When Edsel Ford requested a personal luxury vehicle to use while vacationing in Florida, designer Bob Gregorie put pen to paper. Within an hour he sketched out what would eventually become the Lincoln Continental. That initial design, essentially a two-door channeled and sectioned Lincoln Zephyr, featured a convertible top and no running boards. Workers hand built the car, which sat 7 inches lower than the original Lincoln, and delivered to to Edsel in Florida. He loved it — and so did his rich friends. He telegrammed headquarters stating he could sell 1,000 of them. The dubbed the car the Lincoln Continental due to its European styling queues and put it in production. The first Lincoln Continental left the factory on this day in 1939.
A total of 24 examples would be built by hand and dubbed as 1939 models. Another 400 would leave the Detroit factory for 1940 before dies for machine pressing were introduced for 1941. The car received updated bodywork for 1942, but the attack on Pearl Harbor limited production to just 200 units for the model year. Of all the 1939-1942 Lincoln Continentals, most wore cabriolet coachwork, although Lincoln also built a number of coupes.
Production resumed in 1946 and saw updated trim and a new grille. However, by the end of 1948, the car no fit company goals and Ford turned off its lights. Each of the 1939-1948 Continetals are powered by a 292 cubic inch Lincoln V12, marking the last mass produced American car to receive a V12. The Classic Car Club of America recognizes the first 10 years of the Lincoln Continental as a full classic, one of the latest models to receive such a distinction.
Later Models of the Lincoln Continental
Ford Motor Company revived the Continental name for 1956, but this time Continental would be a marque of its own. The Continental Mark II saw high above the rest of the Lincoln line up, but it would only see production for two years. In 1958, like the Ford Thunderbird, the Continental grew into a large sedan. The car set the record for the largest sedan built by an American automaker then or now. Still, it had trouble competing with other makes, such as Cadillac. Ford discontinued the Continental brand in 1959. For the next four decades, Lincoln would sell the Continental in a variety of pricing slots. At times it represented the marque’s entry level vehicle, while other times being its flagship model.
After Lincoln discontinued the model in 2003, the name appeared to be gone for good. Then in 2017 Lincoln revived it once again for the tenth generation of the model that would replace the Lincoln MKS. For the next four years one of three V6 options sat under the hood, including two twin turbo models. As Lincoln, like Ford, shifted to SUVs and Crossovers, the Lincoln sedan disappeared again following the 2020 model year. Lincoln has continued to sell the vehicle overseas. If Ford can turn the Mustang into an SUV, could Lincoln do the same with the Continental? Time will tell, surely.