1961 was a banner year for the American luxury car buyer. Both Cadillac and Lincoln introduced their first brand-new designs for the new decade.
The biggest change occured at Lincoln. Over a foot shorter (38cm) in length, their svelte new Continental was a complete break from the previous baroque and ponderously-sized offerings. Calling to mind Batista “Pinin” Farina’s Lancia Florida I, the ’61 Continental was smooth-sided and nearly devoid of applied decoration. Equipped with distinctive front-latching suicide rear doors, it was available solely as a four-door sedan or four-door convertible.
The new Continental was a resounding success, garnering a bronze medal from the Industrial Design Institute and increasing Lincoln’s U.S. market share by 60%. Throughout the history of the plastic arts, designs have been produced that garnered the sobriquet of timelessness. The Lincoln certainly qualifies; except for minor detail alterations, the new body design remained basically unchanged until a slight refresh for the 1966 models, a situation heretofore unheard of for an American luxury car.
While Cadillac had considerably toned down their 1960 models after the embarrassingly overwrought ’59, they too came up with a totally different design for the new decade.
While retaining sizable fins (as the originator of the fin craze and purveyors of the tallest, they had little choice but to retreat slowly), the slender tail fins were now aesthetically counterbalanced by downward-facing skeg fins, both well integrated into the sharply chiseled body. It would prove to be the most exuberantly dynamic Cadillac design of the decade.
In May of 1961, President John Kennedy announced at a special joint session of Congress his goal to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. The ’61 Cadillac looked like a product of this nascent Space Age; as if it were designed by aeronautical engineers in their spare time. With the exception of the Ford Galaxie Starliner, no other 1961 model eloquently expressed the adventurous spirit of that year quite like the new Cadillacs.
Thus, the conundrum.
Here were two excellent designs, one in a simple elegant timeless style that would persevere for half of a decade; the other very much of its time, reflecting in no uncertain terms the excitement and optimism that infused the Jet Age sixties, looking especially appropriate parked outside the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or the Goddard Space Flight Center. A car that expressed the fact that we were heading for the moon.