The car of tomorrow as imagined 70 years ago: The Lincoln Continental 1950X / Ford X-100 laboratory on wheels

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The Lincoln Continental 1950X / Ford X-100 laboratory on wheels. Anon., “La Ford de l’avenir.” Photo-Journal, 28 February 1952, 8.

Would I be correct in assuming that you have owned, currently own or hope to own an automobile, my reading friend? If so, you are not alone. If not, you are not alone either. The automobile is undoubtedly one of the most significant forms of transportation this world has ever seen. It is also one of the most environmentally damaging one, but let us not dwell.

Yours truly would like to bring to your attention an automobile you have probably never heard of, namely the Lincoln Continental 1950X / Ford X-100 laboratory on wheels. I myself did not know that vehicle had ever existed until the photograph above crossed my path several moons ago.

The caption of said photograph went like this:

L’auto rêvée de l’Américain de 1953 sera-t-elle cette Ford ‘Continental 1950-X’ avec dôme vitré, convertible et aux lignes fuyantes? Ce modèle n’est pas encore en production; ce n’est qu’un prototype. Le pare-brise est en verre, en dôme, s’étendant plus loin que le siège du chauffeur. Le dôme lui-même peut rentrer dans le toit arrière en acier recouvert de cuir. Entre les deux sièges de devant se trouve un tableau portant un téléphone, un dictaphone, des crics automatiques ainsi que les commandes du dôme et du coffre arrière.

Sorry. Sorry. The caption of the photograph, once translated, went like this:

Will the dream car of the American of 1953 be this Ford ‘Continental 1950-X’ with glass dome, convertible and receding lines? This model is not yet in production; it is only a prototype. The windshield is glass, domed, extending beyond the driver’s seat. The dome itself can fit into the rear leather-covered steel roof. Between the two front seats is a panel carrying a telephone, a dictaphone, automatic jacks as well as the controls for the dome and rear trunk.

The X-100 even had a small sink with hot and cold water and… Did you believe that particular statement, my reading friend? Sigh. You should be more careful. The fact that a piece of information is on the Internet does not mean it is true. An illegal act, for example, is precisely that, illegal, and this regardless of how much horse manure is smeared on it to make it look pretty, but I digress.

That French language paragraph in an English language text gag was inspired by another little gag, perpetrated many years ago by a former colleague of mine. When attending an annual conference, the Mutual Concerns of Air and Space Museums Conference, held at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, District of Columbia, I seem to recall, that fine gentleman came across the director general of the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, at Le Bourget, in Paris, France, one of the great air and space museums on planet Earth, brigadier general Jean-Paul Siffre, I think. They were undoubtedly among the rare francophones present among the participants.

At some point during the conference, my former colleague stepped to the podium to make a presentation. He began to speak, in French, to the surprise and increasing dismay of the unilingual, anglophone participants – and conference organisers. He then apologised profusely for his “mistake” and restarted his presentation, in English. Siffre, who was seemingly in on the gag, gave my former colleague a big thumbs up, maybe even two actually. He was grinning from ear to ear. I wish I had been there to see that. (Hello, MD!)

I would have been nice for yours truly to have the gonads to pull a stunt like that at some point in my career, but the idea never occurred to me. Sigh, but I digress. If I may be permitted to quote, out of context, one Sheldon Lee Cooper when addressing one Penny Teller (?), there may be hope for you yet, my reading friend.

A clarification if I may. The automatic jacks of the Lincoln Continental 1950X / Ford X-100 were not mounted in the panel between the front seats. Their controls were.

And yes, yours truly met a director general of the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, general Antoine Dumas I believe / think, during a trip to Paris, eons ago and a few years before the big adventure of my former colleague. I was there as a tourist and innocently / stupidly pointed out at the gift shop that I worked at what is now the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario. Big mistake. Within minutes, I found myself in the director general’s office. No tie, in jeans. We had a nice chat. He asked a number of questions about the museum and I seem to recall he made sure I left the place with enough brochures, posters, etc. to fill a small apartment, but I digress. Again. Sorry. So, let us steer back to our topic of the week. And yes, my reading friend, transporting all that caboodle aboard the airliner which brought me back to Ottawa was sheer delight.

The Lincoln Continental 1950X / Ford X-100 laboratory on wheels on the test track located near the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge complex, Dearborn, Michigan. Engineer Ralph Kimbrough was at the wheel. Wilfrid W. Werry. “Les nouvelles voitures.” Technique, May 1954, 2099.

The Lincoln Continental 1950X / Ford X-100 laboratory on wheels on the test track located near the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge complex, Dearborn, Michigan. Engineer Ralph Kimbrough was at the wheel. Wilfrid W. Werry. “Les nouvelles voitures.” Technique, May 1954, 2099.

Designed and built as some sort of laboratory on wheels, the steel and aluminium alloy Lincoln Continental 1950X was one of the most exciting and popular concept / dream / show automobiles of its day. And yes, it was apparently the first concept / dream / show automobile designed by Ford Motor Company.

One could argue that the Continental 1950X was developed in response to the concept / dream / show cars designed by Ford Motor’s arch rival, General Motors Corporation (GM) – a firm mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018.

Mind you, the management of Lincoln Motor Company, the luxury automobile division of Ford Motor, an American automobile industry giant mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since December 2018, also wanted to use the Continental 1950X to highlight the type of styling it believed people would want or, at least, accept in future years.

Incidentally, the individuals behind the very cool / hot exterior and interior of the futuristic Continental 1950X, an automobile unlike anything Ford Motor had done before, were artist / designer / painter / sculptor / stylist Joseph E. “Joe” Oros, Junior, and designer / stylist John Najjar, a dynamic duo which played a crucial role in the development of the Ford Mustang, a classic of classics introduced to the public in 1964.

Incidentally again, Oros and Najjar were the sons of immigrants of Romanian and Lebanese origin, which goes to show the crucial contribution of immigrants in the history of the United Staes – and Canada for that matter. Indeed, when one gets right down to it, every Homo sapiens in the Americas is an immigrant, most of them arriving by sea or air within the past 400 years. The First People, the Inuits and First Nations that is, had preceded them by hundreds or thousands of years, but back to our story.

The Continental 1950X got its start in 1949 when Oros heard from some former GM designers that this firm was working on several high-technology concept / dream / show automobiles. Busy with the design of vehicles which would come out in later years, Oros came to think that Ford Motor should develop a concept / dream / show automobile of its own, using, as a starting point, ideas recently put forward by a colleague, renowned illustrator / designer / artist Adrian Gil Spear, in a 3/8-scale clay styling model known as the Cutlass. Oros’ boss, George W. Walker, thought the idea had merit and turned him loose.

Ford Motor executives soon heard about Oros’ project. A number of them seemingly paid a visit to the workshop where it was taking shape, using a Lincoln Cosmopolitan or Capri production chassis and drive train as a starting point. If truth be told, the firm’s president and chief executive officer, Henry “HF2” Ford II, as well as board of directors’ member William Clay Ford, both of them grandsons of Henry Ford, were very impressed with the Continental 1950X, as the automobile got named to reflect its increasing visibility within Ford Motor’s management. “HF2” actually wanted that automobile to symbolise the firm’s future design focus. And yes, Ford Motor’s founder was mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since August 2018.

More than 300 journalists from across the United States flocked to the super secret research and engineering centre of Fort Motor in January 1952 to see the brand-new Continental 1950X and other things – 3 restyled automobile models and 2 new engines. It looks as if none of them had been inside the place before. With its glossy jet-black paint job and padded white leather landau top, the Continental 1950X was a strikingly handsome sight.

The general public seemingly got to see the Continental 1950X for the fist time, at the 44th edition of the Chicago Auto Show, held in… Chicago, Illinois, between 16 and 24 February 1952.

It has been suggested that the Continental 1950X was not a fully functional automobile at the time. It seemingly had a non working engine and may have had a fibreglass body.

The Continental 1950X was redesignated Ford X-100 after the closing of the 1952 edition of the Chicago Auto Show. The change of name may, I repeat may, have been related to Lincoln Motor’s wish, and William Clay Ford’s wish, to stick with classical designs rather than move toward futuristic ones. The firm and Ford believed that the typical Lincoln driver preferred traditional designs.

In any event, a Ford Motor engineer by the name of Hiram Roosevelt Pacific was given the task of the turning the X-100 into a fully functional automobile, and a powerful if quite heavy one it turned out to be. And yes, that meant that Pacific and his team had taken on the task of making all the futuristic features of the X-100 work reliably. They seemingly completed their task at some point in 1953, possibly in time for the 50th anniversary of Ford Motor, a firm founded in June 1903.

The Ford X-100 on display at the 40th edition of the Salon de l’automobile, Paris, October 1953. Anon., “Paris Preview.” Family Weekly, 17 January 1954, 3.

Eager to commemorate that 50th anniversary, Ford Motor sent the X-100 to Europe. Prominently displayed at the 40th edition of the Salon de l’automobile, in Paris, in October 1953, it was the source of as much enthusiasm in France as it had been in the United States. Indeed, the X-100 made the cover of the 3 October issue of the well-known French illustrated weekly Paris-Match.

The following video, quite brief I will admit and brought to us by an amazing website, is a hoot and a half, to quote, out of context, the aforementioned Cooper. The X-100 can be seen toward the end of it.

After leaving the French capital, the X-100 went to the British capital, London, where it was prominently displayed at the 38th (?) edition of the International Motor Show, also held in October 1953. It was the source of as much enthusiasm in the United Kingdom as it had been in the United States and France. Indeed, it allegedly elicited gasps (!) from the usually stiff upper lip English people, err, males. If I may, females of our species tend to be far more logical and rational about automobiles than their male counterparts.

It has been suggested that the X-100 later travelled to West Germany where it was displayed in 1 or 2 automobile shows. The vehicle returned to the United States in late 1953 or early 1954. Its career as a concept / dream / show car was by no means over, however. Nay. The X-100 took part in numerous automobile shows, openings (dealership, freeway, etc.), fairs, etc. in the United States – and Canada.

Indeed, the X-100 was on display at the second post-Second World War edition of the Salon national de l’automobile which took place in Montréal, Québec, between 12 and 21 March 1954, I think. It was the source of as much enthusiasm in Québec as it had been in the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Indeed again, the X-100 was the most popular prototype of the show and most of the 140 000 people who flocked to the Palais du Commerce loved it and despaired, to paraphrase, out of context, the royal elf Galadriel in the 2001 movie The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.

It is worth noting that the X-100 was briefly seen in Woman’s World, an average American motion picture whose premiere took place in September 1954. It was seemingly driven by the owner of Gifford Motors Company, a fictitious American luxury automobile manufacturing firm, played by American actor / dancer / singer Clifton Webb, born Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck. You see, Ernest K. Gifford was looking for a new general manager, to replace the one who had just died. In the end, of course, he found one, but back to our story.

As concept / dream / show cars were / are / will be wont to have, the X-100 introduced many styling features and accessories, up to 50 in fact, the aforementioned automatic jacks being a case in point. Now, my reading friend, have you ever experienced the infinite pleasure of having to change a !#%&()* flat tire at night in the middle of a downpour which put to shame a monsoon rainstorm?

Located near the front and rear axle, the electrically operated jacks were activated from inside the automobile. They could be extended individually or in pairs but yours truly does not know if these were left and right pairs or front and back pairs. Sorry. And no, provided it was possible, extending a front left jack and a rear right jack, or vice versa, would not have been amusing.

By the way, the (experimental?) radial tires mounted on the X-100, manufactured by American giant Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, may, I repeat may, have been the first radials mounted on a Ford automobile. Given the hefty weight of the vehicle, said tires had to be specially designed.

Showing well very by whom and for whom the X-100 had been designed, that automobile came with an electric razor stored in the glove compartment. And no, the pre-shave and aftershave products were not included. Jeez, you really are cheap.

The X-100’s standard equipment also included a radiotelephone, a dictaphone, a radio receiver with an automatic station tracking system and independently adjustable speakers in the front and back compartments.

The two-door X-100 also had five electrically heated leather seats and five seatbelts. Yes, seatbelts. Retractable seatbelts no less. Would you believe that an American automobile manufacturing firm, Nash Motors Company, introduced seatbelts in 1949 or 1950 – a world first? As it turned out, the huge majority of drivers hated the new safety device and had them removed, but I digress.

Would you believe me if I told you that the X-100 had a twin tone horn, a reasonably loud tone for city driving and a really loud one for country / highway driving, which was a neat idea? How adjustable is your horn, my reading friend?

By the way, are the brakes of your automobile cooled by temperature-controlled blowers? Well, the front wheel brakes of the X-100 were. Automatically. When their temperature exceeded 65 or so degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit).

An interesting feature of the X-100 was the hooded headlight mounted on the hood. Another interesting feature was the pair of circular taillights, which looked like the exhaust nozzles found on the jet fighters of the time. From the looks of it, there was also a pair of circular forward lights, which also looked like the exhaust nozzles found on the jet fighters of the time.

It went without saying that the clear section of the roof, made of nonglare and heatproof plastic, could be retracted by a switch on the dashboard / instrument panel or buttons inside the doors. And no, there were no handles on the outside of said doors, only buttons, presumably electrically operated.

Incidentally, the X-100 had 4 windshield wipers, yes 4, so that no blemish on the windshield would impede visibility. It has been suggested that the water supplied to these wipers could be cold or hot, and yes, the water would have been electrically heated.

Switches on the dashboard opened and closed the X-100’s electrically operated hood and trunk.

The arrangement of some of the switches on the dashboard of the X-100 mimicked the look of the throttles on a multiengine aircraft.

According to the unknown author of a text published in the February 1954 issue of the bilingual Québec monthly magazine Technique, the team which completed the X-100 needed 16 kilometres (10 miles) of electrical wiring to do the job. The editorial supervisor of the magazine, William Eykel, and others, mentioned a lesser figure, which might have been closer to the truth: almost 13 kilometres (8 miles).

In any event, Wilfrid W. Werry, assistant principal of the École technique de Montréal, went one better in may 1954 by stating that the X-100 had 1 battery charger, 10 fuses, 23 circuit breakers, 24 electrical motors, 44 vacuum tubes, 50 lightbulbs, and 92 control switches. Even the hand brake was power assisted, electrically of course. You will, of course, note the use of an Oxford comma in the previous sentence. (Hello, EP!)

Inspector Gadget would have loved the X-100, even though he would not have been old enough in 1952 to drive it of course. And yes, yours truly does know that Gadget is a fictitious character. Now, my at times annoying reading friend, did you know that Inspector Gadget, the television series in this case, was a coproduction involving American, Canadian, French and Japanese partners? Go go Gadget ‘Copter! Sorry.

Before I forget, and I do forget things, being a senior citizen and all, Technique was at the time the official publication of the specialised / technical education branch of Québec’s Ministère du Bien-être social et de la Jeunesse. The first issue of Technique had come out around February 1926. The last one would come out around December 1955.

Even though the X-100 may, I repeat may, have been leered at by more people than any other Ford concept / dream / show automobile since, it did not symbolise Ford Motor’s future design focus. This being said (typed?), one could argue that it was more aesthetically pleasing than most vehicles of that type developed by GM or Ford Motor during the 1950s. Just sayin’.

If I may, one could argue that the X-100 was the point of origin of a two-pronged styling strategy on the part of Ford Motor. While one branch of that tree veered toward classic automobiles made from 1956 onward by Lincoln Motor, the other led to somewhat more innovative Mercury models made by Ford Motor from 1957 onward.

In any event, many of the styling features found on Ford Motor’s laboratory on wheels found their way into very popular automobiles, the 1955 and / or 1956 models of the Ford Mercury and Lincoln Premiere, the 1961 Ford Thunderbird and probably other models as well.

The X-100 made its final stop on the show circuit in 1955. It was put to pasture a couple of years later. Ford Motor donated it, in 1958 from the looks of it, to a museum known today as the Henry Ford, of course, in Dearborn, Michigan.

See ya later.


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Rénald Fortier