Did you have a nice time? asked my wife upon my return after two days absence. Yes thanks was the reply. I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, visited Treasure Island, drove out to Francis Coppola's vineyards, cruised round San Francisco Bay, had dinner at the St. Francis yacht club, another one at a museum where a quartett playing Bach and in the end a nice man gave me a lift home. Oh, said my wife that must have been either Rolls-Royce or Mercedes. They are the sort of people who do things like this. Actually, said I quietly, it was Lincoln-Mercury. WHO??!! Yes indeed. The former purveyors of rather staid limos and re-badged Fords have been through a most remarkable metamorphosis. Suddenly they're hot!
Clearly it did not happen overnight but the results of all the hard work are just coming through. Some years ago Ford bought Jaguar and saved them from extinction. Initially things were not going too well, quality was awful and the boys from Detroit had a lot of work to do. Once they moved Jag from the bottom of the JD Powers league table which was priority No 1 they started to look at all the reasons why they bought the company in the first place. The quality of their engineers when it came to ride and handling always was brilliant so it was time to take advantage and put together the best of Jaguar with the best of Detroit. The result: the S type Jaguar and the Lincoln 2000. Not exactly brothers but pretty close cousins I would say.
If fact Ford-whilst not denying the relationship- don't go overboard on it either. There is a common platform, one that will also be used for the new T Bird which finally lands in Year 2000. Nothing to be ashamed of here, VW, Skoda, Seat all use the same platforms to save costs and yet very few VW buyers know that their beloved new Beetle is an extremely close relative of the much derided Skoda.(A lot better these days by the way.)
I have already reported on the S type from Biarritz, France some months ago and since then have had another chance to drive it during the recent California Mille. The car was very well received by the Press and certainly there are already lots of them running around London, a good sign for the company.
The Lincoln was an extremely pleasant surprise. The looks one can argue over for ever and a day as it is a totally subjective matter. What is not in doubt is the engineering excellence. Who would have thought that Lincoln would have the courage to invite the Press to a tricky race track- Thunderhill Park- and let them have a go at all the rivals as well! Yes folks, we could not quite believe it either but sure enough, once we got there there they all were- an Audi A6, a BMW 528i, a Mercedes 280 and a Lexus. Apparently it was a last minute decision but it paid off. Through the slalom course the Lincoln was a lot more stabe than the Lexus and it performed very well on the track as well. On the way there we had a long, interesting converation with Jim O'Sullivan, one of the masterminds behind the product. He had with him a young man named Hau Thai-Tang whose parents arrived from Vietnam with what they had on their backs. I have been in the automotive business since 1962 but have never, ever met a brighter individual. I hope Jac Nasser hangs on to him, the guy is 24 carat. The pride which which he described the way the new car went round the original 14 miles long Nurburgring race track considerably quicker than the BMW was a joy to hear. What I particularly enjoyed and appreciated was the way they owned up to mistakes. Yes, the bit between the two front seats is a bit of a mess but they are working on it. The armrest is too short and it slopes downwards, the ashtray is tiny consequently its very difficult to connect the mobile to the power and once done the cable gets hopelessly tangled up in the-brilliant- manual gear shift. The ride and handling were outstanding which we proved by letting a colleague drive us back from the track to the City. Within minutes the chap in the back and I were fast asleep.
Will it sell? Well, to my surprise the huge Navigator is selling well and it is attracting a lot of BMW and Mercedes drivers into the showrooms. Whether they will consider trading in their everyday transport is a different matter. Provided Lincoln can actually get people into the cars they will at least consider an American alternative, something they would not have done before.
The car was going to go on sale in Europe as well but because of Ford's recent purchase of Volvo that aspect is being reconsidered. An embarrassment of riches is what Ford seem to have these days-lots of new products, lots of money in the bank, great success in sport-the Focus winning the gruelling East African Safai Rally-I wonder how much longer will they occupy the No 2 slot behind GM. At this rate it can only be a matter of time.