There’s an unsettling irony in the fact that John F. Kennedy was shot in a ’61 Lincoln Continental. Like him, the revamped ’61 Continental had a new integrity. Substantial and innovative, it was bristling with new ideas and survived for nine years without major change. The car fit for presidents was elegant, restrained, and classically sculptured, perfect for Camelot’s new dynasty of liberalism.
Ironic, too, that JFK rather liked the Lincoln—he often used a stock White House Continental for unofficial business. Nearly $7,000 bought one of the most influential and best-built American cars of the Sixties. Not only did it carry a two-year, 24,000-mile (39,000-km) warranty, but every engine was bench-tested and each car given a 200-category shakedown. WASP America approved and production doubled in the first year. Even the Industrial Design Institute was impressed, awarding its coveted bronze medal for “an outstanding contribution of simplicity and design elegance.”
Apart from the gentle dip in the waistline at the back of the rear doors, the roof and fender lines form two uninterrupted, almost parallel lines. Low, wide, and mighty, the ’60s Continental was considered the epitome of good taste and discrimination.
Power was supplied by a huge 430cid V8 that generated 320 bhp. Each engine was tested at near maximum revs for three hours and then stripped down for inspection.
When the revamped Conti was released in ’61, Lincoln was the only manufacturer to offer a four-door convertible.
To spread costs, the Continental shared some of its factory tooling with the ’61 Thunderbird.
Every Continental had power steering and windows, walnut cappings, a padded dashboard, lush carpets, and vacuum-powered door locks as standard. The locks operated automatically as soon as the car started to move.
The “suicide” rear-hinged doors hark back to classic prewar construction. On older Continental Convertibles, opening all four doors at once can actually flex the floor and chassis.
Suspension damping was considered the best on any car.
Rag-top Continentals were really “convertible sedans” with standard power tops. The ’64 rag-tops cost only $646 more than the four-door sedans, yet they remain much rarer: only about 10 percent of all ’61–’67 Lincolns produced were convertibles.
Even in ’64 you could have cruise control, for a mere $96.
Least popular option in ’64 was the adjustable steering wheel.
Whitewalls were just one of numerous features that came as standard.
Eleven relays and a maze of linkages made the Continental’s top disappear neatly into the trunk. The wiring was sealed and never needed maintenance. Along with the top, the side glass and window frames also disappeared from view at the touch of a button.
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
The previous Conti was a leviathan, but not the ’61. The ’61 restyle reflected the philosophy that big was not necessarily better.
The Mark III Continental returned fuel figures of just 14 mpg (5 km/l).
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Lincoln Continental Convertible (1964)
BODY STYLE Four-door, five-seater convertible.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and chassis.
ENGINE 430cid V8.
POWER OUTPUT 320 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed Turbo-Drive automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: control arms and coil springs; Rear: leaf springs with live axle.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 115 mph (185 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 11 sec
A.F.C. 14 mpg (5 km/l)