By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
Edsel Ford pulled into Palm Beach in 1939 behind the wheel of a car that summed up everything about him.
He wanted to build cars beyond his father’s basic Model T. Henry Ford had been the son of a farmer, with an idea what the working man might need. But Edsel Ford was the son of an industrialist, with an idea what the wealthy might prefer.
So he had his men create a car just for him. Painted eagle gray, it was a low-slung convertible, just barely hovering off the ground, with a V12 under the hood. The gray leather interior was hand-stitched, perhaps as fine as any found in the Mercedes or Rolls being driven by the other sons of industrialists. Because the car was supposed to evoke the feeling of motoring the grand avenues of Europe, he called it the Continental.
Coming from his winter home in Hobe Sound, Edsel Ford most likely drove his shining achievement over the Flagler Memorial Bridge. Which is why, on a windy Saturday morning, we duplicated the trip over to Palm Beach in a brand-new 2017 Lincoln Continental, seeing if it’s a worthy successor to the original, whether it’s a car worthy of The Island.
Maybe you doubt that’s possible considering the Continentals of recent memory, those airport-shuttle fleet cars, last produced in 2002, with simplistic rounded edges and cave-like, uncomplicated black-leather interiors.
The design of this new car forgets those years, preferring instead the Continentals of the 1960s. Think suicide doors opening in opposite directions, the hood and trunk lining up in one straight line, an interior of pleated leather and polished wood. Sinatra had one. Liz Taylor painted hers violet to match her eyes. It was a car of unquestionable style.
Even though the ’17 is a large sedan, it looks surprisingly low-slung. The long hood and deep trunk line up, and then the back end drops off, a shape like no other car on the road, considering nowadays every car is angled forward.
As we hand the keys to the valet at The Breakers, we hope he parks it up front for others to admire. (And he did, for awhile – until the land-traffic controllers on the busy Breakers landing deck had to make room.) There is much to admire inside here: door speakers covered in perforated metal that look inspired by a classic car, a panoramic roof that brings the sky close, zebra-striped wood in black and silver that adorns the dash and center console, and white and brown and black leather is everywhere.
The futuristic-looking seats, divided into a solid back and a cushion that seems to float a couple of inches in front of it, are simply the most comfortable in any car we’ve sampled. (Yes, better than an S-Class or 7-Series). Adjustments change every angle: add more support under your left leg than the right, or push just the top of the back of the seat forward so you’re not leaning over the steering wheel. Massagers, adjustable headrests, lumbar, armrests in the back with controls for everything – it’s impossible to be uncomfortable.
As we left The Breakers, we gave the Lincoln a jolt onto South County Road and the sound was enough to catch the eye of a foursome on the golf course. It’s a rumbling, snarling 400-horsepower speedster when accelerating, producing the kind of noise you don’t usually hear in a luxury sedan. But then, perhaps you’re an industrialist who likes the roar of a Mustang.
That too might be a lot like Edsel Ford’s first Continental. The 12 cylinders in his creation would have roared, and maybe that’s why his friends in Palm Beach liked it so much. By the time he headed back to Michigan at the end of season, he had orders for 200 cars just like his.
Those first Continentals were among the finest cars created on these shores, grand tourers for captains of industry, most of whom switched to foreign luxury cars long ago. This new Continental, though, it’s all Edsel Ford’s idea again.
Margate Lincoln, 2250 N. State Road 7, Margate, 954-978-2277, margatelincoln.com; Pines Ford Lincoln, 8655 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines, pineslincoln.com; Pompano Ford Lincoln, 2741 N. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach, 954-782-8110, pompanolincoln.com; Schumacher Lincoln of Delray, 2102 S. Federal Highway, Delray Beach, 561-454-1800, schumacherlincolnofdelray.com.