Lincoln is an American luxury automobile brand, operated under the Ford Motor Company. Founded in 1917 by Henry M. Leland and acquired by Ford in 1922, Lincoln has been manufacturing vehicles intended for the upscale markets since the 1920s. Lincoln's prevalent competitor Cadillac, was also founded by Henry M. Leland having acquired the assets of the Henry Ford Company, Ford's second company. While Lincoln was the best selling luxury marque in the United States for an extended period of time, Lincoln lost ground to its competitors, from both imported luxury marques like Lexus and Infiniti, and from the Ford Motor Company's own foreign luxury brands.
The company was founded in 1917 by Henry M. Leland. Leland, one of the founders of Cadillac (built on the remains of the Henry Ford Company), left the Cadillac division of General Motors during World War I and formed the Lincoln Motor Company to build Liberty aircraft engines. After the war, the company's factories were retooled to manufacture luxury automobiles.
The company encountered severe financial troubles during the transition, and was consequently bought by Ford Motor Company in 1922, following Edsel Ford's push for sports and luxury cars among the Ford Motor Company, and much against the will of Henry Ford who still favoured traditionnal approach of the industry. But the purchase of Lincoln was also a personal triumph for the Ford patriarch, who had been forced out of his second failed company, the Henry Ford Company (not to be confused with the Ford Motor Company), by a group of investors led by Leland in 1902. Ford's company, renamed Cadillac in 1902 and purchased by rival General Motors in 1909, also happened to be Lincoln's chief competitor. Lincoln quickly became one of America's top selling luxury brands alongside Cadillac and Packard and in 1927, Lincoln adopted the greyhound as the emblem to be featured as their hood ornament, symbolising stamina, speed and beauty.
In 1931, Lincoln introduced the K-series line of luxury cars, as a successor to the L-series which had represented the bulk of Lincoln's range throughout the 1920's. The same year, Eugene T. "Bob" Gregorie (1908-2002), was hired by Edsel Ford to work in the newly founded Design department of the Ford Motor Company. He was tasked with personally putting into sketches the new President and son of Henry Ford's modern ideas on automotive styling, and more particularly at Lincoln. Indeed, the brand was Edsel Ford's protégé and a laboratory for new ideas and new orientations for the Ford Motor Company.
In 1932, the K-series line was extended, as the base V8-powered cars became the Model KA and a new V12 option was made available as the Model KB. Throughout its product cycle, the line-up kept going upmarket as in 1933 the base V8 was replaced by a smaller V12 engine, while for 1934 both the Model KA and Model KB adopted an evolution of the latter's engine. The two models were then only differentiated by their wheelbase, and for 1935 they naturally merged again to become K-series again and continued practically unchanged until the end of production in 1940.
In 1936, a year after Bob Gregorie was promoted at the head of the Design department, Lincoln extended its offer with the acclaimed introduction of the smaller, entry-luxury Lincoln Zephyr. This would effectively be a turning point in the history of the brand.
The Lincoln Zephyr
More than a new type of offer in the Lincoln range, the Zephyr was an all-around new kind of car, as it incorporated aerodynamic cues such as integrated fenders and raked windshield, pioneered by the ill-fated Chrysler Airflow a couple of years before. Penned by Gregorie and external designer John Tjaarda, its design had been hinted at in a concept-car commissioned by Edsel Ford for the Century of Progress Exhibition held in Chicago in 1933-1934. The name of the car itself was tied to this exhibition and the emerging of the modern and "jet" ages, as the Zephyr was a streamlined train presented there alongside Ford's "Dream Car" concept. Also, and unsurprisingly, John Tjaarda was particularly interested in the design of airplanes while Bob Gregorie was a boat designer as well, first as an amateur and later in his career as a professional. This could only lead to the Zephyr's iconic design, reinforced in 1938 by the just as iconic "bow-wave" grille, and which would be recognized later by the Museum of Modern Art itself.
Technically, the lower, smaller and sportier Zephyr featured an all-new 4.4 liter (267ci) V12 producing 110bhp, and was so successful in spite mechanical shortcomings that it almost became a brand name, rather than just a model of the Lincoln brand. Its first year drew much needed traffic to Lincoln dealerships and increased sales dramatically, with about 15 000 sales for the Zephyr alone. That figure represented an impressive 80% of Lincoln's numbers.
In addition to the commercial and image success brought by the Zephyr, the introduction of the car also marked a turning point of Lincoln's history as it would directly spawn the Continental line, which remained for decades the marque's most illustrious nameplate. It started as a one-off coach-built car commissioned by Edsel B. Ford, who wanted a European-style automobile unlike the boxier designs his father's company traditionnally produced, to drive around on vacations in Florida. The Zephyr gave Bob Gregorie, who had already designed two custom cars for Edsel Ford since his arrival, his chance to once again turn Lincoln around.
Gregorie reportedly sketched the new convertible car in an hour, working from the Zephyr's base: he simply channeled and sectioned a 1938 Coupé 10cm (4"), allowing most of the existing dies and tooling to be retained (a trick that would be repeated to create the 1953 Buick Skylark out of a two-door Roadmaster), adding the hallmark vertically-mounted spare tire at the back. The Lincoln Continental was born; by the time it ended production in 1948, 5322 were built, almost entirely by hand. The Zephyr, on which it was based, stopped production in early 1942 when Ford converted to war work, and was not revived after production of automobiles was resumed.
The Post-War Years
Edsel B. Ford died unexpectedly in 1943, at the young age of 49. While this event had consequences on the Ford Motor Company at large, it had particular consequences for the Lincoln brand. Indeed, after the death of Edsel, Henry Ford assumed the Presidency of the group once again, and had to deal with a difficult financial situation and his own health problems at the same time, leaving the Lincoln brand on the side, deemed unnecessary. Things did not change when he was relieved in 1945 by his grandson Henry Ford II, who shared the same very traditional vision of the automotive industry, and departed further from Edsel Ford's flashier ideas as he hired conservative financial advisors like Robert McNamara. Lincoln's famed designer Eugene "Bob" Gregorie also left the company in 1945, following disagreements with Henry Ford II and other top executives.
The Continental line was discontinued in 1948, and for 1949 the line-up was made of two V8-powered full-size vehicles, the Lincoln and the Lincoln Cosmopolitan sedans. These two cars differed only in amenities and wheelbase, sharing the same basic styling cues although the top-of-the-line Cosmopolitan offered a six-window fastback sedan called the "Town Sedan". This toning-down of the Lincoln line-up and identity can be associated with the change of leadership at the head of the Ford Motor Company, which did an entire reshuffling of Edsel Ford's Lincoln and Mercury luxury marques, the latter having actually been created from scratch by Edsel Ford. This reshuffling had consequences on the class of cars provided by 1949 line-ups as well as on the positionning of Mercury on the market as a step-down from Lincoln and not a step-up from Ford. Quite interestingly, 1949 also saw the two brands merged into the one Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford.
Nevertheless, Lincoln started losing ground to Cadillac and Chrysler's luxury offerings, new in terms of cars and segments for 1949 with the creation of the "hard-top convertible". To catch up with the competiton, Lincoln released in late 1950 the entry-luxury Lincoln Lido and top-end trim level Lincoln Cosmopolitan Capri, which with their vinyl-padded roofs appear as the ancestors to the successful Landau-roofed vehicles of the 1960's and 1970's. These late introductions, less refined than their competitors, didn't bring a significant increase to Lincoln's irregular sales, which varied from 73,000 units in 1949, to a dismal 28,000 in 1950 and a peak above 32,000 for 1951.
In 1952 the Lincolns were all new and more distinctive, with a focus on amenities and quality unseen in the previous range of vehicles zhich brought sales back to 42,000 units in 1953. The post-war generic crest-like emblem was replaced by a first version of the Northern star graphic, and trim levels changed to the base Cosmopolitan and top-end Capri, while both shared an all-new and modern V8 engine that brought many racing successes in the Panamericana, bringing Lincoln back to the brand's credentials as wanted by Edsel Ford. 1955 saw major redesigns in Detroit, but not at the Ford Motor Company, who only tweaked the Lincolns' powertrain, design and trim levels, with the suppression of the Cosmopolitan in favour of Custom. Sales dropped to 27,000 due to aging models for 1955.
On a corporate side note, 1955 saw the reintroduction of the Continental line in the form of a division of its own within the Ford Motor Company, and with a single model, but what a model: the Continental Mark II, which introduced the Lincoln star emblem.
Things changed quite a bit for Lincoln in 1956 with an all-new range of vehicles that were longer, larger and wider though with a subtle yet luxurious interpretation of the era's most famous design cues, such as capped headlights, wraparound windscreen and ornate rear-end. To keep on with the persistant push to bring the line-up upmarket, the previously top-end trim level, Capri, once again became the base model while a new Premiere luxury model was introduced. Engine power was also upping the ante, with the joint introduction of a big block V8 that brought the horsepower from 205 to 285. The delayed introduction of an all-new model proved to be an advantage for Lincoln, whose sales soared to more than 50,000 cars that year. Also of importance that year is the joining of the Continental division with the Lincoln division, though the two lines remained separate and only shared dealer and maintenance networks.
To build on that momentum, Lincoln redesigned the range in 1957 to the standards of the era, adding tailfins and stacked dual headlamps to the entire series, and introducing the Landau model, Lincoln's first four-door "hardtop" sedan. Although sales stabilized at 41,000 in part due to a significant increase in price, Lincoln was still ahead of Chrysler's Imperial division, yet far behind Cadillac.
1958 would be the year of big changes at the Ford Motor Company, and Lincoln hoped to close in on the competition soon.
The 1958 Recession
The 1958 model year brought about a big reshuffling for the Ford Motor Company's upmarket and luxury cars, both in terms of new products and contradictory business decisions made by executives such as Robert McNamara. Indeed, starting with the new this was the year the Edsel line was introduced, at first as its own division alongside Lincoln-Mercury, then as part of the latter under the name of the short-lived Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division (MEL). The Continental division was canceled despite the Continental Mark II's prestige, and its brand identity finally merged with and infused in the Lincoln brand: the nameplates and emblems were transfered to Lincoln.
In spite of the Edsel line's complex reasons for failure that might have brought Ford management to consolidate its upmarket brands, these moves again reflect the difference of vision between the late Edsel B. Ford (who had bought Lincoln against his father's will, created the Mercury marque himself, and pushed for luxury and sports cars) and Ford's management of then, that is to say Henry Ford II (who worked alongside his grandfather Henry Ford and shared the idea that the Ford Motor Company was first and foremost the Ford brand, with no need for others) and advisors like Robert McNamara, who had been hired to cut costs and met Henry Ford II's dislike for multiple divisions and giving important means to luxury brands (unlike General Motors and Cadillac).
Actually, it all comes together with what the 1955 E-car programme (which turned out to be Edsel) was supposed to be: Edsel was meant to slot in against Oldsmobile and Pontiac, thus pushing Mercury upmarket to meet Buick, and sending Lincoln on orbit against Cadillac. The Continental division had been seen as an independent halo car, a total added value against General Motors. As we now know, things did not turn out this way, the Continental division was canceled, the Edsel division tanked, and Lincoln ended up being sent against Cadillac's Series 62/6200 in 1958 in the midst of a terrible industrial recession.
This flash recession being unforeseeable for Ford's engineers, the 1958 Lincoln line was entirely new and aiming high: it switched to unit-body construction, sported a bold and ornate design, as well an impressive new engine and massive proportions that made it 6 inches longer than the already upsized 1957 models, but most importantly even bigger than the Cadillac for 1958. Style-wise, the 1958 Lincolns were a trio of square-lined formal sedans, whose most striking cues were concave front wheel arches sculpted on the length of the front fenders, stacked and slanted headlights, and most of all chromed fins on all four corners: on the rear bumpers, on the top of the rear fenders and twice on the flared front bumpers, while the tip of the slanted headlights formed yet another pair. The engine throughout the line was an all new and massive 7L V8 that developped 375bhp, 50 more than the Cadillac's 6.4L V8. The Lincoln sported helicoidal rear suspensions for the first time, which helped getting the car praised for its handling, but the unitbody construction was not fully mastered then and the car had to have its frame reinforced, adding up to an already impressive weight.
For once, the trim levels remained the same, with the base model Capri, the mid-range Premiere, and the introduction of a Continental Mark III formal sedan as the top of the line. That particular model tried to build on the prestige of the famed Continental Mark II, but was just a Premiere sedan with additional chrome trim, Lincoln star emblems and hood ornament instead of the Northern star. The only structural change was that it sported a slanted Breezeway sliding rear-window, a feature actually introduced the previous year on lower Mercury models.
In spite of all the investments made to catch up with General Motor's, Ford's finest did not fare well at all in the context of the 1958 recession, as buyers were turning to slightly smaller, more sedate and more economical vehicles. The prestige of the Continental Mark II also failed to transfer to the Lincoln Continental Mark III sedan, and sales were divided by half. As often said about Edsel, and rightfully so for the 1958 Lincoln as well, the aim was right but the target had moved.
The competition had actually moved with it too, with both Cadillac and Imperial toning down their styling for 1958, and once again surpassing Lincoln. The brand's sales were down to a rock-bottom 28,000 units by 1959, compared to Cadillac's 142,000 units.
The 1958 line-up remained practically unchanged throughout its run, only seeing minor cosmetic tweaks to the grille year after year. As far as trim levels went, the base Capri became just Lincoln for 1959, and the top of the line Lincoln Continental Mark III turned to a Mark IV as it began to offer for the first time a "Town Car" model that replaced the Breezeway rearscreen by a conventional padded roof, the beginning of a long tradition of Lincoln. It also introduced an impressive set of "jet-like" bumpers.
For 1960, the Lincoln Continental Mark IV evolved into a Mark V model, yet the design was simplified throughout the brand with conventional bumpers, new side moldings and rooflines, a detuned engine but these changes were late, and sales even dropped lower than 1959.
Needless to say, judging from the numbers, Lincoln's prime seemed to be past, particularly in the eyes of Henry Ford II and Robert McNamara, who already did not value the existence of Lincoln very much: as the Edsel brand was abruptly canceled in 1960 and its models diverted to other brands of the Company, the Lincoln brand came close to following the same path, Ford managers prefering to capitalize on the Ford division's own luxury and upmarket offerings like the Thunderbird, which had been successfully redesigned for 1958, in stark contrast with Lincoln's fairings.
However, amidst that turmoil, once again a specific model would come, powered by the need of complete renewal for the roaring 1960's, and turn Lincoln around, with unprecedented success.
The 1961 Lincoln Continental, An Icon
In more ways than one, the 1961 Lincoln Continental was the right car at the right time. Not only as the car that saved the Lincoln division by being both a commercial and a marketing success, but also as the car fitting a new decade in American society, shaken free of the excess of the 1950's, and which was handed over to a new, younger, society.
In an interesting twist of fate, the history of Lincoln and the history of America met several times through the 1961 Continental; indeed, in 1960 Robert McNamara became president of the Ford Motor Company, succeeding Henry Ford II in operations, and again pushed for the cancellation of the Lincoln division in order to keep refocusing the group on the Ford brand, has had been his policy since the end of World War II. This could have meant a great deal of trouble for Lincoln as the sales of the 1958-1960 line of vehicles had been extremely low and McNamara was more vehement against the brand than Henry Ford II, but only five weeks after taking office McNamara left the Ford Motor Company to become John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense. And only two years later, President Kennedy would be assassinated in a Lincoln Continental limousine. Interestingly enough too, Lee Iacocca became Vice-president of the Ford Motor Company following McNamara's departure and the return of Henry Ford II at the helm of the company. Iacocca was already a man much more in sync with his time, and whose views were surely closer to that of Edsel Ford when it came to sports and luxury cars.
Compared to the vehicle it replaced, the new Lincoln appeared lithe, elegant and sober. It was due in part to the body losing two feet in length, but also to the disappearance of garish styling cues that had smeared Lincoln's reputation for sophistication: tailfins were removed altogether while the 1958 sported several pairs, gone were the stacked and capped headlights, and they did away with the panoramic windshield as well.
Instead, designer Elwood Engel penned a car whose lines run undisturbed, if only by the slight kick-up on the sides before the rear fender. Otherwise, the car's iconic design, not unlike the Continental Mark II's, is marked by clean sides, rectangular front with in-set horizontally aligned quad-headlights as well as rectangular rear design, both treated as very elegant chrome grilles. Other classic features were the rear-hinged rear doors, uncommon for the era and yet another sign of the exclusive way with which passengers were treated, as well as striking chromed blade-like fender lines that would remain a Lincoln design cue for vehicles to come. The engine for its part was still the 7L MEL V8 but was only rated at 300bhp for launch, and then pushed to 320 and 345.
The new Lincoln became an instant classic, receiving an award from the Industrial Design Institute, and in complete contradiction with Detroit tradition, its design remained unchanged -except for trim details- for the whole nine years of its life, truly redefining the Lincoln brand identity. Actually, 1961 was the first year the Lincoln star logo became the emblem of the entire line-up, like the Continental nameplate, which would not leave the brand for the next 40 years.
More than that, although sales were strong but still behind Cadillac (25,000 at introduction, with a peak at 55,000 for 1966 and a last year of 40,000), it established Lincoln as a leader in design, and pioneered the styling that was to prevail in luxury automobiles for the decade: General Motors restyled its cars in 1963 along the same ideas, and Chrysler's Imperial division even snatched Elwood Engel from Ford as soon as the Lincoln Continental had been launched. This new collaboration would spawn the 1964 Imperial, whose design was also much in tune with the Continental's.
Different body styles were offered, though at first a four-door sedan and a four-door convertible were the only ones available. In 1966, a two-door hard top coupe was introduced though it was not separated from the line as had been the case before at Lincoln; as evoked before this allowed for a peak in sales, the closer Lincoln would get to Cadillac that decade (ie 25%), which remains a feat of glory given that the Lincoln strategy remained based on one model alone.
In 1967, the four-door convertible was discontinued, but it remains associated with the 1961 Lincoln as it was a first, since the Frazer Manhattan introduced ten years before and which was not as technically advanced as the Continental. Indeed, Lincoln engineers managed to make the four windows slide down completely, without the need of a roof frame, and the manipulation of the canvas roof was made entirely electric, helped by an assembly of eleven motors that folded the roof under the double-hinged rear deck. It is true that the Ford Motor Company had a lot of experience with its line of Skyliner convertibles, but this unique feature also helped build Lincoln's reputation of quality for the decade.
Indeed, the Lincoln division had seen its quality standards drop again since the refocusing of 1955 and to remedy that, the brand's engineers incorporated all the experience gathered by the former Continental division. As such, and exactly like it had been the case for the Continental Mark II, every MEL V8 engine destined to a Lincoln was taken off the assembly line, ran for three hours at maximum RPM, disassembled for a close inspection and reassembled before the car was personally tested for 12 miles. Several components, such as the electric system used by the convertible's roof mechanics, were sealed for life, while a general quality control of 200 items is done before the cars leave the assembly line. It also came with the most extended bumper-to-bumper warranty ever offered.
The fact that the new Lincoln line of vehicles stood price-wise at the top of the 1958-1960 price range, and even a little above, did not discourage buyers, as it was this time justified not by how Ford wished Lincoln would compete with Cadillac, but by how it actually competed with Cadillac, if not directly in sales number at least as much by being a successful "halo" brand for the Ford Motor Company, driving more buyers to either Mercury or Ford vehicles.
It is interesting to notice that the changes in the leadership of the Ford Motor Company that brought about Lincoln's renaissance, namely the replacement of Robert McNamara by Lee Iacocca, would bring other successes to the Company, such as the Mustang. This provides case studies to oppose "bean counting" and "focus groups" management techniques such as McNamara's to actually "sensing" the public's needs and the changes in the American society, as Iacocca did at Ford and then at Chrysler.
It is also safe to say that the 1961-1969 Lincoln Continental made one with the Lincoln brand, in terms of design identity, prestige among buyers, but also in terms of philosophy. Indeed, its introduction marked a return to what Lincoln was meant to represent within the Ford Motor Company, as well as to Lincoln's own commitment to the quality, exclusivity, and sophistication of their products.
It definitely carried the brand through the decade, and prepared it for the 1970's, which would actually start for Lincoln during the 1969 model year.
The 1970s, Golden Era of Lincoln
As the famed design of the 1961 Continental gently aged and got ready to leave the scene, Lincoln could count on its retrieved success and prestige within the Ford Motor Company to aim high and give the brand a head-start for the coming decade. While the sedan line got its makeover for the 1970 model year, the tone was given in 1969 with the introduction of an all-new model, the Lincoln Continental Mark III personal luxury coupe.
The Lincoln marque's momentum notwithstanding, it is interesting to notice how the history of Continental Mark coupes has been tied to personal implication from members of the Ford family: while Edsel Ford had given the impulsion to the first Continental, his younger son William Clay Ford Sr. fought hard for the Continental Mark II's uncompromising exclusivity, and in the wake of the 1970's and in the trail of the 1961 Continental's and most importantly to him the Thunderbird's successes, Henry Ford II himself jumped in to defend Lincoln's entry in the personal luxury coupe segment, aimed straight at Cadillac's Eldorado.
As such, the Mark III retained the new Thunderbird sedan's long-wheelbase platform, switching back to body-on-frame construction in the process. Style-wise, the new lines marked a blend of influences: the Continental Mark II's classic elegance, particularly in the clean profile and a signature Continental sculpted short decklid as well as upright rear taillamps set in the fenders; established Lincoln cues like the chrome blade-like fender lines; the front fascia for its part followed the canons of the new personal luxury segment, with cloaked headlamps and an upright, sculpted chrome grille reminiscing of Rolls Royce's set in at the end of a 6-foot long, sculpted hood. The British company actually chose not to sue Lincoln for the grille's design, but it became for several decades the American brand's trademark as well. With it, Lincoln style definitely got set at the crossroads of slab-sided design, fuselage styling, and classic personal luxury lines evocative of the pre-war coupes, but it is also the culmination of Lincoln's effort to infuse its image with the Continental Mark II's aura, while building on the momentum of the 1961 sedans and affirming new trademark styling cues at the beginning of a new decade. This shows in the name itself, as it discards the awkward 1958-1960 Lincoln Mark III/IV/V sedans. Under that impressive hood, Lincoln had seen fit to carry on with the 7.5L (460cid) Continental V8, tuned at 365bhp. This engine would remain Lincoln's staple for the decade, and only fall short of GM's 8L engine.
On a marketing plan, the new and superb coupe allowed Lincoln to finally go hunt on Cadillac's grounds, aiming as high as the Continental Mark II but firing within range of the Eldorado with a price marked by exclusivity, at $8800 against the Eldorado's $7700. And it worked, as while the Lincoln brand had so far been overall at a third of Cadillac's sales, the Mark III's and Eldorado's sales remained extremely close (at best an advantage of only 2,000 units for the Eldorado) during their practically identical runs. Corporately speaking, the Mark III prepared the market for the introduction of the all-new 1970 line of Continental sedans, elaborated along the same idea.
Indeed, for 1970 the Lincoln Continentals were longer and wider, and added then fashionable fuselage styling to the traditional slab-sided shape, with bulged rear fenders featuring side skirts over the wheels and full-width taillamps. The overall shape of the front fascia retained that of the outgoing 1969 model with once again details like blade-like fenders and bulged horizontally-slated full-width grille but added the Mark III's cloaked headlamps, although the coupe's clean covers could there be adorned with coach lamps. Again, it was a clean evolution of what had carried Lincoln through the 1960's, but taken clearly upmarket by likening it to the brand's flagship, but also by keeping up with the competition and catering to a more sedate, traditional yet demanding clientele. Interestingly, the suicide doors of the previous model had been transfered for 1968 to the Thunderbird sedan. The line-up still didn't offer a convertible, but such an option was hinted at in the shape of a "Coupe" bodystyle featuring a padded Landau roof. The "Town Car" package was revisited as a top-end luxury package.
In 1971, to mark Lincoln's 50th anniversary, both the Continental sedans and the Mark III received an exclusive "Golden Anniversary" limited edition featuring several owner-oriented perks, such as engraved gold-plated ignition keys, a plaque with the owner's initials by the front fenders, and other extremely luxurious appointments that would also become a Lincoln staple through several themed series for decades to come. Again, Lincoln was then playing by the rules of the key 'personal luxury' segment, the characters of which had transpired beyond coupes, turning to an owner-oriented experience instead of a passenger-oriented experience, and playing the card of full-fledged American luxury instead of traditionnal European luxury as it had tried to achieve in the past. Such determination paid off, not only by the successful sales number we evoked earlier, but also in terms of recognition: in 1970 and 1971, MotorTrend gave Lincoln the win over Cadillac in their King of the Hill comparison test. More telling was the fact that while the Mark III and Eldorado were matching of matching generations in 1970, the 1971 test opposed the Mark's last year in production and the all-new Eldorado's first year of production.
For 1972, Lincoln kept the ball rolling and unveiled the Continental Mark IV, new heir to the Lincoln dynasty. In terms of design and product philosophy, the Mark IV built on its predecessor's, and fully took on the 1970's market, as it was longer, wider and lower still than the Mark III. The styling was refined, with more rounded contours in particular atop the fenders, but also confirmed the styling cues that would define the decade: cloaked headlamps, enlarged Rolls Royce-style upright waterfall grille, standard vinyl roof on all models, and available Opera windows. The original design used a dip in the front bumper to highlight the grille, and one in the rear bumper to highlight the sculpted trunklid, but from the second year onward, Federal requirements forced Lincoln to used straight bumpers front and rear, which particularly resulted in the rear lights moving back to the trunk lid, wrapping around the fenders' edges and to the spare-tire bulge. A sign of buyers' preferences and a move upmarket to follow the Mark, the Town Car and Town Coupe were promoted from option packages to submodels of the Continental sedan and two-door lines.
More importantly, Federal anti-pollution requirements and a change in the way horsepower was rated throughout the industry made the Lincoln V8 take a plunge from 365bhp to 224 for the Mark series and 212 for the Continental sedans. Still, Lincoln was ahead of the game with the Mark IV, and for 1972 Motor Trend, while it gave the final nod to the Eldorado, did give Lincoln the win in the category of styling and overall luxury appeal, once again justifying the brand's committment to exclusive luxury. Buyers followed suit, as the Mark IV sold 48,000 units, and the Continental sedan 47,000.
For 1973, the Continental sedans received more minor styling tweaks to liken its grille's appearance to the Mark's, as well as to comply with Federal regulations, but Lincoln kept hitting record sales for the third year in a row, this time hitting 128,000 units, an all-time high and now more than half of Cadillac's sales. Numbers were now 80,000 (+166%) units higher than just 1968, and a whole 110,000 (+650%) units higher than the disastrous 1958 sales.
In 1974, cars once again soldiered on mostly unchanged, and the Mark IV added a number of themed luxury packages (Silver, Gold, White and Saddle, ...) but sales were quite hurt by the Oil crisis, and dipped below the 100,000 units, a rather minimal decrease that can be explained by the fact that rising oil prices touch lower and middle classes in priority, while luxury buyers can usually absorb the expense.
The mid-decade brought more important changes, as the 1975 Continental sedans were redesigned: gone were the flared fenders and "fuselage" influences all around, new were a come-back to boxy slab-sided design, an intricate but narrower upright chrome grille with standing hood ornament, and tail lamps that moved back from the bumper to the trunklid in a sectioned full-width wraparound treatment that would remain a staple of Lincoln design for decades. The C-pillar also lost its curves and became thicker, more upright, more formal and included the Mark IV's Opera-style windows. Overall these new lines, along with cleaned out headlamp covers and heavily padded rooflines, gave the Continentals a much more traditionalist appearance, strictly following, or rather setting, the cannons of American luxury car design.
For the industry at large, that year saw the first signs of slowing for the personal luxury segment: Imperial, the third competitor to Lincoln and Cadillac, was discontinued by the Chrysler Corporation, due to rising fuel prices and slowing sales. Among the last two survivors, Lincoln and Cadillac once again battled in terms of prestige if not of sales (Lincoln remained stable at nearly 40% of Cadillac's sales for 1975) and MotorTrend opposed a Lincoln Town Coupe and a Cadillac Coupe De Ville, and results were akin to that of the 1972 King of the Hill contest: while slightly overperformed by the Cadillac, the Town Coupe won in the category of luxury appointments.
As such, 1976 was a year spent at cruising speed for Lincoln, and changes were only brought about through new colour and roofline choices. The two met in the introduction of Designer series on the Continental Mark IV, a number of ready-to-wear packages paradoxically signed by the jewelry house Cartier and by the greatest names in Couture: Bill Blass, Emilio Pucci, and Hubert de Givenchy. Marketing-wise, Lincoln wasn't trying out something new, as it had been rolling out a number of limited editions of its models since the successful 1971 Golden Anniversary trial run, but it still remained a sound choice: by proposing cars spec'd with a fixed choice of roofline, exterior colour, interior colour and trim, it could simplify the production process, while making sure the needs of all customers were catered for, and also increasing the value of these cars.
By the end of that year, despite the Oil crisis, Lincoln production numbers had increased by 23%, which was more than what arch- and last surviving rival Cadillac could claim for the same period. Even more so, while overall numbers remained an order of magnitude below Cadillac's, Lincoln had most importantly been able to match General Motor's flagship division's increase in market share, showing equal success in the conquest of new buyers. As the marque was now sitting on top of American pop culture, 1977 would bring on new challenges.
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