- If you can dream it, you can do it. Walt Disney
Fourth generation (1961–1969)
For the 1961 model year, the Lincoln Division was extensively redesigned. Following the $60 million in losses to develop the 1958-1960 Lincolns and Continentals, the Lincoln Division was consolidated into a single product line; the Capri, Premiere, and Continental Mark Series were replaced by a single Lincoln Continental four-door sedan and convertible. For the first time since 1948, the Continental was part of the Lincoln model lineup.
Originally slated to be a version of the 1961 Ford Thunderbird model line, the design of the 1961 Continental was modified slightly as it was added to the Lincoln line. Styled by Ford design vice president Elwood Engel, the design of the Continental was distinguished by two features, one of them being its smaller size. The smallest Lincoln since before World War II, the 1961 Continental was 14.8 in (380 mm) shorter than its 1960 predecessor, dropping 8 in (200 mm) in wheelbase.
The design was anchored in a "form follows function" simplicity and philosophy. Viewed from street-scape, the vehicle presented a series, of symmetrical integrated curves; with the complete absence a decorative, applied ornamentation. Sightlines across the hood; rear deck or fenders all seemed to vanish to infinity. This overall form design was further complemented by the selection of a color palette that was at once, “cool” and non-disruptive. The overall form evoked a sense of dignity, great mass (invoking solidity); and, authority, either when in motion, or parked.
The design compensated in advance for the tendency toward an overly massive visual impression; by car’s design being reduced in overall length and breadth from the prior model year. This altered the scale expectation of the new vehicle from front and rear; through the removal of the prior year’s forward and rear fender “fins” that housed headlights and tail lamps, as was the styling norm in most US luxury cars in the second-half of the 1950s. This change (dropping the fender “tail” fins), further enhanced the sense of the turning away of this “new” decade’s design, from the styling conventions of a now “out-of-fashion”, and discarded past.
So much smaller was this car, that advertising executives at Ford photographed a woman parallel parking a sedan for a magazine spread. While smaller on the outside, at 4,927 lb (2,235 kg), the new sedan was only 85 lb (39 kg) lighter than the lightest 1960 Lincoln 4-door sedan (2 lb less than a two-door); at 5,215 lb (2,365 kg), the convertible outweighed its 1960 predecessor by 39 lb (18 kg). As a result, (save for their respective nine-passenger models) the new Lincoln was still heavier than anything from Cadillac or Imperial. This solid construction led to a rather enviable reputation as "Corporate management was determined to make it the finest mass-produced domestic automobile of its time and did so."
The most recognized feature of the design of the Continental was the return of rear-hinged "suicide doors", last seen in the 1951 Lincolns. The decision to reintroduce rear-hinged doors was a decision based in the interest of preserving rear-seat ingress-egress access, given the seating position intended for; and provided to the rear seat passengers in the new design. In styling mock-ups, Ford engineers had trouble exiting the rear seat without hitting the rear doors with their feet; the decision was made to hinge the doors from the rear to solve the issue. The "suicide doors", was a purely practical decision, reusing a feature offered on the 1950 Lincoln Lido, the Lincoln-Zephyr sedan of the 1940s, and all Mercury Eight sedans starting in 1939. The doors were to become the best-known feature of 1960s Lincolns. In the interest of safety, these Continentals featured a "Door Ajar" warning light on the dash. To streamline production, all Lincoln Continentals would be 4-doors, either sedans or convertibles; while sedans featured a thin "B" pillar, the design allowed for the use of frameless door glass. Named a "pillared hardtop", the design would be added into a number of Ford Motor Company vehicles during the 1960s and 1970s.