Auto designers do an amazing job differentiating vehicles, considering most vary little dimensionally. Brand distinctions often involve a styling signature, such as the vertical taillight elements Cadillac has incorporated one way or another since the 1960s. BMWs have been easy to spot by their quad-round headlights, since the 1970s, and twin grilles, since the 1920s. Speaking of grilles, it was around 2004 that Audi helped re-popularize the over-sizing trend which is still their characteristic of note. In 2010, Lexus doubled down with a mega-sized spindle interpretation and, for good or bad, forged an unforgettable signature.
So, what about Lincoln? Well, there were the full-width taillights but, despite being invoked a few years back, I’m not sure their patchy use ever solidified in peoples’ minds. There were also the trunk lids, with faux spare tire hump. Though a little smarmy in its final iterations, the reference actually dates to the original Lincoln Continental, from 1940. But that’s just it, it was a trait tied to Continentals (apart from some Mercurys too… not digressing).
No, the iconic styling element that I associate with the brand comes from the 1960s: the Rolls-style grille. Although, despite three decades of heritage, chrome-boxed ornamentation is not terribly compatible with Lincoln’s current “quiet luxury” approach. Then again, it’s not totally clear what is appropriate considering they’re actually on their third round of grille designs since that blingy hallmark was retired. Here’s a look back at some of their more noteworthy efforts.
Perhaps if Lincoln’s marketers had referenced the richness of heritage in their now-defunct-again winged grille, it would have achieved greater public acceptance. Well, that and better execution but we’ll get to that shortly.
Remember that the 1940s weren’t the only period from which Lincoln would draw inspiration for later styling touches. The best was yet to come.
As the story goes, according to Lee Iacocca—president of Ford Motor Company at the time, it was his idea to adorn a Thunderbird with a “Rolls-Royce grille.” That was in September 1965 and the Mark III came out in April of 1968 (as a 1969 model) wearing what would become an identifying Lincoln trait for roughly 30 years.
During the early to mid 1990s, Lincoln had been toying with grille designs that ranged from blasé to bizarre but the Town Car stayed the Rolls course. Then, in 1998, a substantially new Town Car came along and, while paying homage to the old, much of the bling had subsided. Although, the truly big news for 1998 was the Navigator and it too sported a new-design grille for Lincoln. In my opinion, the SUV wore the better looking of the two.
By 2007, Lincoln was again exploring a new course for their grilles, this time looking back for motivation. The intricate meshing indicates how far back they went.
And there was more grille exploring…
Then, tragedy struck.
Following additional model design conformities across their line, Lincoln turned the vertical slats horizontal and seemed to finally hit their stride with the winged grille.
The problem is, the damage seemed to have been done following years of mediocre offerings wearing winged grilles that ranged in execution from not that bad to bad. On its own, this was a handsome and well-integrated grille, with character-defining presence. Unfortunately, the mid-level model had to turn a ship around that, I think, had already taken on too much water.
So, Lincoln changed again.
I actually started to write this as a simple commentary on Lincoln’s latest grille switch but, as usual, I carried on. One of the reasons it’s been on my mind is because of the neighbors, next door.
For as long as I’ve lived here, their fleet was comprised of Volkswagens; initially a Passat and CC, followed by a Touareg and Tiguan. Curiously, about six months ago, a new MKC was parked in their driveway and I just figured it was a guest. When the Touareg didn’t come back and the MKC stuck around, I realized there had been dissension in the VW camp. Then, about three months later, a new MKZ showed up and it too stuck around, in place of the Tiguan. They had made a noteworthy brand switch and the fringe benefit to me was increased familiarization with the winged grille. I like it, in fact I like how it looks on both of the models.
You know, I was among those that lamented Lincoln’s winged grille. So, I should be happy now that its gone, right? I’m not, because I think I’ve changed my mind. I like the wings and, though they were short lived, I think they had a lot of potential to make Lincolns stand out. Potential they were just tapping in to.
Well, I’ve shared my opinions on the matter, now I’d like to read yours.