Lincoln: 1961 Continental

The 1961 Lincoln Division of the Ford Motor Co. and its Continental seem to have as many lives as a cat.

Slated for elimination, there was one teeny problem, the division had been headed by Henry Ford's son Edsel in the 1930s and his Zephyr had helped to save the automaker from oblivion after 1935. So, Lincoln was given a reprieve, at least through 1961.

Sales rut
Now they were faced with the dilemma of updating or coming up with a new vehicle that could help pull the Lincoln Division out of its sales rut. They were also facing a public that stayed away from Lincolns in droves.

An executive committee tried to find the key to a turnaround. One thing that came out of their study is the public didn't understand Lincoln and all its lack of a cohesive line. Their solution: signing on to a multi-year design that would be timeless and that could be used as the basis of a resurgence of Lincoln.

This coincided with the restyling 1961 Continental. It couldn't have come at a worse time for Lincoln.

They were in the midst of an internal battle that would see what seemed to be constant games of swap-the-executive as key Lincoln execs and designers were moved about like chess pieces.

With this situation and, at times seeming confusion at the top of the division, it is little wonder there was such competition amongst the designers as all the design teams tried to prove they were the biggest guns on board.

Two final designs
Ultimately, two designs were set, but, design chief, Elwood Engle, wanted the final say. His template was the restyled 61 Thunderbird, and, some say, the Ford of Europe 17M Taurus, whose lines looked a lot like the final Continental.

Indeed, Engle's design was the real winner. It featured was simple slab-sided, with lines carried from the front fender right through the rear quarter. The Continental used a bright piece on the high beltline.

The lines moved from a brightwork grille that separate dual quad headlights that was set back slightly from the ends of the fenders and finished in a chrome bumper. Those lines swept back to a very rounded windshield and high greenhouse that featured a large rear sail panel and nicely designed rear window that ended in a flat decklid that separated two vertical taillights with a bright work piece connecting them and making it a whole.

Lincoln stuffed a huge engine under the squared hood of the Continental. The 430-cubic-inch powerplant moved the rear wheels quite nicely through Ford's automatic transmission. The most interesting addition to the Continental was its "suicide" or rear-hinged rear passenger doors. This feature allowed taller people easier access to the rear and made it an accepted design concept. This design was to last about eight years. The public liked it and it was the start of a resurgence that brought Lincoln back from the brink. They sold 25,164 the first year.