The once-shunned lux­ury truck turned out to be some­thing of a trend­set­ter

Automobile - - Contents - By Brett Berk

A Lin­coln truck seemed like a good idea at the time, and the Black­wood was born.

THE 21ST CEN­TURY did not start aus­pi­ciously for Lin­coln. In the first two years of the 2000s, sales for the for­merly for­mi­da­ble Amer­i­can mar­que fell by nearly 25 per­cent. The com­pany needed some­thing big and splashy to pro­vide fresh en­ergy, to staunch the bleed­ing.

Hav­ing con­sis­tently sold about 35,000 full-size Nav­i­ga­tor SUVs each year since it in­tro­duced the model in the late 1990s, Lin­coln de­cided to test new wa­ters in ad­ja­cent truck­ish cat­e­gories. In case you’re un­fa­mil­iar with Lin­coln’s core cor­po­rate strat­egy, it has con­sisted mainly of swad­dling ex­ist­ing Ford prod­uct in chrome and leather, re­tun­ing the sus­pen­sion, slap­ping on some four-pointed stars, and charg­ing premium prices. Thus, in 2002, the Ford Ex­plorer mid­size SUV be­gat the Lin­coln Avi­a­tor, and the Ford F-150 Su­perCrew be­gat a lux­ury pickup called the Lin­coln Black­wood.

“The Black­wood was an am­bi­tious ex­per­i­ment,” says Jes­sica Cald­well, se­nior an­a­lyst at au­to­mo­tive re­search firm Ed­munds. “The com­pany was test­ing the wa­ters to see if truck buy­ers were ready to buy a ve­hi­cle that at­tempted to de­liver not only func­tion­al­ity but also lux­ury ameni­ties.”

The root idea was rel­a­tively sound. Big body-on­frame ve­hi­cles had long since be­gun their march away from strict util­i­tar­i­an­ism and were lap­ping at the shores of lav­ish­ness. By the time the new cen­tury be­gan, ve­hi­cles like the Land Rover Range Rover and Cadil­lac Es­calade proved Amer­ica was hun­gry for up­scale sport utes, and the GMC Sierra De­nali and Ford F-150 King Ranch demon­strated a sim­i­lar ap­petite ex­isted for mid-five-fig­ure pick­ups.

The Black­wood was an ex­trap­o­la­tion of this prac­tice. Its all-black in­te­rior was richly ap­pointed with four Con­nolly leather bucket seats, broad cen­ter con­soles front and rear, oak trim, a sun­roof, and an op­tional GPSbased nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. Con­tin­u­ing with the el­e­gant sty­gian scheme, black was the only avail­able ex­te­rior color, though on the bed, dis­tinc­tive er­satz black wenge wood pat­terns were im­printed on com­pos­ite pan­els and then over­laid with alu­minum pin­stripes.

The bed was where the Black­wood wore its great­est dis­tinc­tions; un­like its more worka­day brethren, the

Lin­coln’s cargo area was not open to the el­e­ments. In­stead it was shel­tered per­ma­nently by a hy­draulic power-op­er­ated hard ton­neau cover. And it didn’t have a reg­u­lar fold-down tail­gate, but a pair of nar­row Dutch-style barn doors that opened from the mid­dle. Even more rad­i­cal, the bed’s in­te­rior was not sim­ple painted metal, but car­peted, LED-lit, and lined on the sides with pol­ished alu­minum pan­els, as if to prove that noth­ing dirty, scratchy, or prac­ti­cal should ever be car­ried in there.

“I used to call it my pop­corn hauler be­cause the back of the bed wasn’t re­ally meant like a big pickup,” says 69-year-old South­ern Cal­i­for­nia au­to­mo­tive auc­tion house owner Ray Clar­idge. He bought his Black­wood brand-new in 2002 and has since put 365,000 miles on it with no ma­jor me­chan­i­cal work save a new trans­mis­sion. As if tak­ing the mail-slot trunk as a chal­lenge, Clar­idge has pushed the truck to its func­tional lim­its. “I’ve hauled about ev­ery­thing you can think of in it—and still do.”

Pow­ered by a 300-hp ver­sion of Ford’s 5.4-liter V-8 mated to a four-speed au­to­matic, the Black­wood’s base price of $52,000 (around $71,000 in to­day’s dol­lars) did not in­clude four-wheel drive. It wasn’t even an op­tion, fur­ther lim­it­ing the truck to on-road use. For­tu­nately, thanks to an air sus­pen­sion and a Crown Vic­to­ria cop-car steer­ing rack, its man­ners on the tar­mac were no­tably pos­i­tive. “I’ve al­ways en­joyed the ride, and every­body that trav­els in it says it rides more like a car than a truck,” Clar­idge says. “I also own a 2017 Lin­coln Con­ti­nen­tal, which I usu­ally only take out for oc­ca­sions, trips to Ve­gas or some­thing. But even when I drive it for a week or two, I tell my girl­friend, I can’t wait to get the Black­wood back.”

To make the truck even more spe­cial, Lin­coln planned to limit pro­duc­tion to 10,000 units an­nu­ally. This turned out to be un­nec­es­sary, as the Black­wood was such a sales dis­as­ter that Lin­coln dis­con­tin­ued it af­ter one model year, mak­ing it the divi­sion’s short­estever pro­duc­tion run. Less than 3,500 moved off of dealer lots, often at ex­treme dis­counts.

Blame could be placed on the high price, but that same year, Cadil­lac had lit­tle trou­ble sell­ing al­most 13,500 Es­calade EXTs, an­other $50,000 four-door pickup. Of course the Cadil­lac had a few things the Black­wood lacked, in­clud­ing the afore­men­tioned four-wheel-drive ca­pa­bil­ity, en­hanced ride height, and an open and ex­pand­able bed that al­lowed con­sumers to carry cargo such as a snow­mo­bile or a pile of gravel—nor­mally the main point of truck own­er­ship.

Pick­ups have since far sur­passed the Black­wood in terms of lux­ury and price; it is now pos­si­ble to tran­scend the six-fig­ure bar­rier when pur­chas­ing one. But the most ex­pen­sive con­tem­po­rary trucks tend to fea­ture the most lux­ury and the most util­ity—the stoutest pay­load rat­ing, the most po­tent pow­er­train, the most stump-pullingest du­alie rear end, and the great­est quan­tity of base­ball-stitched leather and seat mas­sagers. Still, the Black­wood could be seen as a trend­set­ter.

“It did fore­shadow the changes that were to come in the pickup truck mar­ket,” Cald­well says. “Trucks with lux­ury ameni­ties have be­come much more pop­u­lar, and many high-line trucks now re­sem­ble lux­ury cars in the cabin. The Black­wood was a truck ahead of its time.”

What the Black­wood does have go­ing for it now is odd­ness and rar­ity. That doesn’t make it par­tic­u­larly valu­able, how­ever. Well-main­tained ex­am­ples with far less than 100,000 miles on the odome­ter trade in the $12,000 to $13,000 range. But that can make it com­pelling, even po­ten­tially con­ta­gious.

“It’s funny,” Clar­idge says. “I loaned mine to my banker once, and he went out and found one and bought one. And a friend of mine that’s a Ford dealer up in the Sacra­mento area, he liked mine so much he also went out and found one and bought it. And then my brother bought one be­cause he liked it, too—I guess I’ve sold more Black­woods than the Lin­coln deal­ers did.” AM

Lin­coln learned from its mis­takes with the 2006 re­lease of the mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful Mark LT truck, which lasted through 2008, now with us­able bed— un­like this Black­wood.

CON­TEM­PO­RARY LUXE With tech and com­fort ex­tras, the Black­wood’s in­te­rior was posh by truck stan­dards of the day.

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