1961 Lincoln Continental
A classic new look, a new size, a new Lincoln Continental
The VIN is die-stamped under the hood on the right front inner fender apron above the upper suspension arm opening, as shown in the illustration at left. This is the official number for title and registration purposes, and is almost always the same as the vehicle warranty number.
VIN WARRANTY PLATE
The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate is riveted to the front body pillar between the left front door hinges. Despite noting that the serial number is not for title or registration purposes, this number was indeed normally used, and as mentioned above usually matches the number stamped elsewhere on the vehicle.
The top row is the serial number of the car. It consists of 11 digits that decode as follows:
The second row includes codes for body style (two numbers and a letter), exterior color code (one letter or number), interior trim code (two numbers), scheduled build date (two numbers and one latter), transmission code (one number), and rear axle code (one number for a regular axle, one letter for a locking rear axle). (See example below for details.)
The VIN Door Plate shown below represents the car pictured below:
The VIN Plate above decodes as:
BODY: 53A = Lincoln Continental 4-Door Sedan (74A = 4-Door Convertible)
THE NEW LINCOLN LOOK
Above: 1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible. The world's only production 4-door convertible model at the time, and representative of Lincoln's classic new look, trim new size, and award-winning styling that put the styling departments at the competition on alert! Lowering the top required only pulling on a T-handle control while sitting in the driver's seat. The deck lid, hinged at the rear, unlocked itself, opened, an extension panel tucked in under the deck lid rotated up to extend the length of the rear deck, the top unlatched itself from the windshield, stored itself in the luggage compartment, and the deck lid closed and locked itself. The entire process took about a minute from start to finish.
The measure of how successful the 1961 Lincoln Continental was in the marketplace depends on what you compare it to. If you compared 1961 sales to those of the 1960 Lincolns and Continentals, they weren't so hot, considering the 1961 models were completely new. Compared to top luxury leader Cadillac, sales were dreadful with Cadillac racking up 138,379 for the model year. Only when compared to the Imperial (1961 production of 12,258) did the Lincoln come off looking successful. Considering how respected and admired the sixties Lincolns have always been, this may seem surprising at first, but to understand you have to look at the situation in terms of 1961 new car sales.
First of all, Lincoln had just come off a three year period when its styling left a lot of luxury car buyers cold. The 1958-60 Lincolns and Continentals were huge cars, with cantilevered headlamps up front, a variety of roof lines that should have made identification of the various models easier, but to many were just confusing, and jutting body lines that changed considerably during the three year styling series in an attempt to improve sales. They weren't bad looking cars, especially considering what else was being marketed at the time, but they weren't setting sales records, either. So to many Lincoln customers of the past, the fact a new model year was upon them was hardly the motivation necessary to rush to the Lincoln showrooms.
The new '61 Lincoln was smaller, too. This was at a time when big cars equaled status and sophistication. People didn't quite know what to think, since the change between '60 and '61 was so abrupt.
Another reason for the slower sales in '61 was it took a while for word to get around that Lincoln quality really was incredible, as the previous models didn't exactly have a perfect score on quality. The new '61 models also had a slightly later introduction, which meant there were still some unsold brand new 1960 models sitting on dealer lots. One dealer told his new car sales manager to park all of the unsold 1960 inventory in the back, as he'd prefer to have no Lincolns visible from the street until the 1961 models arrived! The concern was people would drive by, see the '60 models sitting in front, and assume they were the new '61 cars, which hadn't even been delivered yet!
Another objection that worked against the '61 Lincolns initially was the price. At a base price of $6,067 for the Sedan, the Lincoln was priced $600 more than the least expensive 1960 Lincoln model. The least expensive '61 Cadillac was $5,080, and the least expensive Imperial was $4,925. So it would seem the Lincoln was asking a premium over the models it was competing with! The difference was Lincoln's higher level of standard equipment, things that most luxury car buyers paid extra for anyway, but on first inspection, this may not have been clear to some shoppers.
Lincoln's simply elegant new styling was a sharp departure from its competitors, which both had remnants remaining of styling influences dating back to the fifties. While Lincoln's design was completely new and fresh—a new direction for the sixties—Cadillac was still devoted to tail fins, although they were retracting into the car from their 1959 height, which some considered to be of questionable taste. Cadillac was using a two year styling cycle at the time, and the '61 design was all new. Imperial also retained the finned look, and also got a new front appearance with free standing headlights, a look that harkened back to the classics, and seemed a bit at odds with the soaring fins in back.
Of the top three luxury makes in America, only Lincoln showed a sales increase for the year, however slight it might have been. Sales would improve dramatically for Lincoln in 1962, and the first signs that the competition was reacting to the new Lincoln would be seen that year as well. Cadillac was still far ahead of its competition in sales figures, however, so there was a lot of road ahead for Lincoln to cover. The gap would close during the remainder of the sixties, but it would be the seventies before Lincoln would truly prove to be a capable challenger to Cadillac's leadership role with the Continental Mark series.
If you've always wanted a Lincoln Continental, many feel the 1961 models are the ones to seek out. They are among the rarest due to low production, and some believe that the first model year of a new design is the one that best reflects the designer's vision.
You should know that some items that later became standard weren't offered in 1961, such as remote control exterior mirrors, power vent windows, and a power antenna. These cars were very well designed, very well built, and if a car received even reasonable care over the years, it has likely held up pretty well. Rust can be a concern, especially since these are of unibody construction. Corrosion can be very expensive to repair on a unibody, even more than on body on frame construction.
Check the rear quarter panels, passenger compartment floor, and lower doors and rockers for signs of rust or previous repairs. The bottoms of the front fenders can also be susceptible to rust as well. On Convertibles, make sure the top works properly, these can be expensive to repair if inoperable. New electronic components are available that make the top operation more reliable, if originality isn't a huge concern, but they are still expensive to buy.
Some of the early Lincoln parts from this series can be troublesome, such as the heater and air conditioner controls. Later years improved these parts because of issues, so check to make sure all the ducts work and air flows from where it should.
Owning one of these Continentals is a real joy, as almost everyone knows what it is, and most people really love them. They were a departure in many ways from other motorcars of their day, and stand out because the design was so timeless. Finding an unspoiled original example becomes more difficult with each year that passes, but they are out there. Prices are very reasonable for what you get, to the dismay of collectors who want to sell them.
Expect to pay a premium for those elusive clean originals, and for Convertible models. Air conditioning was optional, and is a desirable option to look for if you live in a warm area of the world. Pay close attention to the electrical items on these cars. Lincoln was fond of relays, and a non-working electrical component could be due to a failed relay, which can be expensive and time consuming to repair.
In general, buy the best one you can find—it always costs more to restore one, so paying more for one that's already been restored can save you money in the long run, provided the restoration was done properly.
There were some changes during the production run that you should be aware of: