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Article updated: 5/6/2013 10:56 AM

Limo's legacy stretches over the decades

By

For those looking to travel in pure class during the 1960s, few luxury offerings were as tantalizing as a Lincoln Continental limousine assembled by Chicago's Lehmann-Peterson Coachbuilders.

A quick rundown of some of their many prominent clients include Elvis Presley, Henry Ford, Jackie Gleason, the Rolling Stones, Jerry Lewis, the Supremes, Sen. Robert Kennedy and President Nixon.

Two young car enthusiasts, Robert Peterson and George Lehmann, started the company in 1963 and established a headquarters on Harlem Avenue.

Lehmann, at age 24, had just left Army duties and acquired a substantial inheritance from his wealthy Chicago family. One of his first purchases was a Lincoln Continental. A fender bender led him to mechanically savvy Peterson, who repaired the damaged vehicle.

The duo quickly hit it off and desired to enter the booming automobile industry. Unprepared to create a vehicle from scratch, they looked at converting existing cars into stretched limousines. In 1962, Lehmann offered to purchase a new Lincoln Continental if Peterson would fabricate the necessary modifications. Working in a single-car garage, they added 34 inches to the center of the vehicle.

They left their limo parked outside of Ford's main building in Detroit to attract attention. The plan to raise curiosity worked and the men secured a meeting with executives to show them their handiwork. Skeptical of its strength and safety, the top brass turned it over to their engineers for three months of rigorous testing. After logging 40,000 miles and walking away thoroughly impressed, an agreement was signed on Feb. 25, 1964, to allow Lehmann-Peterson to be the exclusive supplier of limousine requests made through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

LP soon became the only independent shop in the country to offer limos on a production basis built from standard Lincolns. Eager to show off the new product, Ford had the tester displayed at the 1964 New York International Auto Show.

LP built two limos in its first year of operation and soon ramped up manufacturing to fill orders for nearly 500 vehicles over the company's seven-year existence. The Logan Square office quickly grew from a small garage to three buildings with a workforce of 45 employees.

After orders were received from dealers, Lincoln would send standard production unibody cars to LP. Once the vehicle arrived, it would be cut in half, directly at the middle. Extra roof supports would be added along with 34-inch steel plates on the sides and accompanying floor and roof pans. Other additions were longer exhaust piping and fuel lines and heavy-duty shock absorbers and springs. Another key feature were oversized engine cooling components, which could handle the extended hours of idling.

Standard features in the rear were an oil-rubbed walnut cabinet between the seats, clock, courtesy lights, lighted armrest storage and choice of radios -- either AM/FM or AM/Stereo-Sonic tape system. Thick mouton carpeting was used and either wool broadcloth or leather could be had for upholstery.

Special requests were welcomed, for added costs of course, and these included televisions, phones, dictating machines, front and rear air conditioning, intercom system, beverage service trays and even dazzling gold-plated wheels.

In addition to its 34-inch "stretch" Continental, LP built six Lincolns that were just 8-inches longer, which became known as "Baby Limos." This particular example, now in the hands of a private collector in the Chicago area, was ordered by the late John G. Searle, who was the CEO of Searle Pharmaceutical in Skokie.

Power came from the stock V-8 engines. LP deemed the setup adequate, realizing its output of 350 horsepower and 485 foot-pounds of torque sufficient to propel the 5,712-pound Continental. The completed limos weighed just 227 pounds more, tipping the scales at 5,939 pounds.

All of the Executive Limousine conversions were sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers and as such, came with a two year or 24,000-mile warranty on the conversion, as well as the standard car. During their existence, LP went on to produce several other special projects for Ford, including work on designs for an ambulance and fire truck.

After seven successful years, Ford terminated its agreement with LP in 1970. With the brand's support gone, the company closed its doors.

The partners opted to let Moloney Coachbuilders of Palatine (later Schaumburg) take over their assets and Peterson even headed Moloney's production division for many years. He died in 1995 while Lehmann passed away of cancer at age 34 in Chicago in 1972.

For more on the company history and automobiles, visit the website lehmannpeterson.com.

Through the ensuing years, the duo's limo legacy has lived on. Even now, their high-class machines are deemed quality collector pieces, still impressive decades later.

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