The Lincoln Continental
Lincoln Motor Company posted a 13% sales increase in January and February of 2017 as compared to the same period last year. The gain was an increase on the same period of 2015. That gain was – you guessed it – an increase on the same period of 2014. The luxury brand is in the midst of no accidental renaissance. It’s no accident because they’re investing huge sums of money, and not just to Matthew McConaughey’s bank account. Of course, simply investing money isn’t enough to establish a presence in the crowded luxury vehicle market. To appeal to modern consumers, a company needs a coherent brand narrative, one embodied by a cornerstone product, the Lincoln Continental.
The Lincoln Continental
The Lincoln Continental began as a prototype for Edsel Ford in 1939. Immediately upon its completion, it was scheduled for commercial production. Much of the original Continental’s body and interior was assembled by hand. Ford produced less than 500 Continentals in the first two years. These considerations gave the Continental an exorbitant price, rendering it inaccessible to any but the ultra rich. Ford curtailed production during the war, but picked up thereafter. Swagger marked the Continental’s design, drawing from post-war optimism.
The Mark II Continental was introduced in 1956, remaining a vehicle for the elite. Sinatra had one, and so did Elvis – both 1956 models. A brand doesn’t need to prove its eminence when it’s driven by the Sultan and the King. Needless to say, the Lincoln Continental was well respected. More than that, it was a figure of almost mythical admiration given its rarity. But, over time, foreign and domestic competitors would gain ground.
Sales decayed in the 1980s with the emergence of not only the German automakers, but Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti. Lincoln continued to lose ground and the product became a reflection of consumer indifference. The Lincoln Continental of 1998 was a design mess indistinguishable from the mid-century, slope-fendered coupe. By that time, if you were riding in a Continental, chances are the airport’s taxi queue was too long. Finally, over fifty years later, the Lincoln Continental was discontinued. July 26, 2002 marked the last day of production.
In 2015, more than a decade after the Continental’s retirement, Lincoln revealed a concept with Jaguar-esque headlights, wheels like whorl shark teeth, and a 360-degree chrome trim around the body’s base. Shortly after it debuted, the concept headed for production. Billed as a 2017 model, the Lincoln Continental dropped the “Mark” naming system, presumably believing the latest incarnation constituted a new start for the luxury automaker. Lincoln left the chrome trim and menacing wheels on the stage of the New York Auto Show. But much of the concept survived production.
The New Lincoln Continental
With the new Continental, Lincoln has scripted a driver narrative that begins even before you get in. As you approach your Continental, it engages the headlights and projects a “welcome mat” on the ground. At the same time, the wing mirrors unfold. A touch of the E-Latch Handle allows you to open the Continental’s ponderous door in one motion without unlatching. Once inside, drivers will find an interior defined by the inclusion of materials like Scotland’s Bridge of Weir Leather. When draped over 30-way Perfect Position Seats, the result is a driving platform plausibly more comfortable than any of those in similarly priced cars. Under the hood, Lincoln have opted for a baseline 2.7L GTDI engine producing 335 horsepower. Ostensibly, this would flout Lincoln’s “quiet luxury” mantra. And yet, with Active Noise Cancellation and a 19-Speaker Revel Ultima® Audio System, you’ll only ever hear what you want to hear.
The new Continental is bulging at the seams with technology and it looks like something James Bond would drive – maybe just to taxi to his private jet, but still. Anybody who drives one will tell you that the Continental is exceptional – even when considered alone. But to appreciate Lincoln’s achievement, it needs to placed in the context of their reinvention. The driver’s experience, one that’s broadly emotive, but predicated upon elite specifications and high-quality materials; is finally the first priority. Lincoln has made the experience consistent across the lineup, but is felt no more acutely than in the driver’s seat of the lithe sedan. Consequently, the Continental is the ideal flagship Lincoln in the 21st century.
Things Begin and End with Matthew McConaughey
Given Lincoln’s newfound fastidiousness, it’s likely no coincidence they hired an actor experiencing his own renaissance. Once an easy punchline for his work in film’s like Fool’s Gold and Failure to Launch, McConaughey has reinvented himself by starring in Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective. Like him, Lincoln Motor Company have refused to abandon the past. Instead, they’ve adopted the best parts of their heritage and married them to ultra-modern technology and design. Perhaps for the first time since Elvis’ 1956 Mark II, Lincoln have manufactured a car befitting a King.