The Continental Life: 1961 Continental Convertible

America’s only four-door convertible

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A legend was born for the 1961 model year. The eloquent Lincoln Continental was completely re-designed. Its new silhouette is completely in character with tradition. It is long, low, and wide. This all-new Continental is designed to shed the excesses of the 1950s with style. The formidable Lincoln Continental four-door convertible is the world’s only production model of this type.

The award-winning 1961 Lincoln Continental had a major influence on the American luxury car market. It is designed by Elwood Engel, a talented designer with vision. This new design was shocking at a time when bigger was supposed to be better…the 1961 Lincoln is smaller, unlike the gargantuan model it replaced. The fourth generation Lincoln Continental was built from 1961 until 1969. Corporate management at Ford set a goal to build the finest mass-produced domestic automobile of its time. As a convertible, the Continental is an elegant open grand tourer.

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The 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible was unique in the entire world. The convertible had the same interior roominess as the sedan. This model showcased the all-new design with youthful vitality. The beautiful new architecture is augmented by elegant forward-opening rear coach doors. The knife blade fenders and slab-sided design dominated the full-size Continental becoming Lincoln hallmarks.

To lower the roof, a “T-handle” control is used while in the driver’s seat. The rear deck lid is hinged at the rear; it unlocks itself opening an extension panel folded under the deck lid that takes the place of a standard convertible boot. It rotates upward to extend the length of the rear deck. The top unlatched itself from the windscreen and stows away neatly in the luggage compartment. The roof is deployed in about a minute from start to finish.

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No top…no boot

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Lincoln Continental for 1961 came standard with unique luxury features…like its power operated door lock system. A master switch on the dash locks all four doors automatically. Door lock buttons are also located on each door for convenience. A warning light monitors the doors. The beautiful coach doors are counter-balanced making entry and exit even easier gliding at the slightest touch. The full foam cushioned seats are constructed of laminated foam layers of different resiliencies to provide deep-seated comfort.

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The 1961 Continental is one of Elwood Engel’s greatest works. He was a talented designer with his career beginning at General Motors as an assistant to Harley Earl in 1939. By 1947 he went to work for the Ford Motor Company concentrating on the Lincoln and Mercury brands. He is one of the key designers that created the 1955 Thunderbird. The 1961 Continental earned a design award for excellence by the Industrial Designer’s Institute.

Engel’s 1961 Continental redesign actually saved the brand, at the time management was considering terminating the Lincoln and the Edsel brands from the company. The popularity with the 1961 Continental kept the division going strong. Elwood Engel’s expertise can be seen in Continental designs from 1961 on. He gave the Continental a new demeanor for the 1961s because the 1958-1960 Lincolns left a bad taste in customer’s mouths due to their unreliability and enormous girth.

Sedan

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Kennedy

The “Kennedy” Lincoln was purchased by the Secret Service for the White House. It is a 1961 Lincoln four-door convertible parade limousine custom-built by Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio. This special vehicle is code-named SS-100-X and is the car JFK was assassinated in 1963. It had its front end cosmetics changed out to mirror the 1962 version. After the assassination, the car was returned to Hess & Eisenhardt to be re-done with not only new paint and interior work but also retro-fitted with full armor and a fixed roof. It continued service to the White House for many years and is now retired to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

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The 1961 Lincoln Continentals were designed and built to a new set of standards that were intended to improve reliability and durability far superior to the competition. Ford was so confident of the 1961 Continental; that they were the first auto manufacturer to offer a two-year 24,000 mile warranty…this is twice that of any other automobile.

Even the car’s maintenance had been refined. The 1,000 mile new car oil change was no longer necessary. Under normal operating conditions, twice a year or 6,000 mile service is all that is required. Ford’s careful attention to mechanical tolerances resulted in improved overall performance with improved fuel economy…it is 10% better than the 1960 models. Owners of the 1961 Continentals were so happy with their cars, they kept them longer.

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Ford’s idea … the best way to guarantee a trouble-free car was to test all components thoroughly before installing them into the cars. Actually, the quality control began with the design of the components. Ford Motor Company introduced aircraft tolerances to the luxury car segment.

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Ford’s diligence to quality required every engine to be bench tested to the equivalence of 90 mph and then broken down for inspection. The 430 CID V8 engine was America’s largest automobile engine for the day. It was also America’s most precisely built engine. These were built the way Rolls Royce builds their engines. Critical parts were hand-matched in sets for perfect fit. The standards were so exacting that Ford designed new equipment to build the parts alone.

Chrome plating and stainless-steel were used for critical components to ensure longevity and reliability. To make sure parts fit the engine block precisely, cylinder bores were honed twice providing better lubrication to cylinder walls. After the engines were built, each was tested for three hours. It was then torn down and tolerances checked. After they were reassembled, each engine was tested again.

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Every electrical component was individually tested and then tested again after assembly. Inspections were performed all along the assembly line. As an additional quality control measure, one car was pulled per day away from the assembly line to be checked for tolerances against the master specifications to ensure all body panel clearances and dimensions were within factory specifications. Each week one completed car was completely disassembled by the inspectors to check for flaws related to the assembly process.

One out of every 10 cars on the assembly line was spot checked for door and glass clearances as well as other critical alignment and assembly procedures. Once the car was built, a factory trained inspector drove it over a 12-mile course on actual roads in the Wixom, Michigan area. During the 12-mile test drive, the inspectors checked everything inside and out. The paint finish was also inspected. The alignment of trim was scrutinized. The upholstery was inspected for soil or loose threads. Everything in general was checked for proper fit & finish.

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The engine was cranked while using a stop watch to determine how long it took. If it wasn’t within specs, the car was promptly rejected and returned to the factory. Steering and braking was evaluated. The engine and transmission were evaluated for smoothness and overall performance. These inspectors were so picky, they even tested the amount of pressure it took to turn on headlamps, wipers, even the cigar lighters – they had to heat and pop-out within a specified length of time.

Each 1961 Continental was built and tested as though they were the ultimate consumer. The “intolerant” inspectors were adamant…if they ‘felt’ an unusual vibration, strange noise, or if they simply felt something wasn’t right the car was returned to the factory. Each car was also subjected to a three-minute high-pressure water spray checking for leaks.

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The surprising fact was that there weren’t many 1961 Continentals returned to the factory because there was a lot of pride in building them. No one wanted to be pointed out for poor workmanship. At the time, Lincoln Continentals and Ford Thunderbirds built at Wixom were among the best built automobiles in the world. The Continental for the 1961 model year included only two models, the four-door convertible and the four-door sedan which exemplified quality control.

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The 1961 Lincoln Continentals are powered by Ford’s MEL-Series 7.0 litre 16-valve OHV 430 CID V8 engine equipped with a Carter ABD 2-bbl carburetor. This engine produced 300 hp @ 4,100 rpm with 631 Nm of peak torque @ 2,000 rpm. Longitudinal acceleration is rated as 0-60 mph in 11.2 seconds, 0-100 mph in 36 seconds with a top speed of 115 mph (ungoverned). It can do the ¼ mile @ 79 mph in 18.2 seconds. The engine is mated to Lincoln’s 3-speed automatic Turbo-Drive by Borg Warner.

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The 1961 Continentals were built using Unibody construction, a technique introduced for the 1958 model year. This type of build is a lot like European Monocoque Construction where the body and chassis are welded together to create a stronger single entity. The “Silent-strut” front suspension includes: pre-lubricated ball joints with helical coil springs, and double-acting shock absorbers with hydraulic rebound control. The Iso-clamp rear suspension is the Hotchkiss Drive-type. It uses 60” parallel mounted leaf-type rear springs, rubber-insulated axle mounts, angle-mounted rear shock absorbers with hydraulic rebound control, and a floating hypoid-type rear axle.

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Lincoln’s new marketing strategy included a higher level of standard equipment at the base model level. They cut costs by including many features and accessories as standard for the 1961 model year.  Standard equipment for the 1961 Continental four-door convertible includes: Magic-Finish leather interior, a power, fully automatic folding fabric roof, power steering and brakes, dual exhaust system, hydraulic windscreen wipers with electric washers, power windows, power door locks, heater/defroster, electric clock, AM radio, front and rear folding center armrests, automatic retracting rear door windows, and whitewall tires.

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Popular options for the 1961 Continental includes: Air Conditioning ($504.60), 6-way power seats ($118), tinted glass ($53.60), Automatic Speed Control ($96.80), Directed Power Differential ($57.50), Heavy-Duty Suspension ($28.60), front seat belts ($16.80), and outside rearview mirror ($5.10). Once could almost purchase an entire car today for the cost of the options alone for today’s over-priced puddle-jumpers.

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Special thanks to Daniel Schmitt & Co

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Special thanks to Bob Adams Classic Cars

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It was all-new…classic beauty in a completely new size. Lincoln Continental for 1961 was a bold and dramatically different design. The shocking transformation is the birth of a legend. Its award-winning design is one of Elwood Engel’s finest. The Continental had a major influence on the American luxury car market. The slab-sided design became an established Hallmark for the Lincoln Continental. Its sweeping lines and restrained use of ornamentation added further distinction.

Lincoln Continental is the only domestic brand to offer a four-door convertible. The elegant forward-opening rear coach doors became the signature feature for the Lincoln Continental. It is the most spacious convertible in the world. The 1961 Continental introduced new dignity to the automotive industry. In Ford’s relentless pursuit of quality control, each Lincoln Continental went through a rigorous gauntlet of testing. No Continental left the factory without 100% inspector satisfaction. The all-new Lincoln Continental presented a unique fashion statement that no other car could replicate…which follows their marketing slogan: Lincoln Continental – what a luxury car should be –

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The Continental Life…what a luxury car should be

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2 Responses to “The Continental Life: 1961 Continental Convertible”

  1. I have a 63, and this blue is what mine was originally… kinda wish it was painted… this blue pops with the chrome,, very pretty.

    • Hello John! You have a “keeper” so make sure to put it aside and take your time to update it. The value is gonna POP soon. The make-believe luxury cars of today cannot replicate what you have. Here is a shocking reality: drive your car to a Lincoln dealer, park it beside the cars of today and you will see what you have! Thanks for coming to the site. I plan to do another story on the all-new Continental soon. I received an electronic brochure from Lincoln Motor Division, I am in their media club, I am amazed at today’s technology. I am going to plug it into the site with the story. Ultimately, I am planning other sites for automobile lovers. As you can see by my site, I give the reader MORE than a few vague paragraphs and a few photos. I am deep and intense when it comes to automobiles. Hope to hear from you again John, God Bless you!!

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