The Continental name had a long and storied history at Lincoln. It debuted as a luxurious coupe and convertible in 1939 and spent the next few decades as a staple in the rear-drive Lincoln lineup. By the late Fifties, the name branched out from its coupe roots as Lincoln offered Continentals with four doors.
Eventually, Continental spent a short stint on the Panther platform before it moved on to its final rear-drive Fox-body iteration in 1982. After six years of bustle-back goodness, Lincoln was ready with the eighth-generation Continental. For 1988 Continental joined the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable on the front-drive FN9 platform. This new modern Conti was the first front-drive car Lincoln ever produced, and also the first time the brand offered a vehicle without a V8 engine – a harbinger of things to come. The FN9 Continental was a bit larger than the outgoing Fox generation, and much more 1990s friendly in appearance. It showed up in other front-drive competition like the Cadillac Deville and was the largest front-wheel-drive car available in 1988. Underneath all eighth-generation Continentals was the same 3.8-liter Essex V6 engine found in the Taurus.
For 1995, Continental was updated to its ninth and final (for a while) front-drive form, still on the FN9 platform. The body and interior were new for ’95, though dimensionally the Continental remained much the same as before. This time Lincoln was ready with further sedan differentiation: A new 4.6-liter InTech V8 powered the Continental and was not shared with Ford or Mercury sedans. The engine was the same as in the Mark VIII but detuned for less potency in the front-drive sedan. Two-hundred and sixty horses and 265 lb-ft of torque were on offer.
Lincoln intended to make the ninth Continental much more competitive in the increasingly cluttered luxury sedan marketplace. A focus on interior appointments and equipment this time around meant the Continental was more expensive than before – a bit too expensive. Lincoln corrected this for 1997 when it stripped some content from Conti in advance of its facelift the following year. Prices dropped 10 percent in ’97, which held sales nearly steady with the year before, at 31,220. 1998’s facelift boosted sales back to over 35,000.
After 1998, the Continental’s power increased to 275 horses, and Lincoln added additional power equipment as standard. A Luxury Appearance Package offered extra interior wood on the steering wheel and shift lever, as well as two-tone leather. An electronic active suspension with ride control select was also available. By 1999, the Continental asked the same on showroom floors as the Town Car and represented the brand’s sportier side of flagship luxury. But it wasn’t as large and luxurious as the Town Car, or as fun to drive as the smaller LS.
The Conti’s pricing and sport/luxury placement in Lincoln’s lineup were problematic. Lincoln had three sedans on offer, and all of them competed for essentially the same customer. But given the Continental’s declining sales (just over 20,000 in 2001), it saw its last year in 2002. The Town Car and LS remained in Lincoln’s lineup to satisfy luxury sedan customers, while the Continental name was put to bed. It was resurrected once more in 2017 and the 10th-generation car completed a four-year run in October 2020.