Bentley says the new Lincoln Continental from Ford is a copy of its Flying Spur
Ford and Bentley in war of words The new Lincoln Continental (above) that is being launched at the New York International Auto Show and Bentley's Flying Spur. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Ford Motor is firing back in an escalating war of words over the parentage of the design of its new Lincoln Continental. The chief designer of Bentley Motors has accused Lincoln's designer of copying his style.

"Do you want us to send the product tooling," Bentley's chief designer Luc Donckerwolke wrote on the Facebook page of Lincoln styling chief David Woodhouse, suggesting that Lincoln could use the factory tools to stamp out a replica of Bentley's design.

Lincoln is bringing back the Continental nameplate on a bold, broad- shouldered sedan it is debuting at this week's New York International Auto Show.

To Mr Donckerwolke's eye, Lincoln's car is a knock-off of a Bentley Flying Spur, which starts at US$200,500 (S$272,422). And he did not take kindly to Ford's lagging luxury brand attempting to burnish its image by borrowing the glory of Bentley's bespoke British cruisers. So he took to social media.

"I would have called it Flying Spur concept and kept the four round lights," he wrote on Facebook.

Mr Stephen Odell, Ford's global marketing chief, dismissed Mr Donckerwolke's criticism and defended Mr Woodhouse's design.

"There's no way that we've copied anybody's design," he said. "Our Continental has its own character, its own architecture and its own aspects as a car."

Ford is counting on the Continental to reverse a 59 per cent sales slide at Lincoln since its 1990 peak. The big sedan is designed to appeal to the tastes of the rapidly expanding moneyed class in China, where Ford began selling Lincolns late last year.

Standing on massive chrome spoked wheels, the Continental has a silhouette that sweeps back to sleek LED taillamps. The Flying Spur shares a similar profile.

Mr Graeme Russell, a spokesman for Bentley, declined to comment on the fracas. He said Mr Donckerwolke was not available for an interview.

Before Bentley's PR man could stop him, though, Mr Donckerwolke told Car And Driver magazine: "This is not respectable. Such a copy is giving a bad name to the car-design world."

Mr Odell, himself a Brit, is having none of it. And he offered a tart response to Mr Donckerwolke's sarcastic suggestion. "We don't need the tooling, thank you," he said. "We'll be fine."

Ironically, Bentley, a unit of Volkswagen, also has a model named Continental. The two luxury lines have managed to share that model name amicably for decades.