(first posted 6/11/2015) What is the purpose of a convertible? Most would probably say that a convertible’s purpose is for the enjoyment of the beauty of outdoors – at least when outdoors is in a mood to be enjoyed. And there is certainly something to this view. But after some thought, I would propose that the real purpose of a convertible is to be beautiful. If this is true, is there a single convertible more suited to that core purpose than the original Lincoln Continental?
If convertibles were bought mainly by lovers of the outdoors, most of them would have been driven by hunters, farmers and naturalists. And if those were the primary customers, the Lincoln Continental would never have been built. But ever since roll-up windows were added to the classic roadster, convertibles have been bought by stylish people to be stylish in. It’s fine to be able to see all that is around you, but to be seen, there we have the convertible’s sine qua non.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” The Lincoln Continental’s story involves quite a lot of both. It is a story that has been told countless times (including at AUWM here), so let us stick to the highlights. Edsel Ford was a man of consummate taste, just as much as his father Henry was not. Where Ford the elder saw beauty in mechanical terms, Ford the younger was an admirer of that which covered the mechanism.
When you are the son of one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, you could probably afford to drive anything that you might want. But when you are the son of the indomitable Henry Ford, well, your choices might be more limited. Well, at least Ford had purchased the Lincoln Motor Company from Henry Leland, and under Edsel Ford’s excellent eye, Lincoln produced some beautiful semi-custom cars. However, by the late 1930s, the Great Depression had been grinding on for quite some time, and the grand Model K Lincolns, like their counterparts at Packard and Cadillac, were near death.
Lincoln had introduced the smaller Zephyr series for 1936, in an attempt to give Lincoln a volume model to sell, as well as to plug the gargantuan hole in the market between the Ford DeLuxe and the Lincoln Model K. But make no mistake, the Zephyr was not a genuine luxury car. An while the Zephyr was attractive, it would never make anyone’s top ten list of beautiful cars.
In the fall of 1938, Edsel approached the head of Ford’s Design Department, E. T. “Bob” Gregorie, about building a custom car for the winter in Florida that was Edsel’s habit. Edsel had hired twenty-two year old Gregorie in 1931 to do design work for Lincoln. Gregorie had worked closely with Edsel for years, and had a good idea of the boss’ tastes.
Back in late 1932, Edsel had asked Gregorie to work up a personal sports car like some of those Ford had seen in Europe. The result (after a false start or two) was the 1934 Speedster. In the 1996 book “A Century of Automotive Style” by Michael Lamm and Dave Holls, they recount an interview with Gregorie. ” Bob Gregorie affirmed . . . that the Continental idea went back to the 1934 Ford Speedster . . . . ‘After that, Edsel and I would occasionally talk about making a special little sports car’ recalled Gregorie. They talked about basing it on the Ford chassis, but they ran into problems of interrupting the plant routine. [Ford’s production chief, Charles] Sorensen was against anything that might interfere with Ford’s production lines. Next, Edsel and Gregorie talked about making the sportster a Mercury, but that too involved the same disruptions.
“We again talked about (in Nov. ’38) some car we might build in the future. And then it occurred to me..I figured, Well, we’ve got the Zephyr, with a 12 cylinder engine, and we’ve got one whole bay empty in the Lincoln plant…where Lincoln craftsmen used to finish up the K-Model custom bodies…and we had a nucleus of very fine body people at Lincoln.
In short order, the sketches came together into a completed car. The hood was lengthened seven inches, a section was taken out of the body to lower it, and a unique rear-mounted spare tire was affixed. Edsel was quite pleased with the car and, during it’s winter in Florida, it was determined that there was a market for more of them.
By mid 1939, plans were underway for small scale production. The term “production” is used loosely, as the 1940 model that was offered for sale was built with hand-hammered body panels that likely took any profit out of these early cars for the company. Despite high demand, Lincoln managed to turn out either 350 or 351 (depending on sources) of these Cabriolets and another 54 closed coupes. Compare this to the only 700 of the much cheaper Zephyr convertible coupes sold, which were not constricted in their supply at all. Demand was such that ever-skeptical Henry Ford finally authorized body tooling in order that the cars could be more-or-less manufactured instead of totally hand crafted. Even at nearly $3,000 (at a time when a Chrysler New Yorker could be had for $1,385) about 1250 1941 models were built.
Speaking of the Zephyr convertible, one look at the two cars together shows the styling magic that Gregorie worked on the Zephyr. The Zephyr is not an ugly car, by any means. But the lengthened hood and the lowered hood and beltline demonstrate how a good design can become a great one. Design features like the complete lack of running boards and a hood brought down to nearly the level of the fenders were years ahead of their time. It is also hard to miss that rear-mounted external spare, that was an oddly retro touch for 1939, yet somehow it seems perfect. There are very few cars on which it is impossible to find a single line, curve or angle that could be improved. This car is one of them.
From the beginning, the Continental was the car to have among both the famous and the cultured. Mickey Rooney got the first one, and Babe Ruth got another of the 1940 models. Rita Hayworth would have to wait until 1941. But it was not just the Hollywood crowd that appreciated the Connie. Notable designers and tastemakers like Raymond Loewy and Frank Lloyd Wright were early customers too.
Almost to prove how much beauty matters in selling a convertible, these very expensive cars were snapped up in spite of their well-known mechanical weaknesses, not the least of which was the fragile 292 cubic inch V-12. That this was likely the worst automobile engine sold in America in 1940 is not often disputed. Not to be confused with the magnificent V-12s in the big Model K Lincolns, the Zephyr version was, in essence, one-and-a-half Ford flathead V8s. Although the small V-12 was smooth and quiet, it would suffer from cooling and oiling issues for its entire run. Had the Continental been a mere car, the weak powerplant might have mattered. But as the latest must-have fashion accessory purchased by those who could easily afford the engine’s 30,000 mile overhauls, well, who cared?
I don’t think that we are really overstating things to give this car credit for Lincoln coming out of World War II alive. But come back it did, with the Continental leading the way – albeit in a butched-up style that seemed so current in 1946. In fact, successive generations of Lincoln designers and stylists would come back to this car again and again over the ensuing decades, even up to the present day. Only after seventy five years is the design beginning to lose currency to the similarly iconic Continental of the early 1960s. But even then, this car can still be seen in the proportions and minimal trim of that Elwood Engle masterpiece.
I have completely forgotten the errand I was running that day three months ago when I saw this car out of the corner of my eye as it sat in a nearly-empty church parking lot. I must admit that I have become a little jaundiced in my recent curbside car spotting, passing by things that I might have stopped to photograph three years ago. But for an early Continental? Stop the car! It was only after I was up close and noticed the Lincoln Zephyr badging that I realized that this was one of the rare 1940 versions. The other tells are the grille with no edging to contain the vertical ribs and the conventional twist-type door handles instead of the ’41’s unique pushbuttons.
It was also only up close that I could tell that this car is not black, but an extremely deep green. I was surprised to see the color called “Beetle Green” in the brochure. I suppose that names like Forest Heather Starmist would not come until later. When a car looks like this one does, call the color whatever you want, because it just doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t think that a dark green car with red leather could be so appealing, but here we are.
I spied this car not a minute too soon. It was in the process of being loaded into a trailer, on the way to a new owner. The car had come out of the estate of the longtime prior owner, and the transaction was being handled by a dealer. The owner of Significantcars.com was preoccupied with trying to get this old girl onto the truck, so I did not have much chance to talk to him. He does have some fascinating cars on his website so who knows, there might have to be a Curbside Expedition to check out some of his other offerings.
I suppose I have been practicing for this find my entire life. When I went into middle school, I met a new best friend, Dan. Dan’s father Howard had a black 1947 Lincoln sedan that was a beautiful original car, right down to it’s V-12. I knew nothing about old Lincolns before then, but I quickly became obsessed with them. Before I loved Studebakers, and before I loved Chryslers, I loved old Lincolns. And I still do.
Franz Kafka said: “Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” This might explain why cars like the 1940 Continental appealed so much to people then, and continues to do so today. It is fine to gaze upon beauty, but it is even better to become a part of it. For most of us, a beautiful and graceful convertible is the best way to do just that.
1941 Lincoln Continental by Aaron65
1946 Lincoln Continental by Paul Niedermeyer
It’s massive and distinctive, but got a good looking car. IMHO.
The spare should have gone inside other than that yes a nice looking car.
Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I tried my best, but couldn’t see much in this car. IMHO, the proportions are awkward, the doors look “bald” – too much surface without any ornaments/creases to divide it, the windshield frame is unpleasantly crude and doesn’t correspond the rest of the body, the soft top without rear quarter windows looks as if an el-cheapo conversion job, and the trunk hump is plain ugly, just as the external spare tire. The only relatively good looking part to me is the front end, which looks essentially like a “channelled” version of a production Lincoln, but I’m still no fan of this “beak” style front end FoMoCo used in the late 1930s.
I think the trunk hump looks better in profile than if it were sloped, which dates it. The hump was probably the second most forward thinking part of the design so eliminating it seems very wrong. The problem area as I see it is the view from the back where you can see the clearly see zephyr’s slope abruptly transition into the hump just above the taillights(and that spare, ugh).
I’d like to see how it would look if the hump was fully integrated, filling the space the spare occupies and going straight down all the way to the bumper.
Also I don’t mind the top, I think it looks better up than down and definitely better than the later coupe versions with those cheap looking hideous quarter windows
Without the trunk hump, would we ever have had the bustleback Cadillac Seville, 1980s Lincoln Continental and 1981 Imperial?
Also…maybe I didn’t notice in 2015…by flipping the front 3/4 photos, the Editor has managed to get this gorgeous car photobombed twice by that silver-grey Anonymousmobile behind it!
I even made a (very very crude but you’ve got the idea) photoshop of what I’d like this car to look like (yeah yeah everyone these days thinks he’s a car stylist…)
Or, if it really needs to be a four-seater…
What you are describing a Lincoln Zephyr 1937-1940ish with the long tapered rear. That’s your car. The Continental is not for you.
Your direction for the body is more in line with that of Harley Earl, as seen in the 1940 Cadillac. Far from unattractive. But on the other hand, it’s shelf life was more limited. As beautiful as it is, how many people have cited the rear of the 40 Cad as an influence on anything?
Count me as a fan.I usually go for American cars built between 1955 and 1970,I’ll have to start checking out earlier cars at shows more often.
Agree with Stanislav’s “meddling”, but I still think it was an exceptional styling excercise even if not perfect. Shame it was burdened with that engine though on account of Ford’s shoestringing.
Agree with Stanislav. The regular Zephyr is beautiful to my eyes; the Continental version spoils the original lines with unneeded humps.
The Zephyr doesn’t get nearly enough credit. We always assume that the ’38 Sixty Special created postwar styling, but the ’36 Zephyr got there first, and got there better.
Thank you — I thought I was the only one who felt this way.
I agree that the Zephyr is beautiful. But to me, it is beautiful in the way that a 39 Mercury or a 40 Ford is beautiful, that is, an elegant expression of it’s era.
The 36 Zephyr was certainly the first successful meshing of streamlining with beauty, and subsequent models were worthy successors. But I don’t think that any of the Zephyrs, as attractive as they were, really moved the scale on what a car should look like in the way that the Continental did.
The Continental really needs to be parked next to a concurrent Zephyr in order to appreciate its proportions and stance. I’ve seen the early Contis in the metal and they are graceful and almost sleek. The 1942+ facelifts didn’t do the cars any favors. I agree that the huge blind spot in the top makes the superstructure heavy looking but the Big Three didn’t adopt rollable rear side windows until around 1942.
Excellent point on a side by side comparison. In addition to a taller body, the Zephyr also has a higher stance which would have been much better suited for dirt roads that were still very common in 1940. I don’t think that the Continental was ever intended for dirt roads.
Wow, you all are making me think this morning! Here I thought that (for once) I was safely in the mainstream. Maybe not.
I guess the two ways to look at this car are from the vantage point of 1940 vs. that of today. Modern eyes have seen so many great designs from the 40s through the 60s, so it can be hard to filter out hindsight. And maybe we shouldn’t. I have always looked at tne car in the context of 1940, the way my parents and grandparents would have.
While I am prepared to admit that the windshield frame could have been improved, this car occupies a singular place in automotive styling. There is some of the grace of late 30s streamlining, but with some of the bulked-up bolder look that would be the postwar look. Also the long hood with a short but high and squared up deck that looks more Mustang than typical late 30s proportions. The sparing use of trim on the sides is also right out of the early 60s. Remember that this is only about 2 years removed from the Cord 810. There is a combination of lightness and heft that is balanced almost perfectly.
For those who prefer the more typical teardrop influenced cars of the 30s or the Italian and English takes on the sports car of the 40s and 50s, the Continental is not for you. But in my view, it marked a new and fresh take on what a “sporty” luxury car should look like. It was a look that turned out to be hugely influential.
I was surprised at how many people prefer the Zephyr, too. I like both, but to me, the Continental is in another world. They still give me goose bumps whenever I’m around one.
Now, I just need to make a lot more money so I can buy one!
These Continentals have always captured my imagination, more so than any pre-1950 car I can think of.
A big reason is that when I was growing up, there was a 1940s Continental in a junkyard near my house. “Junkyard” is a misnomer; it was really a former gas station with a bunch of abandoned cars, located in a seedy Philadelphia neighborhood. But I always dreamed about buying that car and fixing it up. At one point, my father actually tried to find the junkyard’s owner and asked around in nearby stores and bars to find the guy. I guess we both dreamed about having an antique Continental. But it was to no avail – and the car just sat there deteriorating for about another decade.
But I still find the design captivating, and just looking at the pictures is wonderful. Though I’m certainly not a designer, I think this Continental is the best automotive expression of art deco design that I can think of. It’s elegant without being grandiose, uncluttered without being plain, and streamlined without being trendy.
Thanks for the pictures and the write-up!
I’m glad that tonyola and jpcavanaugh weighed in, because they’re correct in stating that you have to evaluate the Continental next to what was available at the time.
Personally, I appreciate the flowing lines, but acknowledge that some aspects of the design appear lumpy, and others look too fragile. But again, I’m looking at it after a half-century of being around cars that basically appear to be a single, monolithic block of metal from the beltline down.
A very significant thing the Continental did was to promote – I’m not sure it introduced – the idea of the owner-driven car within this price class, as well as the concept of a smaller car at a higher price. One could argue that it influenced the “personal luxury coupes” that were developed by various manufacturers over the next 20 to 30 years, and became wildly popular in the ’70s and early ’80s.
Boy Howdy , that’s beautiful in every way .
Too bad about the V12 but FlatHeads all pretty much sucked anyway .
There were three ’41’s parked in an abandoned gas station in down town Los Angeles through most of the 1970’s when I was too poor to even consider trying to buy one .
Beautiful car, and that red leather interior is sooo rich looking. These were so desirable that when those v-12’s croaked many were refitted with much more dependable Cadillac v-8’s. These were not just a new car but a new direction for Lincoln. One that they followed for the next 50 years. They so need a new direction again.
I find this conversation very interesting. I agree with the opinion, that, viewed through modern eyes, the design could be improved. However, viewed in the context of its time, and in the perspective of what (I think) it was intended to portray, the design is tremendous. Compare it to the 1940 Chrysler New Yorker (picture below). You can see that the Continental is ‘of its time’ and not a radical departure in styling from the styling of the New Yorker. But now just glance at both cars quickly – just long enough to form an impression, and not long enough to take in details. For me the Continental clearly projects wealth, sleekness, and power while the Chrysler …is just a big car. Now mix in your knowledge that there is a V-12 under the hood of the Lincoln. Finally toss in the recognition that this is intended as a second, or third car – a pleasure cruiser- used only for transportation in the same way a mahogany ChrisCraft is used as transportation.
If you still need a visual, imagine a Bogart movie somewhat along the lines of the Maltese Falcon. Bogie is tired, needs a shave, and is still somewhat shaken after an ugly night where he nearly died. As he stands at the curb, oblivious to the beautiful spring day around him, the birds singing, and children playing, two cars pull up to the curb in front of him, nose to nose. One is driven by Lauren Bacall , and the other by her identical twin – he can’t tell them apart, and neither in speaks, but each looks him straight in the eye and nods knowingly, eyes closing as she does. One car is the white Chrysler New Yorker from the photo below; the other the green/black Continental above. Bogie takes a drag on his cigarette, tosses it to the ground, and gets into which car?
I rest my case.
I’d like to see that movie!
That’s a tough call Loki ! =8-) .
I’d prolly play it safe and stick with a ’39 LaSalle Opera Coupe but that’s me….
An excellent analysis!
Looking at that picture of the New Yorker, one thing occurs to me: Lots of modern eyes like to kvetch about the Continental spare in the back, but what was the alternative? The tail end of the car had been sort of just “there” from the very beginning. Nobody really knew just what to do with it, and it certainly never made a strong statement. Look at beautiful designs like the Cord 810 or some of the beautiful GM cars of the late 30s – the rear ends are nicely done, but are still afterthoughts to the rest of the design, where all of the strength was in front.
The 39-40 Continental marked the beginning of an era when the rear of a car would receive just as much attention as the front. The 47 Studebaker and the 48 Cadillac were important here, but the original Continental did it first. Try to ID a pre-1949 car from the back – it is difficult if not impossible, unless you are intimately familiar with a given model. But by 1955, the back was often even more recognizable than the front. So, one more influence that I think can be credited to Gregorie and the Continental.
Sam Spade probably drove a 36 Dodge business coupe.
This is a great article, and the discussion about this car is interesting. For what it’s worth, the car’s designer, Bob Gregorie, tended to downplay its importance.
I think this is a stunning car for any era, but I agree with jpcavanaugh that to truly appreciate it, you must judge it in the context of its time. This car had an impact on the market that was out of proportion to its sales figures, which were low even for that era.
I also wonder if the coupe, with its rear side windows, would elicit a different reaction, as it lightens up the area behind the doors. The convertible’s profile, without any rear side windows, does make it look somewhat heavy on top.
The fact that so many survived and were kept by owners – even with the problematic V-12 – is a testament to its appeal. People were already saving these cars in the early 1950s. A club for owners of first-generation Continentals had already been formed by 1955, or less than a decade after it went out of production.
The Zephyr is an important car, too, as it was the first commercially successful streamlined car. It also saved Lincoln, which was looking terminal as sales of its ultra-luxurious and ultra-expensive cars declined steadily throughout the Depression. The 1938 Zephyr, with its low, horizontal grilles, set the stage for the lower and wider fronts of the postwar era (and helped kill the vertical grille theme used by Packard and LaSalle).
The problem with the Zephyr was that, when the K-series Lincolns were discontinued, Edsel Ford was forced to use stretched and restyled Zephyrs to fill the gap. That was a bridge too far for the Zephyr, but an all-new, smaller and more manageable Lincoln, which was desperately needed, was out of the question, as his father would not approve it, from what I’ve read.
Truly a magnificent car. I think a lot of its magic is in the dimensions. Compared to the Zephyr side by side, or that New Yorker, or the ’40 Cadillac posted farther up, it’s the height. Or lack thereof. The length, of the hood, of the car, and as a ratio to the height. The suggestions of speed and purpose, without losing a drop of elegance. That’s the magic, to me. Are there imperfect parts? Sure, primarily in the length of the sail panels of the top. But if the convertible’s purpose is as something beautiful to be seen in, then the top should be down whenever practical. And personally I think the postwar redesign ruined the car, but that’s neither here nor there when looking at such a beautiful early version as this one.
It’s truly a “factory custom”, and also hearkens back to some of the sleek, low-slung cars that were in the vanguard of style in the late 20’s and 30’s–the Saoutchik-designed Bucciali TAV 12 being one of the most noteworthy.
wow! darth vader’s car. maybe himmler.
Absolutely beautiful from any view, one of the best designs ever. It may not be perfect [ it is in my opinion}, but its damn near close.A milestone of American style. Still looks great 75 years later.I have two, a `40 and a `48, but they`re scale models by Monogram and Pyro in 1-25 th. scale.I wish they were real.
IMO Fomoco was at the top of the styling world in 1940. This car is beautiful but so were it’s less expensive stablemates. The 1940 Ford coupe would top my list of beautiful cars.
When ever I see a picture of Edsel Ford’s Speedster, I instantly think of the 1956 F-series truck. I wonder if that is just coincidence or if the Speedster actually influenced the truck designers?
The Continental was certainly influential, as its low stance and basic proportions would come to define the modern America personal luxury coupe, especially the line of Marks that Lincoln later built so successfully, and also of course the Mustang. These long-hood, short deck and low stance proportions clearly spoke to Americans in a particularly powerful way, for many decades. As such, the original Conti was profoundly influential.
But it does come across as what it was: a “customized” Zephyr. Meaning: it lacks a certain organic cohesiveness of a car design that was created from scratch. The hood looks a bit squashed, especially in relation to the fenders. And the tail seems a bit cobbled up. From some angles it works great; from others a bit not so much.
Needless to say, compared to the tall cars of its time, like the ’40 Chrysler comparison, the Conti naturally has much more magnetism. Except for the Cord, there weren’t any “production” cars that had such a low stance (at the expense of a very low seating position on top of the frame). The Chrysler was of course just a convertible body of the sedan. It’s really not much of a comparison. Like comparing two women, one wearing a prim old-school dress, and the other with lots of exposed cleavage and legs. Even if the second’s face might not be quite as perfectly beautiful as the first’s, our attention is naturally going to be drawn there. The Conti makes the most of its great proportions, even if it’s details are not exactly all truly beautiful.
While we may have various degrees of opinions on the Conti’s design, it’s impact in predicting the future of American personal luxury coupes/convertibles is absolutely unassailable.
I think Paul’s final statement sums up the situation perfectly. Personally I have always loved this Continental design since first seeing these cars in my hometown of Warren, PA in the fifties. One family of car enthusiasts in town owned a couple of these as well as several Crosleys. I can see the Continental influence in other personal luxury cars of the fifties through the seventies.
Great article on a car I have admired even in my youth. So much so I bought the Monogram model kit which I believe is still in my collection.
The 1940 Continental was an elegant car which I believe was the true first personal luxury coupe. Sadly, its nice proportions and styling would be bloated out after the war. A theme we’d see many times in following years with many cars.
I would have to say that the Cord 810 was the first “personal luxury car”,but that in now way detracts from the Continental. BTW,I have both the Monogram and the Pyro models. The Monogram is a much better model than the Pyro kit. I did mine in brown with a red interior, did the chrome with Bare Metal foil and detailed the engine. Excellent model.
Count me in with the Zephyr camp. I get the Continental’s impact and I love so many of the cars clearly influenced by it, but eh. Pretty much everyone’s collective gripes with the execution I’ve seen in the comments were what I’ve always thought about it as well. The impact it had on later car designs I can also see in the custom car world as well, and frankly I’ve seen way better executed period lead sleds than production Continentals.
Stunning car, lousy engine. I have seen these with later Merc flatheads in them. Good swap, preserves the character of the car.
Hmmm, if it had been my call I think Miss Hayworth would have been the 1st customer.
These are great looking cars, but then again Ford Motor Company produced 3 very good looking cars in 1940. Yet the 1941 “facelift” on the Ford kind of ended the terrific streak they had going on while the Mercury just kind of got to be anonymous looking. It would take Ford nearly 10 years to “pick up the ball” again.
What a find! I’m not sure where I stand on the question of the day, Zephyr vs. Conti. I’ve never seen either in person, and I suspect that one’s final answer has a lot to do with which car’s charisma is more seductive.
I had casually thought that the outsized C-pillar had come into the world as the “Thunderbird roof” and reached its limit with the Marks, but this earlier car shows just how wide things can get.
wonder what ever happened to that community of midgets that used to make their living posing for the advertising renderings in the 40s and 50s? 🙂
I’m not taking sides today (though Paul had a dandy summary sentence)–I’d proudly own/drive either of them. I’ll just use this chance to drop off a Zephyr ad (1937):
A work of art. I wonder what direction Ford styling would have taken if Edsel had been given more of a free rein, or if he had managed to outlive Henry. With that, I really hope that Sonny Corleone’s ride in The Godfather was a replica.
In the mid 70s I saw the car billed as Sonny’s car in the Godfather at the Auburn auction. It was a really, really ratty Continental they shot full of holes, then packed explosive into each hole, then cheaply painted over. The filming of scenes of that car were all from a distance. But it had been a really rough car from the start.
I’ll take the 1940 Imperial. It has a no-nonsense appeal to me.
Nah, just looks like a big Plymouth.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But a big Ford would be a lot better.
Drifting off in 1940 land….
Until sometime when reading CC I didn’t realize that the first two years of Mercurys were a different and larger, including much wider, body than Fords since they look so similar. After that in 1941 they did become facelifted upscaled Fords. As a little kid, because the people across the street had a just postwar Mercury they fired up on occasion, I thought the Mercurys were a lot cooler looking than the equivalent Fords, both front and rear.
So a big 1940 Ford would look sort of like this Mercury:
There is a fellow that lives around my neighborhood that has the next model with the heavier grill. It’s a convertible and to see it in motion sweeping around a curve and up a hill gives you the real impact of the design. In motion it is aggressively elegant and competent. It was great that Ford could bring us a little of that spirit in later Mustangs, Cougars and Marks.
Preference for the convertible version of the sedan series exampled by the ’40 New Yorker or Zephyrs versus the proportions of the Continental reveals an individual’s overall outlook toward practicality versus style. The Continental’s singular and only design ethic is extroverted style, practicality a distant secondary consideration…..ask anyone who has loaded heavy suitcases into that high-placed hatch trunk.
The Zephyr and Continental saved Lincoln from oblivion as the demand for the grandiose Lincoln Model K withered away to nothing. The Zephyr, with its underdeveloped and troublesome H-Series V-12, wasn’t really up to the job but all Edsel had to work with. Fortuitously, he had E.T. Gregorie’s major talent to lend the Zephyr first then Continental refined styling finesse not available elsewhere in the market. To say styling carried Lincoln in those years is to make understatement.
Thanks for the fine, well reasoned and written article. Having fallen in love with the ’40-’41 Continental at a young age half a century ago, its heartening to see it still possess the power to move men’s hearts. Years ago when those predominated the LCOC meets it was a pleasure to attend them.
ALWAYS analyze a car in the context of its time!
I believe these were considered classic by the ’50’s. Mickey Rooney was given one by Henry due to him playing young Thomas Edison in the movies.
My first introduction to these was as a young boy and being given a bag of 50(?) injection molded plastic cars the same scale as Matchbox. I believe the name Continental was molded on the trunk. Does anyone remember these?
One of the most influential aspects of the Continental and also the 41 Cadillac, was that it hit Packard square in the styling department and they never did recover. Packard’s styling looked like yesterday’s news and after 1948 they never could find a styling theme that really worked for them.
Packard replied with the Clipper, which debuted halfway through the 1941 model year. It was a big success. What hurt Packard was that Pearl Harbor happened less than a year after its debut.
I guess I should have said Packard’s senior series cars looked like yesterday’s news. The Clipper was stunning, especially the long wheelbase models. The trouble was that Packard’s identity was in that tall slim grille, much like Rolls Royce. When they gave up that identity to look more like Cadillac and Lincoln in 1948 they just didn’t pull it off.
Who approved the awful ’42 front end restyle? Was Edsel already ill?
That restyle ruined whatever the Continental had going for it—which was plenty, in my book. Glad to see a comparison to Cord, my early and long-time favorite of ‘thirties American designs. And it’s good to see the coupe, just above—thanks, Michael Allen. Whatever qualms one might have about the convertible top (the original impetus for this piece ?) are quelled by the closed version. (And yes, these were all four-passenger cars, with a rear seat.) The coupe is the classic, as I see it; the greenhouse is sophisticated in a way the ragtop can never be. Even the throwback flat windshield and trunk-mounted spare can’t take that away—maybe they even enhance it . . .
And someone mentioned movies: I’ve been treated to dozens of ‘forties noirs and other films from the period, recently, thanks to the Movies! channel. And there are many of these films with first-generation Continentals in them ! I wish I had been keeping tabs, so I could name the ones I’ve seen. The car was a serious fetish for directors looking to strike a modern and up-market note, it would seem.
Last night I watched “Notorious” again, Hitchcock’s 1946 classic starring Grant and Bergman. Her car is a light-colored 1941 Cadillac convertible, complete with blind-spot top as mentioned above. The car is with its owner in Miami as the story begins, and appears again after a grateful government has flown her to Rio; presumably the car has flown down as well ? Why a 1941 model, in a movie set and made in 1946 ? And why not a 1941 Continental ? Had Hitch seen that movie-star car as a cliché, by then ?
Now, here’s what I want to know: In these photos of the early Continental (or is this the prototype, Mr Cavanaugh ?) https://i2.wp.com/www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/1939Continental1-vert.jpg?resize=400%2C594 there is a reflection across the bottom of the body, in both images. In the upper view, that band is believable as reflecting the curb or other object opposite the car. But what about the second photo ? There appears to be a nice neat six-inch band of lighter color running along the entire bottom margin of the body—on both fenders, and on the rocker panel below the door—all of it. Surely that is not just a reflection . . . is it ?