End of the Line, Again, for the Lincoln Continental
For the third and perhaps last time, Lincoln will cease production of the Continental.
The discontinuation of the slow-selling sedan at the end of 2020 was confirmed late Wednesday by Automotive News and quickly backed up by a statement from Lincoln, though the news was something we’ve expected for quite some time. It was foretold by unconfirmed past reports and a growing mountain of evidence.
Alas, this year’s destruction of things from the past did not spare a nameplate that first appeared in 1939.
It escaped few onlookers that Ford has little apparent use for traditional passenger cars, and the model’s platform mates, the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, were already tapped to enter the automotive graveyard by the end of the year. The initial flurry of sales that greeted the returning Continental in late 2016 fell away in short order, leaving Lincoln with a product that boasted more street cred on the other side of the Pacific.
Not surprisingly, Lincoln told AN that a 2021 Conti will appear in the Chinese market, though the brand confirmed to The Detroit News that it will be a single-year offering. Lincoln wants to focus on growth markets, and a large luxury sedan doesn’t garner enough demand in either market.
Nor will the name return on some sort of SUV.
“The Continental has had a really rich past, but we’ll return the name to the vault after that,” Lincoln spokesperson Angie Kozleski said.
A rich past, indeed. The Continental, which offered buyers a V-12 engine in its first iteration, was spun off as its own brand during the orgy of excess that was the late 1950s, spawning the beautiful and exclusive Mark II and unibody Christmas tree land barges that followed (Mk. III, IV, V). It was when Ford Motor Company scrapped the Continental division and returned the name as a model that icon status was reached.
From 1961 through 1969, the suicide-door Continental defined American luxury, helped along by the Thunderbird-based Continental Mark III coupe that appeared at the end of the decade to hoover up even more consumer dollars. It wasn’t until the lackluster Versailles appeared near the end of the 1970s that the Continental name couldn’t be found on all production Lincolns. Continental was Lincoln, and the resurrected version that appeared for the 2017 model year aimed to recapture some of that earlier glitz and panache.
The American car buyer wasn’t moved by this new creation, but they did take kindly to Lincoln’s growing stable of utility vehicles. From the Navigator to the new Aviator and Corsair and even the refreshed-for-your-viewing-pleasure Nautilus, Lincoln’s lineup is a hit. It doesn’t need Flat Rock Assembly to crank out a dwindling supply of Continentals (volume last year totaled 6,586 in the U.S.). The last of the line got a brief bit of limelight when Lincoln sent the sedan to the coachbuilders for a vanishingly small run of 2019 and 2020 “coach door” variants. Stickering for well above six figures, these stretched, suicide-doored rides went like hotcakes.
You might never lay eyes on one.
While Lincoln didn’t describe what comes next for the brand, we know that there’ll be a Lincoln-badged EV based on the Mustang Mach-E, as well a possible midsize electric SUV arriving in a few years (at which time the Nautilus is expected to depart the lineup). Ford’s pair-up with EV startup Rivian was supposed to have spawned a Lincoln product, but the pandemic put the kibosh on that effort.
What’s clear is that, as of the end of this year, Lincoln will be a non-car brand for the foreseeable future.
[Images: Ford Motor Company, Murilee Martin]
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