The fourth generation Continental was pure class

Lincoln Continental was first developed in 1939 as Edsel Ford’s one-off personal vehicle. The car was an elegant convertible with a long hood covering a big V-12 with long front fenders and a short trunk. The externally-mounted and covered spare tire made its first appearance here before becoming the Continental series’ trademark. The design was allegedly sketched out in an hour by Eugene Gregorie working from the blueprints of the Lincoln Zephyr.

But when the 1961 Continental was introduced, the automotive trade press was stunned. The car’s look was a dramatic departure from the styling of the 1960 Lincoln – in fact, it was a complete break from the fins, fat chrome trim, and dog-legged windshields that were so characteristic of all cars of the prior five years. It did show some hints of fine cars of the past. The Continental Mark II influence could be seen in the mesh grille, the wraparound taillight design, and the rise in beltline just ahead of the rear wheel cutout.

More than just a pretty face, the 1961 Continental influenced design for later models like. This includes the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix, the 1963 Buick Riviera, and the 1964 Chrysler Imperial. The design turned out to be absolutely brilliant, with clean, uncluttered lines, perfect proportions, and no extraneous decoration. That such a masterpiece ever made it past the committees, politics, and egos then battling for position at Ford was tantamount to a miracle. The new design was a little smaller with the overall length dropping to 212.4 inches from 227 and the wheelbase being reduced from 131 to 123 inches. The rear doors were hung from the rear and opened from the front. This "suicide door" style was to become the best-known feature of 1960s Lincolns.

The model was available in two options: four-door sedan and four-door convertible. The Lincoln Continental sedan shown in the sketch was manufactured at the Wixom, Michigan assembly plant – where Lincolns are still made today. It originally sold for $6,067 and weighed almost 5,000 pounds. The car was powered by a big 430 cubic inch V-8 and traveled down the highways of 1961 in a stately fashion, transporting its occupants in luxury and quiet.

Continue reading for more information about the 1961 Lincoln Continental

  • 1961 Lincoln Continental
  • Year:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
  • Transmission:
    Three-speed Automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
  • Torque @ RPM:
  • Displacement:
    430 cubic inches
  • 0-60 time:
    10.5 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    120 mph
  • body style:


1961 Lincoln Continental
- image 112244

Eugene Gregorie may have pinned the first Continental, but it was Elwood Engle who designed the 1961 model. It was 1961 that began the Continental’s fourth generation – perhaps one of the most iconic automotive designs in American luxury cars, and most certainly in Lincoln’s history. Lincoln didn’t let the Continental stagnate in the 1960s. Each model year brought updates to the grille and other areas around the car. Still, the initial design from 1961 is one of the more memorable.

Perhaps one of the most iconic automotive designs in American luxury cars, and most certainly in Lincoln’s history.

The front featured four prominent headlights surrounded by a square-mesh grille. Its bumper was tucked underneath the nose, giving it a sleek look but nearly useless low-speed crash protection. Chrome extended along the top of the fenders, doors, and trunk, giving the already long car some extra visual length. Both convertible and sedan versions shared nearly all the same lower bodywork. What’s more, both the sedan and convertible’s roofs looked similar, keeping the theme going across both versions of the car.

Classic whitewall tires with chrome wheel covers further captured the attention of customers and on-lookers.


The interior was considered large and spacious in 1961 – even in a period in time when most luxury cars were long and wide. The dashboard featured a dual-cockpit-style design, with hoods over both the driver and passenger side of the dash. In between lay the radio controls. Air conditioning vents and controls were hidden in a fold-down box below the radio. Both front and rear seat passengers had plenty of room with the large bench seats.


1961 Lincoln Continental
- image 112247

The 1961 Lincoln Continental came powered by a massive, 430 cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V-8. The engine produced 300 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, sending power to the rear wheels though a three-speed automatic transmission. Performance estimates have the car hitting 60 mph in roughly 10.5 seconds while being able to reach a top speed of 120 mph. The car’s performance was certainly hampered by its 4,927-pound curb weight.

The V-8 was part of Ford’s MEL engine family, with MEL standing for Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln. And as the name implies, the 430 and its other derivatives powered a wide range of products.

An interesting note, the 1961 Continental became the first built in the U.S. to come with a two-year, bumper-to-bumper warranty. It was also the first four-door convertible from a major U.S. automaker since the end of WWII in 1945.


1961 Lincoln Continental
- image 112240

The 1961 Continental wasn’t a cheap car. Brand new, the sedan cost $6,067, while the convertible cost $6,713. That’s in a time when salaries average around $4,000 annually. In modern times, prices can range between $8,000 and $20,000, depending on condition. Total production for the 1961 Continental was 22,303 examples.


1961 Lincoln Continental
- image 112239

The 1961 Lincoln Continental is icon from a bygone era – a time when men wore suits and hats and ladies looked to Marilyn Monroe for fashion advice. It was a time when two rows of bench seats, optional air conditioning, and acres of chrome were all the rage. The Continental certainly had those in spades. Its big 430 cubic-inch V-8 might not compete with modern engines of today, but it was a well-respected mill in its time.

Respect – perhaps that’s the word that best embodies the 1961 Continental. Respect is something given to anyone seen within is cavernous interior, or driving top-down. Today, the car earns the same attention thanks to its timeless design.

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Mark McNabb
Mark McNabb was a contributor at TopSpeed from 2013 to 2018. Growing up, Mark always had a mind for tinkering on random items throughout his home and dad’s garage, including a 1953 Ford Mainline and 1971 Corvette Stingray.  Read full bio
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  (446) posted on 02.22.2012

This Lincoln Continental was very elegant. No wonder it captured the loving heart of the late president John F. Kennedy. It’s sad to know that the convertible one has given the suspect the chance to assassination.

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