John Najjar 1918-2011


The Lincoln Diplomat was created by John Najjar (b.1918-d2011) and Elwood Engel in the Advanced Studio at the Ford Design and Styling Center. It was one of many ideas created by the team of Najjar/Engel and company.

As the car has striking similarities shared with the production 1958 Lincoln/Lincoln Premiere/Continental Mark III, it was actually built and displayed in June 1956, after the entire Lincoln Package was finalized for the 58 model year.

The other two concept cars created along this same theme by Najjar/ Engel were the Attache', and the Envoy. They were created as a styling exercise to try out new ideas for future Lincoln designs. Notice the difference between the picture above and the one below? They have different side trim themes. Notice the "A" pillar, it is forward leaning instead of vertical or rearward. That was surely a design cue as to what was coming from Lincoln (and Thunderbird) for 1961. Picture 3 shows the Diplomat with VP of Styling, George Walker next to it. All the photos were taken on the turnstiles outside of the Styling Center.

Notice the rearward slanting backlite, very indicative of present styling trends of that time. Lincoln and Mercury really went out on a limb with the "Turnpike Cruiser" backlite, and it was a popular, and VERY practical design. In fact, Mercury kept the design for their full size cars, called the "Breezeway" roof until the end of the 1966 model year.

Also notice the lack of a "B" pillar. They were very deep into the pillarless "Hardtop" designs, and they proved to be very popular throughout the sixties.

The "Diplomat" was constructed as a non-functioning show car. It was built almost entirely of Fiberglass, as were most concept cars. It was painted a pearlescent Blue with a White Top. It was a very popular design and was made exclusively for the proposed Ford Stylerama (to compete with GMs Motorama). Unfortunately, the Stylerama program was shelved before it ever came to fruition, but the car was displayed at some of the major auto shows of the day, and also at the legendary Ford Rotunda in Dearborn.

John Najjar recalls that the car sat around the studio for quite a long time in the late fifties, just collecting dust. Then, he said, it just disappeared!! Most likely, it was relegated to the infamous scrap heap just next to the Styling Center, where it was probably hauled to the junkyard and scrapped. (Wouldn't ya love to raid THAT scrap pile?) Since it wasn't driveable, it isn't likely that someone was able to haul it home, but there can always be hope.

Ford wanted to consolidate production of the relatively low-volume Lincoln and Thunderbird at a new factory at Wixom, Michigan. Keeping the 'Bird's profile low while adding a back seat necessitated a unit-body -- and that meant that the Lincoln had to go frameless as well.

Now one had ever built a unit-body as large as the new Lincoln; no one knew if it could be done at all, much less in two years' time. But corporate engineering chief Earle S. MacPherson (of suspension strut fame) thought that designing the world's largest monocoque might be fun.

It wasn't. The first running prototype collapsed on contact with a chuckhole. With production little more than a year away, engineers frantically patched the problem with more than 500 pounds of additional steel structure. The increased weight for Lincoln to design an essentially all-new engine, at 430 cid the largest in the industry. With 375 hp at 4800 rpm and 490 lb-ft of torque at 3100, comfortably out-powered and out-torqued the contemporary Cadillac V8 and even the Imperial's 392 Hemi.

Meanwhile the elegant but expensive Continental Mark II floundered in the marketplace; its slow sales no longer justified its unique frame and bodyshell. Continental designer John Reinhart tried to wring a Mark II variant out of the Najjar-designed unit-body, but the proportions were all wrong and the result was so discouraging that Reinhart left the company. Ultimately, the '58 "Continental Mark III" differed only in trim and glass from the Lincoln Capri and Premier -- although Ford presumptuously promoted it as a separate marque. The Mark III's most distinctive feature was a flat, retractable backlight that followed the reverse angle of the standard Lincoln C-pillars. A finer textured grille, round (rather than oblong) taillights, cleaner side trim -- and a $500 premium -- further separated the Continental from a mere Lincoln. A convertible version, steeply priced at $6223, was offered only in the Continental line, and shared the closed Continental's reverse-angle rear glass.

Lincoln production dropped 38.5 percent -- more than double Cadillac's loss in a generally bad sales year. Wixom built only 17,134 '58 Premiers and Capris, plus 11,550 Continentals. With 3048 sold, the slightly bizarre convertible accounted for 26 percent of Continental production, and outsold every other bodystyle except the four-door hardtop.

The Sequoia Green convertible shown here (not the actual picture that was published with the article -- WM) was bought by a small, somewhat eccentric Pennsylvania woman who hung her screen doors upside-down so her cats could see out. She built a special, oversized garage for her new Continental, which she named "Rosie". She also kept a single, open-toe high-heel in the car, which allowed her to pivot from the throttle to the brake.

Current owner Al Daku was only 17 when Rosie arrived in town, but he loved her instantly. For years he tried to buy her, but Rosie's first owner only gave in after glaucoma forced her to stop driving in 1978.

Photos flatten rather than flatter the Continental; the whole, obsessively busy design comes to life only in three dimensions. Rosie's best side might be her rear: chrome fins pointing up, chrome fins pointing down, chrome pots around the taillights reflecting in the thick chrome of the wrap-around bumper.

Ford led the world then in whizz-bang drop-top technology. At the touch of a switch, electric motors unscrew the roof from the windshield header, while hydraulic rams lift the steel tonneau cover and pull the angled rear window -- and with it, the rear edge of the roof -- down into a deep compartment between the back seat and the trunk. Then the rest of the top folds into the same well, and the tonneau slams shut to hide the whole thing. Two bomb-shaped pieces of fiberglass and a stainless-steel strip, clipped on by hand, fill the gap between the front edge of the tonneau and the interior -- effectively hiding any evidence that this vast, open vehicle had a top at all.

Inside, you sit chair-high, with the great chrome helm at your lap. The commanding view seems to shrink the gargantuan Continental to a manageable size. Still, navigating narrow city streets, Rosie demonstrates the meaning of "negotiating" a turn. But out in the farm country, she feels less encumbered by her own bulk. Sure, her body floats and rolls on its soft coil springs, but Rosie stays her course with no need for correction, and goes where she's told in the turns. And while 4927 pounds of automobile negate a good deal of the engine's mighty torque, Rosie still feels pretty lively.

Ford second-guessed the '58 Lincoln's styling before the car went on sale; Najjar was taken off the job, and a new studio chief Don DeLarossa reined-in some of the excess for '59 Lincoln and Mark IV. The result was less distinctive, but no more attractive. Sales remained disappointing until Elwood Engle's handsome, knife-edged '61 saved Lincoln from oblivion

xxxxxx Mustang I Prototype

To begin at the beginning, around 1960 a Ford product planner named Don Frey became disturbed that the company was losing its performance image, especially among younger buyers. Hotrodders had given up the flathead Ford V8 in favor of smallblock Chevys and Chrysler Hemis. Sports-car enthusiasts were buying imports and Corvettes. Ford was becoming an old-maid car company.  

So Frey expressed his concern to Robert S. McNamara, Ford's car and truck VP, and to Henry Ford II, the company president. Frey also rallied a number of other Ford executives, key among them vice presidents Gene Bordinat (design) and Herb Misch (engineering). Frey's message, in effect, was "Hey, fellas, we've got a marketing problem. Let's do something to polish up Ford's styling and performance image."  

Designer Bordinat immediately got busy. Ford's studios were turning out an armada of showcars-as many as one a week, most of them fiberglass rollers minus powertrains. Often these projects came in response to design competitions routinely held among Ford's various studios. But for a competition in January 1962, Bordinat asked his styling chiefs to submit concepts for something new: a small, no-holds-barred sports car.  

One of the designers was John Najjar, now retired after a career with Ford going back to the late '30s. "We had a studio under Bob Maguire," Najjar explains, "and in it were Jim Darden, Ray Smith, plus an artist, Phil Clark, several modelers, and me. We drew up a 2-seater sports car in competition with the other studios, and when they saw ours-saw the blackboard with a full-sized layout and sketches- they said, 'That's it! Let's build it.' So we made a clay model, designed the details, and then built a fiberglass prototype." This car was simply a concept study rather than the final configuration, but it included a lot of the sporty, rakish flair the later showcar embodied.  

With the performance kettle starting to simmer in Dearborn, VP of Design Bordinat decided to take this 2-seat concept further and build it into a showable prototype. To that end he invited his opposite number in engineering, Herb Misch, to come over and take a look.  

Misch got excited as well, and he selected a special-projects wizard named Roy Lunn to head up the creation of a complete prototype. Lunn would act as liaison between the styling and engineering sides and oversee the building of the car.  

By now it was early May of '62, and the car had even earned a name: Mustang, suggested by John Najjar. Ford insiders actually referred to it as the Mustang Sports Car, and it wasn't until the 4-place 1963 Mustang II concept car came out that people began calling the 2-seater Mustang I retroactively.  

 The Mustang I advanced quickly from concept sketches to package drawings conforming with the engineering specifications that were being laid down simultaneously. Najjar recalls that his studio's full-sized drawings contained the suggestion of a tubular spaceframe, and Ray Smith, the studio engineer, added the popup headlights, retractable license plate, fixed seats, and adjustable-reach steering and pedals.  

Fueled primarily on enthusiasm-the budget for the project being virtually nonexistent-in short order Ford had a fiberglass prototype of their 2-seat sports car. Initially no one knew whether the prototype would be developed into a runner or not, but by mid-summer Misch and Bordinat decided that in either case they wanted to display the car at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen on 7 October 1962.  

At that point the project still had no budget and only the fuzziest of goals: to show up at Watkins Glen on race day. But on that goal alone Roy Lunn quickly assembled a team and dedicated them to building a finished showcar in the remarkable time of just 100 working days.  

Early 1962: Lee Iacocca decided that Ford should have a sporty car. Head of styling Gene Bordinat was to consider shapes for the car. John Najjar and Jim Sipple were asked to work on two-seater ideas. Their result looked promising enough on paper to go ahead with a full-model first in clay. Najjar, an aviation buff, named it Mustang to honour the World War II fighter plane.


One of the world’s most famous sports car, the Mustang, originally took its name from the World War II fighter, the P-51 Mustang and not the wild pony -- according to Ford Motor Company archives.

Although the car’s image is that of the wild pony, the first approach by designer John Najjar was to go with the fighter plane, which, during WWII, was also a world-beater.

Najjar was a great fan of the P-51 Mustang, and felt Ford had produced a car with lines worthy of the same name.

Although the name was initially cleared with the company's styling and legal departments, somewhere along the line someone preferred the pony image. They felt it fitted better with everyone's concept of the car.

Next step was the galloping horse logo, arguably one of the most enduring automotive icons of all time and one that has remained true to its original lines for 35 years.


The 58 - 60 Lincoln are often referred to as the "Forgotten Lincoln’s" These Lincoln’s were are largest unit-body vehicle ever made. . Styled by John Najjar these gigantic, finned monsters were initially as popular as the Eiffel tower in Paris or the Picasso on Daley plaza. The cars have even been unkindly referred to as "slant eyed Japanese pagodas". Due to the controversial styling and relatively high price, sales of these cars were poor and only 24,820 were produced in 1960. Fewer than 1,400 of the two-door hard-tops were produced in 1960, making them rarer than the convertible. Just as the once scorned Eiffel Tower and Picasso now define their respective cites, these distinctive Lincoln’s have come to represent the era of the fins. As collectors have begun to rediscover this classic model, the appreciation of the 58 - 60 Lincoln’s have actually out paced the 61 - 67 era Lincoln’s. The engine is the good old 430 cid with 315 bhp at 4100 rpm and maximum torque of 465 at 2,200 rpm. The car weighs Weight 5000 pounds has a length of 227 inches and a wheel base of 131 inches. The car maneuvers easily despite its large size. Factory Price: $5,500.


In response to Mr Murphy’s letter on page 695 of the January 2001 issue of HMN, I am enclosing a photo that your readers might enjoy. The gentleman standing alongside the car is John Najjar. John was the Executive Stylist in charge of the project and the man I feel was most responsible for the overall design of the car. He is also the guy that came up with the name “Mustang” (originally relating to the WWII fighter plane, not the horse). By the way, there were actually two cars built—the fully operational vehicle and a fiberglass push-mobile which as far as I know no longer exists. There were also a few ...


The design revolution at Chris-Craft started in 1961, when an up & coming Ford Motor Company stylist, Richard Avery, responded to a job ad posted in the Detroit Times. Leaving the hallowed halls of the Lincoln Division (where he worked for the famed John Najjar) Dick tells us that he was excited to pursue his first love - boating - and that the freezing Michigan winters quickly brought his wife onboard.  "Let's go!" she said, so off they headed off to Chris Craft's new corporate headquarters in sunny Pompano, FL. Working for Chuck Burgess, Dick first applied his talents to mahogany runabouts and Lancers. Cutting down the sides yielded the Super Sports - a sharp looking ski boat. It was just the start of a twenty year reign, and many fabulous Chris-Crafts that still endure today - crafted out of the finest materials and preserved by their admiring owners.


For more information please read:

Biographies of Prominent Carriage Draftsmen - Carriage Monthly, April 1904

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - A History of Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - Cars and Coachbuilding: One Hundred Years of Road Vehicle Development

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

James J. Schild - Fleetwood: the Company and the Coachcraft

John R. Velliky - Dodge Brothers/Budd Co. Historical Photo Album

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 1

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 2

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 3

Dennis Adler - The Art of the Sports Car: The Greatest Designs of the 20th Century

C. Edson Armi - The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities

C. Edson Armi - American Car Design Now

Penny Sparke - A Century of Car Design

John Tipler - The World's Great Automobile Stylists

Ivan Margolius - Automobiles by Architects

Jonathan Bell - Concept Car Design

Erminie Shaeffer Hafer - A century of vehicle craftsmanship

Ronald Barker & Anthony Harding - Automobile Design: Twelve Great Designers and Their Work

John McLelland - Bodies beautiful: A history of car styling and craftsmanship

Frederic A. Sharf - Future Retro: Drawings From The Great Age Of American Automobiles

Paul Carroll Wilson - Chrome Dreams: Automobile Styling Since 1893

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Nick Georgano - Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work

Matt Delorenzo - Modern Chrysler Concept Cars: The Designs That Saved the Company

Thom Taylor - How to Draw Cars Like a Pro

Tony Lewin & Ryan Borroff - How To Design Cars Like a Pro

Frederick E. Hoadley - Automobile Design Techniques and Design Modeling: the Men, the Methods, the Materials

Doug DuBosque - Draw Cars

Jonathan Wood - Concept Cars

D. Nesbitt - 50 Years Of American Auto Design

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Lennart W. Haajanen & Karl Ludvigsen - Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles

L. J. K Setright - The designers: Great automobiles and the men who made them

Goro Tamai - The Leading Edge: Aerodynamic Design of Ultra-Streamlined Land Vehicles

Brian Peacock & Waldemar Karwowski - Automotive Ergonomics

Bob Thomas - Confessions of an Automotive Stylist

Brooke Hodge & C. Edson Armi - Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays

Gordon M. Buehrig - Rolling sculpture: A designer and his work

Henry L. Dominguez - Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team...

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl (Design Heroes Series)

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl and the Dream Machine

Serge Bellu - 500 Fantastic Cars: A Century of the World Concept Cars

Raymond Loewy - Industrial Design

Raymond Loewy - Never Leave Well Enough Alone

Philippe Tretiack - Raymond Loewy and Streamlined Design

Angela Schoenberger - Raymond Loewy: Pioneer of American Industrial Design

Laura Cordin - Raymond Loewy


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