Open Menu
Open Menu

Who built it better? Loewy v. Stevens v. Wright on the Lincoln Continental

Published in

Stevens-modified Continental. Photo courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum.

Typically, it’s a fool’s errand to compare two or more designers, if not due to the subjectivity of aesthetics, then certainly due to the fact that designers’ bodies of work tend to be so dissimilar it becomes an apples-and-oranges comparison. However, that task becomes much more possible when contemporary designers take on the same subject.

In researching Brooks Stevens’ work on Die Valkyrie, we came across another custom car he designed — in this case, redesigned — in 1955, though one with a less storied past. The Milwaukee Art Museum has a few photos of the 1939 Lincoln Continental convertible he added a few custom touches to, and Glenn Adamson in Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World notes that Stevens designed the custom Continental for Henry Uihlein of Schlitz Brewing. And that’s about all we know of it.

As we can see from the photos, taken in August of that year, Stevens added a two-tone paint scheme, separated by a dramatic slash behind the doors, swapped the wheels to knockoff wires, opened up the rear wheelwells, and fiddled with the interior. We don’t see the front of the car in the photos, so we’re pretty certain Stevens didn’t make any alterations to the sheetmetal (if he did, we’d see a lotta front-end photos).

Period photo, courtesy Le Figaro.

Raymond Loewy, on the other hand, had a field day with his 1941 Continental. Starting with a coupe, he reshaped the fenders, filled in the rear quarter windows leaving only a couple small portholes, added a clear removable canopy over the front seat, restyled the grille, and two-toned it with the divider line right behind the doors. Derham Body Works built the Continental for Loewy and then built a second for his wife Viola.

Hemmings archives photo.

Yet even Loewy was late to the game here. Frank Lloyd Wright, immediately upon receiving his 1940 Continental began redesigning it as a town car. Half-moon windows opened up the blind quarters, and a leather-covered piece of fabric shielded front-seat occupants from the elements. Ideal Body Shop in Madison, Wisconsin, made the modifications for Wright.

If all three didn’t personally know each other, they were all at least certainly aware of the others’ works, so it’s reasonable to assume Loewy took inspiration from Wright’s Continental while Stevens took inspiration from Loewy’s. Of course, Stevens designed his Continental for a client/acquaintance, while Loewy and Wright designed theirs for themselves, so that should factor into any comparisons, but it’s almost as though the three had a competition to see who had the best take on the Continental. Given that scenario, who came out on top?