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Canted Quads: Lincoln’s 1958 models offered a new twist to headlamps

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1958 Lincoln Premiere; image by the author.

The Lincoln marque can invoke a variety of opinions regarding its status in the domestic luxury car market, especially the Continentals. First-person accounts of the lengthy masterpieces are continuously conveyed, each slightly different due to the different tastes and automotive generation variants. Take, for instance, our featured 1958 Premiere, which was positioned between the base Capri and top of the line Continental Mark III.

At Lincoln, engineers and stylists had the monumental task of completely revamping the entire 1958 Lincoln line. They eliminated the use of a full frame, and built the new Lincolns utilizing unit-body construction. This posed several teething problems, especially for the convertibles. One of the more notable issues was the required use of extra, heavy bracing, no matter the body style, bringing the total curb weight up to the 5,000-pound mark virtually overnight. Lincoln was trying to surpass Cadillac as the luxury leader, so the car was phenomenally long: 229 inches overall. It effectively vaulted the famed badge into the automotive history books as they became the longest unit-body car ever produced (it’s not the long-est ever, as several full-frame cars from the late 1930s surpass it).

However, one of the more memorable features of the 1958 Lincolns is the canted dual headlamps. The use of dual lamps, in states where it was legal, had begun in earnest the year prior. Lincoln, rather than using side-by-side bezels in 1957, opted for stacked units in a fashion similar to that of a later 1963 Pontiac or a 1965 Ford.

Chief stylist John Najjar had observed the styling cues from the other luxury makes: Cadillac had the tendency to sport round lines, thanks in part to their P-38-inspired fins; Chrysler could attribute its wedge shape to a low nose and tall fins. Lincoln, thus, took on the position of sporting what was described as “aggressive angularity.”

The angle of the stacked headlamps during the three-year run that began with our 1958 model year really had no advantage when it came to night driving. Likewise, there was no structural motivation for the design. Essentially, the new angular look to the front end of the Lincolns required protection in the form of a redesigned bumper. The sharp design of the front fenders had a substantial roll. Few might recall the term “dog bone” when referring to the look of the grille and bumper, yet you can clearly see how the canted lamps would not be able to fit in a true vertical assembly.

Najjar was quoted in an interview appearing in Special Interest Autos (January/February 1997, #157) regarding the styling: “The most troublesome design area of the Lincoln appeared at the front fenders, which canted inboard with the headlamps and the need to protect the sheet metal with the bumper. It ended up looking much like its nickname, ‘dog bone,’ but it met the need for the proper package protection.”

As mentioned, Lincoln utilized the canted headlamp design until the substantially more popular 1961 redesign. That’s not to say that other manufacturers didn’t try to capture the racy look with better success. Buick, for instance, featured canted headlamps in every 1959 model, but reverted back to side-by-side configuration the following year. Chrysler blended the design element into their 1961 and 1962 lineup, as well. De Soto, in its abbreviated year of 1961, also featured canted headlamps.

In the end, styling predictions that had been set into motion during the mid-Fifties did not come into fruition to the degree that the Lincoln front office hoped for. Most know that 1958 was not exactly a banner year for Detroit to begin with, and the sharp, angular styling of 1958 was gradually toned down over the next two model years as Lincoln sales continued to plummet.

This article originally appeared in the February, 2008 issue of Hemmings Motor News.