History buffs, gearheads and Ford fans got some bad news earlier this year when the Ford Motor Company announced that the Lincoln Continental—the long and luscious sedan of movie stars and presidents—would cease production at the end of 2020. With car buyers abandoning sedans in favor of trucks and SUVs, Ford’s move wasn’t entirely unexpected. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles nixed its own Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart in 2016, and GM put its Cadillac XTS up on the blocks in October of last year.
But the Continental was arguably the most storied brand of the lot to be retired, more esteemed than even Chevrolet’s celebrated Impala, which also drove into the sunset in January of this year.
The scheduled demise of the Continental will doubtless prompt purists to dream that the nameplate might return someday. Well, might it? On a recent call with Adweek, Michael Sprague, Lincoln’s director for North America, didn’t rule out the possibility.
“I’m not saying, “Yes, it will come back in some form,'” Sprague said. “But we’ve done it before. We brought the Bronco back.”
Indeed, Ford did. Last month, the automaker announced that the trusty Bronco would return to showrooms after a 24-year hiatus. When it debuted in 1966, the Bronco prefigured the SUV by a good 20 years. The company built five generations of the boxy, rugged vehicle before Ford’s own Explorer obviated the need for it. The Bronco took its final bow in 1996—sort of. A combination of loyal fans, untarnished name recognition and the need for an off-road offering that could go head to head with Jeep ultimately prompted Ford to resurrect the name.
And when it comes to name recognition and pedigree, the Continental arguably packs more horsepower than the Bronco ever did.
What’s more, the Continental itself has disappeared before, too. Ford ended its initial run in 1948 only to restore it in 1956, starting with the Continental Mark II. The Continental vanished again in 2002, then reappeared for the 2017 model year.
While the Continental nameplate will no doubt sit in the drawer for a while, Sprague ventured that Ford might reach for it a third time, should the market conditions be right.
“When you have a name that’s so rich and deep in heritage, you want to protect it,” he said. Down the road, should Ford create another luxury vehicle befitting the Continental name, the two might be put together. “You don’t want to put it on [just] anything, necessarily,” Sprague added.
The automotive industry is rife with examples of prominent nameplates whose reported deaths turned out to be exaggerated. For example, Chevrolet retired its Camaro in 2002, only to revive it eight years later. The legendary Dodge Charger was gone for 19 years before reappearing in 2006. Small car fans charmed by the Fiat 500, which hit the American market in 2011, may not have known that Fiat had built 500 models for the European market from 1957 to 1975. The Land Rover Defender, the Jeep Gladiator and the Z-series of Datsun/Nissan were all nameplates that rose from the junkyard.
The textbook example? Volkswagen’s Beetle. Introduced in Germany in 1938 and last sold in the United States in 1979, the bug scurried back into showrooms in 1998, fittingly badged as the New Beetle.