Henry Leland started the Lincoln Motor Company with his son Wilfred in 1917. When the company got into financial trouble, Ford purchased it from Leland in 1922. Back then, the buying public just couldn’t wrap its head around the idea of expensive new Ford cars. To alleviate this situation, Ford established Lincoln as its luxury brand.
The most iconic Lincoln, the Continental, made its first appearance as a new production model in 1940. This was the first of the new Lincoln cars to employ the infamous “Continental kit” rear spare tire mount. That feature went on to become a styling element of all new Lincoln “Mark” series Continental models.
The first of the Mark-series of new Lincoln cars appeared in 1956, designated as the Lincoln Mark II. Hand-built like a Rolls Royce, Ford charged Rolls-Royce money for it too —$10,000 (almost $90,000 in today’s money). Even still, the cars were sold at a loss of some $1000 each.
The mass-produced Continental Mark III replaced the Mark II, before the “Mark” cars were temporarily discontinued in 1961. Not to be outdone though, 1961 was the year Lincoln introduced the new Lincoln Continental models with the iconic “suicide” doors. This car was also offered as a convertible, which made it the last American convertible four-door sedan.
In 1968, the Mark series was revived, this time sharing a platform with the Ford Thunderbird. The spare tire hump in the trunk made a comeback, along with hidden headlights and a Rolls-Royce-inspired grille. Those features (with the exception of the hidden headlights) would be styling hallmarks of the Mark series of cars through the remainder of their run—which terminated in 1998, with the Lincoln Continental Mark VIII.
Fuel economy concerns hit Lincoln’s all-V8 lineup hard in the 1970’s, precipitating the decline of the brand from which it has yet to really recover. However, in 1981, Lincoln introduced the Town Car, which quickly became a favorite of the livery trade. In fact, this business kept that model in production well past its sell-by date. Lincoln finally laid the Town Car to rest in 2011.
Going into the second decade of the 21st century, new Lincoln models are struggling to find their identity. While Lincoln’s automobiles are noted for having the nicest interiors of any American brand, the marketplace has shifted to a more European-oriented definition of luxury. The new Lincoln cars are being designed to adapt to the contemporary paradigm, while still reflecting the core values of the historic marque.