Doomed: Lincoln Blackwood (2002)

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When something works once, it’s reasonable to assume it might work again.frdconcept

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.

The rest, of course, is history.'02 Blackwood interior 1

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?

The Blackwood.

It wilted Lincoln’s willy, gave the company a bad case of sales ED.

Ford’s luxury line never recovered.

Today it is an also-ran, not even in the same ballpark as Cadillac. A sort-of Mercury among luxury brands.dead fish pic

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.”

Italics added.Blackwood concept LA auto show

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.

They didn’t.

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.'02 Blackwood bed detail

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.

What can you do with either of them?'02 Blackwood grille detail

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.huffing paint pic

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.'02 Blackwood road 1

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.'02 Blackwood wheels

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.

But they can’t laugh at you when it snows.   '02 Blackwood bed details2

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.

Some things just go together… while others don’t.'02 Blackwood side detail

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.

The plastic-laminated “wood” was also just as susceptible to scratching and (once scratched) looked even cheesier than the real wood because, of course, it was fake.'02 Blackwood hot tub

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.

Zero to 60 took about 8.1 seconds, about what a current (2016) four-cylinder Corolla can manage.'02 Blackwood engine pic

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.

The Caddy’s larger (6.0 liter) V8 also produced 345 hp – vs. the Lincoln’s 300.'02 Blackwood tow2

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.'02 Blackwood suspension detail

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.

And it might have worked, despite its next-to-useleness….had it not been for Cadillac.Blackwood vs. Escalade

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.

Doomed Trivia:

* Blackwoods were sold in just one extremely load trim. The only option was a GPS navigation system bundled with a five-inch color LCD display. This added $1,995 to the sticker price.'02 Blackwood navigation

* 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.'02 LIncioln Blackwood

* 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 depends on you to keep the wheels turning! The control freaks (Clovers) hate us. Goo-guhl blackballed us.

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  1. Exultations of the Librophiliac…

    ‘This is my first ever work for The Folio Society, of which I have been a fan for many years.

    When I opened the package and held the book, the print and the binding made me feel that it is very precious … Although I am familiar with every stroke of the design and illustration, those are all on paper or on screen.

    It is more than exciting to hold the real book in my hand’
    – SHAN JIANG, Shotopop

    A genre-changing work

    The Man in the High Castle is considered to be Dick’s greatest novel, and was awarded the Hugo Award in 1963. With it, he jettisoned the traditional trappings of science fiction that had defined much of his previous work.

    Gone were the spaceships, strange worlds and telepaths; what remained were the ideas that had begun to set him apart as a significant thinker of the age.

    As Ursula K. Le Guin discusses in her new introduction, the text’s innovation and skill took some of the first steps in dismantling the traditional barriers between science and mainstream fiction: it would become ‘the first big, lasting contribution science fiction made to American literature’.

    This edition features the work of Shanghai-born Shan Jiang, lead illustrator at design company Shotopop. His graphic images, strongly influenced by Japanese manga and comic book art, channel the text’s melding of cultures.

    The Man in the High Castle

    ‘On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives’

    In 1962 Philip K. Dick conjured a new vision of our world – a twisted simulacrum in which the Axis Powers have won the Second World War.

    America is now divided: the eastern United States is the puppet of a maniacal German Reich, while the western Pacific seaboard is governed by a militaristic, yet spiritual, Japanese dictatorship.

    Amongst the complexities of this new existence, a group of unremarkable people – an American- Jewish craftsman, a judo instructor, a Japanese diplomat – play out their everyday lives, each striving to uncover a remnant of goodness in the shadow of a gathering evil.

    As their narratives intersect, Dick poses larger metaphysical questions concerning the authentication of history, perception and the building blocks of destiny.

    Production Details

    Three-quarter-bound in cloth with a Modigliani paper side, printed and blocked with a design by Shotopop

    Set in Utopia with Market Street Neon
    272 pages
    Frontispiece and 7 colour illustrations
    Slipcase blocked with a design by Shotopop
    9″ × 6¼”

    About the illustrator

    Shan Jiang was born in Shanghai in 1979 and studied fine art at Shanghai University. He completed an MA at Edinburgh College of Art in 2004 and worked for the design studio LoveDust from 2005–12.

    He went on to become the third partner at design company Shotopop, in London, where he has worked for numerous highprofile clients.

    Shan’s work is strongly influenced by his home city of Shanghai; its skyscrapers and bungalows, contemporary concepts and traditional superstitions, communist ideology and flourishing subcultures. He has been inspired by Chinese Meticulous Art, Ukiyo-e, Bauhaus design, Durer, manga and anime. He lives and works in London.

    About the author

    Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. At around the age of 12 Dick read his first science-fiction magazine, which led to a lifelong engagement with the genre.

    After a brief stint at the University of Berkeley in 1949, he worked in a record store, Art Music Company.

    He wrote full-time from 1951, when he sold his first short story, and went on to produce forty-four novels and five collections of short stories. Dick struggled to achieve mainstream success, his non-science-fiction novels being returned by his agent in 1963, but received enormous acclaim in the science-fiction world for his works exploring metaphysics, theology and politics.

    His best known novel, The Man in the High Castle, won the Hugo Award in 1963, while Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1975. Married five times, Dick died in 1982.

    “The single most resonant and carefully imagined book of Dick’s career.” – New York Times

    It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages.

    All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

    This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.

    The Man in the High Castle (S.F.Masterworks) U.K. (Hardcover) $145.80 + $3.99 shipping
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    Road Hogs: Detroit’s Big, Beautiful Luxury Performance Cars of the 1960s and 1970s (Hardcover) $3.10 + $3.99 shipping

  2. Not exactly on topic for this thread, but fits here as well as anywhere.
    I saw something the other day that I had never seen before. And it’s not likely that I just didn’t notice it, because it was pretty darn noticeable.
    D-3500 flat bed with a crew cab and a sleeper!

      • Not that common in my experience anyways, but if you look for them, you’ll see them once in a while.

        Cowtown Sleepers

        Jefferson’s Religious Beliefs

        Thomas Jefferson always reluctant to reveal his religious beliefs to the public, was raised as an Anglican, but was influenced by English deists such as Bolingbroke and Shaftesbury.

        In the spirit of the Enlightenment, he made the following recommendation to his nephew Peter Carr in 1787:

        “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

        In Query XVII of Notes on the State of Virginia, he clearly outlines the views which led him to play a leading role in the campaign to separate church and state and which culminated in the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom: “The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit.

        We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.

        But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.

        Jefferson’s religious views became a major public issue during the bitter party conflict between Federalists and Republicans in the late 1790s when Jefferson was often accused of being an atheist.

  3. Lincoln might have sold more Blackwoods if they weren’t absolutely determined to turn their “luxury truck” into a Non Truck.

    This is not at all what they did with their “luxury SUV” Navigator, which remained a valid SUV. So they knew how it should have been done.

    You gotta wonder…..what the HELL were they thinking?

  4. Trucks that can not pick up or haul. Passenger cars that will not seat passengers. Sport Utility vehicles that are neither sporty nor utilitarian. Smart cars that are hopelessly useless. Electric buggies that need a 24 hour recharge every 40 miles. Mandatory life saving gadgets that explode into shrapnel. Oversized restraints and reinforcements that severely restrict sight lines throughout the vehicle. The stupidity list goes on and on. Yet wiper blades disintegrate every six months and brakes lines morph into DOT 4 sprinklers after 6 salt laden winters. Tires and wheels no longer withstand impacting common road debris. Drivers tend to wreck should the engine stall. And Google wants self-driving cars.

    An old Country Squire looks better and better with each passing day.

    • C C, you’re out of date on wiper blades. Triple Edge are great, won’t even stick to the glass in ice but the new Invisible Glass blades are even better and guaranteed to not only never stick but to come apart. When wiper blades last for years in west Tx. they’re certainly a step above.

      An old Country Squire with an Oldsmobile logo on it would be great since they were. My SS El Camino looks better every passing day as does my 3500 Chevy 6.5 L Turbo Diesel…..not a damn bit of electronics on either one.

    • Back in the olden days of the patch, everybody who didn’t drive a truck(not a friggin pickup)or a work pickup mainly drove Suburbans(strippers, a/c, autos and sometimes 4WD)and big sedans, a plethora of big Poncho’s for the most part since they had mucho power, mucho suspension and room for 6 or 8(seen that plenty of times)if need be(Who volunteers to wait at the location? Not me, I’ll ride in the trunk if I have to). Rarely, back in the days of really shitty tires(Firestone) did you see one ruined and never saw a vehicle abandoned because of that.

      But now the patch is replete with $70-80K pickups left for some lowly hand to come change tires on. And some call that progress.

  5. Well, I sped my way out to Schliecher way, probably be a month of Sunday’s fore I draw my pay.
    Couldn’t waste no time, on that all night drill
    So I jumped in my Jimmy and I popped a few little white pills.

    Now here I sit, all alone with a broken heart
    You know I took three bennies…..and my semi-truck won’t start……sorta like epa

  6. Hello?

    Is there anybody in there?
    Just nod if you can hear me.
    Is there anyone home?
    Come on now
    I hear you’re feeling down.
    Well I can ease your pain
    Get you on your feet again.
    I’ll need some information first.
    Just the basic facts.
    Can you show me where it hurts?

    There is no pain you are receding
    A distant ship smoke on the horizon.
    You are only coming through in waves.
    Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
    When I was a child I had a fever
    My hands felt just like two balloons.
    Now I’ve got that feeling once again
    I can’t explain you would not understand
    This is not how I am.
    I have become comfortably numb.

    Just a little pinprick.
    There’ll be no more, ah!
    But you may feel a little sick.
    Can you stand up?
    I do believe it’s working, good.
    That’ll keep you going through the show
    Come on it’s time to go.

    There is no pain you are receding
    A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
    You are only coming through in waves.
    Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
    When I was a child
    I caught a fleeting glimpse
    Out of the corner of my eye.
    I turned to look but it was gone
    I cannot put my finger on it now
    The child is grown,
    The dream is gone.
    I have become comfortably numb.

  7. Lucky old me, the phone range around noon and I was first to get a hotshot load “since everybody else had put in 6-7 day weeks……except I had put in a 6 day week already. The truth was though, 3 others had a CDL but wouldn’t answer their phones. Later as I pedal 80mph west on I-20 I had a new Escalade pass me but not the “new” one with the big tall tail lights so this was evidently the year before but simply brand new. After a while another came up on me faster, identical to the first but I noticed as it passed by the big chrome HYBRID on the front fender. I must have missed that model and had never seen one before which is weird since I see a plethora of Escalades every day….and nearly all black like these two. I was just unaware of a hybrid version. Once the second one caught the first, it paced the first one, two obviously headed to some same fate.

  8. great line regarding the Cadillac Escalade EXT “…and seems likely to continue begin produced so long as gas is cheap and people’s taste remains questionable.”

    • People’s taste remains questionable. I’m not sure how that vehicle is questionable. It has its niche and since Tahoe’s and Yukon’s seem to fill a certain need the EXT fills another need for some. I occasionally see a big Merc pounded up and down caliche roads by rural folk but it’s not often. I can only guess the amount of repair/service you need to do to one compared to a truck based Suburban made for that sort of thing. The more affluent choose the Caddy for reasons of looks and options since they’re basically the same thing. But for this part of the country they’re great road pounders for people who need to haul stuff and pull a trailer occasionally. I just had a thought. Do they come in 3/4 T? Avalanche’s do and they’re as stout as any. Of course you could buy a Suby for the same reason except when the spring puddles dried up you’d find them flattened in those holes the Suburban’s and EXT’s had been running over for months.


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