1966 Lincoln Continental
Quality control began long before the final 12-mile road test
The 1966 Lincoln Continentals were assembled at a plant in Wixom, Michigan, built in the mid-fifties for Lincoln Division, and up and running for the new unibody 1958 Lincolns. Ford Division's new Thunderbird was also built at Wixom, but the assembly was limited to just those models, in an effort to maintain quality control.
Each new Lincoln took at least four days to build. The lines that moved the vehicles through the plant did not operate continuously, as each component whether it be electrical, vacuum, interior trim, or hardware, had to be inspected and passed before the vehicle could move on to the next area. If anything was unsatisfactory, it was taken care of on the spot. Each section of the Wixom plant was assigned a specific duty as the vehicles came down the assembly line. And each section had its own inspection processes and tests that every car had to pass before it could continue to the next area.
Lincoln Division took great strides to build the finest car in the world during the 1960s, and beginning with the new 1961 models, quality was something that was designed for, and checked repeatedly during the manufacturing process. By 1966, Lincoln's quality program was in full swing, and no Lincoln left the factory without passing multiple, time consuming, inspections.
The process began with the Lincoln engine plant. The new 462 V-8 was the largest cubic inch displacement engine installed in a production vehicle at the time, and the inspection and testing process each new engine undertook was exhaustive. Once the completed engine was finished, it was delivered to a testing area and installed on a hot test stand, where a matched carburetor was installed and adjusted. The engines were started, and the break in process began. The throttle was operated by remote control, and after the initial warm up period was completed, the rpms were adjusted each 10 to 20 minutes, each time increasing the rpms until the engine finally reached the maximum test rpm.
At this point, the throttle was backed off incrementally until idle was reached. At that point, the engines were returned to maximum rpms once again and then back to idle and shut down. Once this was completed, each engine's oil pan was removed so the engines could be inspected internally. Dental mirrors and high intensity lights were used to inspect the cylinder bores, main bearings, and magnets were used to check for signs of metal shavings in the oil. If anything looked amiss, the engine was set aside to be sent back for further diagnosis and repairs. The inspector didn't need to find anything specific wrong with an engine. If it sounded off to him when running, or if it exhibited any harshness or vibrations, back it went.
Engines that passed the internal inspection had their oil pans installed, and were run again. Inspectors paid close attention to engine smoothness and lack of vibration through the entire rpm range. Only after this exhaustive three hour break-in process had been completed successfully, were the engines ready to be mated with the transmission for further testing..
Transmissions also underwent similar testing before approval was given. Once passed, they would be mated to an engine and the assembled components underwent an additional 27 minute test program to check the shifting points. When the engine/transmission assembly was approved and ready for installation in a completed body, the assembly process was now in day three. At this point, the unit bodies had already been carefully welded, tolerance checked, dunked into a tank to complete a phosphating process, and carefully painted with acrylic enamel paint baked to a hard finish and a high shine.
Once the cars were completely assembled, they were delivered to a final testing area where each car endured a one and a half hour inspection. During this time, the cars were driven along a preselected route of 12 miles, during which time the inspector checked and observed everything. There were 189 specific checks in all, and if even one check failed, the car was returned for repairs, after which the final inspection process would start again, from the beginning.
The inspector tested the cigarette lighters. All of them. He listened to the radio, evaluated the air flow from the heater and air conditioning systems for temperature and volume. The power seat and windows were activated. He listened for wind whistling around the doors and windows. He looked for misaligned trim, defects in the upholstery, dirty or soiled areas. All of the lights were checked: inside the car, outside, the luggage compartment.
The inspector timed how long it took to start the car. Was the idle stable and smooth? Did it hesitate on acceleration? Were the brakes operating as expected? Was the steering effort acceptable? Did the transmission shift smoothly and at the correct speeds?
So thorough were the factory tests and adjustments, dealers only had to set the clock to the correct local time, set the radio station push buttons to local stations, make carburetor adjustments if altitude or regional temperatures required them, install wheel covers, remove protective coverings, etc., to prepare the car for delivery. The new owner was not required to return the car to the dealer for service or adjustments until 6 months or 6,000 miles, whichever came first, which was the normal maintenance schedule. And were the new owners satisfied with their new cars? Yes, they were. It was very rare that any issue required a new Lincoln be returned to the dealer before the first maintenance. Often, when a car was returned it was because the owner failed to understand how certain things were designed to function. Perhaps if they'd read their owner's manual they would have understood. Nevertheless, the dealer was happy to demonstrate the proper operation of whatever was of concern.
By 1970, many of the tests would be changed to eliminate the human evaluation process. Body sealing would be tested by machine with the body pressurized. Special dyes would be added to fluids to make leaks easy to spot. Special test equipment would be designed to make sure testing was uniform for all cars, and the test equipment itself would be checked regularly to ensure it was set within specifications. Humans still evaluated the paint finish and interior trim, and selected cars were randomly pulled from the final inspection process for a more thorough examination, just to make sure all was well.
The quality control processes at Wixom were quite substantial at this time, and ensured that new Lincoln Continental and Ford Thunderbird owners were presented with a car that was as perfect as possible.
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