Since the "Continental" nameplate first appeared on Edsel Ford's custom built, one off, "Lincoln-Continental" in 1939, Lincoln has, on again - off again, placed the "Continental" nameplate on a number of automobiles. Save for the 1956-1957 Continental Mark II, which, again, technically was not a "Lincoln", and the 1961-1969 models, most of them were not nearly as compelling as the original. And while some of them were awful automobiles, some of them, like our 1997 Lincoln Continental subject car, were actually quite good. Unfortunately, like all Continentals, it didn't sell well but this car, unlike, for example, the over stuffed, glitzy Continentals of the late '50's and the '70's, was a victim of circumstance more than anything else.
We can't begin to look at this car without first revisiting the car it replaced, the 1986 Ford Taurus based Continental of 1988-1994. While the 1986 Ford Taurus has gone down in history as one of the most important automobiles of all time, sadly, the Lincoln version of it is but a mere foot note in automobile history. So benign, so inert, so utterly forgettable was that car that looking at one now you almost find it hard to believe that Lincoln attempted to pass it off as a premium luxury car. However, at the time of introduction, albeit for a very short period of time, that car was generally lauded as marvel of engineering and product planning. This 1995 update was an attempt at appealing to luxury car buyers in market that changed seismically within a year of the 1988 Continental's debut. Try as they may, it too failed to generate the type of response Lincoln has long sought after.
Had Lincoln come with this car in 1988 would things have been different? Perhaps, but doubtful. In 1988, Cadillac still dominated the domestic luxury car market despite the fact their product was less than exemplary. To status symbol seekers, image is everything and Lincoln has never had anywhere near the cache of Cadillac. The 1988 Continental was also a victim of bad timing; Toyota and Nissan launching luxury car market changing Lexus and Infiniti in 1989. Just like that, Lincoln's Continental seemed like Frank Sinatra in a world that was clamoring for the Beetles.
Aside from dramatically different sheet metal and interior design, in 1995, the big upgrade to the 1988 Continental was V-8 power. Whether or not Lincoln was copying Cadillac with a transverse mounted V-8 driving the front wheels or not, the truth of the matter was that the V-6 powered Continental was seriously outgunned by just about everything in it's price range. Lincoln had to do something. Short of designing and engineering a new model designed to compete directly with Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Audi and Mercedes, Lincoln made do.
In the late '80's and throughout the '90's Lincoln, like Cadillac, was left to scrounge whatever sales were left by hawking their wares to "Blue Hairs" who would never buy foreign and vice versa; Young Urban Professionals wouldn't be caught dead in something like this. It's taken almost a quarter century to stem that tide/turn that ship and while Cadillac has done nothing less than a most spectacular job of developing world class automobiles and being appealing to younger buyers, Lincoln, as is seemingly always the case, despite what Herculean efforts, continues to dawdle far behind. Not that Cadillac is setting any sales records these days but when it comes to image, Cadillac is clearly out in front of Lincoln.
Why Lincoln thinks their 2017 Continental will fare any better than Continentals of the past is beyond me. Especially at what they're rumored to charging for them. Seriously. And it's not like they have a cadre of vehicles that will benefit from the presence of a halo vehicle in their showrooms anyway. What Ford should do is mothball the entire Lincoln division and re-introduce the marque in ten or fifteen years. That way, all preconceived notions will have been forgotten about and the new Lincoln Motor Company, or whatever they would call it, would be unencumbered by the past. By the way, with slumping sales and a new rear wheel drive flag ship already in showrooms by 2000, a car that seemingly did everything right, Lincoln pulled the plug on this car after the 2002 model year.
These big, flashy old Lincolns with very low mileage can be had for next to nothing these days. I'd be weary of them because of their aging air suspensions and myriad 1990's vintage electronics. They can be very expensive to repair.