Lincoln Continental

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Lincoln Continental

1961 - 1969
7045/7565 cc
300-365 bhp
3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
201 km/h
Number Built:
4 star
Lincoln Continental
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


The Lincoln Continental is recognised as one of America's most influential cars. Lincoln, the up-market division of Ford created a vehicle with clean lines that was very European in feel but American in size. It earned the name "clap door" because of its back door rear-hinging and became a very trendy car for the rich and famous in the United States and was even the White House car of preference - it was a stretched version of the Continental that President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

In 1961 the Continental was completely redesigned by Elwood Engel. For the first time, the names Lincoln and Continental would be paired together outside the Mark Series; along with replacing the Continental Mark V, the 1961 Continental replaced the Lincoln Capri and Premiere, consolidating Lincoln into a single product line. Originally intended to be the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, the design was enlarged and slightly altered before being switched to the Lincoln line by Robert McNamara.

One of the most striking features of the new Continental was its size. It was 14.8 in (380 mm) shorter than its predecessor. So much smaller was this car, that advertising executives at Ford photographed a woman parallel parking a sedan for a magazine spread. The new Continental's most recognized trademark, front-opening rear "suicide doors", was a purely practical decision. The new Continental rode on a wheelbase of 123 inches (3,100 mm), and the doors were hinged from the rear to ease ingress and egress.

When the Lincoln engineers were examining the back seats that styling had made up, the engineers kept hitting the rear doors with their feet. Hinging the doors from the rear solved the problem. The doors were to become the best-known feature of 1960s Lincolns. To simplify production (in the beginning, anyway), all cars were to be four-door models, and only two body styles were offered, sedan and convertible. The 1961 model was the first car manufactured in the U.S. to be sold with a 24,000 mi (39,000 km) or 2-year bumper-to-bumper warranty. It was also the first postwar four-door convertible from a major U.S. manufacturer. Walnut-paneling was on the doors.

Despite the smaller exterior dimensions, at 4,927 lb (2,235 kg), the new sedan was only 85 lb (39 kg) lighter than the lightest 1960 Lincoln four-door sedan (2 lb less than a two-door); at 5,215 lb (2,365 kg), the convertible outweighed its 1960 predecessor by 39 lb (18 kg).[18] As a result (save for their respective nine-passenger models) the new Lincoln was still heavier than anything from Cadillac or Imperial. This solid construction led to a rather enviable reputation as "Corporate management was determined to make it the finest mass-produced domestic automobile of its time and did so." The 1961 Continental was Elwood Engel's Magnum Opus, as he was responsible for the complete design of the car.

The fourth generation Continental became a sales success, with 25,160 sold during the first year of production. This generation of Continental is favored by collectors and has appeared in many motion pictures, such as The Matrix, The Last Action Hero, Kalifornia and the Inspector Gadget films. It has also appeared in the television series Pushing Daisies, and recently in the opening sequence of the television series Entourage. Ford produced several concept cars which recalled this design. In 2007, Lincoln's Navigator and MKX SUV lines adopted chrome grilles in the style of these Continentals.

Realising they were making a winner, Lincoln only marginally altered the Continental during its nine-year run (new chrome, grille, wheelbase) but essentially it stayed the same. Planned obsolescence just wasn't cricket in a car that cost upwards of US$6200, so styling changes from year to year were very subtle. At first glance, it was not easy for even a die-hard Lincoln aficionado to pick a 1961 model from a 1962, or 1963. Knowledgeable Continental owners noticed that the grille work was changed slightly and that the deck lid line was raised and became more pronounced, with a "squarish" look. The not-so-knowledgeable relied on the amber-coloured front turn signals. In 1962 a simpler front grille design with floating rectangles and a thin center bar was adopted. Sales climbed over 20% in 1962, to 31,061.

Under the skin, there were quite a few changes made each consecutive year – with 1963 being one of the standouts. The big, finned aluminium brake drums, previously offered only on the convertible, became standard on the sedan, too. Engine design changes resulted in 20 more horsepower, and performance was up accordingly. On the inside, there was a bit more room for front and rear-seat passengers and also more luggage space. The Continental's were offered only as a four-door sedan or a four-door convertible – this being the only one in the industry at the time. The Continental's electrical system was updated in 1963 too, when Ford replaced the generator with an alternator.

First Class Quality Control

Such was the level of quality control that went into each car that, before an engine was even installed in a car, it underwent a three-hour hot test that put the equivalent of a 500-mile break-in on it. Mounted on a test bed with a load applied, the engine was run for 15 minutes at the equivalent of a car speed of 35 mph, then stepped up to a half-hour at the equivalent of 60 mph. Finally, it was run at the equivalent of 90 mph for 2.25 hours. After the hot test, the engine was opened up for visual inspection. The pan was dropped and connecting rod bolts and main bearing bolts were re-torqued. Cylinder walls were also probed for possible scoring or scratches. Then, having passed inspection, everything was buttoned up and installed in a car, then given a thorough 12-mile road test to check out everything else.

We believe that, for the early 1960s, the Lincoln's were the only U.S. manufacturer that believed a hot test was necessary for every engine. The others used spot checks only. Lincoln also ran in each automatic transmission for 30 minutes to prove it operated efficiently and quietly. At 430 cubic inches, the Lincoln V8 was then the largest in the industry. For 1963 a new four-barrel carburettor replaced the former two-barrel, and a unique manifold was designed for it. Most four-barrel manifolds centre the carburettor squarely on the middle of it. Since it was believed by the engineers that a four-barrel would operate on the primary barrels about 90 per cent of the time, the Continental manifold had the primaries centred on it for better fuel distribution.

The engine used a new piston and combustion chamber design, which promoted higher mixture turbulence in the combustion chamber and gave a more uniform flame front at ignition. This reduced sensitivity to poor-quality premium fuel and detonation. Compression ratio was increased by only one-tenth of a point 10.1 to 1 by this change, so the engine still required only premium-grade fuel and not the super-premium then available in the USA. The engine was rated at 320 hp at 4600 rpm and 465 pounds-feet of torque at 2600 rpm. The Continental responded well to the extra horses, providing better acceleration times. Average times for the 0-30, 0-45, and 0-60-mph increments were 3.9. 7.0. and 10.9 seconds respectively. The quarter-mile would came up in 18.5 seconds and 78 mph, and the Continental would run out to a top speed of 108 mph – while the electronic tachometer would be recording a lazy 4300 rpm – so it really could run all day at well over 100 miles per hour.

The 1961 and 1962 Continentals were a little more fuel efficient, the increase due to the four-barrel carburettor. Consumption on the 1961 and 1962 models was in the 10-15-mpg range, while for 1963 this dropped off to 9-14 mpg. While the Continental's was quite large on the outside – even for American tastes - its lines were such that it didn’t seem nearly as big to the driver. Power steering and good all-around visibility (you could see the tops of all four guards from the driver's seat) made it an easy car to get around town in.

The Most Vibration Free Car In The World

On long, open-road trips you really knew you were in a luxury car. Wind and road noises were most noticeable by their almost complete absence. This was the result of some extensive engineering on Lincoln's part in the areas of sound-deadening materials and where and how to use them. Coupled with their equally extensive work in the field of chassis tuning (as it applied to shake and vibration frequencies), the result was a car that was as solid and free from vibrations and noises as any car then on the road, bar none. And when we say that – we cannot find any road tests even from the best of the British and German marques that came close to the Continental. One advancement in particular stood out: the wheels were now piloted, or held in true position on the hubs, and didn't depend on the lug nuts for this purpose. This ensured trueness of running, which was important when you consider that 90 per cent of all vibrations that enter a car's chassis originate at the wheels.

On the Road

The Continental obviously came with pretty much everything standard – but there were some options – such as a “speed control” (read cruise-control). More important that the speed control was the fact that, at any speed, the Continental was a comfortable car to drive. Directional stability was excellent, and high crosswind loading had no effect on it. Well chosen spring rates and shock control gave the driver a good feel of the road at all speeds, yet provided a pillow-soft boulevard ride. Suspension geometry and weight distribution gave the Continental slight understeer characteristics, amplified on tight corners by the low factory-recommended tyre pressure of 24 psi. Boosting pressure up to the high factory-recommended setting of 28 psi reduced understeer an appreciable amount. On faster corners, steering was more neutral than anything and the big Continental remained surprisingly light on its feet.

From 1963 the addition of front aluminium drums from the convertible made for more braking efficiency. Much-improved cooling meant less fade and promoted longer lining life. Road testers tried to find the point where fade would be noticeable – but could never do so unless punishing the car well beyond the limits anyone would experience even in spirited driving. You may have been able to build up heat, but the brakes still wouldn’t lock up suddenly or unexpectedly, and braking effort would remain equal on all wheels.

On the Inside

Interior and exterior detailing on the Continental was above reproach. Everything fitted as it should have and only the highest-quality upholstery and carpeting materials were used. The seats were well contoured, divided-back seats as comfortable as any of the semi-bucket seats available as front pews on the competition. The optional, six-way power front seat allowed a variety of positions and adjustments and fitted even the “super-size-me” drivers. The steering wheel position was good and height challenged drivers could see over it without trouble. Most switches and controls were within easy reach. Temperature and fuel gauges were provided, while warning lights handled the other engine functions. Strangely the speedo was a little weird - the space provided for it was wide enough, but the actual dial was very narrow and as a result, it was not too easy to see at a glance how fast you were going.

Under the bonnet, space was limited because of the power accessories, but simple carburettor and distributor servicing were reportedly easy. Plug changes were a bit more difficult. The boot had plenty of usable area, being completely and neatly padded. While the initial price of the Continental was fairly high, it had a list of standard equipment that would run to at least US$1000 if bought separately. The list included automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, alternator, power windows and door locks, all-transistor AM radio, heater, whitewall tyres, windshield washer, rear seat speaker, padded instrument panel and visors, electric clock, and quite a few other items. Add these to the Continental's other qualities and the obvious answer was that the Lincoln buyer got an awful lot of value for their money. For 1963, another 31,233 were sold.

Getting Even Bigger

In 1964 the wheelbase was stretched 3 in (76 mm) to improve the ride and add rear-seat legroom, while the roofline was squared off at the same time. The dash was also redesigned, doing away with the pod concept. Flat window glass was for additional interior space. The fuel tank access door, which had been concealed at the rear of the car in the rear grille, was instead placed on the driver's side rear quarter panel. The exterior "Continental" script was changed and the rear grille replaced by a simple horizontally elongated Continental star on the rear deck lid. 36,297 were sold that year.

The convex 19621964 grille was replaced by a flatter, squared-off one for 1965. The car was given front disc brakes to improve stopping distances. For the first time, parking lamps and front turn signals were integrated into the front quarter panels instead of the bumper. Taillights were fitted with a ribbed chrome grille on each side. With the facelift, sales improved about 10%, to 40,180 units. An oil pressure gauge was added. Front seat belts with retractors were now standard.

The Two Door Pillarless Hardtop

A two-door pillarless hardtop version was launched in 1966, the first two-door Lincoln since 1960, and the MEL engine was expanded from 430ci/7.0 litres to 462ci/7.6 litres. The car was given all-new exterior sheet metal and a new interior. Parking lights and front turn signals went back into the front bumper, and taillights set in the rear bumper for the first time.The length was increased by 4.6 in (117 mm) to 220.9 in (5,611 mm), the width by 1.1 in (28 mm) to 79.7 in (2,024 mm), and the height (on the sedan) by 0.8 in (20 mm) to 55.0 in (1,397 mm) high. Curved side glass returned, however tumblehome was less severe than in earlier models. The convertible saw a few technical changes related to lowering and raising the top. Lincoln engineers separated the hydraulics for the top and rear deck lid (boot) by adding a second pump and eliminating the hydraulic solenoids. A glass rear window replaced the plastic window used previously.

To lure potential Cadillac buyers, 1966 Continental prices were reduced almost US$600 without reducing equipment levels. It succeeded, helping boost sales to 54,755 that year, an increase of 36%, all of it due to the new two-door; sales of both four-door models slipped slightly. Product breakdown for the year consisted of 65% sedans, 29% coupes, and just under 6% for the four-door convertible. 1966 was the first year a tape player was available and a new tilt steering wheel. The 1967 Continental was almost identical to the 1966. The most obvious external difference was that the 1966 model had the Lincoln logo on each front guard, ahead of the front wheel; this did not appear on the 1967 model. It was also the end for the four-door convertible, down to just 2,276 units, a drop of 28% over 1966.

Continental Safety

In addition to being the last production four-door convertible; at 5,505 pounds (2,497 kg) the 1967 convertible holds the distinction of being the heaviest Lincoln since the Model K, and was even 55 pounds heavier than the Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine of that year. Total production was 45,667. Warning lights on the dash included a cruise control on, truck open, and an oil pressure light. Safety came to the forefront in 1967 –1968 and resulted in energy-absorbing steering columns, "safety" padded interiors, and lap safety belts for all passengers. 1968 saw shoulder belts for outboard front passengers as well. 1968 brought some exterior changes. The parking lights, taillights, and front turn signals were once again in a wraparound design on the guards to satisfy US Federal standards for side marker lights, but looked very different from those of the 1965 model.

The new 460ci/7.5 litre Ford 385 engine was to be available initially, but there were so many 462ci/7.57 litre Ford MEL engine engines still available, the 460 was phased in later that year. In April, the new Mark III made its debut, as a 1969 model. Total sales would be down to just 39,134. 1969 was the last production year with rear-opening "suicide doors", with few changes from 1968 (including the addition of federally-mandated head restraints). Sales held steady at 38,383 for the Continental, plus another 30,858 for the new Continental Mark III. In the CBS television situation comedy Green Acres (19651971), in which the cars were furnished by Ford Motor Company, lead character Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) is shown driving a 1965 Continental convertible and then in later episodes owns a 1967 model.
1961 Lincoln Continental
1961 Lincoln Continental

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