Then again, maybe not.
Back in the late ’90s, Ford’s Lincoln division managed to outsell crosstown rival Cadillac almost entirely on the strength of the Navigator – which was the first hugely successful/mass market “bling” SUV.
And what was the Navigator?
It was a Ford Expedition sheep-dipped in chrome, swaddled in leather and kitted out with every luxury amenity and electronic gimmick Lincoln could screw onto the thing. But though it looked fancy, it didn’t cost much to make, because the Expedition underneath was already made – tooling amortized, engineering costs minimal. So when it sold for twice the price of an Expedition (well, almost) Lincoln found itself holding the keys to a 4×4 gold mine.
Cadillac eventually caught up – and blew by – Lincoln with the even more over-the-top Escalade.
Others joined the pool party, too.
Even the Japanese.
Well, what happened to Lincoln?
It wilted Lincoln’s willy, gave the company a bad case of sales ED.
Ford’s luxury line never recovered.
And we all know what eventually happened to Mercury.
So, what was the Blackwood?
It was – briefly – the pick-up version of the Navigator. That was the idea, at any rate.
Then-Ford Vice President of Design J Mays expounded: “The popularity of the Lincoln Navigator and the continuing evolution of American sport utility vehicles led to the development of this luxury utility vehicle… our ability to take this concept quickly to market after the overwhelmingly positive public response to it shows how flexible our product development process has become.”
Mays was talking about the prototype unveiled at the LA Auto Show in ’99. He made the mistake of confusing pressies clapping with customers buying.
Lincoln projected a two-year run and 18,000 sales. Production was halted before the 2002 model year (which would be the Blackwood’s only year) was over. About 3,356 examples were eventually purchased – most of them steeply discounted.
Fifteen years after the implosion, a person wandering the halls of Ford Motor Company headquarters would be well-advised not to say the name at all, lest a gang of beefy black-clad company security guards appear… and cause you to disappear.
The ill-fated luxury truck was based on the full-size F-150 super crew (which is used as the basis for the Expedition/Navigator, both of which are basically an enclosed F-150s) and – like the Navigator – it was dressed to the nines, with a price tag ($52,500) to match.
This was about $5k more than Lincoln asked for an ’02 Navigator.
Still, it seemed like a perfectly sound idea. After all, why not? People lined up to buy the Navigator – often paying more than sticker. Why shouldn’t the same formula work with a pick-up truck?
Because this truck couldn’t pick up much.
And forget off-roading.
Because it didn’t have (or even offer) four-wheel-drive. This – more than any other factor – was the truck’s fatal flaw. A 2WD-only truck is as useless as a the Pope’s penis – and nearly as embarrassing.
But the Blackwood did have a micro-sized/for-show-only bed made of plastic.
Very expensive plastic.
This was the sort of thing teenagers huffing glue tend to conceive – not experienced product planners and marketing types with decades of experience and the fortunes of a billion-dollar company on the line. Or maybe they’ll conceive such a thing. A single, one-of-a-kind concept car (or truck) is harmless enough. Show the folks something odd; get their attention. No one gets hurt.
Then put it away in the company museum and forget about it.
But they decided to mass produce this one. Which ranks right up there with GM’s decision, later on down the line, to mass produce the Aztek. The boys at Lincoln must have sent the boys at Pontiac (RIP) the same gold-flaked paint they’d been sniffing.
The Navigator got (and still gets) its share of abuse from the automotive press, which regards the thing as more hat than cattle; six thousand pounds of poor taste marketed to glossy-fingernailed, sail fawn-gabbling soccer moms. But the fact is the Navigator could perform useful work. Underneath its heavily chromed form lies the function of a real-deal four-wheel-drive system, with a transfer case and Low range gearing. The Navigator is not helpless in the snow – and can (at least potentially) be taken off road.
If you can bear scratching all that chrome.
It also has grunt. The capability to pull close to 10,000 pounds. And – if you’re careful or just don’t care about the mess – you can fold the second and third row seats down and haul stuff (big stuff) inside the thing.
This made the Navigator viable in that it could be rationalized. Sure, it cost $20k more than an Expedition. But it could still do everything an Expedition could. It was a 4×4. Buyers could tell themselves (and more importantly, their wives – or husbands) that this was not a frivolous – a pointless – purchase. Hey, I’d just like something nice … but this thing’ll also pull the boat to the lake and it’ll be great to have in the winter.
The Blackwood could not be rationalized. It was obviously, all-too-painfully useless – and thus, doomed.
No four-wheel-drive meant it was worse than most standard-issue cars in any kind of bad weather.
On paved roads.
Rear-wheel-drive (which is what the Blackwood was) is not what you want on wet, let alone snow-slicked, pavement. But a rear-drive truck is the least desirable option in either situation because there is almost no weight over the rear (drive) wheels. There’s just that light-in-the-tail bed. And in the Blackwood’s case, the bed was even lighter – because it wasn’t even made of metal.
Now add to this winning formula a set of eighteen-inch chromed wheels shod with car-type all-season “sport” tires and it’s fishtail city in the rain and forget about making it to work today if it snows.
This, of course, is humiliating.
The neighbors tend to snicker when they see you floundering in your $52k truck that can’t make it up the driveway after a light dusting the night before. These same neighbors may feel envy/contempt and various other dark emotions when they see a just-as-pricey (and just as over-the-top) Navigator.
The Blackwood’s bed, in addition to being made of plastic, was also really tiny. Even more useless than regular F-150 crew cab’s five-footer.
Lincoln at least had the decency (if not the smarts) to market this orange crate-sized plastic affectation as a “cargo trunk” rather than a bed.
To be fair, 27 cubic feet – the “cargo trunk’s” capacity – was about twice the trunk capacity of, say, a Lincoln Town Car.
But then, the Town Car wasn’t pretending to be a truck.
The Blackwood’s “cargo trunk” was ridiculous for the same reason that putting huge mud-and-snow-rated off-road knobby tires on a Town Car would be ridiculous.
If it’s a pickup, it needs to be able to pick things up. That means a bed. Not a “cargo trunk.”
But wait, there’s more.
Lincoln designers thought it would be a fantastic idea to line the plastic “cargo trunk” with fake – but very very shiny – African Wenge wood. The concept version of the Blackwood that was shown to the automotive press back in ’99, prior to the introduction of the production Blackwood, at least had real African Wenge – an exotic, striated and very dark wood similar to Mahogany but even fancier. It gave the Blackwood its elegant-sounding name.
But the production truck – the one you could actually buy – had an “interpretation” (Lincoln’s term) of the real stuff. Which meant: Plastic laminated with a silk-screened image of Wenge wood.
It was like buying a quarter-acre “estate” home. You felt gypped.
One possibility that Lincoln could have explored but didn’t would have been to make the “cargo trunk” water tight and so usable as a mobile hot tub. It already had “soft-glo” perimeter mood lighting and – just like a real hot tub – there was a cover (power actuated) that came down to seal the thing (potentially, to keep your water hot and also to prevent it from sloshing around too much as you drove). Water changes would have been super easy, too. Just open the rear Dutch doors (used in lieu of a conventional one-piece/drop-down tailgate) and empty her out, hose ‘er out – and refill.
But as delivered, the Blackwood couldn’t be used as a hot tub on wheels – at least not without many tubes of caulk. Which meant it was useful for… er… uh….well, you see the problem.
The Blackwood was also slow.
The reason for this was a lack of horsepower – and more so, torque – to deal with the almost 6,000 pound curb weight of the thing. Three hundred horsepower – the output of the Ford’s (oops! Lincoln’s) 5.4 liter V8 sounds ok – and would have been ok – in a vehicle that weighed 2,000 pounds less. But in a 6,000 pounder, the power to weight ratio tilted in the wrong direction.
In the ’90s, Ford abandoned its family of overhead valve V8s – the 5.0 liter 302 and the 5.8 liter 351 – in favor of a new family of “modular” overhead cam V8s. ostensibly because the new-design engines were more fuel efficient and also because they were more amenable to growing-stricter federal pollution control requirements.
These were smaller mills (4.6 liters and 5.4 liters, respectively) and their torque output especially was much lower than comparable competitor V8s – which remained large. The Blackwood’s 5.4 liter V8, for instance, only made 355 ft.-lbs. of torque vs. the same year (2002) Cadillac Escalade’s 380 ft.-lbs.
Ford eventually eeked adequate hp (and torque) out of its smaller V8s (the 2016 Mustang GT’s 5 liter engine makes a very respectable 435 hp, more than the larger 6.2 V8 in the ’16 Camaro SS) but it took much massaging and would come at least a decade too late to be of any help to Lincoln’s not-very-useful (and pretty slow) pick-up truck.
They did try to make it handle.
The Blackwood had a heavily modified suspension that differed from the Navigator’s. It featured air springs over the solid rear axle and “acceleration-sensitive damping” (ASD) shock absorbers. The ASD shocks had an oil bypass valve designed to respond to how fast the shock moved up and down (as opposed to how far the internal piston traveled) in reaction to road impacts, such as potholes. According to the engineers, this caused the bulk of the force of road impacts to be spent by compressing the suspension’s coil springs, which prevented reverberations from being transmitted to the passenger compartment. The shocks also helped control body roll in the corners – and of course, the Blackwood sat lower than a typical truck, which kept the center of gravity closer to the pavement. The truck’s steering, meanwhile, was “tuned” to feel more like a car’s (Lincoln’s LS sport sedan, specifically) than a truck’s.
Unfortunately, the results were mixed. Getting 6,000 pounds to corner adroitly is like trying to get Usain Bolt to break a new sprinting record while wearing a moon suit. There was also the conflict between luxury and sportiness. You can have one or the other but rarely both in the same vehicle.
The one thing the Blackwood could do was pull a trailer. It came standard with a class III/IV hitch and had an 8,700 pound maximum tow rating. Lincoln’s marketing people thought well-heeled horsemen (and boatmen) would be enthralled. Here, after all, was something no one else at the club had.
Which was working on a me-too version that was better thought out: The Chevy Avalanche-based Cadillac EXT, which also made its debut in 2002. It could tow and haul. Its bed was standard short-bed-sized and not lined in fake African Wenge wood.
Nor was it made of plastic.
It had (could be ordered with) four-wheel-drive.
It did not get stuck in the snow.
The Escalade EXT sold – and still does. More than decade after the Blackwood came – and went – the Escalade EXT remains in production and seems likely to continue begin produced so long as gas is cheap and people’s taste remains questionable.
* Standard equipment included: Sunroof, 140 watt Alpine premium audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, park sensors (very new back in 2002), leather and wood-esque (more of the fake African Wenge “wood”) trim plates.
* Problems with the “cargo trunk” delayed initial deliveries of the Blackwood to customers, never a good omen for an all-new model. Manufacture of the Blackwood’s fake-wood/composite plastic “cargo trunk” had been farmed out to the Austrian firm Magna Steyr – which among things also developed the “4-Matic” all-wheel-drive system used in many Mercedes-Benz models.
* In addition to the standard production models, there was also a limited issue of 50 Neiman Marcus Edition Blackwoods. These came with special “Neiman Marcus” stitching, a beverage cooler and – the big ticket item – a seven-inch Panasonic DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones. These stickered for $58,800 back in ’02 … equivalent to $77,771 in 2015 dollars, or (roughly) the cost of a current Lincoln Navigator ($63k) plus another $14k or so pocket change.
* The Blackwood was very thirsty. On a full 25 gallon tank of premium unleaded, it had a city range of about 275 miles. That works out to about 11 miles per gallon.
* Lincoln – apparently not sufficiently burned by the Blackwood Experience – revisited the idea again in 2005 with the Mark LT, which was available with 4WD (and had a traditional truck bed with a drop-down tailgate). It did well… in Mexico, where it was sold through the 2014 model year. In the U.S., however, the Mark LT only survived three years. The Mexican version was available in long bed –Cuautitlán – form and that may have accounted for its popularity with the caballeros south of the border.
Excerpted from the forthcoming book, Doomed.
Copyright 2015, Eric Peters
Will you help us?
Our donate button is here.
If you prefer not to use PayPal, our mailing address is:
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079
PS: EPautos stickers are free to those who sign up for a $5 or more monthly recurring donation to support EPautos, or for a one-time donation of $10 or more. (Please be sure to tell us you want a sticker – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)