Ford Motor Co. said Monday that the Lincoln Continental is coming back after a 13-year hiatus. A concept version of the full-size Continental will be shown at the New York auto show this week. The production car goes on sale next year.
Lincoln, Ford's luxury division, was founded in 1917 by Henry Leland, the former manager of General Motors Co.'s Cadillac division. Leland named the company after his hero, Abraham Lincoln. Initially, the company made motors for World War I airplanes, but by 1920 it was making luxury cars. In 1922, Lincoln declared bankruptcy and was sold to Ford, which wanted to acquire a luxury nameplate. Henry Ford's son, Edsel, became Lincoln's president.
Edsel Ford was more interested in style and design than his father. "Father makes the most popular cars in the world. I want to make the best cars in the world," he once said. In 1938, he asked the design team to make him a European-style convertible for his upcoming vacation in Palm Beach. His friends were impressed, and he soon put the Continental into production.
The Continental was the pinnacle of luxury in the 1950s and 1960s. Babe Ruth had one; so did Elvis. It drove presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan. Continental sales peaked in 1990, but the car — and the Lincoln brand — were soon overtaken by Japanese and German rivals, who were making better cars. Lincoln's last Continental rolled off a Michigan assembly line in 2002.
The Continental's return is part of a multi-year overhaul of the Lincoln brand, which includes several new models and a big push into the Chinese auto market.