From 1961 through the late-1970s, it was difficult to think of Lincoln without immediately thinking of the Continental. After all, for many of those years, all Lincolns were also Continentals. Despite other model names making their way into the mix, with the exception of the Versailles, all full-size Lincolns were still “Lincoln Continental… (Town Car, Town Coupe, or Mark Series)”. By the early-1980s Lincoln saw it time to address this proliferation of the Continental nameplate, renaming all non-Mark Continentals simply “Town Car” or “Town Coupe” in 1981. Though a second, “plain” Continental, would bustle back in 1982, literally with a bustle-back.
Attempting to avoid the pitfalls of the preceding Versailles, Lincoln stylists were careful to give this new Continental a distinctive look from its Ford and Mercury platform mates. Unfortunately, Lincoln decided that hopping on the bustle-back bandwagon was the appropriate design language to make its Continental stand out. First introduced on the 1980 Cadillac Seville, the bustle-back was primarily characterized by a short, sloping rear end that echoed designs of post-war European luxury cars. Chrysler’s unique interpretation of the bustle-back came the following year with the 1981 Imperial, leaving Lincoln to follow suit in 1982.
Unfortunately, buyers did not embrace the bustle-back. Annual Seville sales of the bustle-back generation never reached the same figures of the preceding generation, and Imperial sales were simply abysmal. Granted, sales figures were not exclusively reflective of styling (self-destructing engines and a lack of brand equity played parts, respectively), but the bustle-back was a bold styling trend that lost interest as quickly as it appeared.
Bustle-back Continental sales were nothing stunning either, selling in the 15,000-30,000 throughout its run. Lincoln’s somewhat belated introduction of its bustle-back only meant that the Continental would have to endure this styling for longer than Cadillac and Imperial. With the Imperial bowing out after 1983 and the Seville gaining yet another controversial redesign for 1986, the Continental soldiered on with its droopy tail through 1987, amidst steadily weakening sales. Its 1984 facelift only seemed to worsen the Continental’s appearance, as its upright front was now replaced with a walrus-like droopy front to match its rear.
Lincoln designers would play it safer with the 1988-1994 Continental. Moving to the front-wheel drive Taurus and Sable’s platform, the Continental still indeed shared many components with these less-prestigious cars. However, unlike the indistinctive-looking 1977-1980 Versailles and subjectively-styled 1982-1987 Continental, this Lincoln not only looked different enough from Ford and Mercury, but had broad appeal. With the exception of 1993, this Continental topped its bustle-back predecessor’s best annual sales record by more than 25 percent. Third time’s a charm?