Founded in 1917 by former Cadillac managers Henry Leland and his son, the Lincoln Motor Company was named for America’s 16th president. In 1922, the Ford Motor Company purchased Lincoln and has operated it as its premier brand ever since.
The first Lincoln model, the L Series was powered by a 5.9-liter V8 engine paired with a three-speed manual transmission. It made 81 horsepower, had 23-inch wheels and sat on a 130-inch wheelbase. The recession that followed World War I limited its demand and the company soon found itself bankrupt.
In 1922, the Ford Motor Company bid $8 million for Lincoln in bankruptcy court, and soon after chairman Henry Ford disposed of the Lelands and had his son, Edsel, draft a new design. Multiple updates over the next seven years produced a more refined and less expensive model, one that introduced front and rear bumpers, safety glass and dual windshield wipers.
In the 1930s, Lincoln introduced its K Series and its sub-brand Lincoln-Zephyr, the latter bringing a smaller model to the Lincoln line. The Zephyr led to the Lincoln Continental, a European-style personal luxury car with a long hood, whitewall tires and a tire mounted to the trunk. The Continental name would be used on and off throughout Lincoln’s history.
Following World War II, Lincoln was merged with Mercury to form the Lincoln-Mercury division. That partnership lasted until 2011 with models such as the Mercury Grand Marquis and Mercury Mariner sold alongside the Lincoln Town Car and the Lincoln Navigator.
In the 1950s, Lincoln rolled out a variety of products, but only its Mark Series had staying power. In the 1960s, the Lincoln brand was composed of full-size Continental and Mark Series models and nothing else, and stayed that way until the compact Lincoln Versailles was introduced. That model, based on the Ford Granada platform, was Lincoln’s response to the Cadillac Seville.
By the early 1980s, Lincoln was downsizing its larger models and introduced the Lincoln Town Car to replace the Continental. The Continental’s absence was short-lived as a new and smaller model was introduced in 1982 to replace the retired Versailles.
Lincoln sales skyrocketed in the 1990s and as recently as 1998 it was the best-selling luxury brand in America. That was the year when the full-size Lincoln Navigator SUV made its debut.
By the new century, Lincoln began releasing additional models including the small LS sedan, followed by the MKZ (formerly Zephyr). A Blackwood pickup truck had a brief life as did the Mark LT truck and the Aviator SUV. In later years, Lincoln introduced three SUVs: MKT, MKX and MKC. An MKZ hybrid was also rolled out and the brand reintroduced the Continental to replace the Lincoln MKS sedan.
Cadillac is Lincoln’s chief rival; select Buick models can be compared to the product line as well. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Infiniti and Acura each have models that can be cross-shopped with various Lincoln products.