Lincoln Continental Concept front three quarters view

Lincoln Continental Concept

The Lincoln Continental Concept took us by surprise earlier this week, and based on reader response to it thus far, seems poised to be one of the shining stars of this year’s New York Auto Show.

Perhaps more important is the vision the concept seems to present for the future of the American luxury. Lincoln has long proved vexing for car lovers and industry pundits alike; often seen as being mired in mediocrity despite a tremendous history of stunning design and success.

This new Continental’s take on the future of the company is both modern and respectful of the members of the family that have gone before it. We took some time to examine past Lincoln Continentals, both successful and otherwise, to better understand how Lincoln arrived at this point. Who’s up for a little history lesson?
1941 Lincoln Continental black black and white

1941 Lincoln Continental

The very first generation of the Lincoln Continental set the tone for the marque. This ’41 coupe has the long hood, big body and external spare tire that would become hallmarks of Lincoln for decades to come.
1946 Lincoln Continental convertible white

1946 Lincoln Continental

None other than Henry Ford II is seen behind the wheel of this Mk I Continental; and good for him. The rakish (for the era) pre-war convertible boasted a powerful Lincoln-Zephyr V12 engine under that long hood, just the thing to squire a scion of the motoring industry.

1956 Lincoln Continental Mk II green in front of house

1956 Lincoln Continental Mk II

One can, and we might, make strong arguments for the Mk III as the most beautiful Conti overall, but pictures like this one prove that the second generation has a case, too. The ‘50s coupe maintains the graceful proportions that were kicked off in the ‘40s, but with flowing lines and bold colors that characterized the confidence of the post-war country.
1957 Lincoln Continental Mk II pink red ocean view

1957 Lincoln Continental Mk II

A second look at the Mk II proves that not all bold colors were successful on this shape, however. Though we do think some costal cruising with the 6.0-liter V8 pulling us along would still be entertaining.
1958 Lincoln Continental Mk III black convertible

1958 Lincoln Continental Mk III

With slabby sides and busy detailing, the Mk III isn't everyone's cup of tea. And that convertible top is hardly aerodynamic for this Jet Age droptop. Still, a new generation meant an even beefier engine, with 7.0-liters of American V8 tugging this land barge down the street.
1962 Lincoln Continental Mk V convertible white

1962 Lincoln Continental Mk V

The 1959 Mk IV Continental cleaned up the design of its immediate predecessor somewhat, but it was the stunning Mk V that nearly everyone remembers as the apogee of both the Continental and the Lincoln brand.

This ‘62’s clean lines still seem cutting edge today, and the perfect silhouette of the suicide-doored convertible is one for the ages.

Engines got as capacious as 7.6-liters for this stunner, because, well, the ‘60s were awesome.

1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine jfk limo Kennedy limo

1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine

Excuse our step back in chronological order here, but we figured we’d include this shot of the ’61 car and all of its optional roofs, just because. John F. Kennedy's limo would ultimately become a tragic symbol is still pretty awesome as a car, in terms of design.
1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine secret service

1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine

And one more of JFK’s limo, this time with Secret Service agents perched on the car’s retractable stands.
1967 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine lyndon b. johnson lbj nixon

1967 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine

This 1967 Mk V was built for Lyndon Johnson, also used by Richard Nixon, and wasn’t retired until 1978.
1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV red front three quarters studio shot

1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV

Confusingly, in 1969 Lincoln rolled back the dial on its “Mark Series” cars (Mark III from ’69-’71, Mark IV from ’72-’76 and so on), meaning this 1972 fifth-generation model got the designation Mark IV. Got it?

Don’t sweat it, they pretty much get worse after this, anyway.

The fifth-gen Conti kept a hind of the flat-sided design, with sharp fenders, but the elegance was gone in favor of a more brutal styling statement. The coupe seen above still has some swagger too it, we’ll admit, but the lack of suicide doors on the sedan earns a collective “boo.”

1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V blue front three quarters studio shot

1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V

With flip-up headlights, vinyl covered roof, opera windows and damn near 20 feet of overall length, the last Conti of the 1970s was a luxury barge of a rapidly declining era. Motor Trend called it “a dinosaur” in 1980, which seems a good summary for this disco titan.

Still, the styling may be less stanch than the cars from the ‘60s, but you’ll see most of the long, low and wide Continental DNA here, too.

1992 Lincoln Continental white front three quarters lawn

1992 Lincoln Continental

The 1980s and 1990s saw the Continental struggle with changing perceptions about luxury, and increasingly strong challenges from German and Japanese competition, especially.

The model wasn’t helped by styling that seemed to get more conservative as the years went on, especially considering its high-design past. Then again, everything was pretty jelly-bean shaped in the ‘90s...

2000 Lincoln Continental black black and white front three quarters driving

2000 Lincoln Continental

It’s been 13 years since the last Continental rolled off the line, and despite the good work that cars like the 2000 model you see above have done as black cars and limos, we think it’s high time for the marque to return to high style.

Here’s to the future.

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