After years of peddling Fords dressed in designer jeans instead of Wranglers, Lincoln is seeking the redemption of its soul and its sales.
It is reinventing itself to try to recapture the glory days when Lincoln was a luxury brand to be reckoned with.
One way the company is trying to do that is by resurrecting the most glamorous and iconic Lincoln of them all: the Continental. By once again fielding a true flagship, it hopes not only to sell the vehicles here but also to cash in big in China, as Buick has.
The Chinese remember when the Buick was the Communist brass' favorite vehicle and still line up to buy them. Since they continue to equate Lincoln with '50s and '60s American glamour, the automaker hopes the Buick syndrome will buoy Continental sales there.
From day one, there was plenty of glamour to go around. The Continental's story began in 1938, when Edsel Ford asked his chief designer to come up with a one-off personal luxury car in time for his vacation in March 1939. By the 1940 model year, the car was in full production — and wowing customers. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright called it "the most beautiful car ever designed" and bought two of them.
The car went out of production in 1948, then returned beautifully in the 1956 model year as the Continental Mark ll. At a cost of $10,000 ($91,987 in 2018 bucks), the Mark ll was among the world's most expensive rides. It was driven by the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Warner Bros. gave Elizabeth Taylor one clothed in a special finish that matched her eyes.
The Mark V debuted in 1977. Jock Ewing, the fictional patriarch of an oil company family, drove it in the popular Dallas series.
The Continental became smaller and less distinguished in the following decades and was discontinued in 2002.
When the recently minted Continental was unveiled in concept car form in 2015, Bentley's chief designer was not amused. In a reference to a Bentley sedan, he said the Lincoln should be called the Flying Spur.
I wouldn't be quite so tough on the new Continental. Its styling resides in the border country between a Bentley and a Chrysler 300 and may well be the most interesting of the three. The sculpting is civil, clean and punctuated by some arresting bevels. The car has real presence without yelling, "Look at me."
The interior design of the upmarket Black Label model I spent a week with was lovely, imaginative business. The patterned perforations on the leather seating surfaces were particularly eye-catching, as were the unique, perforated metallic speaker grilles. The materials, from the seat leather to the wood accents, were top drawer.
The tester's bucket seats were quite comfortable and supportive, and why shouldn't they be? The car wasn't equipped with the standard, merely 24-way power seats. It had the optional ($1,500) 30-way models, which include power headrests and upper back adjustments.
The Continental is a big car, with a very roomy interior. The rear seat boasts Bunyonesque leg room and easily seats three adults.
The Continental test car rode quietly and comfortably and handled nicely for a large sedan. It never felt as heavy as it was in the corners and provided nicely weighted steering and ample braking.
Acceleration, courtesy of a 2.7-liter, twin-turbo V-6 that engendered 335 horsepower and 380 pounds/feet of torque, was lively fun.
The Continental starts at $45,160. This is a front-drive model with a 305-horse V-6. The 2.7-liter, front-drive Black Label I was based at $65,415. The all-wheel-drive Black Label with the 3-liter, twin-turbo, 400-horse V-6 opens at $67,415.