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Image: 1973 Lincoln Continental Sedan

1973 Lincoln Continental

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Image: The 1973 Lincoln Continentals

The 1973 Lincoln Continental was a lot like the 1972 Lincoln Continental. A lot. In keeping with Lincoln's desire to maintain its styling legacy, changes for the sake of change were avoided whenever possible. This policy had performed well for Lincoln since it was established in 1961, and by the 1973 model year, the Lincoln line had undergone just two major body style changes, in 1966 and 1970. More extensive updates took place in 1964, 1965, 1968, and 1972, but the overall styling remained true to the original design that was introduced.

Lincoln Division tested its new 1973 cars against "the other American luxury car." Everyone knew they meant Cadillac, although they never specifically stated the name of the car at this point (it would be revealed in subsequent years, however).

Here's how the testing went down: Lincoln invited 100 Cadillac owners to attend an event at the Hotel Bel-Air, in California. (They were nice enough to pose for a photo op with the 1973 Lincolns. Click the image below right to view a larger version of the group.) The purpose of the event was to challenge the loyalty of Cadillac owners, as Cadillac had long boasted its owners were the most loyal in the land. The Nationwide Consumer Testing Institute oversaw the actual testing, to ensure impartial results.

There were two tests given. The first was for riding comfort. The 100 owners were blindfolded, then taken on a ride in a 1973 Lincoln and another ride in a 1973 Cadillac over the same route. They were asked to judge which of the two new cars in their opinion had the most comfortable ride. The result? 64 out of 100 picked the Lincoln Continental.

The second test given was for driving ease. In this test, the 100 owners were provided new Continental Mark IVs to drive, as well as the compatible model of the other make (which would have been the Fleetwood Eldorado, of course). Again, both cars were driven along the an identical route, this time the mission was to determine which car was easier to drive. The result of the second test? 66 out of 100 preferred the Mark IV.

Image: 1973 Lincoln test at Hotel Bel-Air, CaliforniaA national survey released early in 1973 revealed that 20,000 drivers of "that other luxury car" had switched to one of the Continentals during the previous two year period. The main reason given for the switch? The Continentals' outstanding riding and driving qualities. People were invited to ask former owners of the other luxury car about their decision to switch, and in advertising an address was given for the Nationwide Consumer Testing Institute so interested parties could write and receive complete test results.

Luxury car buyers in 1973 wanted isolation from the outside. They wanted a soft, smooth, floating ride. They didn't want to feel any harshness through the steering wheel. And while they didn't want the car to wallow when cornering, they also wouldn't tolerate any harshness to avoid wallowing. And you would have been hard pressed to find a quieter, more comfortable ride in 1973 than the Continental.

The basis for Lincoln's smooth, quiet ride was its suspension. With one of the widest stances on the road at the time, Lincoln smoothed out road vibrations and harshness with independent dual ball joints in the front suspension, the upper joints being spring loaded. Helical coil springs and double-acting shock absorbers kept everything on an even keel.

The rear suspension was a three-link design, with deep coil springs, shock absorbers, and a transverse track bar. Steel-belted radial ply tires were fitted for their comfort, durability, and excellent road-holding characteristics. Rubber bushings insulated suspension components, and these features gave Lincoln its extraordinarily comfortable ride and handling characteristics.

Styling changes between 1972 and 1973 were minor, with the most noticeable changes taking place up front. To meet Federal standards, the front bumper had substantially improved impact resistance for up to 5 mph frontal impact protection into a flat, vertical fixed barrier without preventing normal operation of the car's latching, fuel, cooling and exhaust systems, or of the propulsion, suspension, steering and braking systems. The rear bumper was designed to withstand a 2.5 mph impact under the same conditions, and with the same stipulations.

In order to achieve this standard, the front bumper was relocated forward a bit from its 1972 location. This was evident in the filler panels between the bumper and car body. When viewed from the side, it was easy to see the space between the front bumper and lower front fender that would allow the bumper to retract somewhat on impact. The only other change was the placement of "CONTINENTAL" block lettering above the grille, and a small Lincoln script above the driver's side headlight cover replaced the Continental script of 1972, which featured "LINCOLN" in small block lettering in the upper left section.

The appearance from the side and from the rear was virtually unchanged for 1973. Several new paint colors were added, and a few were modified during the year. The Light Gray-Gold interior color was dropped, and Beige and Silver Blue were added. A new brocade cloth was chosen as one of the standard interior trim choices, and it had a very different pattern from the materials used previously.

New options for 1973 included a combination AM/FM stereo radio with integrated 8-track tape player. and the control switch for the optional power door lock system was relocated back to the door arm rests from the plunger knob. A new remote control right hand exterior rear view mirror could be controlled from inside the car, without the need for the driver to leave his or her seat. Lo-beam headlamps now had 20% more wattage, and were rated at 60-watts, providing better road illumination and visibility.

Sales of the 1973 Lincoln Continental increased considerably over the previous year. In fact, Lincoln had realized a sales increase of almost 65 percent in just two years. Luxury car buyers liked what they saw, and were getting the message about Lincoln's exceptional ride and handling qualities. The Continental Mark IV was very popular at this time, and was responsible for bringing a lot of customers into the showroom. Many believe that quality control over at Cadillac had slipped somewhat in the early seventies, while Lincoln's was still very tight, which may have helped put new Lincolns in garages across the country.

The 1973 Cadillac received front and rear styling updates to comply with the new Federal bumper standards, and the Imperial retained its 1972 styling, but received a new mesh-pattern grille and front bumper guards with large rubber blocks to meet the new bumper standards. All three of the American premium luxury cars would receive substantial styling updates for 1974, in part to adhere to new rear bumper standards for 1974. Rumors were circulating about this time that 1973 would be the Imperial's last, but a chance styling studio exercise that was little more than a front end sketch caught the eye of a top Chrysler executive, and a rush program to create a new Imperial for 1974 was underway. This new design would once again align Imperial styling with that of the Lincoln Continental, just as the two cars shared similarities in 1964.

The new Imperial would not be enough to save the line, however, and it would be discontinued after 1975 production ended. Both Lincoln and Cadillac would be facing a new challenger in the coming years: Mercedes Benz. Still considered by many Americans to be somewhat utilitarian at this point, Mercedes Benz was noted for its rather drab styling, firm seating, and somewhat harsh ride. One 1973 Lincoln owner commented at the time that riding in a Mercedes Benz was like riding on a milk wagon, referring to the hard-wheeled vehicles pulled by animals that were used to transport large milk containers. Twenty years later, that very same woman would be driving a new Mercedes Benz.

The American premium luxury car market was about to be turned upside down, but that was still a few years down the road. For 1973, Americans kept buying the big, luxurious cars they'd always loved. Cars that were identified as the finest in the world, symbols of success, and the envy of all driving lesser vehicles. There had been no gas shortages, the cost of fuel was cheap, and bigger was better, just as it had been for so many decades. It was a great time to be in the luxury car market, and there was nothing finer than a 1973 Lincoln Continental.

But very soon, everything would change, and the events that caused that change would force the American luxury car market to change in ways many never thought possible.


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