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Typically, luxury cars like the Lincoln Continental received a major restyling every three years. Cadillac had switched to a two year cycle at this time, and could afford to do so due to its higher sales volume. The third American luxury model, the Imperial, was also in a three year styling cycle and debuted with new styling in '64 that was very much in the same vein as Lincoln's. And there was a good reason for that. Elwood Engel, the man largely credited for the 1961 Lincoln design had moved to Chrysler and put his touch on the Imperial. The result was quite striking.
Styling changes for the 1964 Lincoln Continental would not be as extreme as they had been at points in the past. The goal for 1961 was to cultivate a Lincoln "look" that readily identified the Lincoln. And of course, Lincoln had succeeded in doing so with a classic design that was restrained, elegant, and compact. Luxury car buyers had responded positively to the new Lincoln look, and sales reflected that acceptance.
Lincoln's 123-inch wheelbase was the most compact of the three top luxury cars, and while the benefits of its compact luxury had been heavily promoted during its first three years, the fact was that cars at this time were getting larger, and the Lincoln's competitors had wheelbases in the 129-130 inch range. Owners of the 1961-1963 models loved their cars, and there was some evidence to show they loved them so much that they were retaining them longer than they normally would. This spoke volumes about Lincoln's quality and dependability, but wasn't necessarily good news for the sales and marketing people.
The one objection to the compact Lincoln was its interior dimensions, specifically head room (or lack thereof) and rear seat leg room. Both were directly related to Lincoln's compact wheelbase and roof structure, which utilized curved side glass that limited the amount of available interior space. For this reason alone, Lincoln would have been justified in increasing the wheelbase for 1964, but there were other reasons as well. As Ford Motor Company's finest motorcar, Lincoln would need to be the largest vehicle marketed by the company, as that was expected at the time. This limited both Ford and Mercury from increasing their wheelbases, and Mercury was just about four inches shorter than Lincoln in 1963, with plans in place for an increase in wheelbase for Mercury to 123 inches for its all-new 1965 models, which would equal Lincoln's wheelbase if changes weren't made to lengthen the Continental.
Lincoln didn't want to completely abandon its smaller, easier-to-handle-and-park size, so the wheelbase for 1964 was modestly increased by three inches, bringing it to 126. This resulted in greater leg room, knee room, and head room, especially in the rear compartment which was the source of the majority of the complaints from owners of the older models. Rear compartment leg room was increased 4 inches over the 1963 models, an additional 2.5 inches of knee room was provided, raising the dimensions from a cramped 5.4 inches to 7.9 inches, which was more than double that of the 1961 and 1962 Continental. The front seat was relocated two inches forward, to emphasize the space between the front and rear seat backs, providing five inches overall additional separation between the two. To compensate for the front seat being relocated forward, a new instrument panel design maximized the front seat interior space, although leg room did drop around three inches overall. The end result was an interior with dimensions closer to those of the Cadillac and Imperial, eliminating the negative reaction to rear seat accommodations. Even the luggage compartment was appreciably larger, with 15% more usable space over 1963, which was a total increase of 33% over the 1961-62 models.
Advertising for 1964 would emphasize the new, more spacious rear compartment, with one photograph in particular appearing in both the brochure and print ads of a woman seated in the rear seat holding her dog. Attired in a stylish hat, scarf, fur jacket, gloves, high fashion dress and high heel shoes, her legs were stretched out to show how much room was available. The photo was shot from the open rear door on the driver's side of the car, and the woman was seated on the passenger's side of the car. The center armrest was folded down, providing support for her left elbow as both she and the dog observed something through the right rear door window. The front seat back was nowhere to be seen in the photo, and the entire right rear door panel could easily be seen. This one image by itself removed any shadow of doubt about the newly available rear seat space in the 1964 Continental.
At a glance, the 1964 Continentals looked very much the same as the 1963 models, however the rear doors were three inches wider, allowing more room to enter and exit, and the rear door glass was also lengthened and restyled with a new upper rear corner angle that gave the car a more contemporary look. The exterior changes were made to accommodate the greater interior dimensions, and Lincoln was certain to explain this fact.
A new grille had five vertical bars spaced out between the headlamps, with each bar separating a rectangular grid grille that consisted of rectangles eight across and eight down. A new polished lower body molding now ran from front bumper to rear bumper, and a new rear deck lid and rear styling lost the concave look of previous years, replacing it with a rear grille that matched the rectangular grid design used on the front grille. New wheel covers and a smaller rendition of the Continental script on the rear quarters completed the exterior refinements.
Eighteen solid exterior paint colors were provided, and a few offered on the Thunderbird were available by special order on the Lincoln. Inside, the beautiful new instrument panel was accompanied by 37 different interior combinations that included genuine leather and vinyl, broadcloth, and two fabrics with leather bolsters. One fabric, Motif, used the Continental star as its design. The other, called Versailles, was a damask that had a very sophisticated appearance. Two upholstery patterns were available, one a pleated design and the other a biscuit design. Extra time and attention was spent ensuring the stitching was as perfect as humanly possible, and that the fabric patterns were consistent from one panel to the next.
New 1964 options included individually adjustable contour front seats with center console and armrest. Each side was adjustable with six-way power control. A vertically-adjustable steering column was introduced during the model year. Pressing a button on the end of the transmission selector lever released a vacuum solenoid that allowed the column to be moved up or down. Releasing the button locked the column in place, and an indicator on the instrument panel just above the column indicated where it was within the adjustment range. Priced at $60, the movable steering column was not a popular option, with just 2,541 cars (7%) equipped with the option.
There would be more exterior styling changes coming for 1965, which would be the last year for this body style. The changes for 1965 would be more extensive, but would still retain the classic Continental look.
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