With the onset of the events that have transpired today I feel it is only appropriate we take a moment to review some of the most recognizable luxury cars to ever come out of an American factory. The Lincoln Continental.
The first generation Continental is one of the most beautiful pre war cars ever produced. Styled by Bob Gregorie the Continental was supposed to be an American take on European design. Originally a personal one off Zephyr for Edsel Ford the Continetal received so much positive feedback that it was put into production. Powered by a flat head V12 the engine produced 120hp which gracefully powered the Continental down the road. Not originally called the Mark I the Continental received that name after the Mark II was put into production. Today the Continental is one of the last Classic Car Club of America "Full Classics." After WWII the Continental's styling was changed until it went out of production is 1948.
The Continental Mark II represented the best American luxury cars had to offer in the mid 1950's. Each Mark II was priced around $10,000 dollars. That wass more expensive than a Rolls Royce during the time period. Yet Ford still lost $1,000 dollars on each car it sold. During the time Ford was a private company so incurring such loses was not a major issue. The Mark II was a luxury car drivers dream. Notable automotive stylist Gordon Buehrig had a part in designing this Continental. The Continental was very restrained in an era of massive fins and chrome, this elegant design allows the Mark II to stand out and one of the 1950's most obscure yet attractive designs. The Mark II had a 300hp 368 cubic inch V8 engine. The Continental Mark II was considered a success. Yes the car did not make a profit but it was a halo car for Ford Motor Company and more importantly Lincoln. Cadillac would answer the Mark II a year later with their own super luxury car but by that time Lincoln had moved on.
The Lincoln Continental Mark III, IV, and V. Or the forgotten Continental as it is sometimes remembered. At just over 19ft long the Continental was the second longest American car produced in the 1950's (If you do not count factory limos). Furthermore it was the longest unibody car ever produced at the time, a record that stood for decades. The Continental had a 430 cubic inch V8 engine that produced 375hp, it was extremely hard on gas. This did not help during a recession. The Continental of this era, along with the other MEL cars, lost 60 million dollars. Highly technical innovations like rear breezeway power windows and the unibody construction along with a new assembly plant contributed to this lose of sales. Yet today the Continental enjoys a devote following and the over the top styling highlights an era where America was optimistic. The 58/60 Continental was indeed Space Age.
The 61/69 Continental is remembered for two things. First it was the Continental JFK was shot in and secondly it had the beloved suicide doors. Often remembered as the most attractive Continental ever this departure for the 1960 model year came from Robert McNamara. Threatening to discontinue Lincoln due to bad profit margins the 1961 Continental had to be perfect. It also had to be cheap. The design was stolen from the Thunderbird of the era, the famous 4 door convertible was a necessity to keep cost down. The Continental was powered by multiple variants of V8 engines. The 430 MEL being one of those variants producing 310hp. This generation Continental was not designated as a Mark car. It served both as the top of the range Lincoln and the entry level Lincoln. Previously Continental was reserved for the top.
The Lincoln Continental Mark III. Here things get a bit confusing. Both Mark and Town Car Continentals were offered during the 1970's. While this author prefers the Town Car Continentals he recognizes the Continental nameplate is supposed to represent the Halo Lincoln. Therefore instead we will talk about the Mark Lincoln Continentals. If you want more information on the Town Car variant go here.
The Continental Mark III was notable for sharing a platform with the Thunderbird of the era. As stated with earlier 61/69 variant the platform sharing was to cut costs. The styling of Mark III set the pace for the 1970's. The hidden headlights, Rolls Royce grill, and large angular body would be copied by other brands going into the 1970's. The Mark III was a huge sales success and gave Lincoln a large profit margin. Lee Iaccoco's shameless use of the Rolls Royce grill helped define Lincoln for a generation. The Mark III was powered by a 460 cubic inch V8 producing 365hp. This was the first Continental to not be offered in a convertible body style.
The Mark IV was larger, had less power, and had a grill that was shamelessly stolen from Rolls Royce. Yet it was even more successful that the Mark III. The Mark IV carried over much of the styling from the Mark III. It also carried over the 460 cubic inch V8 although by 72 it only had 212hp. But in a car this size it did not seem to bother people that horsepower was lower. The hood was so large it would take a day to walk across, the seats were so comfortable that sometimes the owner did not want to go into their own living room, and finally ride was so soft pot holes were all but forgotten. The Mark IV saw the introduction of the designer variants such as Cartier which help add prestige to the Lincoln name and increased sales.
The Continental Mark V was the climax of the Mark line. It was the longest Mark Lincoln produced. At one inch longer the the 1958 model this Lincoln was powered by two different power trains. Neither produced more than 206hp. The archaic vertical grill, the vinyl top, and the opera window all harken back to an era of success and flamboyance. The early retro styling of the Mark Lincoln's suggest a disturbing move to conservative design that would begin to hurt Lincoln in the coming decades. During the era though none of this seemed to matter. The Mark V sold well and the Diamond Jubilee Edition in 1978 celebrated Fords 75 anniversary.
By 1980 Lincoln was finally coming to the realization that size wasn't everything. The Mark VI was the first Continental to be smaller than it's predecessor since 1968. This Mark also saw the reintroduction of the 4 door variant. This Continental offered the first fuel injection engine sold by Ford. A 302 cubic inch V8 producing 129hp. This Continental was the first in 12 years to begin to have significant styling changes and innovations. This was the first Lincoln Continental to use digital gauges. This would be the final Continental to offer the opera window.
The Mark VII was the first Continental in some time that did not have hidden headlights. It was a step in the right direction for Lincoln. This Continental was on the fox body layout yet it was still over 200in long. The Mark VII was the first Continental since 1948 to offer an engine other than a V8. Offering a diesel straight six the engine produced 115hp and was out of production by 1985. This Continental actually has some racing pedigree, racing in the Trans-Am series. As one might imagine a big old land yacht was not a very successful race car. Nevertheless the sporting characteristics were an attempt to answer the BMW M3 and M5. How successful Lincoln was is debatable. Yet the Mark VII can be remembered for trying to answer the Germans. Furthermore it was a sales success.
The Lincoln Mark VIII is not included on this list simply because it was never actually called a Continental.
One begins to be troubled when looking at the final Lincoln Continental. A FWD car full of a cheap plastic on the interior. The innovation of the Continental was certainly gone by the introduction of the final Continental. Yet the Continental still had merits. It was a large American Land Yacht. The Continental produced 260hp out of the 4.6 liter V8 engine. Furthermore the car rode smoother than almost anything on the road and at a price that almost everyone could afford. As one can see the final Continental was an attainable luxury. Unfortunately that misses the point of a Continental.
Edsel Ford created the original Continental to represent the best Lincoln had to offer and the best American luxury had to offer. Somewhere along the way Lincoln seemed to forget the purpose of the Continental. The company moved from innovation to conservation. The company was trying to rest on their curtails, unfortunately that strategy only works for so long. The new concept represents a beacon of hope for car enthusiast. The concept represents a possible rebirth. The new Continental will hopefully usher in a new era for the historic Lincoln Motor Company.