11 March 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #3

I admit that I've always been less enthusiastic about Ford products compared to those from Chrysler Corporation and General Motors. Sure, everyone loves a classic Mustang, but in car collecting and shows they are so common that they are kind of ordinary.

However, there are certain Ford Motor Company products that will always have strong appeal for me. One of these is the 1960s Lincoln Continental, the ones with the forward-opening rear doors known as suicide doors. As we've discussed before, American car styling went through a difficult period at the end of the 1950s, and Lincoln's cars were particularly ponderous and unattractive. (There are those who appreciate these cars more today, as this recent New York Times article attests.) Lincolns were selling poorly compared to Cadillacs, so this 1961 redesign was something of a last hope for the company.

The design originated as an alternate proposal for the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, which partly explains why the roof and glass area on the initial models looks more coupe-like, and perhaps a bit too small relative to the rest of the car's body. In fact the '61 Continental shared part of its inner body structure with the Thunderbird for financial reasons (a much more common practice now, but still common enough half a century ago). This kinship is quite evident when comparing the front end designs of the '61 Thunderbird and Continental:
(The center grille bar that sweeps down and under the headlight units on these two cars is obviously very similar.)

The Continental was made in four-door closed-roof and convertible body styles, with the same basic design lasting from 1961-69 with minor styling tweaks and revisions along the way (though some of these were subtle enough that they might not be noticeable to someone who doesn't pay much attention to car styling). Lincoln introduced a two-door hardtop coupe version in 1966 that proved to be more popular than they had expected; the convertible was dropped after 1967.

If I were to choose one car from the whole model run for my fantasy garage it would have to be one of the four-door convertibles, because the design is unique among post-World War II vehicles. (Entourage kind of ruined the coolness factor of this car, but we're going to ignore that.) And if I have to narrow it down to a specific model year, it would be the 1964.
For that year the car was redesigned and gained a few inches in wheelbase and length, along with a revision to the roof design that improved the balance of its overall appearance. (I prefer the dashboard design of the 1961-63 models, but the cleaner and more refined exterior front and rear designs of the '64 tilt my opinion in its favor.) Second place would probably go to the '66, which again had slightly revised sheetmetal and was one of the first American cars to incorporate tail lights into the rear bumper.
A couple of other notes on these cars: the leather interior was available in a choice of ten colors. Ten! (You all know how I feel about current cars' lack of interior color choices.) Cloth seats were also available, in six colors.
Also, for 1967 Ford applied the suicide-door design to a four-door version of the Thunderbird, in an attempt to move the 'bird upmarket and afford it a measure of distinction. Not everyone likes these cars, but I've always thought they were quite cool; they are probably my favorite Thunderbirds. (And check out the groovy dress on that model.)

For an excellent overview of the 1961-69 Lincolns, see this article on Curbside Classic.

(Image credits for this post, from top: #1,3, and 4 are cropped from full-page brochure images on the Old Car Brochures website; #5 is a full brochure page image from OCB; #2 is from Wikipedia.)

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