Interview with Lincoln Futura Interior Designer Stan Thorwaldsen 

by Mark Racop on August 4, 2009


I just got off the phone with Stan Thorwaldsen, who was the interior designer of the 1955 Lincoln Futura. We had a great conversation about the wonderful car that he helped build over 55 years ago. At 80 years old, his memory is still sharp too!

Mark Racop: Stan, do you have a few minutes to answer some questions about the 1955 Lincoln Futura?

Stan Thorwaldsen: Yes.

M: How's your memory?

Stan: Oh, not as good as it used to be.

M: Well, see what you can remember. I'm a huge fan of the Futura and of the Batmobile, so this is real treat for me to talk with one of the actual builders of the car.

Stan: (chuckles) OK. I'm glad that someone still remembers it!

M: What was your job regarding the 1955 Lincoln Futura?

Stan: I was in charge of designing and building the entire interior of the car.

M: What were some of the challenges of building this car? Was anything off the shelf?

Stan: Nothing was off-the-shelf. We had to custom-build everything.

M: Switches? Knobs?

Stan: Yeah, everything. It was all one-off. We were experimenting with sculpted door panels for the first time on that car. In the past, we had always used flat masonite, but this car would have a 3D sculpted effect.

M: Were the inner door panels made of fiberglass?

Stan: Probably, although we were also working with a masonite/wood chip/glue mixture that we were heating inside of molds, too, but I expect the Futura was probably fiberglass, yes.

M: Of what material were the chrome door sweeps made? Aluminum? Stainless?

Stan: Actually it was brass. We made almost all of the trim from brass because it was more malleable, and then we chrome-plated it.

M: I'll bet the five roll top dash doors were hard.

Stan: Yeah, it took some time. We made some of those parts out of steel.

M: Did you design the steering wheel?

Stan: Yes. It had little pods that hung down with turn signal indicator switches.

M: Did the turn signal switches work?

Stan: Yes.

M: That's great. How about the speedometer? The tachometer? The warning lights? Did they all work, too?

Stan: Oh, yes. All of it worked. It was a drivable car.

M: Did the center of the binnacle stay upright while the outer hub of the steering wheel turned?

Stan: Yes. And we had a compass on the driver side, and there was something on the passenger side, too. Maybe a clock.

M: Yes, the photos show a clock. Did the horn foot pedal work?

Stan: I don't remember. Probably, but I don't remember.

M: That was a couple days ago.

Stan: (Chuckles), yeah--what--fifty almost sixty years ago?

M: What was the silver part of the center console between the seats? Was it a door?

Stan: I'm pretty sure it was a tambour door that opened, yes.

M: Above the silver door was either a light or a speaker. Which was it?

Stan: I can't remember for sure, but I would think an interior light.

M: Did the microphone work on the rear deck? Was there a speaker inside the car?

Stan: No, I don't think so. It wasn't connected to anything. I think that was all for glitz and glamour as a concept car.

M: Do you have any stories or anecdotes about the Futura?

Stan: No, the building of the Futura pretty much went smoothly. At Packard, on the other hand (he laughed)!

M: Was the canopy hard to make work? Did it ever break down?

Stan: It worked all right. I'm sure it had a problem at some point, but it worked when we needed it to. As a concept car, it only had to work a handful of times.

M: Did the air conditioning work?

Stan: It did, but that car was always hot.

M: No shades, no blinds...

Stan: Right. It wasn't very practical at all.

M: There were some plastic air funnels coming out of the air conditioning vents in some photos, but not all. Was that early, or late?

Stan: You mean in the rear package tray?

M: Yes, out of the chrome air conditioning vents on the rear package tray.

Stan: I remember those on the 1956 Lincoln, but not on the Futura. Hmmmm.

M: Did you ever get to drive the car?

Stan: No, but Bill Schmidt, my boss, did. Along with Benson Ford, I think, in New York.

M: Do you have any photos, models or toys of the car?

Stan: No. Bill Schmidt had someone make a model for him--I don't know, maybe 18 or 20 inches long. I don't know if his family still has it, or if it ended up in a museum in Michigan.

M: What did you think of the Futura?

Stan: It was silly, it was impractical, but it was beautiful. It was one of a kind. Ford was behind Cadillac and trying to catch up.

M: Was the Futura successful for Lincoln?

Stan: Oh yes. The goal was to get attention, and that car was featured in a lot of magazines and newspapers. It did its job.

M: How did you feel about the Futura becoming the Batmobile?

Stan: Oh, all right. Ford was pushing it for use in movies and TVs. It was in a movie--I can't remember the title...

M: It Started With a Kiss with Glenn Ford?

Stan: Yes. And with Debbie Reynolds And it was a few years after that when George Barris turned it into the Batmobile.

M: What else did you do at Ford?

Stan: I designed the interior of the 1956 Lincoln, borrowing a lot from the Futura. I had started designing the Edsel interior--with no idea what the exterior would look like.

M: Did you work on the 57 Lincoln, too?

Stan: No. And Ford ruined the look of the car. But I had already left Ford to go to Packard. I was pretty young at the time--I was 21 or 22. This turned out to be a bad decision, because Packard closed down two years later!

M: Are you aware that there are 3 replicas of the Futura and about 75 of the Batmobile?

Stan: No. You mean full scale?!

M: Yes! Full-scale, 1:1 drivable cars. There are many fans of your work, trying to duplicate it perfectly.

Stan: No, I wasn't aware of that.

M: You should check out, where you will find a section on the Futura, and take a look at some of the wonderful pictures.

Stan: I'll do that.

M: Stan, thanks so much for your time. We are huge fans of your work, and you will forever be remembered. Have a great one, sir.

Stan: Thanks for calling.