Experience Vintage Class with the Lincoln Continental
Every major player in the full-size luxury car market today is in many ways trying to sell you nearly the same product. The German Big Three of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi all move in lockstep with one another, poring over each other’s products so carefully that at the end of the day there simply isn’t all that much to differentiate an S-Class from a 7-Series from an A8. All three are fantastic vehicles, no doubt, but they all follow the exact same formula. Power, plus handling, plus high-tech advancements, plus high-grade leather, wood, and aluminum. The Japanese luxury manufacturers are running the same race, and so are the Americans.
But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when luxury cars from different manufacturers and different countries brought completely different philosophies to the table. The Germans brought handling with impeccable fit and finish. The Italians, speed and incredible style. The French, with their own sensibilities, forged unconventional technical advances with an unmistakable aesthetic. And the Americans? Luxury was about two things for them: comfort and power. Driving one of these American classics is one of the most distinct experiences you can have behind the wheel, and there’s perhaps no better example of this than the 1961 Lincoln Continental.
The Lincoln Continental is one of these great cars with instant presence. The moment one rolls up, you can immediately tell its purpose. Despite this, it manages to be restrained, refined, full of elegance without seeming imperious. It’s a massive beast, but well-proportioned, more Dwight Howard than Shaquille O’Neal. The obvious comparison to make here is to a 1961 Cadillac Eldorado. While it’s the most direct competitor to the Continental in many ways, it’s still a completely different animal.
Although the famously outrageous fins of the ’59 had begun to tone down, Cadillac decided that the best way to compensate for this in ’61 was to add two more and drown it in chrome. It’s a bit like one of Elvis’ sequined jumpsuits, really. The Lincoln, on the other hand, is more of a perfectly tailored, three-piece Madison Avenue suit. It’s deceptively simple, surprisingly subtle, and proudly, unmistakably American.
John Johnson of Redondo Beach, California, acquired this particular example roughly a year ago from an eBay seller in Wisconsin, and he’s loved it ever since. It’s easy to see why, as well. His particular Continental is no concours trailer queen. It’s a living, breathing driver with a few quirks but miles of charisma. It’s pulled an indicated 169,862 miles, but an engine rebuild about 30,000 miles ago has left it feeling fresh. He’s also made an effort to preserve the Continental’s tragic legacy. President John F. Kennedy was riding in a nearly identical 1963 Continental convertible on November 22, 1963 when he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, and since then this generation of Continental has carried an association with the late President. Johnson has kept this association alive with fender-mounted flags, campaign buttons and pamphlets, and an original Kennedy campaign bumper sticker. Altogether, it’s a great memorial to one of the most important moments in American history.
The Continental may not be a driver’s car in the traditional sense, but there are few cars out there that are this much of a joy to drive. It’s not a car that encourages you to drive aggressively, instead relaxing the driver, rewarding you for cruising instead of attacking the corners. The 430 cubic inch “Marauder” powerplant is definitely healthy, producing a factory-reported 315 horsepower. Power delivery, however, is smooth, building gradually to a low redline. The ride is, without a doubt, one of the nicest of any vehicle I’ve ever been in. To call it comfortable would be an understatement of the highest order. I’d have no problem using the plush leather seats in my living room, and the car glides down the road like a luxury yacht. Handling, on the other hand, is also on par with a yacht. It rolls its considerable weight like a sailboat through corners, and the brakes are, well, vintage. All of that’s beside the point, however. If you’re looking for a car to carve canyon roads with, look elsewhere. The Continental’s at its happiest when floating down beach roads, with the convertible roof down and the sun setting.
All in all, it’s an incredible automobile, and a symbol of American luxury at its very finest. It’s unapologetic about being a relic from another era, because that era was in the good old days.
Photography by Sean Lorentzen