Lincoln Continental is back after a thirteen-year hiatus. The Ford Motor Company unveiled a concept for the flagship sedan in New York yesterday.
Boy has it been a long time. The Continental was the Lincoln brand’s most recognizable property, even serving a presidential limousine, until its retirement in 2002.
Lincoln Continental: rise and fall
The Continental nameplate first appeared in 1940 at the behest of Ford Motor’s then-president, Edsel Ford. The Lincoln division retired the car in 1948, but that retirement proved short-lived as public outcry inspired the Ford company to roll out the “Mark II” hardtop coupe in 1956. The 2.5-ton Mark II Continental proved too expensive for the time, retailing for about twice the cost of a typical Cadillac or Chrysler. Thereafter, Ford restrained the Continental into a more conservative, but nonetheless popular, sedan that competed with the likes of the Cadillac Eldorado and Chrysler Imperial.
Like its Detroit rivals, the Continental faced a decline in prestige in the 1980s. Conservative design and stagnant engineering, along with a Motor City’s waning reputation for quality, gave way to the eventual dominance of German and Japanese luxury brands. Just like the Caddy and Chrysler, the Lincoln came to be associated with old folks and obsolescence.
Strangely enough, the new Lincoln Continental has Beijing – not New York – in its sights. Designers emphasized rear-seat comfort for chauffeured passengers, rather than hard-edged enthusiasts. The interior is draped in fine leather, exterior handles sink into the door (think Tesla Model S), windows dim and fog to the passenger’s whim, and hidden sensors track all potential hazards. It’s a smart choice, given the success of the extended-length Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series sedans in China.
And Lincoln needs that big Chinese market: Ford has been desperately trying to resurrect its premium marque since it relinquished Aston-Martin, Land Rover, Jaguar and Volvo at the start of the recession. Even while focusing its effort on just one luxury brand, Ford has wrestled with steering Lincoln from being a rebadged Ford into a world-class property.
It hasn’t been going so well. The generically named MK-this and MK-that are lost on consumers. The Lincoln range sports six vehicles, including three crossovers, two sedans and one traditional SUV. The division’s best-selling sedan, the MKZ, averages around 30,000 units per year. By comparison, a midsize Bimmer averages sales about ten times that number thanks to its global range.
Not everyone’s happy about the new Continental, either. Bentley designer Luc Donckerwolke condemned the new Lincoln Continental as a knockoff of his company’s “Flying Spur” (the Continental really isn’t that ugly…).
Ironically, it was Bentley which “borrowed” the Continental name from Lincoln back in the 1950s. Go figure.