By on July 15, 2011

Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

Jack Baruth called the 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Talisman that he delivered to Sajeev’s brother “majestic”. While Jack and Sajeev have been playing with a big Caddy, lately I’ve been seeing a lot of Dearborn’s favorite luxury brand and it’s given me a lot of opportunity to think about Lincoln’s past and future. Today, Cadillac, buoyed by the success of the CTS and its variants, along with profitable sales of the SRX (and Escalade too) seems strong compared to Lincoln. As has been the case since Henry Leland’s day Lincoln has almost always been Detroit’s weaker sister when it’s come to luxury cars. Almost always…

While the truth is that Cadillac has always outsold Lincoln, there was a time when the two American luxury car makers went toe to toe, when Lincoln was a contender. That was the 1970s, when Lincoln started eating up some of Cadillac’s market share, when buyers who formerly would have only considered a Cadillac could be seen shopping and even buying one of Ford’s luxury cars, when that Talisman was the best that Cadillac could offer. Were it not for the success of Lincoln in the 1970s, the Panther based Town Cars so beloved of the TTAC staff might never have been built. TTAC is home to many Panther enthusiasts who will tell you that their beloved Fords are the ultimate expression of the traditional rear wheel drive body on frame big American sedan. While the Panther is worthy of all the showered love, it seems to me that if you’re looking for the ultimate big body on frame Ford, you have go back another generation, to the 1971-79 Lincoln Continental. The Panther was the first downsized full size sedan platform from Ford. It came about, in part, due to fuel mileage requirements that called for a smaller Lincoln (and LTD and Grand Marquis) and was a response to GM’s downsized ’77 sedans. So if big, bold and smooth is your ticket, the 1970s Continental is right up your alley, or suburban driveway in this case.

Though it carried on most of the styling language developed for the classic 1961 model, the classic suicide door Lincolns had unitized construction. Ford went to a separate body and frame with their big sedans in 1971. Ford was all about smoothness in the ’70s and there is nothing like BOF construction to be able to isolate the car’s passengers from the turbulence of real life. This Town Coupé’s ‘green sofa’ vanity plates sum up the car’s distinction pretty well. There has probably never been a car with a smoother ride than the big 1970s Continentals.

As with the Panthers, in the 1970s the large Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns shared variations of the same platform. The Lincoln rode on the version with the longest wheelbase, ~127″, used for both two door and four door models. We’ll be looking primarily at the two door model in this edition of LAWIF! The ’70s vintage Lincolns were the second biggest modern American cars made, exceeded in length only by the Fleetwood Cadillacs, which were about three inches longer. The notion of a two door coupé on such a long wheelbase is almost too absurd to contemplate.

LAWIF! is based on the luck of the draw. I first started thinking about doing a piece on the big Lincolns when I saw a four door in a bright yellow driving out of an apartment complex near my home. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera rig with me but it planted the idea. Then, while riding my Litespeed to my credit union in Lathrup Village I saw the green late 1970s Continental Town Coupé you see here. Again, I didn’t have my camera bag, but I made a mental note to return and shoot the big Lincoln.

Last month, Hot Rod magazine’s Power Tour’s terminal point was in suburban Detroit, and with about 3,500 special interest cars participating, I went over to Metro Beach to see what unusual finds there were amidst the Camaros and Mustangs. When I saw this very clean and mild custom light metallic blue and black 1971 two door Continental (the ‘sportier’ Lincoln received the Town Coupé designation, a padded landau vinyl roof, large squarish opera windows, coach lights, and trim wheel arch inserts instead of full fender skirts in 1975), I knew I had to go back and get pics of the green one.

The earlier Continentals without the 5mph bumpers have a trim and tailored look for such a large car.

I decided that the following weekend, on my way to the Cars & Stars car show at the Packard Proving Grounds, I’d detour over to Lathrup. Unfortunately, just as I was about to turn into the subdivision where the Lincoln was, I saw it going out for a Sunday drive. Oh well, it would have to wait until another time.

It’s a bit of a schlep out to Shelby Twp, where the Packard Proving Grounds are, and while driving up Van Dyke, I noticed coming in the opposite direction was, yep, another big Town Coupé, this one in canary yellow. I don’t think that I’m usually worthy of getting signs from above, but this was getting silly. The first chance I got, I went back to Lathrup Village and got the pics you see here of the green Town Coupé.

From the Mark IV style chrome grille,and the big 5mph bumpers this appears to be either a ’77, ’78 or 1979 model. Over the decade, the Continental grew from 225″ to 233″, mostly due to those bumpers, though there was also a modest bump up in wheelbase. This example is in very nice original shape, with original paint that’s started to wear in only a couple of places. There’s a spot of rust near one rear wheel arch, and some of the chrome and other trim had a few dings. Other than that, it appears to be in great shape for a survivor. The original dealer’s sticker is still on the trunk lid.

Though Lincoln never seriously challenged Cadillac’s sale figures, it was in the 1970s that Lincoln started to chip away at Cadillac market share. Though it had some record sales years in the ’70s, as Jack pointed out in his piece on the Talisman by the middle of the decade Cadillac was beginning to lose its mojo, a decline that would be halted by the downsized 1977 models, only to accelerate as GM embraced mediocrity in the 1980s. In the early to mid 1970s, though, Cadillacs were beginning to seem more bloated than big. Luxury car buyers started considering first Lincoln, and then the high end Benzes.

The ’61 Continental is highly treasured today but that body style was never a big seller. While the ’61 made Continental a credible player in the mass luxury market, the next generation Continental had much better sales.  Lincoln was putting a lot of effort into reducing NVH, as well as giving the cars a glass smooth ride. One of the tricks was to use rubber body mounting bushings that had a lot of fore/aft play. Though not particularly effective in terms of cornering and handling, those trick body mounts helped create the living room on wheels ride that the big Lincolns and Mercurys were famous for. A befits a rolling living room, this Continental came with crushed velour upholstery.

The association of a smooth ride with the Lincoln brand was emphasized with Lincoln even running commercials with a diamond cutter splitting a raw stone while riding in the back seat, proclaiming success with the tag line “perfect!”. The ad was so popular, and Lincoln’s reputation for a smooth ride so well known, that Saturday Night Live did a parody with a mohel performing a bris in the back seat, “Poi-fect… a beautiful baby and a beautiful car.”

Lincoln also started offering more features as standard equipment than Cadillac, like power front vent windows. The vent wing window is an artifact of the pre flow through ventilation age. It’s utility survived into the air conditioned age, and Lincoln’s power version is perhaps the ultimate development of that feature beloved of smokers and their passengers.

After the big GMs were downsized in 1977, for two years the Lincoln Continental was the biggest car for sale in the US, perhaps the biggest mass produced car for sale then in the world. Most of the big Lincolns came equipped with the 460 cubic inch version of Ford’s 429. Though it started out with 365HP, by the middle of the decade, emissions controls would cut that power output by a third. The big block engine’s torque, though, remained sufficient with 356 lb/ft @ 2,000rpm, perfectly adequate to get the two and a half ton luxury barge moving.

This four door Town Car is part of Barry Wolk’s collection of Continentals. I think the sedan has cleaner lines than the coupé, but big two doors obviously have their fans.

By the time the big Lincolns finally went out of production to make way for the Panther based Town Cars, they would be not only the largest car for sale in North America, they would have the largest displacement engines then available too (the big Cadillac 500ci V8s having been discontinued in 1976).

It just so happened that at the Hot Rod Power Tour and the Cars & Stars show there were some other classic Lincolns, a couple of prewar Continentals (a black convertible and a gorgeous yellow hardtop), and two Continental Mark IIs.

The black Mark II is an original condition, single family third generation car. The original owner was a friend of Wm Clay Ford Sr., one of his drinking buddies before he went on the wagon.

The car is no longer numbers matching because according to family lore the Mark II’s owner complained to his friend Mr. Ford, about some kind of driveability issue with the car. Apparently while he and Ford were having an extended and well lubricated lunch,  Wm Clay Ford had the entire drivetrain replaced for his friend. Unlike Wm Clay Ford’s personal Mark II (in Detroit Lions’ Honolulu blue and silver), which had an upgrade to the 460 V8 performed by the fab shop in Dearborn, this car’s engine swap was not documented. It doesn’t really matter because the car will never leave the family.

After seeing those Mark IIs at the Power Tour and Cars “R” Stars, I saw even more of them when the three Ford family Mark IIs, now owned by the family that owns National Parts Depot, were on display at the Eyes On Design show benefiting the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology.

The black Mark II was made for Mrs. Henry Ford II, the metallic sea foam green Continental was Benson Ford’s and the Honolulu blue and silver car belonged to Wm Clay Ford, whose Detroit Lions wear the same colors.

Researching those cars led to the photo shoot of Barry Wolk’s convertible Continental Mark II. Barry has a collection of fabulous Continentals, made by Lincoln and others. He invited me to see his 1933 Lincoln when it’s on display at the upcoming Concours d’Elegance of America at St John’s and also stop by the national meet of the Lincoln Continental Owners Club, held in conjunction with the concours. Though I didn’t get over to Europe this year, it looks like I’m going to have a very continental summer.

One of two “official” Continental Mark II convertibles

Ford is trying to revive Lincoln. Lincoln has no brand identity, and if there is one thing that all the Continentals on this page have it’s a strong visual identity. In an era when people have difficulty distinguishing a Lexus from a Jaguar, each one of these cars is instantly identifiable, and identifiable as a Lincoln. I think the smartest thing that Ford could do is to lock its Jaguar design and brand management teams in a room with these cars and not let them out until they come up with a car that makes that same instantaneous impact, a car with the kind of visual presence all these cars have.

 

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, which features great writers and 3D to give a realistic perspective on cars and car culture. If you poke around the site there, you can see many more photos of these cars (Schreiber’s too lazy to give you the links, there’s a search function there, you’re not stupid), in 2D or your choice of 3D formats. Cars In Depth is (we’re pretty sure) the largest archive of real stereographic 3D images of real cars anywhere, with over 5,000 photos and videos and more published daily. We have what are most likely the only 3D images of some very rare cars, historic and contemporary.

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34 Comments on “Look At What I Found!: My Continental Summer...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    It would be very difficult for me to choose between a 1971-79 Lincoln and a late 1960s to 1976 Cadillac (or full size Chryslers from 1969 to even the last big 1978s.) Even being born in 1977 those cars always screamed “AMERICAN CAR” to me. Yeah I know all they’re shortcomings and drawback and failings and how they came to represent everything that was wrong with the Big 3, but damn it they weren’t trying to be anything but American. They weren’t trying to be BMWs or Mercedes or Lexus like American cars today. Something about these cars always makes me feel good about being American all the drawbacks of these cars be damned.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      I think Lincoln is one place where Alan Mullaly has fallen short. My dad’s Mark IV was a battle tank, but ultra smooth. Now that Jag and A-M are gone, there’s room for a grand tourer. But not just a stretched Mustang with a Lincoln Grille.

      I actually liked the Mark-9.

      http://www.diseno-art.com/encyclopedia/concept_cars/lincoln_mark_9.html

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    THESE ARE LINCOLNS!
    I almost want to salute when I see them!

  • avatar
    V572625694

    The myth when I was growing up was that US presidential limousines were always Cadillacs until Kennedy made Robert McNamara Secretary of Defense in 1961. Here’s a para from his Wikipedia page, with emphasis added:

    McNamara was one of ten former World War II officers known within Ford as the “Whiz Kids” who helped the company to stop its losses and administrative chaos by implementing modern planning, organization and management control systems. Starting as manager of planning and financial analysis, he advanced rapidly through a series of top-level management positions. McNamara was a force behind the wildly popular Ford Falcon sedan, which was introduced in the fall of 1959 as a 1960 model. He saw the Falcon, which was small, simple and inexpensive to produce, as a much better alternative to the large, expensive-to-build cars which proliferated in Detroit in the late Fifties. During his time as an executive, McNamara placed a high emphasis on safety standards, introducing in the Lifeguard package both the seat belt, and a dished steering wheel that reduced the chances of a driver’s being impaled by the steering column. McNamara also came close to terminating the Lincoln after the very large 1958 through 1960 models proved unpopular, forcing product planners to reinvent the car for 1961. His new, smaller Lincoln Continental, which debuted as a 1961 model in four-door sedan and four-door convertible form, was an instant hit and remains an icon among Sixties automobiles today. On November 9, 1960, McNamara became the first president of Ford from outside the family of Henry Ford. He received substantial credit for Ford’s expansion and success in the postwar period

  • avatar

    Speaking of Lincolns, here’s an extremely rare full sized 79 convertible…http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/stories/1158-june-2011-an-incredibly-rare-1979-lincoln-continental-convertible.html

  • avatar
    Zackman

    A co-worker back in the eighties had one of the block-and-a-half-long Lincoln Marks – a dark red, white vinyl top pillarless coupe – the model with the very small, slightly-sliding rear quarter glass.

    Everything said about this car most likely held true for his. It was one sweet ride, smooth as glass, and am glad I wasn’t the one that had to feed it!

    No, we’ll never see cars like this and the Cadillac Talisman again. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, either, truth be told.

    EDIT: These and other iconic American cars like them should be rounded up, displayed, and the Detroit 2.5 execs should all be arrested, cuffed and transported to the chosen display venue and have their eyes propped open and be forced to study what the words “class”, “design” and “character” used to mean in the automotive world and be subsequently kicked back into their ivory towers and be ordered to design and build modern, efficient mid- and larger American cars that scream “This is how you do it!”

    • 0 avatar
      Barry Wolk

      Along the lines of your edit, I was able to place 4 Mark IIs in Ford World Headquarters where they caused quite a stir amongst designers. Those are the three Ford-family Mark IIs behind mine.

      http://i244.photobucket.com/albums/gg18/barry2952/1%20Mark%20II%20docs/IMG_4098.jpg

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    My parents owned two Lincoln Town Cars from this era; a burgundy 75 and a 77 of the same color in this article. Both of them suffered from headlights which would switch off at the most inconvenient times. It sure did ride smooth though :-).

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The green two-door is a ’78 or ’79. The clue is the semi-exposed rear wheels – compare it to the black four-door Town car which is a ’77 and has full rear fender skirts. Another “feature” of the ’78 is that it lost the unique-to-Lincoln dashboard in favor of a dash derived from the big Ford and Mercury. It definitely looks cheaper.

    The blue coupe with the black vinyl roof is a ’73, not a ’71. The ’71 had less-protruding bumpers and bold chrome horizontal bars in the grille.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the corrections.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      The 1970-72 Continental bumpers were all the same, front and rear. The pictured 1973 blue coupe had the same grille as the ’72, but its front bumper is a 5-mph adaptation of the 1970-72 bumper, extended by a few inches, that must have met the ’73 standards somehow; from the side, a filler panel would be visible just behind the frontmost portion of the bumper. For 1974 the Continental switched to the vertically huge front (and rear) bumpers that all Fords had by then.

      We had a ’72 (dealer demonstrator) 4-door that I’ve written about before; the front was more elegant in that it had a combined Lincoln Continental logo over the driver’s side headlamp door, much like that seen in the late-’70s coupe shown here, whereas the ’73 had the garish “CONTINENTAL” letters across the top of the grille and a script “Lincoln” over the headlamp door (which I think had never appeared before or since). (For ’74 they switched these so that “LINCOLN” was over the grille and “Continental” in script. But both alternatives were awful.)

      Well, at least the trunk lids of all the 1970-74s were elegant (unlike the rococo 1975-79s) in that they had the simple Lincoln symbol hiding the keyhole, no words needed.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The 73 standards were 5mph from the front only so Ford managed to extend the front bumpers of some of their cars, insert an extruded aluminum reinforcement and meet the standards.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Nice find. I always liked the 1970s Lincolns. They seem to be better built, with nicer interiors, than that era’s Cadillacs. The Lincoln bodies feature better panel fit and just feel more solid.

    If I recall correctly, Lincoln sales were very strong during 1977-79. Plenty of luxury car buyers preferred their big cars to be really BIG. Lincoln sales did not suffer when Cadillac released its downsized 1977 models. The 1977 Continental Mark V, for example, set a sales record for the model – sales hit almost 100,000 units, which was quite impressive for an expensive personal luxury coupe.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Until the mid-80’s, when the Tempo-T-Bird-Taurus nameplates were hitting on all cylinders, Ford’s best year ever was in 1978, and I suspect this was in no small part due to some extra Lincoln sales.

      Likely also due to Ford being slower to bring out new down-sized product until 1979 (that year the redesigned LTD and Mustang platforms appeared – but even so, Ford profits were tanking and the Company seemed to be outpacing Chrysler in the race to creditor protection…)

  • avatar
    cstoc

    My aunt bought a yellow 1971 Continental coupe, and as you say it rode smooth as glass. That kind of car was not a common sight in Honaunau (on the island of Hawai’i), so it really stood out. Being that it was Honaunau, she never locked it, either, and everyone in town knew who it belonged to.

  • avatar
    william442

    These were all good cars for the time despite the handling and brakes. Horsepower goes a long way. I still remember my uncle’s 1951 Cadillac out accelerating a XK 120.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I’ve always considered McNamara to be a prime example of government in those days: ya think they’re smart, but they are dumber than dirt. That guy couldn’t run anything right…which is sort of like…never mind.

    However, all is forgiven now that I know that he was behind Kennedy’s classic Lincoln convertible with the suicide doors.

    A magnificent sculpture that happens to be an automobile!!

  • avatar
    BoredOOMM

    I learned to drive in a 1971 4-Dr Mercury Monterey. It was a few inches shorter as it did not have the corner wings of the Continental. The color was medium blue same as one of the pictures. At the time, gas increased to the then-painful rate of $1.49. Filling the tank cost the ungodly amount of $32.00. I towed a 12 ft Jartran trailer (anyone remember the brand?) from Lousy-anna to West Texas. The 2 bbl 400 was smooth and I sailed through Houston at about 80 MPH towing. Interesting it died while in West Texas and the culprit was an e-clip about the size of Roosevelt’s head on a dime within the distributor cap. 5 cents at the local NAPA and all was well. That and an exhaust that rusted on the top of the pipe, sending hot exhaust to melt the right rear tail light was almost the ONLY thing that malfunctioned that summer. My Step-Dad took the car and I was left with no wheels for the rest of that year (1982).

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I remember Jartran, and the funny thing is that I just a couple of weeks ago I was thinking about them as I saw what had been a Jartran trailer. When they went out of business they apparently offered the equipment to their independent outlets because the one in the town I lived in at the time bought or kept theirs. Then he went and removed the ar, so it said J tran, otherwise the rest of the graphics were left intact.

  • avatar

    I realized that I’d never posted the big green Lincoln on Cars In Depth, so I decided to do a Summer of Lincoln Love Weekend, starting off with the big green rolling sofa.

    http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=2990

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I have never understood why people consider this type of float-barge ride “smooth”. It’s not smooth, it is nausea-inducing. It might be “smooth” on a perfectly flat road, but as soon as you induce actual bumps and heaves your stomach will be heaving right along in time. A Mercedes or Jaguar rides smoothly, and can actually deal with bumps and heaves and, uh, corners.

  • avatar
    probert

    Very enjoyable. Thanks for the article and the pics.

    One thing – when you rap your knuckles on a 60s era Lincoln fender the sound you hear is a dull thud like the door to a vault. It’s all very impressive.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Astonishing cars. It amazes me that Lincoln is so lost in the wilderness these days. Bring back the Town Car on the Panther chassis. Hell stick an Ecoboost in it and a six speed and call it a day. It would sell like hotcakes and wouldn’t cost hardly a thing in engineering dollars.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Get rid of the damn stupid TLA names and baleen grilles, for starters.

    I’d like to see at least _one_ luxury US brand decide to go for the highest bleeding-edge engineering and tech (perhaps serial hybrid with microturbine or ecomotor, Town Car sized sedan in ~3000 lbs), though Lincoln probably wouldn’t be it, unless their blue-hair contingent has already been frightened off or died..

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I hated the baleen grill at first, but it’s actually grown on me now and I really like it. I think it’s quite distinctive and a very good look once you get used to it.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    My God I love those Lincolns. I never tire of looking at them. I would love to see Lincoln return to these roots, as Chrysler did with the 300 and the Chargers/Challenger. These are American cars.

    I second the notion of taking the Panther platform and dropping in an Ecoboost with a 6spd auto. It seems so simple. And I would bet they’d sell more than they do with the current Taurus and Lincoln MK MX Mwhatevers.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Actually, I think the 1961-1963 Lincolns were the first downsized cars at 205 inches overall length – compare that to the 229-inch 1958 model. My 1962 convertible had all the styling, panache, and performance that a luxury car needed. The close-coupled design was primarily noticeable to rear-seat passengers, who no longer had the two feet of floor space between the seats that the 1958-1960 cars did.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Thank you for the fine essay about some of my favorite cars. Would that Lincoln could come back!

  • avatar
    Joss

    Wonderful article – thanks a ton.

    I guess this was what was needed to haul William Conrad’s bulk and early mobile around…

    Cadillac & Lincoln have developed much but lost something along the way.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    I believe that was the Mercury Grand Marquis in which the diamond was cleaved (cleaven?).

    I’m in agreement with the ride quality being nausea-inducing. To me, a smoothe ride is a car which follows the road and has no drama over heaves (e.g. my trusty Civic).

  • avatar

    You may be right. I tried finding a video of the original ad but couldn’t locate one. My dad had ’74 Grand Marquis and it was all but a Lincoln. I remember when he bought his first set of radial Michelins for it. I had borrowed his car (I was already in college by then) and came back and told him “those Michelins really stick, I couldn’t break the rear end lose”. Oddly, he wasn’t as pleased with the news as I was.


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