The Continental served as the flagship for the Lincoln division of Ford for the first three generations. The Continental moniker was in production for 48 years. Initially production ran from 1939 thru 1948, but during the war, no models were produced as all personal vehicle manufacturing was suspended. Product resumed 1958 and Lincoln continued to produce the Continental until 2002. The Continental is still in production and there will be a 2017 Lincoln Continental.
The Continental was the only sedan model offered by Lincoln for 16 years following the revamping of the line in 1961. For a very brief period (1956-1957), Continental actually operated as its own division of Ford.
First Generation (1939-1948)
The beginnings of the Continental started with an Edsel prototype in 1938. This prototype was based off of the Lincoln Zephyr. For the first few years, the main body style was kept the same with little to no updating occurring. After the suspension of manufacturing due to World War, the Continental was reintroduced in 1946. Some fancy upgrades like walnut trim were added over the next few years. However, the Continental was not produced after 1948 due mostly in part to the departure of its original designer and Lincoln's plans to revamp the entire model line. This generation of Continentals is considered Full Classic by the Classic Car Club of America.
Second Generation (1956-1957)
A year is hardly a generation, but there you have it. This is the year that Continental was its own brand and Ford went all out with this model. It was the most expensive car at the time and quality control measures of this extreme were unheard of at the time. The model was deemed the Continental Mark II and its production was extremely limited. This was not a very productive venture for Ford and it was squashed.
Third Generation (1958-1960)
Lincoln made some changes when it brought the Continental back into the fold. Prices were dropped and style changes were made, like 2 and 4 door options, it had its own trim and interior, markedly different than other Lincoln offerings. “Auto Lube” was an option. If the owner kept the lube filled, the car would essentially lube itself. A unibody chassis was utilized and the Continental was longer than the Cadillac sedan. In direct contrast to Cadillac styling, the '59 version was revamped to include more sedate lines and the name was changed to Mark IV and in '60 it became the Mark V.
Fourth Generation (1961-1969)
1961 came with major changes for Lincoln. After suffering major losses of almost $60 million dollars, a major overhaul was called for by Ford. The '61 Continental was the smallest Continental produced since before the war. This redesign also brought the return of the rear suicide doors that had not been seen in Lincolns since 1951. These became the best-known features of the Lincoln line in the ‘60s. 1962 to 1965 brought minimal changes to the overall design of the car. Some interior changes were made to accommodate rear passengers, gas tanks were relocated from the rear to the driver's side and some glass and roofline changes were made.
The coupe was reintroduced in 1966. The 2-door model was designed to compete with Lincoln's longtime nemesis, Cadillac. They even dropped the price hoping to entice Cadillac owners over to Lincoln. Several exterior changes were made to the 1968 car to accommodate federal safety standards. Originally, the '68 came with a 385 engine, but Ford had a glut of 460s available, so they started to use those later on that year. The following year saw little changes and marked the end of this rendition of Continentals. These are still a fan favorite primarily due the car's appearance in several popular movies of the era.
Fifth Generation (1970-1979)
The 70s ushered in big changes. Gone were the unique rear suicide doors and major chassis changes were implemented. Ford was cost conscious now and Lincolns shared the body-on-frame of several of the Fords and a coil spring suspension.
Hidden vacuum operated headlights were added along with some exterior changes and a 460 V8 engine.
No major changes were made until 1975 when some of the Mercury models were starting to too closely mimic the Continental, so Ford wanted to do something new. The roofline was changed to a rear upright design and the coupe no longer was offered as a hardtop. Four-wheel disc brakes were offered as an option, making the Continental one of the first American models to do so.
The Continental was the largest mass produced vehicle in the world by 1977. Due to emissions issues in California, all Lincoln models for this year came standard with a 400-2v engine. In the other 49 states, you could upgrade to a 460 V8 for an additional cost. By 1979, only the 400 was available for any Lincoln produced at that time.
Sixth Generation (1980)
The lonely 1980 model, the only year in the sixth generation. It might have been alone, but it was one of the most technically edgy cars of the time. The digital readout display included trip meters, “miles to empty” indicators and ETAs to destinations. An electronic fuel ignition and 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission made this Continental the most technologically advanced vehicles that Ford had ever offered. This Continental became the Town Car in 1981 while the former became sidelined for a year.
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