George Walker and the 1964 Lincoln Continental Mark IX
By Jim and Cheryl Farrell
When George Walker became a consultant to Ford in late 1940s he extracted conditions from Henry Ford II which included Walker’s control of all publicity about Ford design. Walker was also able to keep his lucrative private design business and his interest in another business (Trim Trends) that sold automotive trim parts to multiple manufacturers.
The last condition given Walker was the right to insert two of his employees, Elwood Engel and Joe Oros, into the Ford Design Department. Oros and Engel, although not employees of Ford, were there full-time, and had the right to design and create clay models of their own Ford, Lincoln or Mercury proposals if they didn’t like the designs proposed by Ford designers. That arrangement didn’t work very well and caused even more dissension among Ford designers.
On May 22, 1955, HFII’s solution was to make Walker a Ford vice president and general manager of the Design Department, which Walker promptly renamed the Ford Styling Center. Engel then became Walker’s assistant manager, and in 1956, he named Oros as head of the Ford design studio.
Ford policy mandated that all executives retire at age 65. As Walker approached his 65th birthday in 1961, he was obsessed that Oros or Engel (preferably Engel) succeed him. Gene Bordinat, as head of the Lincoln-Mercury design studio, was Engel’s primary competition to succeed Walker. That meant that Walker was actively trying to undermine Bordinat and build up Engel.
Ben Mills, then head of Lincoln-Mercury Division, didn’t trust Walker. He felt Walker and Engel had pushed through the design of the disastrous 1958 Lincoln without much consideration of its salability. Mills also wanted a smaller Lincoln that displayed obvious continuity with past Lincolns. That directive was made clear to Bordinat who was supposed to be designing the ’61 Lincoln in his studio. Mills also wanted a longer nine-year design cycle for Lincoln.
Walker and Engel both were aware of Mill’s displeasure. Although Engel’s design for the ’61 Lincoln started out as a Thunderbird proposal, it later became a Lincoln proposal. Walker saw it as a feather in Engel’s cap even though his ’61 Lincoln design had no continuity with past Lincolns. Engel’s ’61 Lincoln proposal beat out the one from Bordinat’s studio that had an unfortunate similarity to the 1958-60 Lincoln—which by that time, nearly everyone at Ford disliked. Bordinat followed the rules; Engel didn’t—and Engel’s car won.
All of the above is prologue to what happened after Engel’s winning ’61 Lincoln proposal was moved upstairs into Bordinat’s Lincoln-Mercury studio to be productionized. Although Walker and Engel had lucked out with the winning ’61 Lincoln design, Walker quickly figured out that if Engel was also able to design the next Lincoln Continental, which under the old rules was due for change in 1964, it would go a long way towards Engel‘s appointment as his successor. Walker encouraged Engel to hand pick the best designers available, and to quickly began work on a car they called the 1964 Lincoln Continental Mark IX.
Designers of the Mark IX were Engel, Gale Halderman (manager), Colin Neale, John Orfe, Bill Dayton, and Phil Payne. Although the finished Mark IX looks longer, it is actually shorter than the ’61 Lincoln. When finished, the Mark IX was so well liked by all who saw it that Walker had designer Ray Smith install a small electric motor and steering so it could be actually driven at about 5-mph. The Mark IX was eventually built in fiberglass with four opening doors and a full interior. The special features of the Mark IX were all picked by Engel, including a small opening compartment on the hood to check fluids, a full vinyl roof that extended onto the truck, and a partially-retracting backlight. Everyone at Ford including management thought the Mark IX was a great-looking Lincoln.
Bill Ford was not a fan of George Walker. After the Mark II had been discontinued, Bill Ford became a Ford VP and titular head of Ford design. Walker, who was also a VP and head of the Styling Center, disliked Bill Ford and openly referred to him as “that f—king kid.”
When it came time to choose Walker’s replacement, Engel got caught in a scandal. He double billed for expenses he incurred during an oversight trip to Europe, which disqualified him. Walker then began supporting Oros as his replacement. Walker even told Oros he was a shoe-in, and photos were taken of Walker introducing Oros as his replacement. Meanwhile, Henry Ford II was hospitalized with mononucleosis, and Bordinat took this opportunity to present a slick-looking booklet to Bill Ford explaining why he and not Oros should become head of the Ford Styling Center, and why Bill Ford should control the selection. Bordinat also arranged to meet with Eleanor Ford, the matriarch of the Ford family, who gave her blessing to Bordinat. Bill Ford and Mills then recruited other members of Ford’s board of directors. Bill Ford even gave a fantastic speech to the board supporting Bordinat. After the board selected Bordinat as Walker’s replacement, Bill Ford must have enjoyed coming back to the Styling Center to tell Walker his candidate had lost, and his successor was Bordinat.
When Henry Ford II got out of the hospital, he agreed to keep Walker on the payroll so Walker could exercise Ford stock options that matured only after he turned 65. He also sent Walker and his wife on an all-expense paid trip to say goodbye at Ford plants worldwide. Walker was still bitter, and everywhere he went he badmouthed Bordinat and members of the Ford family, including Bill and Henry Ford II. When word of his badmouthing got back to Dearborn, Henry Ford II recalled Walker and immediately retired him. Designers report that Walker never again set foot in Ford’s renamed Design Center.
In November 1961, Walker was able to engineer Engel’s appointment as the head of Chrysler’s design department. Walker also tried to talk Oros into going to AMC as head of their design department. Bordinat had a talk with Oros. The end result was that he and Oros enjoyed a good working relationship for the rest of their long careers at Ford. After Engel got to Chrysler, he offered Neale, Orfe and Dayton jobs on such advantageous terms they couldn’t say no.
What happened to the Mark IX? Bordinat was obviously NOT fond of the car. Mills was successful in extending Lincoln’s design cycle to nine years, and the Mark IX just faded away. Besides, after Engel went to Chrysler, there was little chance Ford would produce a car Engel designed.
The next Lincoln was the 1966 Continental, which was a well-executed refresh of the ’61 Continental.
If Engel had replaced Walker as head of the Ford Styling Center, would the Mark IX have become the 1964 Lincoln Continental? Who knows. But even a retired George Walker could be very persuasive.
Photos: Ford Design
1964 Continental Mark IX
Books by Jim and Cheryl Farrell
Ford Design Department—
Concepts & Showcars
1999, 10×13, 400 pages, Fully indexed
900 photos. Includes 150+ designers and sculptors, and highlights 100 concept cars.
Lincoln Design Heritage:
Zephyr to LS (1936-2000)
2021, 10×13, 480 Pages, Fully Indexed
1,600 photos and illustrations
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