Tuesday 3rd October 1939
The Lincoln Continental was introduced. The first Lincoln Continental was developed as Edsel Ford’s one-off personal vehicle, though it is believed he planned all along to put the model into production if successful.
In 1938, Ford commissioned a one-off design he wanted ready for his March 1939 vacation from company Chief Stylist Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie. Using the blueprints of the streamlined Lincoln-Zephyr as a starting point, Gregorie sketched a design for a convertible with a redesigned body; allegedly, the initial sketch for the design was completed in an hour.
At the time work had begun on the first Continental coupe, Lincoln had previously cancelled the Lincoln K-series coupes, sedans, and limousines, and produced the very limited Lincoln Custom limousine, along with the smaller Lincoln-Zephyr coupes and sedans. Mr. Ford wanted to revive the popularity of the 1929–1932 Lincoln Victoria coupe and convertible but with a more modern approach, reflecting European styling influences for the Continental.
By design, the Edsel Ford prototype could be considered a channelled and sectioned Lincoln-Zephyr convertible; although the vehicle wore a conventional windshield profile, the prototype sat nearly 7 inches lower than a standard Lincoln. With the massive decrease in height, the running boards were deleted entirely. In contrast to the Zephyr (and in a massive change from the K-Series Lincoln), the hood sat nearly level with the fenders. To focus on the styling of the car, the chrome trim on the car was largely restricted to the grille; instead of door handles, pushbuttons opened the doors. As with the Lincoln-Zephyr, the prototype was fitted with a 267 cubic-inch V12 engine; it was fitted with front and rear transverse leaf springs and hydraulic drum brakes.
The design would introduce two long-running features used in many American automobile designs. The modified body gave the design new proportions over its Zephyr counterpart; with the hoodline sitting lower over the V12 engine and the passenger compartment moved rearward, the prototype had more in common with classic era “long-hood, short deck” body configurations versus being a strict adherent of contemporary streamline moderne design trends. As a consequence of the smaller trunk space, the spare tire was mounted behind the trunk; while disappearing on American cars, the externally mounted, covered spare tire remained a feature on European-produced cars.
The prototype designed by Gregorie was produced on time, making the deadline to be delivered to Edsel Ford in Florida. Interest from well-off friends was high; Edsel sent a telegram back to Michigan that he could sell a thousand of them. In reference to its European-inspired design, the Lincoln-based prototype received its name: Continental.
Immediately, production commenced on the Lincoln Continental, with the majority of production being “Cabriolet” convertibles and a rare number of coupes. They were extensively hand-built; the two dozen 1939 models and 400 1940-built examples were built with hand-hammered body panels; dies for machine-pressing were not constructed until 1941. The limited number of 1939 models produced are commonly referred to as ‘1940 Continentals’.