1961 Lincoln Continental

By January 1959, design of the 1961 Lincoln Continental, Lincoln's "last chance" effort, was finally rounding out. See more classic car pictures.

Lincoln's 1961 models had timeless style that gave the marque a template for sorely needed design consistency. But if an impatient Robert McNamara had been a bit more insistent, the stunning 1961 Lincoln Continental -- or any other Lincoln -- never would have been seen.

During its 80-plus years, Lincoln has almost gone under three times. On each occasion, it was rescued at the 11th hour. Each "salvation" was followed by cars that were critical or commercial successes.

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Sometime before 1920, Henry Ford's wife, Clara, discovered she liked chauffeur-driven cars, which Cadillac produced but Ford didn't. By 1922, Lincoln, a new Cadillac competitor, was in bankruptcy and facing liquidation.

Henry Ford bought Lincoln from the bankruptcy court to get his wife out of a Cadillac and into a Ford product. Then he turned the day-to-day operation of Lincoln over to his son, Edsel.

Artistically, Edsel Ford was gifted, but by 1935, after years of building beautiful cars, the Great Depression had reduced Lincoln's sales to a trickle and Lincoln was once again in mortal danger. Only the new mid-priced Lincoln-Zephyr, championed by Edsel Ford and introduced in the fall of 1935, saved Lincoln from certain extinction a second time.

The marque faced the ax a third time in the summer of 1958, when Robert McNamara, Ford Motor Company group vice president for vehicle operations, told Lincoln management that its product ought to be discontinued because he saw little hope of reversing Lincoln's long-term losses. (Lincoln was then on its way to $60 million in losses for the 1958-60 period.)

The 1961 Lincoln Continental came about as a last-ditch effort to save Lincoln by making it profitable. As such, it proved to be a testament to the notion of the "last chance": Not only did it begin a period of rising sales, but it won new prestige for Lincoln, as well.

But before charging ahead with development of the 1961 Continental, Lincoln management wanted to determine why the car-maker had fallen behind its competitors. Find out what Lincoln discovered -- and how it responded -- in the next section.

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