By B.J. Killeen

How times have changed. In the í50s, concept cars were just that: sheetmetal fantasies designed to entice the public into a buying frenzy. Nevermind that the cars they drove off the showroom floors were about as close to those concept vehicles as your sweet, little house kitty is to a zebra-munching lion on the African veld. The biggest problem with concept vehicles was that, after the shows were over, they were either crushed or stashed in a museum; a serious waste of funds.

The days of excess are over, and manufacturers must use their funds wisely. When you see a concept vehicle at an auto show today, it more closely resembles a feasible project, and the enthusiasmóor lack thereofóof the show-going public is used to validate the build decision. Most of the concepts are built from existing platforms, which means when they get the go ahead, Job One happens in months rather than years.

The Lincoln Blackwood concept pickup, first unveiled 16 months ago at the Los Angeles Auto Show, was a big hit across the board. When Jacques Nasser, president and CEO of FoMoCo, announced in January 1999 the truck was a go, people rushed to the Lincoln dealerships to make a deposit. Theyíre still waiting. And theyíll continue to wait until the first quarter of 2001, when the Blackwood appears as a 2002 model.

Why build the Blackwood anyway? According to J Mays, Fordís vice president of design, ďThe popularity of the Lincoln Navigator and the continued evolution of utility vehicles led to the development of this luxury utility concept. Lincoln is a distinctly American luxury brand, and Blackwood is an example of the wide range of possibilities left to be explored."

"Those who have plunked down their pennies will get a chance to see the Blackwood before next year."

For those who arenít familiar with the Blackwood, itís an upscale hybrid similar in concept to Fordís Explorer Sport Trac, meaning a combination between an SUV and a pickup truck. The Blackwood is based on the Navigator platform, and features a four-door, four-passenger luxury interior with an enclosed four-foot, eight-inch box on the back. The tonneau cover will be power operated and will open to a 45-degree angle. On the concept truck, the bed features an aluminum finish, but donít expect that on production vehicles. On the outside of the bed, 20 feet of African black Wenge wood is used, with the wood strips divided by narrower brushed aluminum strips for definition. The Wenge wood also is used inside to accent the steering wheel and instrument panel. Leather is Connolly, courtesy of Fordís Jaguar division, and a GPS unit is included in the floor-mounted console.

To give the truck a sportier look, the concept was built on a 4x2 chassis and lowered three inches. With 19-inch solid cast polished aluminum wheels and 286/60R19 tires, the Blackwood appears more ready for the track than the country club. Under the hood is the Navís 5.4-liter DOHC 300-hp V-8, with enough tow capacity to haul boats or horse trailers.

Some speculate that the Blackwood, which is being built at the Claycomo, Mo., plant, is not a priority since thatís the same production facility that will be cranking out the F-Series SuperCrew, a vehicle thatís in much higher demand and should bring in sizeable profits for the Blue Oval. In addition, the new Ford Escape mini/compact SUV will be coming from the same location.

Unfortunately, because there is such a time spread between concept and introduction, Chevrolet has taken the opportunity to catch up, and will be producing the Avalanche SUV/pickup hybrid around the same time the Blackwood appears. Jim Trainor, Lincoln Mercury public affairs manager, feels that wonít create any less demand for the Blackwood. He states that the Blackwood will be ďa lot more luxurious, and wonít be playing in the lower segment of the market.Ē The delay also allows Cadillac to produce its own version of the Avalanche to compete directly with the Blackwood in the upscale market segment. Although no one at GM will confirm that the Cadillac pickup is in the works, rumors and gossip about the pickup are floating around like Dogwood in springtime.

Those who have plunked down their pennies will get a chance to see the Blackwood before next year. Trainor has hinted that we may see pre-production units in the Fall at some as-yet-unnamed auto shows. We hope those at Lincoln who hold the reins will see fit not to change the truck too much. The Blackwood will sell in the $50,000 to $60,000 price range, and no more than 6,000 will be built the first year. In addition, not all Lincoln dealers will get Blackwoods to sell. Lincoln will be metering them out carefully, with the top-selling dealerships getting priority. So if youíve been waiting for this luxo-truck, be patient, remember: good things come to those who wait.

Lincoln Blackwood
Specifications

Engine
- 5.4 Liter DOHC V8 with automatic transmission

Exterior
- Power Operated Tonneau Cover Able to Open to a 45-Degree Angle
- Clearcoat, High-Gloss, Black Paint
- 20 Square Feet of Wenge Wood Surrounding Rear Box

Interior
- Leather Interior

Photos

2001 Ford Ranger Edge
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