1964-1970 Lincoln Continental
A custom conversion that was the ultimate in elegance
EXECUTIVE LIMOUSINE BY LEHMANN-PETERSON AT A GLANCE:
THE STORY OF LEHMANN-PETERSON
George "Skip" Lehmann received a large inheritance when he was in his early twenties from the estate of his late father. His father was a victim of a fire at the fashionable Cocoanut Grove Night Club in Boston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1942, which killed 492 people and injured hundreds more. As an heir to the family's fortune that came from ownership of The Fair Store in Chicago, Illinois, Lehmann had graduated from college and had completed a tour of duty in the Army. He had a passion for racing sports cars, and this passion would begin the chain of events that would lead Lehmann to meet Robert "Pete" Peterson in the final months of 1962.
Peterson, ten years older than Lehmann, owned a well-respected automotive customizing shop, and Lehmann heard that a rare Scarab race car he'd owned at one time had been heavily damaged in a wreck, and was at Peterson's shop being repaired. In just a matter of weeks, Peterson had rebuilt the race car to like new condition, which impressed Lehmann greatly. Shortly thereafter, Lehmann stopped by the shop one day while driving his mother's (Morella Lehmann) 1962 Lincoln Continental Sedan. The Lincoln had been a gift to Morella from her son George, who was normally chauffeured around in a Cadillac limousine. George was in love with the Lincoln's styling, and wanted to know if it could be converted into a limousine, since Lincoln didn't offer such a vehicle in its line, after abandoning the formal sedan and limousine market after the 1960 model year, when Hess and Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio was contracted to built limited numbers of standard wheelbase 1959 and 1960 production Lincolns into formal sedans and limousines with divider windows.
Peterson looked over the Lincoln, and told Lehmann that what he wanted could be done in a couple of weeks. The work began almost immediately in the shop on Harlem Avenue by literally cutting the car in half just behind the "B" pillar, and extending it by 34 inches. When the conversion was completed, the end result was very impressive. Those who saw it said it was a shame that Lincoln didn't offer a limousine like Cadillac did, and the idea was born that the two should go into business converting production Lincoln sedans into limousines. This meant they would need to get the backing of Ford Motor Company, so they drove Morella's custom Lincoln Limousine to Dearborn, Michigan and arrived unannounced at Ford's corporate headquarters.
Realizing that the two had something the powers that be at Ford needed to see, a call was made for someone of authority to come and look at the car. While initially reluctant to entertain the idea that these two could build limousines for Lincoln, the car was unquestionably well done and presented a few new ideas that were unique and gave the interior seating arrangement a nice feel. The official determined that others should see the car, and asked that it be taken around to the rear of the building so others could view it.
Soon after the car arrived by a garage door at the rear of the building, the door opened and eventually 40 to 50 Ford employees appeared on the scene, carefully inspecting the car. Among them were executives from Ford and Lincoln, as well as people from marketing and research, engineering, and design. Ford personnel were particularly pleased with the rear compartment seating arrangement, which was very different from most limousines. Instead of using jump seats that faced forward, this design used rear facing seats that created a conversation area, where passengers faced each other and could have a conversation face to face. It was determined that the car would have to pass a testing process before any serious conversations could take place regarding an arrangement between the two companies to do business together. Soon, an agreement was reached and Ford began testing the vehicle over a three month period, putting the equivalent of over 100,000 miles on the car.
Concerns of the car suffering metal fatigue due to the stretched frame were a big consideration, as Ford had already determined that adding more than just a few inches could be a problem in this area, which was considered a weak point to begin with, and three feet had been added to the car in this very area. The car was put through its paces at the proving grounds in Dearborn, being pushed beyond design limits repeatedly in an attempt to break it. Even top executives participated in the tests, often jamming the car full of as many people as they could fit inside it during the lunch hour, and driving it in this overloaded condition at speed over various test track surfaces. When the car performed without incident during these tests, ramps were built to make the car airborne briefly so engineers could observe what happened when the car came down on a hard landing. The result? Nothing. No structural damage was done. Later it was determined that the modifications made to lengthen the car actually strengthened it.
With Ford duly impressed, an order for two 1963 Lincoln Continental conversions was placed for additional testing. Lehmann-Peterson was in business! Both of these cars were also tested to the equivalent of 100,000 miles, and abused far beyond any situation that could be reasonably expected of a unit in normal service. Both performed above expectations. The agreement was that neither car could be sold to the public, but both of them appeared in early advertising for the new Lincoln Limousine. Late in the 1963 model year, orders were received for two more limousines, one reportedly purchased by comedian Jerry Lewis and the other by a wealthy family on the East Coast.
On February 24, 1964, Ford and Lehmann-Peterson reached an agreement to do business together, and Ford was so impressed with the quality of the conversions that it agreed to allow the normal two year or 24,000 mile warranty to apply to the limousines produced by Lehmann-Peterson. A Lincoln Continental Executive Limousine by Lehmann-Peterson debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April, 1964, and a total of 15 were built for the model year.
Lehmann-Peterson incorporated in 1964, becoming Lehmann-Peterson, Inc., and moved to 2710 North Sawyer Avenue in Chicago. An additional facility was also procured on Armitage Street. Executive Limousine owners read like a Who's Who of society and business, with the new Lincoln becoming the motorcar of choice with government officials and business executives. Celebrities also snapped them up, including the previously mentioned Jerry Lewis (1963), Jackie Gleason (1968), Sophia Loren (1966), Spencer Tracy, Ronald Reagan (1965), Robert Vaughn (1965), Victor Borge, Senator Robert Kennedy (1968 - assassinated before delivery), President Lyndon B. Johnson (1965), Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Hugh Hefner, and Aristotle Onassis. Musical groups The Rolling Stones and The Supremes also purchased them, as did Elvis Presley (1967 - gift from Colonel Tom Parker). Even the Soviet Union purchased on for foreign minister Andrei A. Gromyko (1965). During the seven years they were in production, Lehmann-Peterson built a total of 567 Executive Limousines.
Orders for the prestigious motorcars could be taken through regular Lincoln dealers, and as a unit came down the line that was destined for limousine conversion, a "Limousine Conversion Kit" would be specified for that unit. This kit consisted of heavier duty suspension components, including an additional rear leaf spring for each rear spring, stiffer front coil springs, and larger tires designed for extreme service. The completed car would be shipped from the factory at Wixom to Chicago where the customizing would be performed.
As the 1965 model year closed and the new 1966 styling debuted, over one hundred units had been built. Most of Lincoln's regular production options for the model year could be specified, as well as limousine-specific options such as a beverage compartment, television set, and secretary's desk. As the years passed, options became more extensive, and for 1968 a communications system could be specified that provided an intercom system between the front and rear compartments for $500. The divider glass could be power-operated for $350, or manually slid open and closed for $250. The television set was a nine inch Philco model that used the Lincoln radio antenna and cost $295. A beverage service included four silver-plated tumblers, three flasks, three shot measures, an insulated ice bucket with silver-plated tongs, and a couple of silver-plated stir sticks for $200.
Standard items fitted during the conversion included mouton carpeting, a rear clock, additional rear courtesy lights, and an escort umbrella that was stored in a special retainer under the front seat.
Ford ended its relationship with Lehmann-Peterson in 1970, and the company closed its doors shortly thereafter. The assets of the company were purchased by Moloney Coachbuilders, and Robert Peterson ended up working for Moloney building Cadillac limousines and passed away in 1995. George Lehmann had suffered with severe migraine headaches for years, but attributed them to stress. It was later discovered that he had an inoperable brain tumor that had been responsible for the pain over the years, and on April 6, 1972 after a lengthy hospital stay, Lehmann passed away in Cook County Illinois at the young age of 34. Apparently he had suffered a sailboat accident in his younger years, which caused a head injury that it is believed may have led to the tumor. Morella Lehmann spent much time by her son's side during his last year, and her health deteriorated during this time as well. After nearly dying due to hepatitis, she spent the rest of her life in Chicago until she passed away on August 7, 1989.