The flagship Lincoln model during most of its run, the Continental name conveyed special cachet in the product line. During the 1980s, the Continental was downsized from a full-size to a mid-size Ford Taurus platform; this introduced the Continental to a wider range of competition from Europe and Japan.
First generation (1939–1948)
The first Lincoln Continental was developed as Edsel Ford's one-off personal vehicle, though it is believed he planned all along to put the model into production if successful. In 1938, he commissioned a custom design from the chief stylist, Eugene T. "Bob" Gregorie, ready for Edsel's March 1939 vacation. The design, allegedly sketched out in an hour by Gregorie working from the Lincoln-Zephyr blueprints and making changes, was an elegant convertible with a long hood covering the Lincoln V12 and long front fenders, and a short trunk with what became the Continental series' trademark, the externally mounted covered spare tire.
The car could be considered a channeled and sectioned Zephyr that did not even have the bulge that in the Zephyr (and in some other cars) replaced the running-board at the bottom of the doors. This decrease in height meant that the height of the hood was much closer to that of the fenders. There was hardly any trim on it at all, making its lines superb. This car is often rated as one of the most beautiful in the world.
The custom car for the boss was duly produced on time, and Edsel had it delivered to Florida for his spring vacation. Interest from well-off friends was high, and Edsel sent a telegram back that he could sell a thousand of them. Lincoln craftsmen immediately began production on the Continental convertible, and even a rare few hardtop models. They were extensively hand-built; the two dozen 1939 models and 400 1940-built examples even had hand-hammered body panels, since dies for machine-pressing were not constructed until 1941.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Continental production was suspended, to be restarted in 1946–1948. Like the other post-war Lincolns, however, the Continental had similar bits of trim added to make it look improved. Walnut trim was added in 1947. The 1939–1948 Continental is recognized as a "Full Classic" by the Classic Car Club of America, one of the last-built cars to be so recognized. The 1948 Continental had the last V12 engine put in an American car.
Second generation (1956–1957)
The Continental name was revived in 1955 as a separate Ford brand, with its sole model being the Continental Mark II. This version was a unique design with the highest quality control ever seen in the automobile industry. High-class luxury abounded in the new Continental, and with very limited availability, it appeared even more exclusive than the original.
Continental for 1956 was one of the most expensive cars in the world—with a cost of $10,000 at a time when a regular Ford could be had for less than $2000, it rivaled Rolls-Royce. But despite its astronomical price tag, Ford Motor Company actually lost money on each one sold. On a side note, Cadillac suffered a similar financial loss with its own Continental rival, the four-door Eldorado Brougham. Vehicles such as these were image builders for the two companies, as well as test beds for new ideas and concepts. The Continental Mark II was sold for just two model years, with about 3,000 total units built. Between the tales of dealers turning potential buyers away because they were not deemed to be the right kind of people to own Continental, and its sticker price found affordable by only the world's wealthiest, the Continental became almost mythical. Many celebrities drove them, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Shah of Iran, Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger among others. The 1956 film High Society includes several scenes with a Mark II. The 1957 film drama Sweet Smell of Success includes a brief glimpse of the Mark II; the car belongs to Burt Lancaster's Broadway-columnist character J.J. Hunsecker.
Total production equaled 2,996 including two convertibles. As an aside; while on later models it was purely for decoration the Mark II did in fact carry the spare under the trunk lid's stamped-in tire cover.
Third generation (1958–1960)
After the Continental Mark II was discontinued, a new generation of the brand appeared for 1958. These were the first Continentals produced at the new Wixom plant, and the first made on a unibody platform since the original Continental. Though this edition is known as the "Mark III," the first models bore the nameplate "Continental III" on the front fender. While advertising brochures made the case that Continental was still a separate make, the car shared its body with that year's Lincoln. They differed from the lower-model full-size Lincolns in trim level and in their roof treatment, featuring a reverse-angle power rear "breezeway" window that retracted down behind the back seat. Hand assembly was gone, allowing for lower prices. Even so, Lincoln lost over sixty million dollars over 1958–1960, partly reflecting the enormous expense of developing what is perhaps the largest unibody car ever made. In addition there was the fact that that year's full-size Lincoln sold poorly in all models; 1958 was a recession year in the U.S. But in spite of that, the Continental Mark III recorded much better sales than the Mark II. AM radio was standard. A rare option was an FM radio. The A/C vents were located on the ceiling.
The new Lincoln was one of the largest cars ever made, larger than that year's Cadillac, and with their canted headlights and scalloped fenders had styling considered by many to be excessive even in that decade of styling excess. They are the longest Lincolns ever produced without federally mandated 5 mph (8.0 km/h) bumpers. The 63.1 inches (1,603 mm) front and 63.0 inches (1,600 mm) rear shoulder room they possessed set a record for Lincoln that still stands to this day; while the 44.0 inches (1,118 mm) front and 44.9 inches (1,140 mm) rear leg room make it one of the roomiest vehicles ever produced. Furthermore, the 1959–60 Continental Limousine and Town Car (which had the same wheelbase as other Continentals but the same rear seat legroom as Lincoln due to the absence of the "breezeway" window) are the heaviest American sedans without an extended wheelbase built since WW II, and the 1958 Continental convertible is the longest American convertible produced with the exception of the (extremely rare) 1934-37 Cadillac V-16 convertibles.
The 1959's range contained the original Continental Mark IV, and the 1960, the original Continental Mark V, with more restrained styling than the 1958. Two new body styles were added for 1959 and 1960, both on the same wheelbase as other Continentals, but without the reverse-angle "breezeway" window: a formal Town Car and an even more formal Limousine. Both cars had dual air conditioning units, a distinctive padded roof and were available only in black. The Limousine added a driver's partition for additional rear seat privacy. The Town Car, costing $9,200, sold only 214 over both years, and the Limousine, costing $10,200, sold only 83 over both years. One feature of these cars was the "Auto Lube", that, as long as the owner kept the lube reservoir full, the car automatically lubed itself. However, the 1958–1960 Marks were technically Lincolns as the Continental division was dropped after the Mark II. And this marked the last time that a Continental would share no major chassis components with a model made by Ford or Mercury as the 1961 Continental would share major components with the contemporaneous Ford Thunderbird.
The reputation for "excessive styling" is perhaps ironic given the enormous amount of styling talent that was connected with the development and modification of Continentals of this vintage (as well as given the elaborate marketing efforts at eliminating all memory of these Marks). George W. Walker, known for his contribution to the development of the original Ford Thunderbird, was Vice-President in charge of Styling at Ford during this time. Elwood Engel, famous for being lead designer of generation four of the Lincoln Continental and for his work as chief designer at Chrysler in the 1960s, was Staff Stylist (and consequently roamed all of the design studios) at Ford during this period and worked very closely with John Najjar in developing not only the 1958, but also the 1959 update. After John Najjar was relieved of his responsibilities as Chief Stylist of Lincoln in 1957 he became Engel's executive assistant, and the two worked closely together in the "stilleto studio" in developing the fourth generation Lincoln Continental, which of course won an award for its superlative styling. After Engel left Ford in 1961, Najjar became the lead designer of the Ford Mustang I concept car, which later gave birth to the Ford Mustang. Don Delarossa, who succeeded Najjar as Chief Stylist of Lincoln, was responsible for the 1960 update, and went on to become chief designer at Chrysler in the 1980s. Alex Tremulis, who was Chief Stylist at Auburn-Cord-Deusenberg in the mid to late 1930s and famous for his work on the 1948 Tucker Sedan, was head of Ford's Advanced Styling Studio during this period, and it was his Ford La Tosca concept car, with its oval overlaid with an "X" theme, that gave birth to the "slant eyed monster" nickname to the 1958 Continental front end. And, perhaps most ironic of all, L. David Ash was Lincoln's Executive Exterior Stylist when Najjar was in charge of Lincoln styling, the same L. David Ash who would later play such a prominent role as Chief Stylist of Ford in designing the 1969–1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, which helped cause Continentals of this vintage (together with a marketing decision by then Ford Executive Vice-President Lee Iacocca) to be called the "forgotten Marks".
Fourth generation (1961–1969)
In 1961, the Continental was completely redesigned by Elwood Engel. For the first time, the names Lincoln and Continental would be paired together outside the Mark Series; along with replacing the Continental Mark V, the 1961 Continental replaced the Lincoln Capri and Premiere, consolidating Lincoln into a single product line. Originally intended to be the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, the design was enlarged and slightly altered before being switched to the Lincoln line by Robert McNamara. One of the most striking features of the new Continental was its size. It was 14.8 in (380 mm) shorter than its predecessor. So much smaller was this car, that advertising executives at Ford photographed a woman parallel parking a sedan for a magazine spread. The new Continental's most recognized trademark, front-opening rear "suicide doors", was a purely practical decision. The new Continental rode on a wheelbase of 123 inches (3,100 mm), and the doors were hinged from the rear to ease ingress and egress. When the Lincoln engineers were examining the back seats that styling had made up, the engineers kept hitting the rear doors with their feet. Hinging the doors from the rear solved the problem. The doors were to become the best-known feature of 1960s Lincolns. To simplify production (in the beginning, anyway), all cars were to be four-door models, and only two body styles were offered, sedan and convertible. The 1961 model was the first car manufactured in the U.S. to be sold with a 24,000 mi (39,000 km) or 2-year bumper-to-bumper warranty. It was also the first postwar four-door convertible from a major U.S. manufacturer.
Despite the smaller exterior dimensions, at 4,927 lb (2,235 kg), the new sedan was only 85 lb (39 kg) lighter than the lightest 1960 Lincoln four-door sedan (2 lb less than a two-door); at 5,215 lb (2,365 kg), the convertible outweighed its 1960 predecessor by 39 lb (18 kg). As a result (save for their respective nine-passenger models) the new Lincoln was still heavier than anything from Cadillac or Imperial. This solid construction led to a rather enviable reputation as "Corporate management was determined to make it the finest mass-produced domestic automobile of its time and did so."
The 1961 Continental was Elwood Engel's Magnum Opus, as he was responsible for the complete design of the car. It was a sales success, with 25,160 sold during the first year of production.
This generation of Continental is favored by collectors and has appeared in many motion pictures, such as The Matrix, The Last Action Hero, Kalifornia and the Inspector Gadget films. It has also appeared in the television series Pushing Daisies, and recently in the opening sequence of the television series Entourage. Ford produced several concept cars which recalled this design. In 2007, Lincoln's Navigator and MKX SUV lines adopted chrome grilles in the style of these Continentals.
This so-called "slab-side" design ran from 1961 to 1969 with few changes from year to year. Lincoln dealers began to find that many people who bought 1961 and post-1961 models were keeping their cars longer. In 1962, a simpler front grille design with floating rectangles and a thin center bar was adopted. Sales climbed over 20% in 1962, to 31,061.
Due to customer requests, for 1963 the front seat was redesigned to improve rear-seat legroom; the rear deck lid was also raised to provide more trunk space. The floating rectangles in the previous year's grille became a simple matrix of squares. The car's electrical system was updated this model year when Ford replaced the generator with an alternator. For 1963, another 31,233 were sold.
The wheelbase was stretched 3 in (76 mm) in 1964 to improve the ride and add rear-seat legroom, while the roofline was squared off at the same time. The dash was also redesigned, doing away with the pod concept. Flat window glass was for additional interior space. The gas tank access door, which had been concealed at the rear of the car in the rear grille, was now placed on the driver's side rear quarter panel. The exterior "Continental" script was changed and the rear grille replaced by a simple horizontally elongated Continental star on the rear deck lid. 36,297 were sold that year.
The convex 1962–1964 grille was replaced by a flatter, squared-off one for 1965. The car was given front disc brakes to improve stopping distances. For the first time, parking lamps and front turn signals were integrated into the front quarter panels instead of the bumper. Taillights were fitted with a ribbed chrome grille on each side. With the facelift, sales improved about 10%, to 40,180 units. An oil pressure gauge was added. Front seat belts with retractors were now standard.
A two-door pillarless hardtop version was launched in 1966, the first two-door Lincoln since 1960, and the MEL engine was expanded from 430 cu in (7.0 L) to 462 cu in (7.6 L) cubic inches. The car was given all-new exterior sheet metal and a new interior. Parking lights and front turn signals went back into the front bumper, and taillights set in the rear bumper for the first time. The length was increased by 4.6 in (117 mm) to 220.9 in (5,611 mm), the width by 1.1 in (28 mm) to 79.7 in (2,024 mm), and the height (on the sedan) by 0.8 in (20 mm) to 55.0 in (1,397 mm) high. Curved side glass returned, however tumblehome was less severe than in earlier models. The convertible saw a few technical changes related to lowering and raising the top. Lincoln engineers separated the hydraulics for the top and rear deck lid (trunk) by adding a second pump and eliminating the hydraulic solenoids. A glass rear window replaced the plastic window used previously. To lure potential Cadillac buyers, 1966 Continental prices were reduced almost US$600 without reducing equipment levels. It succeeded, helping boost sales to 54,755 that year, an increase of 36%, all of it due to the new two-door; sales of both four-door models slipped slightly. Product breakdown for the year consisted of 65% sedans, 29% coupes, and just under 6% for the four-door convertible. 1966 was the first year a tape player was available and a new tilt steering wheel.
The 1967 Continental was almost identical to the 1966. The most obvious external difference is that the 1966 model has the Lincoln logo on each front fender, ahead of the front wheel; this does not appear on the 1967 model. It was also the end for the four-door convertible, down to just 2,276 units, a drop of 28% over 1966. In addition to being the last production four-door convertible; at 5,505 pounds (2,497 kg) the 1967 convertible holds the distinction of being the heaviest Lincoln since the Model K, and was even 55 pounds heavier than the Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine of that year. Total production was 45,667. Warning lights on the dash included a cruise control on, truck open, and an oil pressure light.
Safety came to the forefront in 1967–68 and resulted in energy-absorbing steering columns, "safety" padded interiors, and lap safety belts for all passengers. 1968 saw shoulder belts for outboard front passengers as well.
1968 brought some exterior changes. The parking lights, taillights, and front turn signals were once again in a wraparound design on the fenders to satisfy Federal standards for side marker lights, but looked very different from those of the 1965 model. The new 460 cu in (7.5 l) Ford 385 engine was to be available initially, but there were so many 462 cu in (7.57 l) Ford MEL engine engines still available, the 460 was phased in later that year. In April, the new Mark III made its debut, as a 1969 model. Total sales would be down to just 39,134.
1969 was the last production year with rear-opening "suicide doors", with few changes from 1968 (including the addition of federally-mandated head restraints). Sales held steady at 38,383 for the Continental, plus another 30,858 for the new Continental Mark III.
In the CBS television situation comedy Green Acres (1965–1971), in which the cars were furnished by Ford Motor Company, lead character Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) is shown driving a 1965 Continental convertible and then in later episodes owns a 1967 model.
Kennedy Limousine SS-100-X
For the Kennedy White House, the Secret Service purchased a convertible parade limousine custom built by Hess & Eisenhart of Cincinnati, Ohio from a 1961 Lincoln four-door convertible. Code named the SS-100-X, it was in this car that JFK was assassinated in 1963. By that time, the front of the car had been updated with the grille/headlight/bumper assembly from the 1962 model. After the assassination, the limousine was returned to Hess & Eisenhart, where it was repaired and retrofitted with full armor and a fixed roof. It subsequently continued in service for the White House for many years. This world-famous car is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Fifth generation (1970–1979)
For 1970, the Continental received a ground-up redesign for the first time since 1961. Available again as a two-door hardtop and a four-door pillared hardtop, the Continental borrowed a number of styling cues from both its predecessor and the Continental Mark III. As before, the sides were relatively unadorned with blade-like fenders, but the door handles on 4-doors gave away the biggest change: the distinctive "suicide doors" were replaced by conventional front-hinged doors. Like the Mark III, the Continental now wore hidden headlamps. Unibody construction was replaced by cheaper body-on-frame construction; on the upside, the old rear leaf springs were replaced by coil springs.
Another major change to the Continental lay under the skin; for the first time, it shared a common platform with the full-size Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis. The 1970 model was the first time ever a standard Lincoln shared a chassis with the full-sized Fords, somewhat expected as the Ford in LTD form had increasingly marketed itself as a "poor man's Lincoln" in the late 60s. "In essence, the new Lincoln was to the Ford and Mercury what the General Motors C-Body offerings (especially the Cadillac) were to the medium priced car lines that employed the B-shell." In mid-model year 1972, Lincoln's long history of distinct engines from its corporate counterparts came to an end as the 460 V8 became available in the Mercury Marquis and Colony Park. To move upmarket from Ford and Mercury, the full-size Lincoln product line gained two nameplates with two popular option packages. In 1970, the Town Car name (dormant since 1959) was revived; in 1973, a corresponding two-door Town Coupe was introduced. In addition to the standard Continental, the Town Car/Town Coupe offered a limousine-style vinyl top and more standard equipment. Front disc brakes were standard.
During its lifecycle, this generation of Continental saw a number of changes. From 1970 to 1974, each model year wore a different grille style. In 1973 and 1974, the Continental (to comply with federal mandate) was fitted with 5-mph bumpers in the front and rear, respectively. In comparison to the 1970 model, the 5-mph bumpers seen on 1975–1979 models left the Continental 7 inches longer.
For 1975, the 2-door hardtop model was replaced with a pillared coupe; the 4-door received a new roofline to further differentiate it from Ford and Mercury models. The Continental Town Coupe received a square opera window in its C-pillar while the Town Car received an oval one (similar to the Mark IV). Braking performance, a sore point on full-size American cars of the time, was improved as the Continental became one of the first American cars (besides the Corvette) with 4-wheel disc brakes. In 1977, the grille changed from a rectangular unit to the Rolls-Royce radiator grille seen on the Mark Series; variations of this style would be used on the Continental and Town Car until 1997. The new grille was both higher and narrower than in previous years, but the position of the headlamps remained unchanged. To hold the line on price and to increase fuel economy, previously standard luxury features gradually became optional over the decade, with the 460 cu in (7.5 L) engine becoming an option in 1978, replaced in 1979 by the 400-cubic-inch (6.6 L) engine as standard. Rear fender skirts were removed for the 1978 model year. Four-wheel disc brakes were optional.
By 1979, the Continental measured 233.0 in (5,920 mm) and weighed between 4,900–5,500 lb (2,200–2,500 kg) depending on the year. After General Motors downsized its full-size product lineup for 1977, the Continental became the largest mass-market automobile produced worldwide at the time, surpassed only by purpose-built limousines such as the Mercedes-Benz 600 and Rolls-Royce Phantom VI. The 460 cid V8 was also the largest-displacement engine in any production car worldwide from 1977 to 1978. The United States Environmental Protection Agency rated the Lincolns at 10 to 12 mpg-US (20–24 L/100 km; 12–14 mpg-imp).
Collectors Series (1979)
In 1979 a "Collector's Series" option package was available, which added virtually every Lincoln feature with the exception of a moonroof, engine-block heater, and the choice of velour or leather upholstery. The Collector's Series package raised the price of a Town Car or Mark V to almost $22,000, an astronomical sum for a domestic automobile in 1979 (approximately $70,448 in today's dollars). There were only four colors available: dark blue, white and limited-issue medium blue (197 built) and light silver (125 built) with a dark-blue vinyl top.
Sixth generation (1980)
In order to meet federal fuel economy standards, the Continental underwent downsizing for the 1980 model year (three years after Cadillac). For the first time, Lincoln shared a common platform (the Ford Panther platform) with full-size Ford and Mercury sedans. In the redesign, the Continental shed fourteen inches in length, two inches in width, ten inches in wheelbase, and nearly a half-ton in weight; downsizing had brought some models of the Continental to within 200 pounds of the curb weight of the Versailles (marketed as a compact car). The Panther platform also served as the basis for the all-new Mark VI, a coupe sharing the wheelbase of the Ford LTD as well as the first 4-door Mark-series sedan. Gone forever was the 400 Ford 335 engine, replaced with the 302 cid 5.0 Windsor, the smallest engine in a Lincoln since the 292 cid Lincoln-Zephyr V12, last seen in 1948. The 351 cid Windsor was a relatively rare one year only option available in 1980. More important by far in the total Continental powertrain picture was the new 4-speed Automatic Overdrive Transmission (AOD). Developed under the name Ford Integral Overdrive (FIOD), this industry-first featured both a mechanically engaged overdrive (0.67/1 ratio) fourth gear and third and fourth gear torque converter lock-up. When combined with weight reduction this more-efficient powertrain provided the 1980 Lincoln and Mark with the best year-to-year fuel economy improvement (38%) in Ford history. The introduction of a standard overdive transmission enabled Lincoln to leap its competitors, going from the company with the worst CAFE rating to the most fuel-efficient full-size car sold.
During the 1970s, the Town Car trim level on the Continental had become increasingly popular, and in 1981, the Town Car took its place as Lincoln's standard full-size car. For 1981, the Continental name went on a brief hiatus, as it was to appear on an entirely different car the next year as Lincoln sought to expand its lineup beyond full-size cars. The only appearance of the Continental for 1981 was as the Mark VI coupe and sedan.
Seventh generation (1982–1987)
After a one-year absence, 1982 saw the Continental name reapplied to a mid-size car based on the long-wheelbase version of the Ford Fox platform. Intended to compete with the Cadillac Seville (priced in 1984 from $23,433), the new Continental was priced from $21,302. Unlike the Seville, which switched to a front-wheel drive chassis for 1980, the '82 Continental remained rear-wheel drive. While the now-unrelated Mark VI was produced in coupe and 4-door styles, the new Continental was strictly a four-door sedan. Throughout the 1984–1987 run, models were available in base, Signature, and designer (Valentino and Givenchy) form. The 1982 Givenchy edition Continental was the most expensive and exclusive model, offering only three options: sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a choice of cloth or leather seats. The car topped out at over $26,000 (approximately $62,615 in today's dollars) and was one of the most expensive Lincolns built to date.
1982 Continental, side view
In the early 1980s, variations of the so-called "bustle-back" styling were offered on the Cadillac Seville and Chrysler Imperial. The look never caught on: the Imperial was a huge disappointment for Chrysler; only 10,981 were sold over three model years. Sales of the Seville — one of Cadillac's success stories of the late 1970s — dropped by 26% a year after its redesign, selling at half the rate of the Eldorado, despite their sharing a common platform. Two years behind the Seville, Continental's focus groups discovered — too far along the development process — that the bustle-back trunk was a design past its prime, if in fact there ever was one. An 11th-hour change was the addition of a horizontal brushed-chrome strip that ran along each side of Continental. This added trim (along with plentiful two-tone color combinations) gave it a more conventional appearance in comparison to the Seville. For the first time, the Continental wore its namesake imitation spare tire bulge on the decklid.
The standard powertrain for 1982 was shared with the Town Car; a carbureted version of the Ford 302 cid V8 backed by the new 4-speed AOD automatic transmission. Fuel injection replaced the carburetor in 1983, upgraded to sequential injection in 1986; the 1982 Continental was the last Lincoln equipped with a carbureted engine. The 1982 configuration put out 131 hp (98 kW) and 229 foot-pounds force (310 N·m) torque. As a no-cost option (for 1982 only) was the first six-cylinder engine in a Lincoln: a 3.8 L V6 shared with the Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar. To counter the optional diesel engines available from Cadillac and European automakers, Lincoln introduced a 2.4 L turbodiesel six-cylinder engine (purchased from BMW) in 1984. The diesel-powered Continental was rarely ordered and was discontinued in 1985. This car introduced two industry firsts: gas-charged shock absorbers and self-sealing tires.
For 1984 (to keep in line with the new Mark VII), the $21,769 Continental got freshened styling with flush-fitting front and rear bumpers, revised tail lamps, a new header panel featuring an angled grille flanked by recessed quad headlamps and larger wrap-around marker lights incorporating cornering lamps, and satin-black trim on the doors and dashboard. Wood veneer appeared on the door panels and dashboard, although by 1986, the simulated wood was back. Continental continued through the 1987 model year with few changes, save for paint schemes and upholstery patterns. In what became Lincoln fashion since the early 70's, brand-name designer labels appeared on the upper-rung models. Cartier was the top Town Car model, American designer Bill Blass and Italian sportswear mogul Versace both chose schemes for Mark VII, while French designer Hubert de Givenchy and Italian-born Valentino gave their personal touches to the Continental.
Comparison with Versailles
The 1982–1987 Continental was a 'spiritual successor' to the Lincoln Versailles compact of the 1970s. Like the earlier Versailles (which shared most of its sheet-metal, drivetrain, and chassis with the Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch), the new Continental — serving as a premium model for Lincoln — was based on a lower-rung Ford model using the Fox platform. Originally introduced for the 1978 Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr, the 105.5 in (2,680 mm) wheelbase was stretched 3 in (76 mm) for the Continental.
In a parallel, the 1976 Seville shared much of its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Nova; the difference between GM and Ford was that by 1977, Lincoln styling cues were carried across the entire Ford lineup (with the exceptions of Pinto and Mustang II). As such, the Granada was already a much more formal looking car that appealed directly to former full-size buyers looking for something more economical without a loss of comfort. Contrary to its reputation; the Versailles was actually thoroughly refined over the Granada, and even included the "first clear coat paint on a regular production car." But the 1982–1987 Continental differed greatly than Versailles in that Continental would not repeat the mistake of taking an existing body and slapping a Lincoln grille on it. Instead, the 1982 Continental had a unique body and interior, both giving a feeling of luxury true to Lincoln's image. Ford learned the lesson of too much brand sharing quickly; Lincoln would continue to share chassis with lesser models, but it would always have unique bodies and styling to justify its premium pricing. The Continental succeeded where Versailles had failed in the sales race.