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Lincoln Continental Through the Years

Chris Kaiser

The Lincoln Continental is the quintessential American luxury car going back 80 years. We take a look back through ten generations and dig into the details of an American automotive icon.

A European Vacation (Minus Chevy Chase)

The story of the Lincoln Continental starts with a trip Edsel Ford and his wife took to Europe in 1938. Mr. Ford was so inspired by the automotive design he saw on the Continent that he decided, upon his return home, to start work on his own luxury-level car. Working Mr. Ford’s close input, Design Chief Bob Gregorie reimagined the existing Lincoln-Zephyr into a lower, longer, more European (or Continental) styled “vacation” car. Edsel is said to have closely monitored the design of the car, including insisting on the positioning of the spare tire mounted to the rear of the trunk, emulating the European look he desired for the car. Ford liked the resulting prototype so much he ordered two more for his sons and later another 200 for friends.

1st Generation 1939-48

1941 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com

1941 Lincoln Continental – carsforsale.com  |  Shop Lincoln Continental on Carsforsale.com

  • Though built off the Lincoln-Zephyr, the Continental was lower (by seven inches) and longer to give it that opulent luxury look.
  • That extra length also helped make room for the gigantic 4.8L flat-head V12 engine.
  • This was also the last V12 to be housed in an American-made car.
  • 404 Continentals were built in the 1st model year (1940), 350 cabriolets and 54 coupes.
  • The Continental started out priced at $2,640.
  • Production was paused from 1942 to 1946 due to WWII.

2nd Generation 1956-57

1957 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
1957 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • After an eight-year hiatus, the Continental returned, this time as its own separate division within Ford.
  • The new Continental shared the same chassis with the Lincoln Capri and Lincoln Premier.
  • The Continental was aimed high up market now, intending to take on the likes of Rolls-Royce as on of the world’s top luxury cars.
  • The price reflected this move at $10,000.
  • It was also an exclusive car, with fewer than 3,000 units built.
  • The design was a departure from the typically gaudy fare of the 1950s. The 2nd generation Continental featured clean lines, no fins, and only a moderate amount of chrome. It came exclusively as a two-door hardtop.
  • Under the hood was a 6.0L V8 making 285hp.

3rd Generation 1958-60

1959 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
1959 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • In 1958, Lincoln looked to shift the Continental down market, aiming for domestic competition from the likes of GM’s Cadillac.
  • The price was slashed down to a more moderate $6,000.
  • By 1959, the Continental division was shuttered and absorbed back into Lincoln proper.
  • The third generation Continental remains the largest sedan Ford Motor Company ever built at 227 inches in length (299 inches in the initial ’58 model year) and a weighing in between 5,000lbs. and 5,700lbs, depending the configuration.
  • It looked weird, even by standards of the day. It featured dual headlights set at roughly a 75° angle, giving it a menacing, almost maniacal look up front. The body panels were stamped will all manner of odd swoops and angles. The rear window was set in a reverse slant. And a final, and somewhat charming oddity, the small front vent windows, popular among smokers of the era, were actually rectangular rather than the typical triangular shape.

4th Generation 1961-69

1961 Lincoln Continental - mecum.com
1961 Lincoln Continental - mecum.com
  • In another major overhaul at Lincoln, the brand was consolidated down to a single model, the Continental, in 1961.
  • There was now only a four-door option, available in either convertible or hard top.
  • Styling was vastly simplified. Now the Continental was fashion forward in the early Mad Men-era 1960s. Lines were long, sleek, and straight. Elegance predominated.
  • The original design of the fourth generation Continental started out as another car entirely. The design had been a losing proposal for the new Ford Thunderbird, and while it didn’t’ fit for what Ford wanted in that project, they liked the design so much it became the new Continental.
1967 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
1967 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • The fourth generation is perhaps best known for it’s use of suicide rear-hinged back doors.
  • The Continental featured some interesting technological innovations, mostly involving its automatic convertible top. This mechanism worked via a complex of actuators, pumps, hydraulics, and electrical relays. With the top up, the windows also automatically retracted two inches to prevent damage to the top and to ensure a good seal with the weather stripping.
  • Starting with the fourth generation in 1961, the Continental became the official Presidential state car,  remaining so until 1977.
  • This is also the generation most prominently featured in pop culture, with cameos in movies like Goldfinger, The Matrix, and the HBO Series Entourage to name just a few.

5th Generation 1970-79

1977 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
1977 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • The Continental was moved to a new platform, shared with the Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis.
  • It was now a body-on-frame construction.
  • The change in platform meant the signature suicide doors were no longer structurally feasible.
  • There were two engine options, a 6.6L V8 and a 7.5L V8 with the latter being dropped for the final 1979 model year.
  • This generation received front and rear coil springs standard and an option for four-wheel disk brakes starting in 1975.
  • This 1975 refresh also saw the addition of those nifty opera windows in the C-pillars.
  • 1976 ushered in special design editions, including those designed by Emilo Pucci and Cartier.

6th Generation 1980

1980 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
1980 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • A new decade, a new platform. The Continental, along with the Marquis and LTD, migrated to the Panther platform.
  • This new platform was a significant departure for the classically large Continental, now shorn down by a full fourteen inches in length and a full 800lbs. lighter in weight than the previous generation.
  • The engine options were smaller too, to more closely align with recently imposed CAFÉ fuel standards. Both engines were small block V8s, either a 302cu. in. or a 351cu. in. version was paired with a four-speed automatic.

7th Generation 1982-87

1986 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
1986 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • Following a year off, the Continental received a new platform, the Fox platform shared with the Ford Granada and the Mercury Cougar, and an even smaller stature, now between 3,300lbs. and 3,700lbs. and just over 200 inches in length.
  • Now the Continental was once again only offered as a 4-door sedan.
  • The initial 1982 model year was limited to two V6 options, but in 1983, the V8 made a return with a 5.0L small block.

8th Generation 1988-94

1994 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
1994 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • The theme continued in 1988 with another new platform for the Continental in the FN9, which also underpinned the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable.
  • Now there was just one engine option, a modest 3.8L V6 making 140hp.
  • Adaptive air-suspension was added in this generation.
  • The Continental came in front-wheel drive only in this generation.
  • Smaller and less powerful didn’t mean less attractive. The 8th generation had become much more aerodynamic, shedding the boxy shapes that had predominated since the 1950s.
  • The eighth generation was also a great seller for Lincoln. So much so that demand often outstripped production capacity.

9th Generation 1995-2002

2001 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
2001 Lincoln Continental - carsforsale.com
  • The 9th generation saw the return of the V8 to the Continental with a 4.6L making 260hp and reaching a top speed of 133mph.
  • The interior also saw upgrades with the addition of features like a JBL stereo system, heated seats, moonroof, on-board cell phone, and keyless entry.
  • The model year 2000 added safety features like a “Belt Minder” and child seat anchor points.
  • After years of slow decline, the Continental was discontinued in the year 2002.

10th Generation 2017-2020

2020 Lincoln Continental - lincoln.com
2020 Lincoln Continental - lincoln.com
  • Following a fifteen-year layoff, the Continental got another shot in 2017.
  • It now shared the CD4 platform with the Ford Fusion.
  • There were now three engine options, a 3.7L V6 making 305hp, a 2.7L twin turbo V6 with 335hp, and a 3.0L twin turbo V6 good for an even 400hp. All three came matched with the same six-speed automatic transmission.
  • The tenth generation featured a newly muscular, squared-off body reminiscent of current Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.
Top 10 Affordable Luxury Vehicles of 2021
2020 Lincoln Continental Coach Edition - media.lincoln.com
2020 Lincoln Continental Coach Edition - media.lincoln.com
  • For the 80th Anniversary of the nameplate, Lincoln offered a special Coach Door edition.
  • This Coach Door Edition brought back the suicide doors (or “coach doors” if you prefer) as well as the Rolls equivalent pricing of upwards of $100,000.
  • The Coach Door Edition was also longer than the standard version, with a six-inch longer wheel-base to accommodate those fancy doors. The interior was finished by Cabot Coach Builders.
  • Only 80 units of the Coach Door Edition were built. All 80 quickly sold out.
  • Perhaps it was the lack of visual differentiation from Bentley or the bad luck of the Fusion platform (a model discontinued by Ford in 2020), but the Continental got the ax once again in 2020.
  • The final Lincoln Continentals, model year 2021, will roll out in China later this year.
2020 Lincoln Continental - lincoln.com

2020 Lincoln Continental – lincoln.com  |  Shop Lincoln Continental on Carsforsale.com

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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