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by Jay Traugott
Forget Lexus or Mercedes-Benz, the Continental was the definitive luxury car of its time.
It may seem hard to believe today, but there was a time when Lincoln was considered cool. So cool in fact that it was the choice brand for presidents. Kennedy was in one when he was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson, a noted car lover, drove his '64 Continental around Camp David as well as his Texas ranch. He believed that the Continental was the perfect thing for driving fast regardless of the terrain. First launched in 1939, the Continental was originally planned as one of Edsel Ford's bespoke personal cars.
It was soon realized, however, there was a market for it amongst wealthy individuals in the US looking for something besides a Rolls-Royce or even a Cadillac. For the next few years up until the US entering WWII, the Continental was a hand-built convertible with only about 400 units made in total. During the war, the car was slightly changed with a boxier look that many now regard as less graceful than those first models. After the war ended, Ford continued to produce the Continental only with minor cosmetic changes, but plans were already taking shape for something much bigger.
In 1956 the second generation debuted, but this time the Continental name was a separate brand, then known as the Continental Mark II. It was one of the most expensive cars in the world, costing around $10k. Despite that it was sold for only two models years, the Mark II found many famous owners such as the Shah of Iran, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. The Mark III's 1958 debut was a big event because the new car was one of the largest ever made. It came loaded with state-of-the-art features at the time such as an AM radio with FM as an option and A/C vents on the ceiling.
It also sold much better than its predecessor, further proving to Ford management that the large luxury car market was there to stay. Power came from a 7.0-liter V8, which you could easily argue was needed in order for the massive thing to have enough juice to cruise at a decent highway speed. Once again, styling was a major area of concentration and the Mark III was certainly one of the best-looking cars Ford had designed up until that point. However, it was the fourth generation, launched in 1961, which most people regard as the car's best years.
With design traits such as those front-opening rear "suicide doors" and slab-side styling, the Continental was offered as a two-door, four-door, and four-door convertible. Although it was slightly smaller than its predecessor, it was still an extremely heavy car and weighed more than any Cadillac at the time. Above all, however, the suicide doors became its design hallmark. Once again, power came from a 7.0-liter V8, but Lincoln also offered two larger options: 7.5- and 7.6-liter V8s. Sales continued to grow as well as regular updates inside and out through 1969.
At this point, the story of the Continental begins to dry up, as subsequent generations never came close to being as stylish, influential, and simply cool as the original three. The Continental continued on through the Seventies until 2002. This 1967 fully restored Continental Convertible, currently up for grabs on eBay, is truly a classic that'll never get too old to become uncool. Loaded with options such as power brakes, windows, locks, and seats and steering, it's been garaged and maintained throughout its entire life. The seller correctly notes that the 66-67 Continentals were more refined than the 61-65 models due to styling refinements and driving characteristics.
As of this writing, it has a bid of just over $25k, but the reserve hadn't been met yet. Along with a beautiful Burgundy leather interior and white wall wheels, this is true American classic in every sense. Just ask Elvis, Frank, or even Lyndon.