As the 1950s wound down, the Lincoln brand was in dire straits. The Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company had reportedly lost $60 Million on the immense and floridly-styled Lincoln models produced between 1958 and 1960, and there were increasingly strident calls among Ford’s management to drop the Lincoln brand. The all-new 1961 Continental returned Lincoln to marginal profitability, and the improvements for 1964 put the Continental firmly on the profit side of the ledger – in short, the Continental was Lincoln’s savior.
The 1961 Continental was a daring design, completely new from the ground up and having nothing in common with its garish, money-losing predecessor. The smallest Lincoln since 1951 offered understated styling exuding refinement and class. Lincoln offered only the Continental model in a four-door sedan and a four-door convertible. Its most memorable feature was probably the rear-hinged rear doors – commonly referred to as ‘suicide’ doors – not seen on American cars since the early ‘50s.
The new Lincoln’s smaller size caused concern in Lincoln’s management and in some customers that the interior room was a bit tight for a luxury automobile. Lincoln addressed these concerns in 1964, increasing the Continental’s wheelbase and width to give the occupants more interior room. The Lincoln’s styling was freshened up by eliminating the curved side glass in favor of straight glass to reduce production cost, redesigning the front and rear fascias, and changing the shape of the roof to appear more integral to the body design. The uncertainties of the ’61 to ’63 Lincolns were successfully addressed with the upgrades for 1964. From an initial sales volume of 25,160 cars in 1961, sales of the 1964 model jumped to 36,297.
Oddly enough, the ’61 Continental design originated from an internal design competition for the 1961 two-door Thunderbird. Design teams led by Ford designers Elwood Engel and Joe Oros prepared designs for the new Thunderbird, and Oros’ proposal was accepted. Ford VP Robert McNamara, who was the consummate statistical analyst without any training in car design and who was trying to make the Lincoln profitable, asked Elwood Engel if his design could be modified for the Lincoln four-door sedan. Engel’s team then spent two hectic weeks revising the Thunderbird design proposal to become the 1961 Lincoln Continental. McNamara’s plan to reduce costs succeed, with the Thunderbird and the Continental sharing internal body structures and being produced on the same assembly line.
The 1964 Lincoln retained the 430 cubic inch V8 of the 1961-1963 models along with the three-speed automatic transmission. The Continental was considered to be one of the best-built American cars of its time. Each engine was dyno-tested for three hours, disassembled for visual inspection, and then rebuilt. Every automatic transmission was tested for thirty minutes before installation. Completed vehicles were subjected to a twelve-mile road test, and the break-in period along with the usual 1,000-mile service were eliminated. The icing on the cake, however, was Lincoln’s two-year or 24,000-mile warranty, which was unheard of in the early ‘60s.
According to Hagerty collector car evaluation estimates, the value of a 1964 Continental in #1 concours (perfect) condition is about $27,800, and one in #4 fair condition is worth about $8,100. The estimated average value of a 1964 Lincoln is $12,400. All values have shown slight increases since May of 2015.
The ’61 Continental saved Lincoln’s bacon and the ’64 made improvements that increased sales and profit. The design continued to evolve through the 1969 model year when production ended. Total sales between ’61 and ’69 reached 334,345 Continentals. Not too shabby for a design that wasn’t good enough to be a Thunderbird.
Ate Up with Motor http://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/1961-lincoln-continental/
The Truth About Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/curbside-classic-1965-lincoln-continental/
Automotive Mileposts http://automotivemileposts.com/lincoln/prod1964lincoln.html
Photo by That Hartford Guy and _salguod