1940 Lincoln Continental MK1. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
The original Lincoln Continental, now referred to as the Continental Mark I, is considered a classic automobile design. It is recognized for its outstanding aesthetic qualities by the New York Museum of Modern Art and others. Somewhat ironically, it came about almost by accident.
In the late 1930s, Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s only son and president of the Ford Motor Company since 1919, wanted a unique, sporty car to drive on his winter vacation to Florida. Edsel was a sensitive man with an eye for aesthetics. He had travelled extensively in Europe where he became familiar with the European long-hood, short-deck “Continental” look, and asked Ford stylist Bob Gregory to design such a car for him.
Gregory used the Lincoln Zephyr as his base. The Zephyr had been introduced in 1936 as a “junior” Lincoln and had a futuristic teardrop design with the headlamps moulded into the fenders.
In addition to being stylishly aerodynamic, the Zephyr was technically interesting, using a type of unitized construction, and was the first Ford-produced car to have an all-steel top. It also offered an optional Columbia two-speed rear axle for quieter, more economical highway cruising.
The Zephyr was powered by a side-valve V12 engine that Ford engineers developed from the Ford V8. It was smaller than the V12 of its large K-series sibling, which was due to disappear in 1940. Unfortunately the Zephyr V12 was never considered a true success.
The design started in the most basic way. Gregory simply laid his paper on top of the Zephyr design and traced it out. He then added some styling features to give the car its distinctive profile.