In the Continental Style: The 1961-1963 Lincoln Continental

Although Lincoln’s earliest cars were dismissed as homely, in the decades to come, it would spawn some of the most respected and memorable designs in the automotive industry. This week, we take a look at one of Lincoln’s finest stylistic achievements, the elegant and understated 1961–1963 Lincoln Continental.
1963 Lincoln Continental hood ornament


When Henry Martyn Leland first conceived the Lincoln automobile in 1919, he declared that his goal was to build the world’s finest motor car. Astute readers will note, however, that he said nothing about building a beautiful car. While the engineering and workmanship of the early Lincoln left little to be desired, its lackluster styling contributed to mediocre sales, which hastened the company’s descent into receivership in 1921 and subsequent purchase by the Ford Motor Company.

By the late 1930s, with the Leland-engineered Lincoln Model L gone and the subsequent Model K fading away, the situation had been reversed. Hobbled by Henry Ford’s penury and eccentricity, Lincolns now lagged the industry in many areas of engineering. The popular Lincoln-Zephyr line had relatively advanced semi-unitary construction, but it was saddled with Ford’s traditional beam-axle front suspension and a troublesome flathead V-12 engine whose unhappy reputation would probably have made the perfectionist Henry Leland contemplate ritual suicide. On the other hand, thanks to the taste and refinement of Lincoln president Edsel Ford, Lincolns had exceptional styling — even trumping GM’s Harley Earl with advanced features like integrated headlamps.

Edsel’s finest aesthetic achievement was the Continental. Styled by E.T. (Bob) Gregorie, it was essentially a tastefully customized 1939 Zephyr created for the personal use of Edsel Ford. Although intended as a one-off, it soon attracted the attention of Edsel’s well-heeled friends, who inquired how they could get one of their own. The Continental was introduced as a production model in 1940. Sold in very limited numbers, it was nonetheless widely admired, with fans that included noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright. A heavy-handed facelift spoiled the looks in 1942, but the Continental survived until 1948 and remains among the only postwar cars to be acclaimed a true Classic by the Classic Car Club of America.

1941 Lincoln Continental front 3q
The original Lincoln Continental was a convertible, although the production version was available either as a club coupe or cabriolet. The former was the better seller, although that meant only 350 units in 1940 and an additional 850 for 1941. High prices were the major reason for slow sales — the coupe cost $2,812, nearly 30% more than a Cadillac Sixty Special. Although the Continental had a V-12 engine, a rarity for an American car by that point, the 292 cu. in. (4,787 cc) engine was troublesome and had 30 fewer horsepower than Cadillac’s V-8. (Photo: “1941 Lincoln Continental” © 2008 Imperturbe, used with permission)

Edsel died in 1943 and two years later, his son, Henry Ford II, assumed control of Ford Motor Company, which was by then in very dire straits. Limited resources and organizational chaos led to odd-looking, half-hearted late-forties Lincolns that excelled neither mechanically nor stylistically.


In 1955, Ford decided to revive the Continental, this time transforming it into its own separate marque, distinct from Lincoln. The result was the 1956–1957 Continental Mark II, a low-slung two-door hardtop coupe with a finely detailed interior. The Mark II was widely considered a stylistic triumph, hailed as a welcome break from the typical ostentation of the period. Except for its rather contrived decklid hump (an homage to the original Continental’s exposed spare wheel), the Mark II was understated and elegant. Its engineering was again very conventional, but it was a monument to refined taste that Edsel Ford would likely have approved.

Alas, the Mark II’s critical adulation did not translate into sales success. Sales for the two years were fewer than 1,800 and Ford lost about $1,000 on each one. The Mark II was discontinued after only two model years and its successor, the 1958 Continental Mark III, was little more than a lavishly trimmed, over-decorated version of the standard Lincoln. The Continental division, which had never really gotten off the ground, was shuttered in July 1956 and rolled into Lincoln-Mercury division.

1957 Continental Mark II rear 3q 1996 Robert Nichols-per
Despite an impressive roster of celebrity clientele, ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Shah of Iran, sales of the 1956 Continental Mark II were only 1,325, dropping to a grim 444 for 1957. Towering prices did not help; at around $10,000, the Mark II was more than twice as expensive as the Lincoln Premiere, itself far from cheap in those days. (Photo © 1996 Robert Nichols; used with permission)

Lincoln itself nearly went the same way. Its 1950s sales had never been terribly impressive and its 1958 models were an expensive flop. Lincoln’s losses for 1958–1960 ultimately totaled around $60 million and that did not include the losses of the Continental division or of Edsel, which was rolled into a new Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division in January 1958.


Automotive historians love to repeat the conventional wisdom that Robert McNamara was oblivious to styling and thought all cars should be boxy and utilitarian, like the compact Ford Falcon. That characterization is not really supported by the recollections of Ford stylists of the era, including Bill Boyer, John Najjar, and Gene Bordinat. It’s certainly true that McNamara lacked a sophisticated understanding of automotive design; according to Najjar, the designers often had to educate McNamara on the technical aspects of their craft. McNamara also had a distaste for unprofitable, limited-production halo cars like the Continental Mark II. Nevertheless, former senior stylist Elwood Engel later noted that McNamara was surprisingly style-conscious; some of the products McNamara championed proved to be highly influential stylistic milestones. In fact, McNamara’s style consciousness helped to save Lincoln from the chopping block.

Earlier in the year, Elwood Engel, the head of Ford’s advanced design studio — a narrow basement room that stylist Colin Neale dubbed “the stiletto studio” — had been working on an alternative concept for the 1961 Ford Thunderbird. Thunderbird styling was ordinarily the purview of chief Ford division stylist Joe Oros, but at the time, a ferocious debate was taking place over the T-Bird’s future styling direction. Oros and Engel’s boss, styling VP George Walker, favored a more upscale, luxurious theme, but Ford general manager Jim Wright wanted to return to the sportier flair of the early “Little Bird.”

Walker compromised by exploring both ideas. He ordered Oros to work on a sporty T-Bird for Wright, but also authorized Engel to develop a more formal version as a potential alternative. When models of both concepts were presented to the corporate Product Planning Committee in July 1958, Oros’ sporty design (primarily the work of Alex Tremulis) got the production nod, but almost everyone was impressed by Engel’s version, which built on an earlier Lincoln proposal by designers John Orfe and Howard Payne and may also have taken some influence from the recently released P3 Taunus 17M, from Ford’s German subsidiary.

McNamara was not present for that meeting, but visited Engel’s studio a week or so later and was very impressed by the full-size clay model of Engel’s rejected Thunderbird proposal. The model gave McNamara a brainstorm: the possibility of transforming the design from a two-door hardtop into a four-door sedan — not for Ford, but for Lincoln. As it happened, Lincoln-Mercury general manager Ben Mills had already had a similar idea and the version of the model McNamara saw included several changes Mills had requested toward that end.

At that time, McNamara was extremely displeased with Lincoln’s dismal sales and the lackluster design already approved for 1961. He was prepared to terminate the brand outright rather than continue to lose money on it. After a lengthy debate with Mills, McNamara agreed that Lincoln would be reprieved, at least temporarily, if Engel could make his Thunderbird concept into a viable four-door sedan.


Engel’s original design had been a two-door hardtop coupe, about the same size as the 1961 Ford Thunderbird: 205 inches (5,207 mm) long on a 113-inch (2,870mm) wheelbase and about 76 inches (1,930 mm) wide. To make it a four-door Lincoln, Engel’s team had to stretch the original design’s wheelbase by 10 inches (254 mm) to allow room for rear doors and widen the car by 2.7 inches (69 mm). Even then, executive engineer Harold Johnson found that the close-coupled proportions made rear-seat access difficult. Rather than accept that limitation, which would have been a sales impediment, Johnson proposed rear-hinged back doors, an idea he had previously explored for the abortive four-door Continental Mark III. It was an unusual feature for a postwar car and offered another mark of stylistic distinction.

All this work required weeks of frantic overtime for Engel’s designers, who worked day and night even on the weekends. Overworked as they were, the stylists knew that the future of the division — and hence their ongoing employment — was on the line. Fortunately, their efforts were not in vain. McNamara liked the resulting design and ordered it moved to the regular Lincoln-Mercury studio to be readied for production.

1963 Lincoln Continental front 3q
Although the early-sixties Lincoln Continental is significantly bigger than a contemporary Thunderbird, they have some structural commonality. Both used unitary construction, and both were built on the same Wixom, Michigan, assembly line, the only Ford plant equipped to build large unit-bodied cars.

Although still enormous by today’s standards, the new Lincoln was considerably smaller than its 1958–1960 predecessors, which both McNamara and Ben Mills had felt were much too big. The 1960 Lincoln had been a whopping 227.2 inches (5,771 mm) long and 80.3 inches (2,040 mm) wide on a 131-inch (3,327mm) wheelbase. The 1961 Continental was a ‘mere’ 212.4 inches (5,395 mm) long and 78.6 inches (1,966 mm) wide on a 123-inch (3,124mm) wheelbase. Factory curb weight dropped by 326 lb (148 kg), although a Continental with air conditioning still tipped the scales at more than 5,200 lb (2,368 kg). Overall height decreased from 56.7 to 53.5 inches (1,440 to 1,359 mm), prompting the adoption of a lower driveshaft tunnel (made possible by adding a unique double-Cardan joint to the leading end of the driveshaft) to maintain headroom. Despite the sizable exterior dimensions, the Continental’s interior room was closer to its Thunderbird cousin’s than to full-size luxury rivals. (On ’63 models, the rear deck was raised in a belated attempt to improve trunk space.)

The 1958–1960 Lincolns had been offered in a full assortment of body styles, but the 1961 Lincoln Continental was available only as a four-door sedan or a four-door convertible, the latter a body style that had become very rare since the war. In hindsight, not offering the popular two-door hardtop body style was a mistake — hardtop coupes accounted for around 20% of Cadillac sales at that time — but Lincoln-Mercury designers and engineers didn’t want to risk compromising McNamara’s support by proposing anything that would drive up tooling costs.

1963 Lincoln Continental front
This is a 1963 Lincoln Continental, identifiable only by slight changes in the grille and headlights. Like the 1961–1962 Continental, the 1963 has Ford’s big 430 cu. in. (7,050 cc) M-E-L engine, but for 1963, the original two-barrel carburetor was replaced with a four-barrel, raising advertised horsepower from 300 to 320 (224 kW to 239 kW). The Lincoln Continental was not a fast car for its time; 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took a bit over 11 seconds and top speed was around 115 mph (185 km/h). Given its huge engine and ponderous weight, gas mileage was not as awful as it might have been: around 11 mpg (21 L/100 km) in city traffic, perhaps 14 mpg (17 L/100 km) on the open road.

McNamara insisted that the new Lincoln be profitable, but he also wanted it to be reliable, which had been a sore point for Lincolns of the late fifties. Many small details of the 1961 Lincoln Continental were designed to improve quality and corrosion resistance. All cars were given an extensive dynamometer run-in and a 12-mile (19.3-km) road test prior to delivery, so that they were essentially already broken in by the time they reached the dealer. To back up these measures, McNamara instituted a two-year, 24,000-mile (38,640 km) warranty, longer than any domestic car of the time.

All 1961 Lincolns were Continentals; the previous Capri and Premiere series were dropped. Prices were ambitious; the sedan started at $6,067, $569 more than a Cadillac Sedan de Ville and $423 more than a four-door Imperial Crown Southampton. With air conditioning and other extras, the sticker price rose to around $7,000, enough to buy two well-equipped Ford Galaxies.

1963 Lincoln Continental doors
All 1961-1965 Lincoln Continentals had four doors, with rear-hinged, “suicide” rear doors. Engel’s designers originally hoped to make the sedan a true pillarless hardtop, latching the doors to the floorpan and each other, but for cost reasons, the production sedan retained narrow B-posts. On 1961–1963 convertibles, with their curved side glass, the rear windows automatically lower a bit when the doors are opened, so the glass will clear the roof molding.


As with the Mark II, the new Lincoln Continental won great acclaim from critics, who appreciated its tidier dimensions, clean styling, and obvious attention to detail. It won Car Life‘s 1961 Engineering Excellence Award and was awarded a bronze medal by the Industrial Design Institute, which rarely recognized automotive designs.

Again like the Mark II, this adulation was not reflected in sales, which were up only fractionally: 25,164, compared to 24,820 for 1960. Admittedly, 1961 was not a good year for the industry in general, but Lincoln management was disappointed that the new car didn’t do better. Had McNamara still been at Ford when the 1961 sales were tallied, Lincoln might not have survived, but by then, McNamara had moved on to Washington to accept an appointment as secretary of defense.

Sales of the nearly identical 1962 and 1963 Continentals were slightly better, although Cadillac still outsold Lincoln by around five to one. Still, Lincoln was once again profitable, albeit marginally, and its survival was no longer in question. Lincoln also returned to the limousine market in 1962; the coachbuilder Lehmann-Peterson began offering modest numbers of luxuriously trimmed stretched Continentals.

1963 Lincoln Continental rear view
Note the gap between the sides of the greenhouse and the fender line, intended to create the impression of cosiness. From this angle, the radical tumblehome — inward curvature above the beltline — of the Lincoln Continental’s greenhouse is readily apparent. This feature was highly influential and by the late sixties, most American cars had similarly extreme tumblehome.

Low sales and the high tooling costs of the Continental’s unit body encouraged Lincoln to retain the same basic body until 1969. There were relatively few mechanical changes, but the purity of the original styling was gradually diluted by years of annual facelifts. For 1964, the body shell was heavily revised and the original curved side glass was replaced with flat windows, a cost-saving move that appalled the original designers. After 1966, the Continental also got a rather contrived power bulge hood and an exaggerated rear-fender kick-up, reminiscent of GM’s big cars. By the end of the decade, the Continental was beginning to look flabby and a little tacky, but sales improved steadily, aided by the belated addition of a two-door hardtop in 1966.

1963 Lincoln Continental convertible side
The Lincoln Continental convertible, offered through 1967, was one of the very few factory-built four-door convertibles available in America after the war, which may have been why it was frequently chosen for parade duty. U.S. President John F. Kennedy died in the back seat of a midnight blue 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible customized by Hess & Eisenhart.

1963 Lincoln Continental convertible rear 3q
The top mechanism of the Lincoln Continental convertible, like that of the contemporary Thunderbird ragtop, owes a great deal to the Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop of 1957–1959. The rear decklid hinges at the rear, swinging up to expose the top. Its operation is impressive to watch and it provides a clean top-down appearance, but there’s essentially no luggage space with the top down. The top mechanism and chassis reinforcements — including a 50 lb (23 kg) damping weight at each corner — also make the convertible about 300 pounds (136 kg) heavier than the sedan.


The Continental produced at least one obvious imitator: Chrysler’s 1964 Imperial. The similarity was no coincidence because the 1964 Imperial was also styled by Elwood Engel. When George Walker retired in 1961, Engel was the leading candidate to succeed him as Ford’s VP of styling, but it didn’t happen, and Engel departed instead. (Gene Bordinat later alleged that Ford management actually fired Engel for misuse of the corporate expense account.)

Whatever the actual reasons for Engel’s exit, Walker subsequently introduced him to Chrysler president Lynn Townsend, who hired Engel to replace Virgil Exner, fired in the wake of the 1962 Dodge and Plymouth disaster. We don’t know what explanation Walker may have given Townsend for why Engel had been passed over at Ford, but to our knowledge, Engel’s subsequent Chrysler career was free of scandal.

The 1964 models were the first Chrysler products designed wholly under Engel’s leadership and the new Imperial borrowed heavily from his own well-regarded design.

1964 Imperial Crown rear 3q
In some respects, the 1964 Imperial hearkened back even more to the Continental Mark II than the 1961 Lincoln Continental did; the Imperial featured a Mark II-style bulge in the decklid. Although the sixties Continentals did not have this feature, it would return to Lincoln with the 1969 Continental Mark III and remained a stylistic trademark of the brand until well into the 1990s.

Styling is naturally a very subjective matter, but it seems fair to say that the original Continental, the Mark II, and the early-sixties Continental were sophisticated designs that appealed more to cognoscenti than to the general public. All were clean, elegant, and well-proportioned, which appealed strongly to designers, but was perhaps too anodyne for the hoi polloi. By comparison, the contemporary Thunderbird’s array of visual gimmicks trod perilously close to Camp, but buyers couldn’t get enough of it. It was not until Lee Iacocca introduced the 1969 Continental Mark III, an overgrown T-Bird with an ersatz Rolls-Royce grille, that the Continental brand seem to hit the market where it lived.

For the record, your author has never been particularly impressed with the looks of either the original Continental (which we find less appealing than the Zephyr on which it was based) or its 1960s descendant, but we do generally approve of the Mark II. However, your author’s mother, who generally regards automotive styling with profound boredom, once spotted a photo of the Mark II on a magazine cover and immediately declared it the ugliest car she had ever seen.

As the EPA reminds us, your mileage may vary.



Our sources for this article included the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1961 Lincoln Continental,”, 11 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1961-lincoln-continental.htm, accessed 11 February 2009, and Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Thomas E. Bonsall, The Lincoln Story: The Postwar Years (Stanford, CA: Stanford General Books/Stanford University Press, 2004); David Crippen’s 1985 interview with Gene Bordinat for the Benson Ford Research Center (“The Reminiscences of Eugene [Gene] Bordinat, Jr.,” Automotive Design Oral History Project, Accession 1673 Benson Ford Research Center, University of Michigan, www.autolife.umd.umich. edu/ Design/Bordinat_interview.htm, accessed 13 February 2009); Jim and Cheryl Farrell, “Saving Grace: The Design Story of the 1961 Lincoln Continental,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 20, No. 2 (August 2003), pp. 28–41; Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); and Michael Lamm, “1961 Lincoln Continental,” Special Interest Autos #34 (May-June 1976), reprinted in Lincoln Continental 1961-1969 Performance Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000), pp. 130-136.

Additional information on the original Continental came from Arch Brown, “1941 Lincoln Continental: Edsel Ford’s Legacy,” Special Interest Autos #122 (March-April 1991), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Lincolns: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002). Some information on the ill-fated Mark II came from “Mark II Meets Eldorado Brougham,” Special Interest Autos #2 (November-December 1970), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Cadillacs: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000), pp. 94-101, and Mark J. McCourt, “Collector Buyer’s Guide: 1956-57 Continental Mark II,” Hemmings Classic Car #7 (April 2005), pp. 88-93.

We also consulted a variety of period road tests, including “Lincoln Goes Continental 1961: A description of one of America’s most important new car designs,” Road & Track December 1960; “Car Life Road Test: Lincoln Continental” and “Car Life Engineering Excellence Award: 1961 Lincoln Continental,” Car Life March 1961; Tom McCahill, “McCahill Tests…Lincoln Continental,” Mechanix Illustrated March 1961; Wayne Thoms, “America’s Luxury Cars: Cadillac, Imperial, Lincoln Continental,” Motor Trend May 1962; “Introducing the ’63 Cars: Lincoln Continental,” Car Life November 1962; Jim Wright, “MT Road Test: Lincoln Continental: Most of the changes in this new model are under the skin…” Motor Trend July 1963; “Torture Testing the Continental,” Car Life October 1963; “Lincoln Continental ’64,” Motorcade October 1963; Bob McVay, “Lincoln Continental Road Test,” Motor Trend April 1964; “Car Life Road Test: Lincoln Continental: Sheer Luxury, Built to Last,” Car Life July 1964; “’65 Lincoln Continental: Tremendous trifles improve a modern classic,” Motorcade October 1964; Bob McVay, “Lincoln Continental Road Test,” Motor Trend April 1965; Tom McCahill, “McCahil tests the posh Lincoln Continental,” Mechanix Illustrated May 1965; “Six Luxury Cars: A subjective, seat-of-the-pants evaluation by the editors,” Car and Driver, July 1965; “Driving the Continental,” Motor Trend February 1966; John Lawlor, “Testing a Tradition,” Motorcade May 1966; and Bill Kilpatrick, “Lincoln owners like its precise handling, deplore workmanship,” Popular Mechanics July 1966, all of which are reprinted in Lincoln Continental 1961-1969 Performance Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000); and Bill Sanders, “Arrival of the Fittest,” Motor Trend April 1969; Bill Sanders, “Big change from Dearborn: 1970 Lincoln Continental,” Motor Trend August 1969, which are reprinted in Lincoln Cars: Lincoln Continental 1969-76 (Brooklands Road Test Books), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1992); and “Lincoln: there’s little change in the luxury car from Dearborn,” Motor Life December 1959, reprinted in Lincoln Gold Portfolio, 1949-1960, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1990).

Some details on Hess & Eisenhardt, which made the presidential limo in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated, came from Mark Theobald, “Hess & Eisenhardt,” Coachbuilt, 2004, www.coachbuilt. com, accessed 13 February 2009.


Add a Comment
  1. Thanks for another great article. I really enjoy this website!

    I have to disagree with your styling opinion of the Mk.II vs. the early 60′
    s Engel Continental. True the Mk.II was understated in a time of garishness, but the short greenhouse is greatly out of proportion to the rest of the car.

    The 61 got it right. It was a very handsome vehicle with nary a bad line on it. The cars got mechanically better and the interiors were greatly improved over its lifetime but, as you pointed out, every facelift diluted the statement the original 61 made.

    1. Well, everything’s a matter of taste. I don’t love the Mark II — the spare wheel hump is tacky, I find the grille styling rather fussy, and its sheer size is a little disconcerting.

      The ’61-’63 Continentals don’t offend, but I have no emotional reaction to them at all. They’re certainly more tasteful than a contemporary Imperial, and I can’t argue with the clarity of the design, it’s just not my thing.

  2. I’ve always been quite fond of the 1962 Continental and the Continental Mark III, I would love a Mark III, however I settled for a 97 Town Car, which is not a classic, but it is an anachronism, and related to these cars.

  3. Nice article – as usual.

    This section may need to be reviewed and revised. I think it needs a correction – seems like the first “Exner” should be replaced with “Engel”. It doesn’t read well to me.

    “After Engel’s exit, Walker introduced him to Chrysler president Lynn Townsend, who hired Exner to replace Virgil Exner, fired Virgil Exner in the wake of the 1962 Dodge and Plymouth disaster”.

    1. Thanks for the correction — as you surmised, that was a typographical error. I’ve fixed it now. Thanks!

  4. From reading this, I just realized, did McNamara actually come to approve the design and production of the car that Kennedy was assasinated in? OK, maybe too obvious to comment on, but I didn’t see this till now. No conspiracy theories, just a weird sidebar.

    1. More or less, yes. Decisions on production had to be signed off by the Product Planning Committee, which also included Henry Ford II and Ernie Breech, so it was not solely up to McNamara, but he pushed for it after the Product Planning Committee had already approved the original design. The JFK thing is obviously coincidental, but I wonder if McNamara ever thought about it afterwards.

  5. i think this was the car that popularized the walnut (wood) interior in American cars, but I could be wrong. During the 50s manufacturers were eschewing wood in interiors probably to cut costs but also because it was becoming dated in terms of looks. You’re probably not gonna find it in a ’59 Cadillac. In the 60s it became fashionable, even Chevrolet, a supposedly entry-level automobile brand, introduced it for their new 1965 Caprice, although with simulated paneling.

    1. I don’t know — woodgrain trim (which the Mark III initially had; the real wood veneer came later) was very popular on cheaper cars like the Ford LTD and Chevrolet Caprice for a good three or four years before the Mark debuted. I think it was more than that wood trim, real or otherwise, was an easy way to a luxury flair that wasn’t terribly expensive from a production cost standpoint, particularly with fake woodgrain trim.

      As for its popularity, well — the sixties and seventies were a boom time for simulated woodgrain. It did make for a warmer ambiance than the black-chrome-painted-metal cabin themes of a few years earlier, which look neat but do make you feel like you’re sitting in a coffee shop…

      1. The ’61 continental did have wood interior but as an option I think. I did some research (I’m an amateur at this stuff however) but a strip of wood strip panelling in doors are found in ’58 imperials which is the earliest I can find. the ’60 pontiac bonnevilles had a wood panelling in iT’s dasboard, (but it’s only a narrow strip).

        The ’61 continentals are significant for having’full’ wood interiors, for they are found in both the dashboard and interior doors. But I could be wrong with that…

        1. The wood in 1961 – 1963 Lincolns is in thin veneer panels on the doors and dashboard. Many have brushed stainless steel instead. Probably a no-cost option. I’ve seen a sedan with stainless and a flat perforated vinyl headliner with chrome strips across it, while my ’62 sedan had wood with a traditional stretched fuzzy cloth headliner. On sedans these might have been linked. You might think the stainless would be on all convertibles, but they also vary.

  6. I have to say that I think the 61 to 65 were very elegant and all I don’t find them compelling. I think the 66-68 restyle made them much more attractive. I rarely see it mentioned but one thing that has always struck me about the 58 thru 67 lincolns was that regardless of the specific lines, they were all detailed in such a way to to appear cut from solid material, both as a total product as well as the individual components. By that I mean that you rarely saw anything that looked like a seam or parting line. I’m not certain of the exact date but around 69 that level of design finesse went away and the Lincolns, aside from getting somewhat too big again, looked poorly detailed. An example of what I mean is how the plastic edges on the dash would have raised lines that were chromed to form the chrome detail around a gauge. But that raised line was just so obviously chrome plastic, often with a fuzzy edge where the raised part joined the flat part, that it no longer gave the appearance of quality, it just looked like a cheap way to imitate what quality would be back when people did it right. Things like that showed up all over the car and not just Lincolns but pretty much in everything detroit was putting out.

    1. A lot of the American industry in the late ’60s and early ’70s got into the kind of cost-cutting you describe. Some of it was probably an attempt to offset what costs of safety and emissions standards the manufacturers didn’t just pass onto customers. However, I think it also reflected the rise of the MBA mentality of business, where you constantly have analysts dissecting everything your company does, looking for ways to cut a few more cents out of every operation.

      To a point, that kind of analysis isn’t necessarily a bad thing — there’s nothing inherently wrong with figuring out a simpler way to achieve the same result. However, it seems the inevitable result is to give the consumer less for the same or more money, even on products that are already successful and profitable.

      I’m not singling Lincoln out for this by any means; it’s something that’s become endemic to almost every business beyond the mom-and-pop level. I could point to innumerable non-automotive examples of the same phenomenon, where each subsequent generation of a product becomes a little more cheaply made, wears out a little more quickly, and gradually loses minor features.

  7. Nice article…..very interesting and informative. I read the article looking for engines in a 1961 Lincoln – thought ate up with motor would mention the engines. The designer going to Chrysler was interesting.

  8. I have had a total of ten Lincolns in my life, starting in high school in the early 80s: a ’64 convertible, a ’65 convertible, a ’66 coupe, a ’67 coupe, a ’69 coupe, four ’69 four doors, and a ’79 Bill Blass Mark V. Some observations:

    The ’64 convertible is arguably the nicest looking of the bunch in terms of the underlying exterior styling (my particular car, having been painted with Rustoleum and a paint roller, was not). However, I found that the ’69 had the plushest interior, and was much quieter, both in terms of interior noise levels and the overall look of the interior.

    The seats and upholstery in the ’61 through ’66 Lincolns were surprisingly uncomfortable — the seats were kinda hard, and the leather was very thick and slippery. In ’67 Ford ponied up for more supple leather and extra padding on the seats, which made a huge difference.

    Beginning in 1966, the double-Cardan joint at the front of the driveshaft was used at both ends. This made for exceptionally quiet operation, but if they universal joints ever had to be replaced you were looking at a job that could take the better part of a day. Major pain in the you-know-what.

    The wiring for the convertible top alone, stretched end-to-end, stretches almost 60 miles. Or so I’ve heard. I haven’t actually tested this hypothesis.

    Because of a number of factors — the weight of the car, the width of the rear track — the rear end was not the usual 28 spline Ford rear that was used in the all of the other big cars. Instead, Ford opted for a hybrid of sorts, which was a 28 spline housing modified to accommodate the larger 31 spline truck differential assembly. What made this super special was that the truck differential assembly was itself modified slightly to reduce overall size and weight, and as a result the pinion gear pin would, over time, enlarge the hole into which it was pressed until there would be a loud CLUNK every time you put it into reverse. Eventually the pin would slip out and cause the rear to either disintegrate or lock up (depending on how fast you were going when it let go). I learned this from experience; it happened to three of the five ’69s I had as well as the ’66 coupe.

    An interesting nugget is that, regardless of trim level or installed equipment, the wiring harness was the same for all ’66 – ’69 Continentals. I found this out when I bought a crashed ’69 sedan for parts, and transformed my base model ’69 coupe (it did have leather seating, but not much else … not even air conditioning) into a fully loaded model. Air conditioning (automatic climate control, actually), cruise control, power vent windows, rear defogger/extractor, automatic headlight dimmers … the wiring was already in place in the main harness, and all I had to do was plug in the components.

    Of the third generation Engel Lincolns (first generation being ’61 – ’63, second ’64 and ’65, third ’66 and later), my personal preference is the ’69. ’61 – ’68 Lincolns all had the same basic wide-rectangular “coffin nose” theme (although the ’65 had that jumbled Mercury front end … what was up with THAT?); in ’69 it became more formal with a peaked, raised center section of the grille. In addition, the federally mandated padded steering wheel that was introduced in ’68 became less — well, enormous. The center spokes of the ’68 were formed into this clunky, blocklike splodge in the middle of the steering wheel, in ’69 it was dialed back and became more restrained.

    I could go on and on … :)

  9. Perhaps you had to actually be there in late 1960 to fully appreciate the revolutionary styling of the 1961 Continental, especially as it compared to the tail-fin crazed Cadillacs, Chryslers and just about every other land yacht of that era. I recall crossing the parking lot of the Fort Knox Officer’s Club on a November afternoon and stopping in my tracks at the sight of the stylish black sedan with phaeton doors and a tuxedo interior…

    1. I don’t think anyone is understating its aesthetic impact, although that didn’t translate into particularly good sales, which suggests that a lot of buyers were still more swayed by Cadillac’s iconography, resale value, and probably its aesthetics as well. (The lack of hardtop body styles early on likely didn’t help, although I honestly don’t know that Cadillac’s abundance of body style options made that much of a difference in terms of sales.)

  10. In 1972 I was 17 years old working in a gas station . One day I noticed A beautiful black 1961 Lincoln continental convertible pull in for gas. I loved that car from the first moment I saw it. All red leather interior was perfect against the black paint. In the next few months every time it came in for gas I asked the owner if he would sell it to me. Finally he agreed. So for 500 dollars I was the proud owner of a 1961, My favorite year. It’s the only year that looks like a t-Bird is sticking out of it’s mouth. I didn’t keep the car long. It wasn’t really a teenager’s car. Through the years I told my wife about that car often. After the kids were raised I started looking for an old car. One Saturday in July 2001 I went and looked at a 1964 Lincoln convertible that was for sale. After looking at it I told the owner 1961 was my favorite year he said he had one that was a convertible for sale. As I walked out to see it. I was surprised that it was the same car I had owned in 1972. Agnes as we call her , has lived a pampered life since 2001. She only gets driven on warm days and stays in a heated garage. She is rust free and still blows cold air from her air conditioning. My son said” Dad if you give me Agnes I will make sure the nursing home I put you in is clean” [How lucky am I?]

  11. I enjoyed reading Aaron’s 61-63 Continental history, really informative. Loved the happy ending coming out of Jerry’s post – wondering what you were able to put together about the history of the car between your original ownership & sale and your 2001 purchase leading to Agnes’ present pampered life?

    A couple months ago I picked up a 62 HT with 74,000 original miles that had been in the same family since the mid 60s. The adventure has begun. I’m told by my wife that the Lincoln is the best purchase I ever made for myself and that it brings great pleasure to me on a daily basis….

  12. Is the 1964 Lincoln continental interchangeable with any other Lincoln like the 63 or the 65. Is the trunk lid the same.

  13. (ten years later)

    Several small errors in the article:

    Rear windows on 1961-1967 sedans did not roll down an inch when you open the door. Convertibles don’t have the center post so the windows have to move up and forward to meet the front door windows and overlap (front over rear) the gaskets, and down to clear them and maybe the top.

    Interior room was in no way up to 1958-60 standards. The rear seat leg and knee room was probably less than in a Galaxie, and was probably a reason for luxury car buyers going for a Cadillac instead. This was addressed with the taller roofline with less tumblehome (and awful flat windows) of the 1964 facelift, plus the three inch wheelbase stretch which was all in the rear seat area.

    While I’m at it, I had a 1962 as a DD for ten yearsin the nineties. The front seats were not hard at all and actually pretty great. The backs were curved for two people, a more sporty approach than other luxury cars of the era. I drove it across the country, maybe ten hours a day. Oh, and I scored a bit over 15 (!) mpg, and the odometer was perfect. That was on radial tires on larger 15″ rims, necessary to keep the ride height and rpm’s correct.

    But points for saying the rear suicide doors were for access, not just style. The rear door window and opening are very short and the C pillar very wide to suggest the look of the two door Mark II. When you sit in the back seat and look to the side you are looking at the wall, not out the window. If the door opened normally you would have to practically crawl in and out. Also, stylewise it was only a decade since the Cosmopolitan, which was maybe the last American car before that with suicide rear doors.

    The 1964-1969’s are not the same body. The whole body is different, although the platform and probably a lot of other inner structure is probably the same. The windshield/cowl is not the same. Some cars get completely restyled, like the 1964 Imperial, but the windshield/cowl/side windows are the same.

    And the choice of photos of the black 1963 is kind of poor. The 1963 had a raised trunk lid shape to make for more trunk room. The next year with the flat window version the underlying structure was completely changed to make a more usable trunk. The 1961 front end is the iconic one – it was made more normal with a big bumper in 1962, also worsening the original design a bit. And those wheels on the pictured car – obviously totally wrong.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts — I’ve reflected, or attempted to reflect your corrections in the text. The photos were what I had to work with at the time; when this was written, the availability of Creative Commons photos was considerably less robust, so most of the pictures I used were ones I’d taken myself, which was dictated by what I’d encountered in the metal.

      Were I to rewrite this today, I would probably make more of a point about the Continental’s relationship with the Thunderbird and the extent to which that compromised its packaging. Conceptually, it was still essentially a four-door T-Bird, puffed out to resemble a full-size sedan. In that respect, the Continental was less a Cadillac De Ville rival and more a forerunner of the later Mark series, which took the same concept and marketed it in a more coherent way (viz., as a style-conscious specialty car rather than a luxury sedan). I’ve never been wild about the styling of the Mark III/Mark IV/Mark V, and even their fans would probably acknowledge that they’re a different sort of aesthetic from the graceful severity of the ’61 Continental, but they they aren’t that conceptually divergent except that the Mark series was an adjunct to the big sedans rather than trying to pretend to be one.

  14. One more thing: the 1961 appears on various lists of most beautiful or influential cars of all time. I agree. As mentioned, the tumblehome/curved windows don’t seem like much now, but were radical at the time and very cool, particularly on the slab sided body. The simplicity of the overall style obviously influenced the next Cadillac, and the first Pontiac Gran Prix. Actually the 1958-60’s were pretty linear and simple as well, compared to all the chrome swooped two tone late 50’s competition. Engel would not approve the current (outside of Mazda) penchant for often uncoordinated zig-zag origami-folded car styles.

  15. Can we call the Continental the first 4 door coupe? Though the Eldorado Brougham had a similarly-compromised rear seat requiring suicide doors, I’ve never read that it was originally conceived as a two door car.

    I’d like to see the rejected ’61 Lincoln for comparison. We don’t get to see many styling “exercises,” but that one must have been further along than most, so someone must have taken and saved a photo.

    1. There are surviving photos of the design concepts, I just didn’t have any I had the rights to use at the time the article was written. (Permission to reuse the photos would need to come from Ford Archives, which I hadn’t yet tried to contact at that point.) Pictures of the full-size clays are revealing in terms of the development process.

      Interesting, the two-door hardtop version of what became the final design actually has a greater sense of mass than the four-door sedan because the two-door hardtop greenhouse emphasizes the length of the doors and the considerable front and rear overhang. In some respects, it was ahead of its time: Barring some incidental features (like the round taillights it sported when it was intended as a Thunderbird), which would have seemed dated a decade later, its gravitas would have seemed at home among the big personal luxury cars of the early ’70s. It still wasn’t as ornate as some early ’70s personal luxury cars, but the bulk and proportions would’ve fit right in.

      I’m not sure I’d rank it as the first four-door coupe; as you note, the Eldorado Brougham is of a similar aesthetic, and there had already been an assortment of four-door hardtops before that. I guess it depends on how one chooses to interpret the word “coupe” (e.g., as an aesthetic standard, in terms of close-coupled proportions, in terms of rear seat volume, or some combination of the above).

      A mark against it in that regard is that Lincoln didn’t really try to market it as a four-door coupe. The brochures and ads do emphasize reduced bulk — although that only makes sense in comparison to the 1958–60 cars — but don’t stress any coupe-like properties, even stylistically. It’s a sharp contrast with the way Ford marketed the Thunderbird four-door Landau a number of years later. I imagine one reason for NOT emphasizing the coupe-ness of the ’61 Continental was that, unlike the later Thunderbird, the Continental didn’t offer a two-door hardtop, which was a commercially risky choice given the popularity of that body style in 1960–61 and not something to which it was prudent to draw attention.

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