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Image: 1971 Lincoln Continental Sedan
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1971 Lincoln Continental

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Image: The 1971 Lincoln Continental slogan

Despite somewhat disappointing sales of the all-new Lincoln Continentals for 1970, only minor styling changes were scheduled for 1971. This was no doubt cause for concern at Lincoln, since the major restyling for 1970 was the most extensive in almost a decade. Lincoln knew more extensive styling changes would need to be made, but the first opportunity to do so would be for the 1972 model year.

Sales did increase slightly for 1971, which can be attributed to the Coupé model becoming more popular. Sales of Lincoln's "standard" 2-door luxury model increased considerably, while sales of the 4-door Sedan dropped slightly. Despite less than anticipated sales and concerns that the new styling wasn't being accepted well by luxury car customers, 1971 was Lincoln's Golden Anniversary, a reason to celebrate since a decade earlier no one was certain if Lincoln would be around a decade later. This event would be commemorated with a limited edition Golden Anniversary Town Car, of which only 1,000 were originally slated to be built. However, an additional 38 cars were built at the end of the production run to meet demand of Ford employees. Introduced in 1969 as an ultra-luxurious interior trim option for the Continental Sedan, the Town Car option would be expanded in 1972 in a move believed by many to compete with Cadillac's Fleetwood Brougham at the top of the luxury car market.

Styling changes for 1971 were limited to the front and rear of the car. The horizontal bar grille design introduced for 1970 continued for 1971, with six wider horizontal bars instead of four, placed closer together. The grille no longer extended all the way across the front of the car, which had the effect of making the grille stand out more than it had in the past. The headlamp covers were now finished to match the body color of the car, and retained the rectangular decorative plates mounted horizontally at the center line of the covers. For 1971, these would be framed with a chrome bezel for added distinction. These changes gave the 1971 Lincoln Continentals a cleaner frontal appearance, more reminiscent of the Continental Mark III, which was selling quite well. In fact, for 1971, the number of Continental Mark IIIs sold almost equalled sales of the Lincoln Continental Sedans!

Image: 1971 Lincoln Continental SedanNew taillight assemblies in back reflected Lincoln Continental's traditional understated elegance, now consisting of three vertical columns in a series of three individual light units on each side. Backup lights flanked the license plate at the center of the rear bumper, as they did in 1970, separating the taillights from the license plate.

An interesting thing to note is the differences between the Continental star emblems used on these cars. The star emblems on the standard wheel covers, roof sail panels, and on the header panel above the grille are taller while the emblem used on the deck lid to conceal the lock is wider (see image at left; click for larger version in new window or tab).

Inside, a new standard upholstery was introduced for 1971. The elegant Nottingham woven brocade cloth featured metallic yarn that added sparkle in the recessed portions of the Jacquard weave. This cloth had a distinctive texture and feel to it, and featured soft vinyl on the seat sides and door trim panels. It was available in a new color for 1971 called light gray gold, a popular choice that coordinated with a matching exterior paint finish. If you wanted another color, four other choices were available. A Bedford knit cloth which was similar to that used in previous years was also available at no additional cost, in five colors.

The power-operated sunroof was officially listed as a special dealer order for the Lincoln Continentals for 1971, even though there are older Lincolns documented with the option. Cadillac officially offered a similar option on several of its 1970 models, after introducing it first on late production 1969 Fleetwood Eldorados. AM has documented one 1969 Lincoln Continental Sedan that appears to have at least had factory assistance with a power sunroof installation, and several 1970 Lincoln models also exist. Exactly how these special order cars were handled by the factory isn't known, although since Wixom was regularly sending out Ford Thunderbirds and Continental Mark IIIs during this time to have sunroofs installed, we imagine the process was similar for the Lincoln Continentals.

Many believe that the quality of materials used as well as the fit and finish of the 1971 Cadillacs suffered from earlier models. This was not so with the Lincolns, and this perception would become even more important in the years to come, as Lincoln would begin to officially challenge Cadillac directly in areas such as quality and ride. The 1970s was a very interesting decade in the luxury car world, and in 1971 things were just getting started.

The 1971 Lincoln Continentals had an integrity, grace, and elegance equaled by no other car. They were cars apart and above. In a class by themselves. The Lincoln Continentals were the final step up.


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