Elvis Presley had one; so did Clark Gable. John F. Kennedy was riding in one on that fateful day in Dallas. Then the name vanished amid an invasion of foreign luxury cars. Now, thirteen years after the last Lincoln Continental rolled off the assembly line, Ford Motor Co. is resurrecting its storied nameplate. The new Continental debuts in concept form at this week's New York auto show; the full-size sedan goes on sale next year. It's a measure of the growing confidence at Lincoln, which is finally turning around a decades-long sales decline. And it's a nod to China, where customers appreciate brands with a rich history. "When we get a chance to work on an iconic nameplate like that, it's a mixture of pride and a mixture of fear, because when you put that name out there, it's got to deliver," Ford CEO Mark Fields said recently.
The Continental was born in 1938, when Henry Ford's son Edsel commissioned a convertible he could use on his spring vacation, and soon became the pinnacle of American luxury. But sales peaked in 1990, and began slipping amid dull designs and stiff competition. To make its way back, Lincoln isn't trying to be sporty like BMW or showy like Cadillac. Instead, Fields says, it wants to give drivers an experience that is elegant and serene. "We want folks to get into our vehicles and—for lack of a better term—chill," Fields said. It appears to be working. Lincoln's US sales rose 16% last year, making it one of the fastest-growing luxury brands in the market. Full-size sedans like the Continental are a tough sell in the US, but globally the segment is growing: Ford is opening dazzling new Lincoln dealerships in China complete with waterfalls.