the 2013 Ford Taurus, shaped by Ford Motor Company chief designer Moray Callum.

Chrysler and Cadillac used improved design to make visually unique cars. Perhaps the same thing could happen at Lincoln.