By on February 8, 2010

Most car design is evolutionary and derivative. Rarely does a manufacturer make a complete clean break with the past, and risk everything on a fresh stylistic new beginning. Except of course, when you’re at the end of your rope, and staring death in the face. Suddenly, anything, even something boldly original, is very possible and worth risking. It happened exactly once, in the modern history of Lincoln. Frankly, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it in terms of an existing car make, the 1961 Continental is about as clean a break from its predecessor model as any American car in the post-war era. The only other car that comes close in creating a similarly new and lasting design language is the 1960 Corvair, and that had no predecessor. We could surely use another ’61 Continental in these unoriginal times, but don’t hold your breath. Even near-death experiences don’t seem to have the same effect anymore.

I had high hopes of finding a 1961-1963 Lincoln Continental for Curbside Classics, since the ’64-’65 models have a modified roof line, a longer wheelbase, and certain other details that differ from the original. But CC lives on chance street-side encounters, and this ’65 sedan currently used as a static advertisement for a skateboard shop in Santa Cruz is as good as it gets, for now anyway. Makes for a hell of an eye-catching billboard.  And having spent some time looking at both of them carefully, I’ve actually convinced myself that the revisions made on these later versions improved on the original in some ways. More on that later.

As we covered in our brief Lincoln history, this once proud brand was on its last legs in the late fifties. Ford Corporate VP Robert McNamara was ready to pull the plug after huge losses on the ‘58-’60 flops and the Mark II. So a chance encounter of McNamara with a losing design concept for the ’61 Thunderbird changed everything, and created the iconic Lincoln style that it eventually stretched, mangled and mutilated for way too long.

Elwood Engel designed one of the two concept for the ’61 T-Bird design competition. Joe Oros penned the sportier design that was chosen, because it evoked the sporty original two-seat Bird  of ’55-’57.  But Engel’s boldly angular and slab-sided design made a lasting impression, and McNamara asked if it could be stretched a bit to become the new Lincoln. That also open up economies of scale in production, something McNamara was desperate for in trying to make Lincoln profitable. The ’61 Lincoln and the ’61 T-Bird share cowl structures and other sub-structure aspects, visible in what appear to be identical windshields.  And they both were built side-by-side at the same Wixom plant specifically designed for large unibodies.

Looking closely at the original ’61 design, it’s easy to see that it started out as a two-door coupe. Imagine the B-pillar moved back a few inches, and the design really makes more sense than its four-door adaptation. It also explains the suicide doors: rear entry with that giant C-pillar and resulting short door was considered unacceptable for a luxury sedan, and the rear-hinged back door solution made it work. This was a relatively compact car for its class, especially in its interior space; a four door T-Bird, in essence, not unlike the real thing that came a long a few years later with the same suicide doors.

Since we’re on the subject of the ’61, I will say that it suffers from the same thing that many Ford products did in the late fifties under styling head George Walker. There was a lack of balance in the size of the greenhouse (upper structure) to the lower body. The ’61 Continental’s greenhouse might just barely have worked as a coupe, but as a sedan, from certain angles it looks as though the upper body is starting to melt down into the lower part. We discussed this in the 1959 Ford CC, and the Continental is the last of the Fords to show this. The ’60 Falcon broke cleanly with that approach, and the ’64-’65 Continental’s larger and longer roof line goes some way to remediate it; although at a price. The highly-curved side glass of the original went the way of cheaper flat glass for ’64-’65. That used to really bother me, as a destruction of the original’s design purity, but these later models really do have a more balanced greenhouse proportion fitting a luxury sedan.

As relatively compact as these Continentals were, it didn’t reflect in their weight; they still mostly weighed in at or above 5,000 pounds. And as such, it was a curiosity that the ’61’s engine was substantially detuned from its predecessors. Whereas the ’58’s 430 cubic inch MEL V8 made 375 (gross) hp, the ’61 was detuned with a two-barrel carb and made a mere 300 (gross) hp. It was somehow seen to be consistent with the image of the new Continental, to be above the fray of the horsepower and fin-height war being waged by Cadillac and Imperial. Zero to sixty took some eleven seconds, but who was actually counting?

By 1965, when our CC was built, power was up a bit, to 320 hp. And the three-inch wheelbase stretch manifested in improved rear legroom as well as better rear door ingress and egress. In 1966, the Continental suffered its first significant re-skin, with trendy rounded hips breaking the clean angularity of the design. But that wasn’t all that changed that year. Ford was determined to increase volume of the Lincoln and went the same route as Cadillac (and recently Toyota): reducing quality “fat” and de-contenting.

The original ’61 Conti was the subject of highly unusually and rigorous quality measures. Each engine was run on the stand for three hours at 3500 rpm (equal to 98 mph), and then partially torn down and reassembled. The automatic was tested for 30 minutes. The electrical system was especially sealed. And each car was driven over a varying 12 mile test course before being approved for delivery. By 1966, when prices were dropped to increase volume, any talk of these steps were long forgotten.

It’s worth pointing out that the ’61 Continental was actually not much of a sales success. The 25k units sold were only a modest improvement over the baroque ’60, although the recession of 1961 was a factor. But the price was a substantial jump over a Cadillac, which did make the early Conti a more exclusive vehicle. But the production rationalization of just the sedan and the remarkable  four-door convertible, as well as platform-sharing with the T-Bird, facilitated profits for Lincoln and secured its future.

The Continental’s styling was also rather anodyne as well as controversial, and although 1961 marked a turn away from the excesses of the garish late fifties, the Lincoln may have suffered in the same way many cars that are somewhat ahead of their times. If it had flopped totally, it would have had the words “Airflow” stamped all over it.

Instead, it came to represent the youthful and refreshing newness of the Kennedy years; never mind that he took his last ride in one. The Continental was America’s last grasp at luxury car leadership, before it handed the baton to Mercedes. In the early sixties, it still exuded Detroit’s ability to be innovative and tasteful even in global standards; by the late sixties, Lincoln (and the rest of the bunch) had to retreat from that ambition, and begin catering to average Joes who aspired a long hood and the garish faux-trappings of luxury: over-plush upholstery, coach lights, landau tops, etc.. The understated elegance of the early sixties Continentals wouldn’t have worked for the new mission in life for America’s luxury brands’ last stand.

As such, these Continentals represent a profound changing of the guard. Love the styling or not, they are of great historical significance, and remind us of risks once taken and leadership once exerted. Like the Apollo moonshot, in the early sixties America could still walk the big talk. The moniker “Kennedy Lincoln” is ripe with meaning and associations, morbid and otherwise. But just like that optimistic moment in time is gone forever, so is the car that carried him. Shall we call the current version the “(Gerald) Ford Lincoln”, along with everything that implies?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

73 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1965 Lincoln Continental...”

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    The first photo is most striking in that there are no bars on the windows next house over. Bad Ass Lincoln, candy ass neighbors.

    • 0 avatar

      I own 2 white 1964 Continentals and I wouldn’t have it any other way it’s my all time top choice and my dream actually came true twice in less than 90 days the first one I got off of craigslist in Los Angeles for $100.00+$300.00 to have it delivered to my house and yes I said it right $100.00 for the LC not $1,000.00 and yes it DOES run!!! however, the registration was $600 cause they let it set up in some storage pace for 5 years but it’s all good it just needs a ton of interior love but the car was 100% complete with no missing parts and ZERO dents on the body or chrome…..and the second one I got for $1,500.00 searching google for a good restoration shop here in SD and yea….it pretty much was in the same exact condition, it was a tad bit cleaner on the outside but the interior was ehhh so i’ll post pictures of the twin $50,000+ later when they are both restored.

  • avatar

    >>>Frankly, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it in terms of an existing car make, the 1961 Continental is about as clean a break from its predecessor model as any American car in the post-war era.

    I would say the ’55 Chevy bears very little resemblance to the ’54. The styling shift from ’64 to ’65 was not quite so radical, but it was pretty major. And the ’63 to ’64 Plymouth was a huge change, although you could argue Xler was cribbing off of Chevy.

    • 0 avatar

      As cliche as they became, the K-cars were a pretty tremendous break from all that had gone before at Chrysler, same could be said for cab-forward or Taurus jelly-beans!

  • avatar

    Does anyone else think, “Book’em, Danno!” when they see a ’60s Continental, or am I just showing my age?

    • 0 avatar

      Acutally McGarett was driving a Mercury Parklane … I think he moved up to Lincoln after 1970, but was sometimes also driving a Gran Marquis.

    • 0 avatar

      I think of a street in Dallas in the early 60s when some president was driving around with the top down on his Conti when some guy with an Italian rifle decided to take a shot or 3…

    • 0 avatar


      I think “Gran Marquis” was just a plain “Marquis” back then.

      I love the convertible. It totally fixes the “small greenhouse” effect and is really a beautiful design.

  • avatar

    I hail the ’61 Conti as the most beautiful American car ever made. It has a crisp clarity of line never seen before, and not surpassed yet. It still looks very fresh, I can’t believe how beautiful it is. It simply oozes class and sophistication, in a way that no other American car has done before, at least not in modern time. We’ll have to go back to the 30’s, and the Packards, Deuseys and such, to find something in the same league.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe Paul will find a CC ’56-57 Continental MkII to help balance this perspective. I’d argue that the ’61 was a continuation of that landmark automobile, which was similarly understated, overengineered, and wildly expensive (=exclusive). It also handed down quite a few styling cues to the later Continental. I too love the sixties Continentals, but they did have a lot of ground broken for them by the Mark II–even if, technically, they weren’t Lincolns.

  • avatar

    I’ll take a ’61 – ’63 convertible, thank you very much. Nicer flat front grill before they started giving it progressively bigger nose jobs.


  • avatar

    Love the car, love the marque! But I’ve always wondered why the wipers point the wrong way. It wasn’t due to the T-Bird cowl–that car used opposed wipers. I can’t think of any other postwar American car except the Avanti that used this configuration.

    • 0 avatar

      The wipers were run by hydraulics off the power steering pump, oddly placed itself. Wipers were variable speed due to a valve in the dash with a horizontal lever. Packaging of the cowl and hydraulics may have led to the wrong-side installation. My dad’s ’64 had them.

  • avatar

    what Ingvar said +10

  • avatar

    A black ’61 convertible is my dream vintage automobile *swoon*

    Lincoln is so tragic these days, especially in terms of styling. It’s sad that the MKX, IMHO, is the best-looking Lincoln (both pre- and post-refresh). And I definitely prefer the Taurus to the MKS design-wise. I’m not joining the mainstream automotive press in praising the new interior designs – especially with all the hard black plastic residing on the center stack. I actually preferred the boxy retro interiors of the Aviator and Zephyr. Besides the use of silver plastic of course. And to think that Lincoln had some pretty nice concepts in the early 2000s…

  • avatar

    I’ve always loved the 60’s Continentals, ever since I first laid eyes on one in the old PC game Interstate ’76. In my opinion the peak for the era was the mid 60s: they gained the extra length, but still retained the styling purity of the early 60s. In ’69 the style was freshened again (in my opinion) to no good effect: fussy design details were added maring the simple design. And they totally ruined the rear headlights, which are one of the most attractive parts of the earlier cars.

    This was definately Lincoln’s high water mark. Though now that I think of it, like a lot of high water marks, they also start telling the story of a decline. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the mid-60s Continentals get a coupe version that was so popular it was spun off into its own model? I remember the Lincoln mark somethings from the late sixties being hideious, with giant neoclassical grilles and fake opera wire wheels. As I recall, the design philosophy infected the 70’s Continental.

  • avatar

    Here’s a pic of Elwood Engel’s 2 door original design for the ’61 Thunderbird that became the Continental. I’m surprised that no customizer has shortened a Continental to a two door. It could have a single suicide door a la the Rolls-Royce Phantom DHC.

  • avatar

    A dozen years ago I drove by a couple of these on the way to work each day. Similar house and neighborhood as the one pictured here. I believe it was a ’63 sedan and a ’64 convertible side by side, and both black. Neither came to a good end. A huge old oak tree was in the yard, and a horrid thunderstorm with high winds blew over what must have been an oak tree of at least 75 years age if not more. It fell right across the middle of both Lincolns. Quite a shame.

  • avatar

    Isn’t this the car that was featured in the first Matrix movie? Love the design – especially the suicide doors.
    Would be great if Lincoln could innovate/create something that oozes so much style and class that it’s still cool for pop culture film 30 years from now.

  • avatar

    Yes, I too think that the ’61 Lincoln is the all-time greatest looking sedan. I like the first 3 years best because of the smaller size and obvious similarity to the Mark II. But I have since come to like the ’64 and ’65 versions on their own merits. The longer wheelbase and more upright greenhouse is decidedly formal and elegantly so. I have been fortunate to have owned 4 of these cars: a ’62 sedan, a ’63 convertible, a ’65 sedan, and my current ’65 convertible. Each one had a unique personality, despite having the same platform/running gear.
    I think the ’61 package was closely modelled after the ’57-’58 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. In size if not theme.
    Cadillac sold 5 times as many cars per year for most of the 50s and 60s. Lincoln was in a constant state of playing catch-up. The Carrera Mexicana road race Lincolns of ’52-55 were a lot more roadable than any Caddies of the period, and the reviewers loved ’em. But America’s luxury car buyers didn’t care. Then the ’58-60 versions were an effort to outsize Cadillac. That was the right idea but the wrong result.
    But the ’61 changed everything. Cadillac worked overtime to lose the space-ship metaphors in an effort to capture some of the Lincolns’ elegance and Chrysler went so far as to hire the designer, Elwood Engel, to re-work the Imperial for 1964. It looked a lot like a Lincoln.
    Ford nurtured the new-found Lincoln elegance into the winning formula through the 60s. The Marks III and IV were big sales successes. Returning to a Ford-based body on frame package in 1970 for the Lincoln sedans wasn’t as retrograde as it might seem. The Lincoln unibodies, while very well sound-proofed, still had noticeable road noise. Only the body on frame would give the silence necessary to overtake Cadillac.
    Lincoln production totals consistently exceeded 100,000 from 1973 onwards.

  • avatar

    These are beautiful cars, and if they were as well made as the 1968 Thunderbird sedan I got the privilege to drive and tune up, they would be tops in my book. the high end Fords and Lincolns are still sharp mid ’60s cars.

    that T-bird was very very quiet despite being 40 years old, and it looked pretty modern as well despite the suicide doors.

    Alas the family that owned it, sold it after I tuned it up and got it running like a new car. I offered to buy it but she wanted more than I had available at the time.

    • 0 avatar

      I own a 1967 Thunderbird sedan. The 1967-71 T-Birds shared their platform with the 1968-71 Continental Mark III. In terms of engineering, build quality and ride all of the 1960’s Thunderbirds were essentially baby Lincolns.

      You rarely see Thunderbird sedans on the road and they are not that common at cars shows. Despite their apparant rarity quite a few have survived. You can always find a few Thunderbird sedans in any issue of Hemmings, in any of the national auto trader magazines, or on E-Bay. The best ones rarely sell for more than $10,000.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately I never knew anyone that owned one of these beauties. But the convertible will always have a place in my heart, after watching every episode of “green acres” over and over while growing up. I remember reading somewhere a few years back that sometimes if all the doors on the convertible were open at once, and several people got into the car that they would have trouble closing the doors. I wonder if that’s true?

  • avatar

    Watch The Graduate sometime, there is a scene, where Katherine Ross’ character is being driven back to school by her lawyer father, in his Lincoln, and as they pull out of their drive in some swanky L.A. suburb, the street (or at least in my memory) was swarming with these cars…

    I knew an old lady, now departed … her husband owned a trucking company … he was rich … John Wayne was a hunting buddy … he had a Twin Beech turboprop flew from Grosse Pointe (DTC) to Antrim Co. Airport on the weekends, to his 10,000 sq.ft. holiday home on a square-mile property (with a lake in it), all this in the 1960’s and 1970’s … he could have had any cars he wanted … what did he buy? Himself: Town Cars, Wife: Cougar XR-7, Vacation Home: IH-Scout…

    The establishment guys could have anything they wanted … those that didn’t want to look like they just made their first million didn’t buy flashy Cadillacs, they bought elegant Lincolns.

  • avatar

    How did those pillarless suicide doors affect structural rigidity?

    • 0 avatar

      There is a B pillar on the sedans — although it is very skinny above the beltline. Skinny enough I don’t know how structural it is. I understand that the car was unusually heavy for its size because the unibody had to be overbuilt with the technology of the time, and there are lead weights in the corners of the body to tune out vibrations. You could surely build the same car much better with 2010 technology. Ford did send out a sorta Continental-esque concept car a few years ago but maybe it’s better they didn’t try to produce it; they would surely have messed it up. Like other groundbreaking designs this car was hard to facelift successfully.

      Do I understand this car just sits in front of some skateboard store, deteriorating? That interior is a gorgeous color and isn’t in terrible shape — yet. It will be soon baking in the sun. Someone needs to rescue that car!

    • 0 avatar

      Since it is a unit body versus the more common body-on-frame of the time (okay, Chrysler excepted) it’s probably no better than the competition. The door sills are extremely thick, and even more so in the convertible version.

      Speaking of the convertible, now that’s a test of structural rigidity, with no roof, no center pillar (except for a stub) and about six feet (two meters) of door opening from front to rear!

  • avatar

    I would add the Studebaker Avanti to the list of not only “clean break from the past” designs, but also to the list of “radical Hail Marys”. Ultimately it didn’t work out so well for ol’ Studebaker.

    • 0 avatar

      Studebaker had several clean breaks from its previous designs.
      The 1947 Studebaker was one of the first all-new postwar cars and took the country by storm.
      The 1950-51 Studebakers were a facelift of the 1947-49 models, but their radical, bullet-nose front end was unlike any other car on the road and is as distinctive today as it was 60 years ago.
      The 1953 Studebaker coupes were a revolutionary design and are considered one of the best looking American cars of the 1950’s.
      The 1963-64 Avanti was another revolutionary design unlike any other car on the road.

  • avatar

    The original Lotus Elite was a very fresh design for 1958. It makes the Healys, MGs and the Jaguar XK look dated. I think it’s also just about the only monoquoque fiberglass car made in any significant numbers.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Good article. It is interesting that the Continental sold roughly the same amount as the terrible 1960 Lincoln. A significantly higher starting price may have been a factor as well as a line up that was remarkably spare (another clean break with the past). Prices held until 1966, when they were cut dramatically. However, they were still much higher than the entry-level Cadillac (the Calais) and even above the De Ville.

    I read somewhere that Ford switched the Continental and T-Bird back to flat side glass in 1964 because of water leaks. That apparently wasn’t a problem with the Imperial, which was the first American car to use curved side glass. Odd that Ford would abandon an innovation just as the rest of the industry was embracing it — by 1965 pretty much every newly redesigned American car had curved glass.

    • 0 avatar

      It is interesting that the Continental sold roughly the same amount as the terrible 1960 Lincoln.

      I just read on that in terms of units sold, that is correct. However, in 1961 vehicle sales for the entire industry fell sharply, so Lincoln actually gained market share.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    What I see here is an achingly beautiful car that was floppy-soft, structurally — it was hard to open and close the doors if the car was standing on an uneven surface.

  • avatar

    I got to ride in the back of a friend’s Continental convertible… I think it was a ’63. No seatbelts. He took a carload of us on a country drive in the Willamette Valley and wanted to show us something interesting.

    Summer day, top down, cruising along at a nice clip. We were driving down a pancake flat road, enjoying the scenery, when the road disappeared from underneath us… the “something interesting” was what must have been a 10% drop, all at once! I felt my ass come up from the slab of vinyl I was sitting on… I thought for sure I was going to go ass-over-teakettle and up onto the trunklid Jackie-O style. I rose up out of the seat at least 4 or 5 inches! The Continental handled it all with aplomb, no bottoming out or rough stuff… pure class. Obviously, our friend had pulled this trick dozens of times before.

    In my book, the ’61’64 Continental is one of the most beautiful American automotive designs ever made. I think FoMoCo would do well to ditch the pathetic SUVs, CUVs and euro-trash they currently call Lincolns and go with a 21st Century interpretation. Not as big the land yacht of old, but a modern, sleek luxury four door. No bullshit gingerbread, ventiports or alien-bugeye headlamps… just clean, clean, clean sheetmetal in that classic shape. Low to the ground. Vibrant color-keyed interiors (how COOL is that aqua upholstery in that ’65???. An option for a white interior, too. And suicide doors, without question.

    They came close with that Lincoln concept a few years back… too bad they lost their nerve and wasted their time with those damned alphabet-soup monstrosity trucks… feh.

    A Lincoln should be a CAR… clean, low, beautiful… with no apologies. Pure American style.

    I can dream, can’t I?

  • avatar

    That Lincoln is just begging for some TLC. It’d be terrible to see it rot away as a vehicular billboard. The interior is a neat color. I wonder what the original exterior color was. Seems like white would be a great match for that interior. Lincolns of this era are beautiful cars. Way, way ahead of their time in styling.

    BTW, I can think of another example of a total break with the past: Chrysler’s 1993 LH sedans (Intrepid/Concorde/Vision/LHS) were so different from the boxy Dynasty, New Yorker, Monaco and Eagle Premier that it’s hard to believe they were all made by the same company.

  • avatar

    Simply beautiful cars – certainly the high point of Lincoln, if you discount the two separate Continentals.

    I too prefer the earlier ones (61-63), the front of this one looks too much like a similar year Mercury to my mind.

    American car styling was probably at its best in this era – with this car and the 63 Riveria as two of the best.

    Shame Lincoln/Ford didn’t do anything with the concept cars of the late 90s /early 2000’s, but the experience of the retro ‘Bird probably put them off, and I read that the 1996 Sentinel,in particular, with its sharply defined fender tops and crisp edges would foul safety laws on vehicle protusions and sharp edges.

  • avatar

    Even as skanky-looking as this particular car is, it still manages to show its gorgeous lines.

    This, to me, is one of the single most beautiful automobile designs ever!

  • avatar

    Not only were these early 60’s Continentals styling breakthroughs they also were the beginning of the change in consumer demand and tastes for substance over style. Suddenly bigger and stylish became less important than elegance and quality. These cars were as pointed out not as powerful nor as big as the Cadillac and yet they captured some market share of the luxury segment. The sixties and later seventies were the time when imports began their inroads to the US market by offering some of the attributes established by the 1961-65 Lincoln Continental. Those being a well built product with emphasis placed on adequate performance as opposed to annual ever increasing size and styling changes.
    As a car obsessed teenager during the 60’s I can recall that when these Continentals were introduced was also the time when I observed my first Mercedes Benz, a 220SE sedan brought back from Europe by my father’s attorney. It had no air-conditioning a stick shift and was smaller than any other luxury car, but it set its owner apart as someone that was very successful since they had a car they bought in Europe and brought back to the US.
    It took another 20 years but by the 1980’s annual car model changes and the horsepower size race was over. Imports like Toyota, MB, Volvo etc became a major part of the automotive market in the US. I submit that these changes in the consuming public began with the introduction of the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

  • avatar

    I drove one of these (suspect it was a ’65). I don’t have any dominant memory of the driving experience – I was a young driver at the time and all driving was under the supervision of my father. (My father loved the Mark II but never had one). This car didn’t seem to be as sharp handling as my grandfather’s Imperial of the same era.
    Looking at the pictures, the condition of the interior is very good – indication of the quality of materials used? – and probably loving care of an owner.

  • avatar

    “Shall we call the current version the “(Gerald) Ford Lincoln”, along with everything that implies?”

    More like an “Obama” Lincoln; it tries to appeal to everyone and ultimately appeals to no one.

    Excellent write-up, I agree with your position regarding this car’s historical significance. Auto designers today are weenies by comparison; Toyota bland, Aztek ugly and retro reruns – Challenger, Mustang and Camaro (sort of).

  • avatar

    The 65-66 Mercury design was based on the Lincoln and advertised as being built “In The Lincoln Continental Tradition”. Their similarity was intentional.

    The car I learned to drive on, a 66 Mercury Montclair 4 door, had the same aqua color interior [but cloth and vinyl] as this car.Exterior was a beautiful dark blue green metallic.

    This Lincoln is the best of the series I think. The taillights with their chrome trim,the bump in the front hood and grille and turn signals wrapping around the fenders off set what I always thought was an almost too stark design, but one that said elegance and taste.

    The people across the street got a new one in that antique white that was popular then.Awfully tony for our middle class neighborhood, but an impressive car, even for a 9 year old.

    Yes folks, there was a time when Ford did more to make a Lincoln that slapping wall to wall tail lamps and a waterfall grille on a Ford to compete in the luxury market.

  • avatar

    This car represents a tragic gap in my car ownership experience. I have owned both a 63 Cad Fleetwood sedan, and a 64 Imperial Crown Coupe. The closest I have come to this was a 61 TBird. If the Bird is any guide, the early Conti was one heavy, tight car. IIRC correctly, the Conti convertibles cracked 6000 pounds, and the sedans were around 5500. My significantly larger Imperial and Fleetwood weighed in at “only” 5000 and 5200, respectively.

    I think the 64 is my favorite, though I would not turn down a 62, 3 or 5 either. The 61 had a front suspension that had trouble holding an alignment (as did my TBird), and its front end treatment was my least favorite of this bunch.

    My father had several Lincolns, but missed the seuicide doors by just one year, when he got his first in 1970 (a Mark III). He said that the time that if they had still offered the seuicide door Continental, he would have chosen one.

    An additional note – someone noticed the backwards windshield wipers. I think I remember that the early (61-3?) Conti’s wipers were hydraulic instead of electric. Does anybody else remember this?

    • 0 avatar
      Mark out West

      Yup. The wipers were controlled with a vertically arranged sliding switch, plus a button to wash. My recollection was they were very quiet.

      My grandmother owned a 65, forest green with matching green leather interior and carpets. Everything that looked metallic on the car, such a door trim, *was* metallic. Exception build quality at the time.

  • avatar

    Lincoln came close to a renassaince with the 97 Town Car. An elegant, simple design that was let-down by it’s Crown Vic interior. It wasn’t too flashy like the later models and had some nice curves on the body. Wasn’t about the Northstar horsepower race either. I enjoyed driving my dad’s TC company car in Houston (perfect place for a TC), nice ride on the interstates.

    In fact, his newer Explorer (another company car) in SLC with the V8 reminds me of that Town Car. Similiar drivetrain, very quiet ( like a Ford), and a smooth ride.

  • avatar

    Thank you, Paul. What a wonderful article about a stunning car.

    As you noted, sales for 1961 didn’t increase greatly over the 1960 sales figures. But I believe that Cadillac and Imperial sales fell that year, so Lincoln’s market share did increase. It’s also worth noting that Lincoln sales steadily improved throughout the 1960s, even though the car was only heavily facelifted once (for the 1966 model year).

    I may be going against the grain here, but I also like the later 1960s Lincoln Continentals. They are not as “pure” as the original, but they are still handsome cars in their own right. They suffer in comparison with the cars that came before them. Compare them to their contemporaries, and they are still elegant cars, and they still look good today.

    And I do believe that Ford continued the famous “12-mile test” through the late 1960s. I remember reading that Ford discontinued the test in either 1970 or 1971. Supposedly a computer-simulated “drive” was all that was needed to ensure quality.

    The 12-mile road test and other quality measures were a reaction to the 1958-60 Lincolns, which were quality-control disasters. Granted, virtually all of Detroit was having quality problems at that time – read the old Popular Mechanics Owners’ Reports; it’s amazing how many Cadillac owners in the mid- and late-1950s complained of poor workmanship – but those Lincolns were the worst of the bunch. Ford had to do something drastic to erase the poor quality image of those Lincolns.

    The early 1960s were an interesting time for Detroit. GM brought out the interesting (and influential, from a styling standpoint) Corvair. The Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac compacts all featured unusual and interesting technological features.

    Ford brought out the 1961 Lincoln Continental in an attempt to redefine American “luxury,” with an emphasis on clean design and quality instead of sheer size and glitz. The 1962 Fairlane was an attempt to bring back the size, utility and upright roominess of the 1949 Ford and 1955 Chevrolet.

    Chrysler went to unibody construction for all of its cars (except for the Imperial), and introduced the alternator.

    Even little AMC brought out an aluminum version of its six, pioneered the “uniside” construction method for its 1963 Classic/Ambassador and offered interesting “twin-stick” transmissions.

    Unfortunately, after the 1965 Corvair and the 1966 Toronado, Detroit seemed to give up, and preferred taking the easy path. It was more cubic inches, longer hoods and vinyl roofs instead of engineering advances, more usable interior space and better build quality.

    Ford followed that path, too – the 1970 Lincoln was based on the Ford and Mercury platform, and even abandoned the suicide doors, because supposedly Cadillac customers did not like them. Ford wanted conquest sales. Chasing volume worked for a few years, but that obsession cost both Lincoln and Cadillac their air of exclusivity, and allowed Mercedes to capture the hearts and minds of luxury car buyers who wanted something that wasn’t affordable to the masses.

    • 0 avatar

      You are correct that the US industry cheapened the product and turned away from the innovation that had been so evident before the mid 60s. In fairness, however, we have to recall that federal safety and emission standards began to sop up a lot of the engineering budgets by the late 60s, money that had previously been put into the product in other ways. And some of the expense previously in the cars was not that noticible. For example, every seam on the front clip of my 64 Imperial was filled and sanded (undoubtedly by hand) so that there was nary a seam between the leading edge of the front door and the leading edge of the passenger door. Beautiful workmanship, but I wonder if 1 in 5000 Imperial buyers ever noticed.

      I agree with you on the late 60s Lincolns. I particularly liked the 66, which was the last with the big Lincoln star hood ornament until the springy ones appeared in the early 70s.

      I may be getting ahead of things on Lincoln week, but the 70-79 Continental, though not up to Lincoln’s 60s standards, was still head and shoulders above the domestic competition in terms of quality. You make a good point, though, that by the 70s, Mercedes was offering a kind of quality that was no longer available domestically (but at a price WAAAAY above contemporary Lincolns and Cadillacs).

    • 0 avatar

      I have to confess…1970s Lincolns – both the standard Continentals and the Marks – are cars that I like, even though I should know better.

  • avatar

    When I see one of these cars I automatically think of the 64 model in Animal House that Flounder borrowed from his brother – later turned into the Death Mobile by D-Day . Of course the movie was supposed to take place in 62 , but they hadn’t changed all that much from the original design .

  • avatar

    My father’s ’64 had the same color leather interior. The exterior color was a matching metallic aqua. I like the ’64-’65 styling slightly better, the back end being particularly cleaner. The early dash was also kind of ugly, not fitting the exterior. This one is more elegant. BTW, that dash is one solid and heavy assembly of glass and chromed metal. I know because I had to remove it to replace light bulbs and service the radio. As far as reliability and serviceability was concerned, a Cadillac or Imperial was a better car. Vacuum door locks, hydraulic wipers, power steering pump in the engine block, pre-C6 cast iron automatic (that broke), etc. But, it was a work of modern industrial art. It reminds me of the “buttoned down” formality of its time.

  • avatar

    My Aunt (who was recently widowed) traded in her 58 T-Bird for a new 1963 Continental. It was dark green with a green leather interior (similar to the curbside classic) I got to drive the Continental several times when it was new and it was a “honey” of a car. Great ride and handling with the 430 cu. in. Lincoln engine plenty of acceleration. I believe Lincoln went back to the four barrel carb. this year on these engines. My Aunt had a habit of trading cars every three years and unfortunately her next Continental was a 1967 model which was the complete opposite of the 63. Handled like a barge, rode like I don’t know what. and had anemic acceleration. I was sorry to see the 63 go.

  • avatar

    Back in the late 70’s my sister dated a guy that owned a white mercedes. it was down more than it was driven. it broke often and he often had to wait for parts, sometimes for weeks. At least if a lincoln, caddy or chrysler broke parts were as close as your friendly auto parts store.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, I did not find this completely true while driving a 63 Fleetwood Sixty Special in the late 70s. The Cadillac shared very few parts with its GM siblings. I could mostly get the stuff at the local store, but it was all special order and expensive. While my prior 67 Galaxie cost me $20 to have the local gas station replace a U joint, the Cad cost me $100 to have a CV joint replaced in its 3 joint driveshaft.
      This was the car that still keeps the words of my car mentor ringing in my ears: Never buy an old luxury car. The rule applies today to Audis, big BMWs and the like just like it applied to Cadillacs and Lincolns in earlier times. Imperials always shared more mechanical parts with the big Chryslers, so were not as bad about this.

  • avatar


    I think Paul is referencing the “current” Lincoln as the Gerald Ford Lincoln, not the Town Car from the ’70’s.

    • 0 avatar

      I was refering to the current Town Car. Ford’s Panther platform was introduced in 1978 as a new, 1979 model. The Town Car, Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis have been facelifted and updated several times over the past 30+ years, but they are an ancient, 1970’s designs with body-on-frame construction and live rear axels. This is why I say the current Town Car is the Jimmy Carter Lincoln.

  • avatar

    you’re correct regarding that,jpcavanaugh. By the 70’s though, the rwd caddies shared most of their suspension and drivetrain components with the electra and olds 98, even though cadillac still used their own engines. By 68 (or 69?) lincoln used the 460 engine, common to fords and mercurys, which was a stroked 460. Lincoln also used the heavy duty C6 trans that the big fords, mercs and trucks used.
    I know that people always talk of chrysler and imperial using the same mechanical hardware, but by 1970 (69 for the mark3) lincolns also shared just about every mechanical part with the fords and mercs. They were built on a stretched ford/mercury chassis.

  • avatar

    Oops, I goofed. I meant to type that the 460 was a stroked 429.

  • avatar

    I had a 1962 Lincoln convertible, and although there never was a time when I had all four doors open on rough ground with the top down, I can say that it was one solid automobile, with no cowl shake when the top was down. It was a well-built automobile; when I bought it in 1972 all the complicated electrical functions of the power top were working fine. (Removing the top cushion of the rear seat exposed a row of relays that went almost the full width of the car.) The panel gaps were quite small and there wasn’t a bad one on the car. The paint and trim was all still in great shape. The only design fault I could pick with it was that the dual heater cores were located such that they were a real bear to get at. This caused me a bit of a problem; when I bought the car it had been driven for quite a while with a small radiator leak, and with plain water in the cooling system there had been considerable rust buildup. It took a lot of flushing to get that removed.

    It was indeed compact; the convertible top was actually shorter than that on the 1958 Plymouth convertible I had. However it is true that the exact same-size top was used on all the 57-59 Mopar ragtops right up through the New Yorker. I was surprised that the 1962 car didn’t handle better than the 1960 Premiere I had, since it was a good couple of feet shorter.

    We thoroughly enjoyed that convertible sedan in the three or four years we had it, and it’s one of the cars I wish I had had the resources to keep.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    My father worked at Wixom in 1958 when I was a wee laddie, and built Thunderbirds, Lincolns and Continentals (all of which were unitbody).

    These big Lincolns were flexible fliers; if you jacked up a corner of a convertible to change a wheel, you could not get the doors open until you put the car down flat. That’s how badly they flexed.

    Ford was never able to “fix it” because you can’t fix an egg cut in half. (I always describe car construction to non-car people as either built like an egg, or a bridge – most people can picture that, even if it makes little sense to car-guys/is oversimplified).

    These are gorgeous and personally, I’d love any unitbody Lincoln, 4 door hardtop or convertible, to go in my dream-garage with my other dream cars, a 1962-3-4 Studebaker Hawk, a 1963 Chrysler turbine car, a Citroen DS sedan (and why not a decompatible as well?).

    At a used car lot in the early 1970’s, I recall seeing a 1967 Ford Thunderbird 4 door hardtop with rear suicide doors. Yes, this was the first year the T-bird had a frame (since the 2-seat cars of 1955-6-7, anyway). The frame and 117″ wheelbase were shared with the Continental Mark III, and was an extended version of the 2 door Thunderbird frame on a 114″ wheelbase. This particular car was maxed out with luxuries and had – I swear I felt it myself – a side-oiler 427 single four barrel carburetor engine. (This engine was never officially offered in the Thunderbird). I strongly suspect even to this day that it was a special-order car for one of Ford’s executives when new, maybe even Lee Iacocca? Or Henry the Duece? It was just a used car when I saw it – but I knew it was special. Wish I could have snagged it and put it away for 35 years….

    BTW Lee Harvey Oswald’s weapon was a 7.65 mm Argentine Mauser, not Italian. It was a German designed (and probably made) rifle made for the Argentinian military on contract early in the 20th century and were plentiful and cheap military surplus back in the day. You can still get them sometimes as well as the ammo, which is a tad over 30 caliber (being metric, and all).

    • 0 avatar

      BTW Lee Harvey Oswald’s weapon was a 7.65 mm Argentine Mauser, not Italian. It was a German designed (and probably made) rifle made for the Argentinian military on contract early in the 20th century and were plentiful and cheap military surplus back in the day. You can still get them sometimes as well as the ammo, which is a tad over 30 caliber (being metric, and all).

      Well that is the first I have ever heard of that.
      All references I have ever seen ,say it was a Italian Carcano.

  • avatar

    If you love the suicide door convertible, check out the HBO show Entourage, which opens with the main characters cruising through Hollywood in a Lincoln. Aside from the opening credits, the car rarely appears in the show.

  • avatar

    Worth noting this basic design has had MANY placements in movies and on TV, including Johnny Drama’s ride on “Entourage,” Morpheus’ ride in “The Matrix,” and on “Mad Men.”

    LOVE the car.

  • avatar

    They have a beautiful black suicide regtop in the movie “kalifornia” with Brad pitt. You see a lot of the car, because they travel cross country in it.
    Do you guys remember the hilarious lincoln commercials in the 80’s when they endlessly made fun of the caddies, when the parking valets got them mixed up with buicks and oldsmobiles? Those have to be some of the funniest car commercials of all time.

  • avatar

    There’s an outfit up in Brighton, MI, that specializes in turning these into slammed gangsta rides.

    Even if you prefer stock original sixties Connies, the results here are not particularly gruesome. In fact, these are some of the best looking customs of this particular genre, IMO, and I don’t particularly like this genre. Cool logo, too.

  • avatar

    Does anybody else think that the 1963-1981 Mercedes “W100” 600 was influenced by the 1961 Continental? Back in the good old days when a confident Detroit lead the world.

  • avatar

    Paul: If you’re in the Santa Cruz area, then you’re close enough to visit the Blackhawk Museum in Danville. They have the finest example of a 1961 Continental in the world. It is not the actual presidential limousine, but a short wheelbase version from the same fleet. It’s a short wheelbase version with the great vinyl top and spectacular blue interior. After all these years, it still looks more “presidential” than any presidential limousine, before or since.

  • avatar

    Many years ago I owned a 65 in midnight blue metallic with a charcoal roof. Loved that car.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • ToolGuy: @Jeff S, I believe you will find that the last significant revisions to U.S. fuel economy standards were...
  • Varezhka: You are also able to order a base Land Cruiser GX for 45K USD including 10% sales tax over there. No wonder...
  • ToolGuy: “America led the way in citing “Desire to avoid going to a dealer” as the main impetus for buying a...
  • ToolGuy: “with the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport in high demand” The Volkswagen Atlas is a fine vehicle...
  • EBFlex: “Why does anybody need 500 miles worth of range?” Because recharge times are agonizingly slow,...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber