February 4

This Day in History

Automotive

Feb 4, 1922:

Ford buys Lincoln

On February 4, 1922, the Ford Motor Company acquires the failing luxury automaker Lincoln Motor Company for $8 million.

The acquisition came at a time when Ford, founded in 1903, was losing market share to its competitor General Motors, which offered a range of automobiles while Ford continued to focus on its utilitarian Model T. Although the Model T, which first went into production in 1908, had become the world's best-selling car and revolutionized the auto industry, it had undergone few major changes since its debut, and from 1914 to 1925 it was only available in one color: black. In May 1927, lack of demand for the Model T forced Ford to shut down the assembly lines on the iconic vehicle. Later that year, the company introduced the more comfortable and stylish Model A, a car whose sleeker look resembled that of a Lincoln automobile. In fact, the Model A was nicknamed "the baby Lincoln."

Henry Leland, a founder of the Cadillac auto brand, established the Lincoln Motor Company in 1917; he reportedly named the new venture after his hero, President Abraham Lincoln. Facing financial difficulties, Lincoln was purchased by Ford in 1922. Henry Ford's son, Edsel (1893-1943), was instrumental in convincing his father to buy Lincoln and played a significant role in its development as Ford's first luxury division. Edsel Ford had succeeded his father as company president in January 1919, after the elder Ford resigned following a disagreement with a group of stockholders. However, father and son soon managed to purchase the stock of these minority investors and regain control of the company. One of Edsel Ford's major contributions as president of Ford was the styling of cars, which he believed could be good-looking as well as functional. His push for style upgrades to the Model T eventually helped to convince his father to drop his famous rule: "You can have any color, as long as it's black." (The Model A, successor to the Model T, was available in a variety of colors from the start.)

In the 1930s, Ford's Lincoln division introduced its popular Zephyr model, which was inspired by the Burlington Zephyr, a streamlined, diesel-powered express train that debuted amid great fanfare in 1934 and featured an engine built by General Motors. The Lincoln Continental, which architect Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly described as "the most beautiful car ever made," launched in 1939 and was a flagship model for decades. President John Kennedy was riding in a 1961 Lincoln Continental when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. Other leading Lincoln models over the years have included the Town Car, a full-size luxury sedan released in the 1980s (although Henry Ford had a custom-built vehicle called a Town Car in the 1920s), and the Navigator, a full-size luxury sport utility vehicle that launched in the late 1990s.

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