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Why The 1996 Lincoln Sentinel Concept Was So Important For Ford

Concept cars can be funny things – often these vehicles are non-driving objects made to speculate, generate intrigue or tease an upcoming model, and some are just rolling brainstorms showcasing a design studios’ possible future direction for a brand.

For example, the DeLorean Concept 2040 is a crossover that looks like it belongs on a dystopian alien landscape, while others like the 2010 Audi Quattro concept are way more down to earth and feature working drivetrains.

The luxury brand Lincoln from Ford also brought out the Sentinel concept just a year after the futuristic Ford GT90 concept, also in Detroit at the Auto Show.

It turns out the Sentinel wasn’t just marketing PR, and the resulting super-sedan not only caused waves within the industry and public alike but was an important move for the brand and its parent company.

Let’s take a brief look at the model that never came to be and see how it may have influenced the cars that came after it.

The History Of The Lincoln Sentinel Concept

Lincoln Sentinel concept, front quarter view
Via: Ford

This Ghia-built luxury sedan was revealed in 1996 in a different age, where cars were, for the most part rounded. The design was dictated in a large way by safety regulations and fuel economy.

Picture the Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar from the era, and you’ll see what we mean – but this concept merged retro and future features together to create a something that tried to carry historical heritage into the brave new millennium.

Cars like the Nissan Figaro, Plymouth Prowler and later the BMW Mini, PT Cruiser and 2002 Ford Thunderbird capitalized on the public’s love for retro styling and the Sentinel applied similar principles though it fused them with futuristic lines and angles.

The twin-grille front end got inspired by the classic Lincoln Continental and the lights, wheel hubs, suicide doors and silhouette are all throwbacks to period design, while in the press renders it looks elegant and clean with an upmarket vibe.

RELATED: The Real Story Behind The Ford GT90 Concept Car

Looking Closer At The Lincoln Sentinel Concept Design

1996 Lincoln Sentinel concept, rear quarter view
Via: Ford

With so much retro styling going on, including the Pontiac-influenced nose triangle, chrome accents and long trunk we could forgive you for thinking that the Sentinel was old-school down to the chassis welds.

Discrete and aerodynamic side mirrors, integrated rear exhausts, and a pillarless/frameless glass house lend the Sentinel a sophistication commensurate with such a forward-thinking luxury concept and there are even flush door handles hidden in the exterior panels.

These are traits you would see nowadays in modern machinery and the Sentinel perhaps gains some credibility and refinement to go with the retro vibe, unlike its engine.

While impressive, the large engine under the hood however is a dinosaur by today’s standards – back then many performance and luxury engine designs still generally preferred capacity to turbocharging and the 6-liter V12 was a custom-made behemoth.

RELATED: Here’s Why The Lincoln Continental Is An American Luxury Car Bargain

The Lincoln Sentinel Concept’s Engine Is A 2-Engine Frankenstein

1996 Lincoln Sentinel concept interior, front of cabin
Via: Ford

Like the Ford Indigo concept which looked like the Plymouth Prowler with a spoiler on its nose, the Sentinel used a custom V12, made from two 3-liter V6s from Ford’s own Duratec line with quad cams, 48 valves and absolutely no turbos or supercharging.

As such it made around 435 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque, figures which we can achieve today with a modern small-block V8 and direct injection, like in the modern Ford Mustang.

Twelve-cylinder engines are charismatic and impressive though, and a full-size Lincoln sedan would need ample power to get things moving with a considerable theoretical mass. This V12 engine was quite the important motor for Ford because it is the same V12 that went on to power the entire Aston Martin V12 range from the first generation Vanquish to the DBS, and the second generation Vanquish. The same engine also powered the One-77 and put Aston Martin in the 700hp hypercar category, and also resulted in the track monster Vulcan, and the manual shifting Victor.

A Ghia interior visible in the official render is stunning to behold, and inline with the kind of minimalist modern interior you might find in the Fisker Ocean, Polestar 3, or BMW iX, featuring an interesting combination of colors and materials that took forward-thinking to a new level.

The only thing missing is an infotainment screen of course, and the dials and gauges are retro looking and suggest opulence which is this car’s shtick.

How The Lincoln Sentinel Might Have Inspired Cars After It

Lincoln MKX, front quarter view
Via: NYTimes

The spoiler alert here is that the car didn’t get made, though it some of its principles and the inspiration from vintage Lincoln Continentals got carried over to later cars from the brand.

Lincoln’s iconic grill kept returning in this split form on many subsequent vehicles including crossovers like the Lincoln MKX, but it’s arguably easier to draw a line between the Sentinel and the MKS.

Although the Lincoln MKS got based on Ford underpinnings and didn’t look as much like a spaceship as the Sentinel, it carried over the split grill, the chrome accents and the vertical rear lights, albeit with a 3,7-liter V6 as the largest engine in the range.

2007’s Lincoln MKR concept was certainly a return to form for futuristic and retro concept design and perhaps the last time the spirit of the Sentinel got resurrected before Lincoln’s design focus like so many other brands turned increasingly to crossovers and SUVs.

Ford needed a new image and wanted to establish itself as an innovator and capable of turning out credible premium cars, which are very profitable, through its other divisions.

Nowadays, it’s an aggressive marketplace at the top and many luxury brands died off following decreased demand due to a changing economy and rising fuel prices, not to mention competition from cheaper alternatives, but the iconic Lincoln marque soldiers on still in 2023.

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