Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 Lincoln Continental Sedan – “The Best-Looking American Car Built Today”

The ’61 Lincoln was a game-changer, a term I don’t like to use lightly. It instantly made all of the late-’50s excess-mobiles look utterly dated and silly.  Its impact on the rest of the industry was as instantaneous as it was possible to retool: think 1962 Cadillac with its large flat C-pillar, a 180 degree change from the previous “bubble top” look.

Given the ’61 Continental’s huge and lasting impact, it’s interesting to note that this review does not spend much time on its styling, leaving it to the very end. But that’s the benefit of hindsight; it’s not always possible to know how impactful a new car will be on its arrival. That was even the case with the Mustang.

Given that ” the Car Life staff leans towards compacts”, the smaller ’61 Lincoln at least had that going for it, although it was still a heavyweight (4954 lbs, 5220 lbs with optional a/c as tested). The big 430 cubic inch MEL V8’s thirst was throttled back a bit, thanks to a two barrel carb and a 2.89:1 rear axle ratio, which resulted in overdrive-like low revs at speed (4100 rpm @115 mph). The result was 12-14 mpg, depending on how it was driven. Still beats the single digit mpgs lots of big American cars got back then.

Given the massive weight “The acceleration times are startling; a zero to 60 mph time of close to 11 seconds, and zero to an honest 100 mph in just over 40 seconds was hot-rod performance only a few years ago”.


The ride over all types of surfaces was deemed “absolutely superb”. Even at 100, the Lincoln had excellent stability. The quick steering and relatively small steering wheel made for excellent maneuverability. Cornering roll was “moderate”, and when driven like a sports car on wet roads “the front end slides first but there is enough power to produce rear end slide” with the throttle.

The brakes were “very smooth”; and two stops from 100 “showed no signs of fade”, thanks to the huge finned drums.

The Conti was praised for its ability to cruise at 80 effortlessly, smoothly and quietly. The seats were very comfortable. The controls were mostly praised. The optional air conditioning was never turned on, presumably because of the time of year.

The curved side windows were noted “a surprising factor”. CL acknowledges that “appearance is far and above the most important factor in a car purchasing decision (excluding price, of course), and here the new Lincoln-Continental scores mightily”. Some on the staff weren’t so hot on its front and rear end styling, but “the general feeling was that this is the best-looking American car built today”.


Related CC reading:
Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 Cadillac Coupe DeVille – Still “The Standard Of The World”?

Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 Imperial Crown – “The Imperial Is Running Third In A Three Car Race…”

Curbside Classic: 1965 Lincoln Continental – The Last Great American Luxury Car

Engine History: Lincoln’s Two-Barrel Carb MEL 430 Engine – Taming The Thirsty Beast