The car that defines an era: The fourth-generation Lincoln Continental convertible
Perhaps no car better connotes the swinging '60s than the fourth-generation Lincoln Continental Convertible. This ride came rolling onto the scene in 1961 with a toothy chrome grill and a lack of fender flare that signaled a shift in the overall aesthetic of the American automobile industry. Gone were the tails and rolling rear quarters of the 1950s, a trait that was attractive in the Continental's predecessor but that had clearly run its course, and instead, a flat cruiser that almost resembled a surfboard when the top was down hit the assembly line.
The fourth-generation Continental was considered Ford designer Elwood Engel's greatest accomplishment. Engel's initial drafts were supposed to be a vision for the next generation Thunderbird, but the head-brass at Ford saw an opportunity to revamp the Lincoln image by supplying them with a sleeker Continental that was significantly smaller than the third-generation model.
With 15 inches shaved off the new Continental, the fourth-generation model was by far the smallest version of the nameplate to hit the streets. Lincoln was proud of this fact, and even created an ad campaign that was hinged on a woman parallel-parking her new Continental – a feat that was nearly impossible before the redesign.
Not only did this car feature an iconic chrome grill – which Lincoln attempted to reintroduce into its product range in recent years – but it was also the first post-war four-door convertible produced by an American automaker. The engineers accomplished this feat by incorporating suicide doors into the design instead of the conventional central-hinged doors used in the majority of sedans from the era. This "slab-side" design was a perfect utilitarian move for the designers, as it allowed them to create a car that actually had smaller dimensions without sacrificing interior space. Having the doors hinged behind the first row would rob the legroom of the back seat, so the engineers instead had them swing out from the rear panel.
The car was a sales hit, as Ford had only intended upon producing roughly 24,000 units in the first year. More than 25,000 actually took the streets in 1961, and sales of the fourth-generation Continental peaked in 1966 with roughly 54,000 made that year.
This car would go on to be one of the defining rides of the 1960s and was featured in all manner of pop-culture from the time. In the James Bond classic "Goldfinger," it was a 1963 Continental sedan driven by the movie's villain, and namesake, that would ultimately get crushed in one of the film's climactic scenes.
In the "Matrix" trilogy, Neo is even scene driving a 1965 Lincoln Continental sedan while he is actually in the Matrix – one of several cool classics from the '60s to make an appearance in the movie, including a sweet Firebird driven by Jada Pinkett Smith.
More recently, the car has been seen as a retro-icon in some of the most popular modern television shows of the era. In the HBO hit "Entourage," the guys are seen driving around in a sweet Continental Convertible during the opening sequence. Even in the short-lived cult-hit "Pushing Daisies," the main character drives around in a similar convertible for that show's opening credits. Most recently, a Continental Convertible is the car of choice for Michael Chiklis's character Vincent Savino in the series "Vegas."
Perhaps the fourth-generation Lincoln Continental convertible is best known for being the last car that President John F. Kennedy ever rode in, as a hybrid, armored version of the sedan was the vehicle that the president was riding in when he was assassinated.
Do you think the Lincoln Continental is the car that defines the '60s, or is there another sweet ride that you think better exemplifies the era? Leave your thoughts below: