MotorCities National Heritage Area

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives/The Robert Tate Collection
Published 8.5.2020

1940 Lincoln Contiental clay design proposal Ford Motor Company Archives 11940 Lincoln Contiental clay design proposal (Ford Motor Company Archives) 

1940 was a successful year for the Ford Motor Company. It was the year that they introduced the Continental nameplate to the buying public. The image above was the first clay model that gained the approval of Edsel Ford in 1939 to manufacture the first model.

1940 Lincoln Continental coupe Ford Motor Company Archives 21940 Lincoln Continental coupe (Ford Motor Company Archives)

Automotive historians said it was a milestone in automotive engineering when Edsel Ford and designer Eugene T Grégoire developed the first Continental, and that the early 1940-1948 Lincolns were some of the best automotive designs in Ford history.

1942 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet Ford Motor Company Archives 31942 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet (Ford Motor Company Archives)

A prototype model was sent to Florida, which led to over 200 orders for the Continental. During the 1940 model year, 54 convertible Cabriolets were manufactured, and, later during the spring, the Continental coupe was designed with only 350 models made available to the buying public. For many years, automotive historians dubbed the 1940-1948 Continental models “the World’s most perfectly styled automobiles.”

In 1949, Ford was giving a lot attention to the styling of its new models. The Lincoln models had changed in 1949 with new name plates like the Cosmopolitan or Club coupe and later the Capri name was used.

Ford Design Studio developing the 1956 Mark II with William Clay Ford RESIZED 4Ford Design Studio developing the 1956 Mark II with William Clay Ford

Ford made changes in 1956, bringing back the Continental name for 1956-57, which was known as the Continental Mark II. The model was introduced to the public in October of 1955 in Paris. It was designed for consumers who wanted the best in a personal car and could afford the finest in automotive styling. The model with air conditioning cost $10,000.

William Clay Ford standing with the 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II RESIZED 5William Clay Ford standing with the 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II

In 1958, Ford introduced the Continental Mark III, which received mixed reviews for its styling. However, those that liked the design paid the $6,072 asking price.

In 1961, Lincoln introduced perhaps one of the greatest looking models of the decade, the all new Lincoln Continental. Some automotive historians called it a revolutionary design. It was described as a “luxury compact.” Ford also introduced a four-door convertible. The White House had received a fleet of Lincolns for President Kennedy, aptly called the Presidential Lincolns. The 1962-1968 models were great looking designs that most consumers really admired.

Advertising image for the 1961 Lincoln Continental Ford Motor Company Archives RESIZED 7Advertising image for the 1961 Lincoln Continental (Ford Motor Company Archives)

For the 1968 through 1971 model years, Lincoln created another home run with the beautiful Lincoln Continental Mark III, which became an iconic vehicle with many car collectors. This Continental was a prime example of a great looking personal luxury car.

Advertising image for the 1968 69 Lincoln Mark III Robert Tate Collection 8Advertising image for the 1968 69 Lincoln Mark III (Robert Tate Collection)

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Continental models were still great looking designs. The Continental Town Car became extremely popular. The 1976 Continental Mark IV coupe was another popular design throughout the latter part of the decade. These were large models that many consumers enjoyed. The Continental was the biggest car on the market, and automotive historians noted that they were the worst gas guzzlers as well. Some of the Continentals weighed a whopping 5,000 pounds.

2020 Lincoln Continental Ford Motor Company 92020 Lincoln Continental (Ford Motor Company)

Lincoln introduced many great Continental models right up until 2020. Ford Motor Company recently announced that it will end production on the Continental nameplate. Angie Kozleski told the Detroit Free Press that, after the current model year, the name will return to the vault. Since 1940, the Continental has had a long and rich history with American automotive enthusiasts.


Damman, George H. “Fifty Years of Lincoln Mercury.” Crestline Publishing, 1971.

Wall Howard, Phoebe. “Ford Confirms It Is Ending Production of Lincoln Continental.” Detroit Free Press, June 24, 2020.

Flammang, James M. “Standard Catalog of American Cars 1976-1986.”