The 1955 Lincoln Futura was a prototype concept car designed by Lincoln and built by Ghia Bodyworks in Turin, Italy.
Lincoln was losing ground and needed something to catch the attention and imagination of magazines and newspapers to put Lincoln back on the map. With distinctive double bubble canopies, long fins, and many automotive firsts, the 1955 Lincoln Futura was the answer.
Bill Schmidt was the brainchild of this most unique car. While scuba diving, he came across a whale shark and it influenced the design of the car. The long graceful fins reminded people of a shark, the chevrons on the trunk lid resembled gills, and the front grille was a direct lift from the mouth of the plant-eating whale shark.
The cockpit was more like an aquarium, and it housed many unique features: a five door roll top dashboard to conceal the controls, a center console with a hidden telephone, door panels that were sculpted in fiberglass, and chrome trim that joined the doors to the dash trim.
The finish of the car was an iridescent blue/green/silver, made by grinding thousands of fish scales into the paint. Apparently no two people could agree on the color of the car. Unfortunately, it did not photograph well, and was later painted red.
The car was more than a pretty sculpture–Lincoln called it a "laboratory on wheels." They were testing an experimental chassis (the Lincoln Mark II chassis in 1956), and experimental engine (the Thunderbird 292 engine in 1958), as well as push button transmission (the infamous push button transmissions on the 1958 Edsel steering wheel), as well as air cooled brakes, air conditioning, and many other innovations.
The car became an instant hit, and was seen in books, magazines, and newspapers around the world, capturing the imagination of all who saw it. Perhaps one of the most stunning photos was when Benson Ford and Bill Schmidt were driving the Futura in New York, and they passed a horse and buggy.
Many of the styling cues from the 1955 Lincoln Futura made their way into Ford products like the Lincoln Premiere, and the Lincoln Mark II. Chrysler borrowed some of the design cues as well for its Imperial cars.
After its run in the car show circuit, the 1955 Lincoln Futura was bound for the scrapyard, where most prototype cars end up, but George Barris thought that Hollywood would like to use the car. In 1959, the 1955 Lincoln Futura played an important part in the movie "It Started With A Kiss," starring Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford. The car made a worldwide tour to promote the movie, along with its stars.
But from 1959 through most of 1965, the 1955 Lincoln Futura sat outside George Barris’ shop, roasting in the California sun. It’s fate uncertain, Barris even taped up the car for potential cut lines to remove the outdated fins for a movie that fell apart. But in October of 1965, things were about to change forever for the 1955 Lincoln Futura...
Click HERE for an interview of Stan Thorwaldsen, designer of the interior of the 1955 Lincoln Futura!
Sources: Popular Science, Life Magazine, and personal interviews