The Lincoln Sentinel
By Jim and Cheryl Farrell
The high-water mark for the Lincoln Town Car was 1988, when 201,113 were sold. By 1995, Ford was still selling over 100,000 Town Cars per year. The last model Town Car was marketed from 1998 through 2011. Although exact figures are not available, Lincoln made a comfortable profit on every Town Car sold.
After 1998, no new model Town Car was introduced, and by 2011, with sales of 15,116, the Town Car was quietly discontinued. In the past, Lincoln had been marketing a new Town Car model every 8–10 years, so a replacement was expected by at least 2005–06. The Lincoln Sentinel, a concept car designed in 1993–96, was supposed to be a replacement for the Town Car, although it’s unsure the name or size would have remained the same. Although there has been speculation, since 2011 there has been no successor to the Lincoln Town Car, nor is one likely.
It’s hard to say exactly where the Sentinel’s design came from, but its designers suggest it was strongly influenced by Ghia. Directions to start designing a new Lincoln came from Jack Telnack, then Ford’s vice president of design. Telnack’s directions landed on the desk of Claude Lobo, a French designer in charge of Ford’s Dearborn Advanced design studio. During previous European assignments, Lobo had been responsible for development of Ford’s “New Edge” design theme, which showed up in this country on the Indigo and GT-90 concept cars.
Designers in Dearborn’s Advanced studio who actually designed the Sentinel were Rick Wells, Chief Designer, and designers Paul Hudacek, Camillo Pardo, Tyler Blake and Steve Eum. According to Wells, although all studio designers contributed to the Sentinel, the designer primarily responsible for the final looks of the Sentinel was Hudacek, although other designers credit Eum.
The Lincoln Sentinel was part retro. At Telnack’s suggestion, the Sentinel’s grille paid homage to the 1941 Lincoln. The Sentinel also took its high beltline from the 1961 Continental. All designers contacted expected changes to the final design of the Sentinel when it was productionized, especially as to size and the front end. Its designers are also quick to point out that the Sentinel is not entirely “New Edge.” They also acknowledge the Sentinel was a design that people at first view either loved or hated.
When the design was completed, the full-sized model of the Sentinel was cast in fiberglass as a show car, but with no engine, running gear or interior. Plans for the car were then sent to Ford’s Ghia design studio in Turin, Italy, to be constructed as a full-sized operable car, but at 7/8-size. When the plans were sent to Ghia, it was without an interior. The interior was designed and installed at Ghia, and is described as more true to the “New Edge” design theme than the exterior. When the build was completed, the rear-wheel-drive operable Sentinel had flush glass and a 6-cylinder engine. It was test-driven through the Italian countryside, during which time a video was taken of the car. When it was returned to Dearborn, the 6-cylinder engine was replaced with a 6-liter, direct-injected V-12 engine featuring dual overhead cams and putting out 435 horsepower. (Ford made their V-12 engines by electron welding together two production V-6 engines.) The operable Sentinel is 218-inches long (an inch shorter than the Town Car) and rides on 20-inch tires. It has rear suicide doors, and was built on a Jaguar chassis.
The inoperable Sentinel was first shown at the Detroit Auto Show. The 7/8-sized operable Sentinel was first shown in August at the ’96 Pebble Beach Concours, where Lincoln was the feature car that year.
Unfortunately, the Sentinel was savaged by the American automotive press. They said it was “ugly,” it was “odd,” and it was “sinister.” In an almost comic-strip way, the Sentinel was compared to “Black Beauty,” the Green Hornet’s 1937 Lincoln Zephyr 3-window coupe, and/or to the F-117 stealth fighter plane. Jabs also included ones like “What were they thinking?” Needless to say, Ford management was not prepared for the outpouring of scorn the Sentinel received. At some point, in an effort to make the inoperable Sentinel look less sinister it was repainted a charcoal grey, but by that time it was probably too late. Over the next few years, the “New Edge” design theme was used at Ford on a few new models, like the Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar, but it was never adopted as a long-term general design theme by any of Ford’s car lines.
The Sentinel may not have been well received by the U.S. automotive press, but in Europe it was a totally different story. Europeans loved it, and the design of the Sentinel received multiple awards. It was named Concept Car of the Year by England’s Motor Sports magazine. Ford quietly sent designer Rick Wells and the operable Sentinel (at the magazine’s request) to England to receive the award, which Wells still has. Wells was also featured on an English television show driving the Sentinel about London.
According to Lincoln designers, during the time the Sentinel was at the Pebble Beach Concours, Jac Nasser, then a Ford vice president, asked that the Lincoln design studio do a workup of the Sentinel in different packages to see if it could be adapted for a future Lincoln production model. That was either unsuccessful or the bad press or combination of the two stymied any consideration of the Sentinel as a future production Lincoln. To this day, Telnack (now retired) believes the Lincoln Sentinel should have been produced.
Fast forward to 1999. Cadillac introduced an edgy new concept car called the Evoq. Several years later, the edgy design of the Evoq was introduced on Cadillac’s new production CTS model. Cadillac’s edgy design theme is referred to by Cadillac as an “Art and Science” design theme. It has been followed on all Cadillac production vehicles since 2003—with great success. The Evoq was designed by John “Kip” Wasenko. He and all other Cadillac designers contacted uniformly report that the edgy design theme displayed on the Evoq and subsequent production Cadillacs was not in any way inspired by the Lincoln Sentinel. However, Cadillac’s success does make one wonder what would have happened if the Sentinel’s design theme had become the basis for a future production Lincoln.
According to retired Lincoln designers, the grille of the Sentinel found its way onto the 2011–15 Lincoln MKX, but other than that, little to nothing from the Sentinel made it onto any future production Lincoln. The operable full-sized Sentinel is presently in storage at a facility in Plymouth, Michigan. The inoperable model was sold or given to O.C. Welch, a Lincoln dealer in South Carolina. It was displayed on his showroom floor for many years, and then put up for sale.
Photos: Ford Design
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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