Lehmann Peterson Lincoln Continentals of the 1960s
Al Castro's picture

Ode to the Lehmann Peterson Lincoln: A Custom Continental We’d All Love to Remember, that Lincoln Today Seems to Forget

ANALYSIS AND OPINION: There was a time in American history that the official car of both the ruling class and celebritydom was the 1963-1970 Lehmann Peterson Lincoln Executive Continental Limousine. America’s first stretch limo. Pull up anywhere in a Lehmann Peterson Lincoln, even today, and see what happens.
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The Lincoln Motor Company recently announced that they were introducing a Lincoln Continental 80th Anniversary Coach Door Edition to their top line black label trim. Next summer for 2019 Lincoln will deliver a coached door special edition, where the doors close toward each other and not in the same direction. This feature will be added to the options list to their possibly endangered specie to go extinct, unbelievably so, their storied halo, so typical of Ford to cancel halos, the Lincoln Continental range. Lincoln took a big risk re-introducing this nameplate back to the well heeled standards of American luxury, for Ford to now suddenly get so caught up in the SUVmania craze to possibly kill this iconic car. And sadly, this car is probably the best Continental to hold that peerage title since the iconic award winning in design Elwood Engel fourth generation one of 1961-1969. This is the Continental we should have seen out on the road 10-20 years ago. The project is gimmicky no doubt, out of the thousands of cars they annually make, and the very few of these now that get sold, only a paltry 80 cars for 2019 will have suicide doors coached by Cabot Coach, of Haverhill, Massachusetts. If there’s anyone out there who knows anything about Continentals, like me, the first thing they wondered like me, was, “hey, how come not Lehmann Peterson?” I take you down memory lane to show you what we are all missing by Lincoln making this decision.

Snapshot:

  • Lincoln for the 80th Anniversary of the Lincoln Continental reintroduces the coached “suicide door” edition in the black label top trim. A 6” stretched backseat legroom LWB model with the doors that close facing each other.
  • This feature pays homage to the 1948 and older models and particularly the iconic 1961-1969 Elwood Engel award winning one, also known as “the Kennedy Lincoln,” that started its popularity.
  • Coached doors are also known as “suicide doors” in which the door strikers are back to back instead of facing the same side, for the doors to close facing each other.
  • In a gimmicky promo to boost sales only 80 are being made. It’s probably expensive to stretch the wheelbase and retrofit coached doors.
  • The car isn’t doing well in sales, and with the crossover craze Lincoln has no plans for the car after 2020. It’s on life support.
  • In the years 1963-1970 the Chicago coaching house of Lehmann-Peterson was the official coachers for Lincoln Mercury, as a dealer would take your order and send it to them.
  • In 1962 they suddenly ad hoc cut up Lehmann’s mother’s Continental, a present for her birthday, coached it, and delivered it to Ford headquarters in Dearborn asking to speak to someone in charge.
  • Ford took delivery of the first one to test it and the rest was history.
  • But Lehmann Peterson is not doing this 80th anniversary project. You wonder why?

Who’s Who and Where in a LP Pop Culture

Elvis was a Cadillac man no doubt, but he had a few Lincolns, and he too had one, a ‘67. Elizabeth Taylor was always seen coming and going in one whether she was shopping in New York on Fifth Avenue or on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. On their ‘65 tour the Beatles rode in one from midtown Manhattan to Queens for their performance at Shea. In 1965 after James Bond sent “Goldfinger” to “play his golden harp” over Kentucky, his next villain in “Thunderball,” SPECTRE operative Colonel Jacques Bouvar disguises himself as his widow and steps into one to go back home to her French chateau after his funeral, at the beginning of the movie ariound the famous movie opening gun barrel sequence, and Commander Bond kills the Colonel at home! Zsa Zsa Gabor had one as a TV prop on “Green Acres” telling Eddie Albert, “darling I love you but give me Park Avenue.” And Park Avenue was the one place where you’d have the greatest chance of seeing most the 500 that ever existed. Jackie Gleason’s ‘68 was white with an ice chest on the side for his booze on the rocks, with a storage compartment for his cigars. Bobby Kennedy ordered one. His brother may have died in a Hess and Eisnehardt, but Bobby saw all the craze about Lehmann Peterson. His brother’s car went to the Henry Ford Museum. His car order was canceled with the money returned after he was killed in LA, and the car went on sale like a hotcacke into private collection, another “Kennedy Lincoln” from a dead Kennedy.

Perish the thought a Fourth Generation Elwood Engel Continental should ever meet this kind of fate moving forward in the 21st Century: this is from the 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger,” and the famous ‘64 Continental they rushed to the set fresh off the production line from the Wixom plant, so that it may have its 1:20 total run time of fame of playing its golden harp scene while going to the junkyard crusher in the sky, to a gasp! of movie goers in the theater:

These are some of the amazing stories fact or fiction of 20th century life encapsulated in a moving conveyance known as a jet black stretch limousine called the Lehmann Peterson Lincoln Executive Continental Limousine. Elwood Engel may have designed the car but it was the Chicago coaching house of Lehmann Peterson that perfected it and brought into pop culture, even to this day. Although some of the Continental variants we see today like in “The Matrix” have nothing to do with a Lehmann Peterson, one of the reasons why the 1961-1969 Lincoln Continental has become so popular in pop culture, is because of Lehmann-Peterson.

Be careful of French madams who take it upon themselves to open the doors to their 1964 Lehmann Petersons on the way back to their French chateaus after their husband’s funeral. This was a clue for James Bond that something was afoot in 1965’s Thunderball:

Someone remind me never to touch a car door handle at my next husbands’ funeral . . .

Perhaps nowadays a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, a big Mercedes, even a chauffeured Escalade have now become the official cars of the 21st Century ruling class, but even to this day if you were to pull up to a hotel lobby, a city department store, a fancy restaurant, even the Home Depot in a restored Lehmann Peterson, you’d certainly make a statement that you have arrived! And people will wonder, who are are you, and what do you do to be driven in such a car!

Presidential LP’s

There was also a time when LP was the official coaching house for the US Secret Service, and Presidents Johnson and Nixon not only had ones as state cars for government use, but also had ones outfitted for private and post presidential usage as well. Ronald Reagan had one for personal use after his governorship pre-presidency. President Kennedy was driven in a Hess and Eisenhardt Lincoln and when he was being assassinated in his car, his spare one was being coached in the same color in Ohio as the one he was murdered in Dallas, in Wixom blue. But every president since up to Ronald Reagan has been driven in those same jet black Lehmann Petersons as Johnson and Nixon ordered, as they were the official state car in some variant for up to 20 years. Those Lehmann Petersons now grace the presidential libraries of Johnson and Nixon, and the Henry Ford Museum as well. Any private collection worth their weight in limousine history has to have a Lehmann Peterson.

America’s First Official Stretch Limo

It was only an eight year span and since the livery industry didn’t really take off until the 1980’s, only 500 pieces were made. In 1963 when they started, only about 15 were made, in ‘64 about 85, and ‘65 only 130. But it was America’s first stretch limousine to be outfitted with things like telephones, refrigerators, dry and wet bars, televisions, cigar boxes, and the like. Even the concept of storage bins and compartments that we see in minivans and SUVs today all started as concepts and ideas from Lehmann Peterson. LP’s gave us a clue to what was to come for proms and weddings with this kind of car.

Cutting up a car in half then coaching it nowadays almost destroys the entire value of the car, as the car really becomes an elongated taxi. And taking engineering into consideration, it really becomes another vehicle as its performance, handling, and ride characteristics change dramatically after coaching, with the elongation and added weight. A 1964 Lincoln Continental rides, drives, handles, and maneuvers way differently than a car that’s been coached into a limousine like a LP. But since only 500 were made, and those are 500 few that could afford them, a LP is a precious commodity sought after by car collectors in the classic car market.

A stock Lincoln Conti four door hardtop, or “pillared top,” in the mid 1960s cost around $6,400 USD MSRP (2018 that’s about $50,000 USD). An LP limo was around $16,000 USD (2018 that’s about $127,000 USD). Yes it was expensive, but of those 500 who bought one, you knew that they were celebrities, politicians, and captains of industry and finance. And unless it was a hotel car, which in any case it would most likely still have some kind of celebrity inside anyway, a LP was not ordinarily used for things like an airport transfer like limos are used today! When a LP pulled up to the curb back in the day to do what’s called “point to point” service, you knew somebody inside was, well, somebody!

Elwood’s Ride, Now 48 Years Later, There’s This One . . .

Which brings me back to the 2018 black label 80th anniversary coached door edition. It’s Elwood Engel done sloppy for $100,000 USD. You can tell that the monocoque modular body used to frame this Lincoln was not designed for coached door opening, and thus the reason why they had to make a special LWB version of the car. If you look in the pictures, the doors don’t open evenly, subtle, but still so sloppily. But this car will be good as a collector item with only 80 pieces. I’d still buy it. Even if Lincoln goes crazy and makes 2 million of them in 2020 (which they said they’ll make more but didn’t say how much), there’ll be only 80 for 2019 which makes them precious. And with only 80 cars as I’m sure they wanted to do all of them to realize the astronomical cost involved in retrofitting.

And this is the problem over at Lincoln that frustrates me with these people, the same people going around telling their employees back in the early 90s “were a luxury brand, not a performance brand,” the dummies. You can tell that culture still exists! The suicide doors should have started at beginning of production, not on the way toward cancellation. Is there anybody over there at Lincoln who gets it? Please let me know!

This is still a great car, probably the best since the famous Engel fourth gen, but this is also why I believe there are three things wrong with the present Lincoln Continental, that Ford doesn’t get it yet, that Cadillac is closer to their Eureka moment that Lincoln is not. Aside from the coached doors:
1. There should have been an LWB version to begin with. Mercedes Benz S Class is only available in LWB variant for North America. Lincoln should have either had an LWB available or just make the car with extra legroom in the back.
2. No car that’s a serious flagship luxury sedan has a V6. It’s too late for Cadillac as it accelerates its all electrification, but in the end with the 4.2L V8 I think they learned their lesson in the end. Hopeless for Lincoln. I don’t care how much horsepower or torque it makes. Only Jaguar and Mercedes can get away with putting 6 cylinders in their cars that they put them in lower variants, and Jaguar next year is going all electric with the XJ sedan. This is something Lincoln should have done in the first place, to electrify Continental to make it its showcase electric, if there was no V8 available, outside of the crate ones. And if it came down to using a crate, that Coyote V8 turbocharged would have made for a great power plant for this car. Otherwise, the first Ford all electric full production car should have been this Lincoln. A shame. It would have sold like hotcakes to the same rich people who buy Tesla Model S sedans.
3. I could strangle the person who signs off on this decision: serious luxury performance cars, and contrary to what Lincoln thinks of itself, it is a luxury performance brand, do not use front wheel drive FWD. Only Hondas, Toyotas, etc. use such drive train. The only luxury brands/models allowed to use FWD past and present are Audis and Olds Tornados and Caddy El-D’s, because that’s their gimmick or feature. That’s it. A proper serious luxury car has the rear wheels as its main drive, AWD as an option. And at the Lincoln price point, if RWD is impractical and you don’t want AWD, well, that’s why there’s a Lincoln Navigator. You just leave the Continental in the garage when it rains or snows.

Take a look at one of the last LP’s ever built, this one is a gorgeous grey ghost, a rare color, a ‘69 just before the end of the era when they closed Lincoln coaching for good in ‘70:

So Hey, What Ever Happened to Lehmann Peterson?

So when I heard that Cabot Coaching was doing the refit, I jumped right away to ask why not Lehmann Peterson? Frankly I didn’t even know they still existed until one of my LinkedIn connections brought it to my attention in a recent chat. After doing some research, and after talking to a Lehmann Peterson spokesman to get subtle feedback with an abrupt end to the conversation, I started to figure out why. With the upcoming fifth generation 1970 Continental, which essentially was the same size as the fourth, but Lincoln abandoned the unibody monocoque shell platform of the fourth, to go back to body on frame for the fifth. This should have made coaching a Continental easier, actually. The storyline was that federal regulation made it more difficult to coach a Lincoln body. If that’s so, then why were other coaching houses coaching 70s Lincolns that they did? Something happened between Lehmann Peterson and Ford, that eventually Ford broke the contract. Lincoln never went on their own to coach their own Lincolns into limos, but they didn’t want LP to do them anymore. A shame. In 1970 LP shut their Chicago doors for good with the last Continental they coached, to sell their business to Earl Maloney in 1969.

Apparently before the end of Lincoln coach production in 1969, the Lehmann Peterson name was bought by Earle F. Moloney Enterprises, making LP a subsidiary before they ended Lincoln coaching. Today the Moloney Group is formidable name when it comes to the livery service and outfitters for things like limousines and even ballistic hardened vehicles as well. Today the coaching house of Lehmann Peterson lives on as the official outfitter for Cadillac. No longer in Chicago but in a distant suburb of Arlington, LP coaches the Cadillac DTS you see in the pictures into a splendid LWB version for chauffeured even personal use, and the signature six door limousine also shown. I spoke to Bill Kennedy, spokesman for the Moloney Group who promptly said when asked about the 80th anniversary coached door black label edition, “we’re all about Cadillac now, listen I’m in a middle of a meeting, I have to go,” and so he went, and with him, Lehmann Peterson.

Wow, what a difference 80 years of Lincoln Continental makes, 48 years since the fourth generation Elwood Engel, as all of both Lincoln’s and Cadillac’s entire range of sedans are ALL now either cancelled or facing extinction. LP may be clinging on to the DTS, but GM recently cancelled that car, as well as the CT6. So what will Lehmann Peterson coach after that? The next big Cadillac is probably not coming for another three years, it will be bigger than CT6, and it will be fully electrified, so ironically if she can hold on for her dear life in sales, it just might be possible that this Conti girl may outlive all of these sedans currently in production and/or recently cancelled! I hope so. It would be nice to see Lehmann Peterson with no sedan left to coach, other than the car they started with: a Lincoln Continental . . .

I leave you with Boris Karloff in one of his last roles in “Target,” before joining Dracula and Frankenstein and his bride in the sky, and I hope he rode in this car on the way, a gorgeous ‘65 he’s riding in with a cute Asian-like girl, his assistant. Here, he’s driven in a ‘65, one of my favorite years, my most favorite, the ‘64. I would’ve gotten it in dark blue in a slick top with no vinyl, bespoke crossover moulding to hide the welds if needed, light blue interior, arm rest in between at the back seat. I like headrests so I would’ve bespoke those. Boris’ is a beauty. I hope it still exists:

www.Lehmann-Peterson.com

A synopsis of the biography of Lehmann Peterson is right here.

A 1985 conversation interview with Founder Robert Peterson, here.

This is a more detailed history of Lehmann Peterson if you’re doing serious research don’t miss this one.

See President Johnson’s 1968 here.

As of this writing President Nixon’s 1967 is on loan to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

See a one-off of a custom painted blue once grey 1970 Lehmann Peterson Lincoln Continental Mark III with custom coached suicide doors here, interesting car.

Top photo is a YouTube screenshot of a ‘64 from “Thunderball.”
The pictures of the baby blue 2019 Lincoln Anniversary are Courtesy LIncoln Motor.
The 1967, 1968, and 1969 state cars in sequential order from left to right at the bottom are courtesy the Johnson and Nixon Libraries, National Archives

What do you think of this suicide Conti? Will Lehmann Peterson ever coach her?

Let us know below!


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Comments

Thanks for the fun, historical article Al. The Suicide door, stretch Lincolns are indeed an important part of American automotive history. I was recently reminded how cool the Lehmann Peterson limos were when I recently saw a restored model at a local (big) car show. It was a purpose-built car, modified to show off the occupant's wealth and status in a big way, and in-person the car is impressive well beyond what a Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator is today. But generally big cars have been replaced by big trucks and SUVs. I agree with you that the Lincoln Continental needed to have a long wheelbase model from the beginning, but I suspect that Lincoln did not want to eat into the Navigator market, and they did not want the Continental to be classified as a gas guzzling dinosaur. I like the design of the new Continental, and when you see it in person the car has beautifully integrated design details that do raise it above the regular Ford models. Personally I do not mind FWD or having a V6 in a car like this. The FWD packaging means that there is no drive shaft tunnel, and more passenger space is available without making the car a huge boat. I am also betting that the 400HP turbo V6 makes this model the quickest of it's kind for any Lincoln stretch model before now. Not that this limo needs to be a hot rod Lincoln. It is a politically incorrect move today to shout out to the world that you are excessively rich and powerful because it quickly brings into focus the fact that so many people are poor and needy. But I am happy to see that Lincoln is embracing it's past strength of building special, unique cars. And I am happy that this new flagship is not a another luxury SUV.
Thanks for the comment. I dont see how Navigator and Continental can ever compete unless the only two models offered. There are customers who do not like climbing up unto a car, and a Conti is for them. Remember, this car was not made for the American market, something even Ford forgets, it was made specifically for a foreign one but globally, and for back seat riding. Foreign roads can be both better or worse than ours. FWD is not appropriate for such a car, and it’s not always all about us Americans, that they put FWD into this car as if it was for us. It is not. A global luxury car requires a V8 and RWD. This is like James Bond and his Welther PPK. Yeah he can kill anyone with anything, but it’s not the same. Rolls Royce learned their lesson with the Cloud back in 1955 with their shameful V6 and no auto tranny. It’s Lincoln’s turn now. With the added weight between the LWB this new edition and a coached limo, I’m sure torque is now further compromised. This is why Lincoln is a brand and sales loser and always will be, while they scratch their heads. Coyote V8 is the answer. The SWB should’ve been about Shelby and RWD, a performance version blacked out would be swift!! An American Autobahn killer. This is what I mean. Then they’ll be taken seriously . . .