By on July 28, 2013


TTAC might be one of the few places where the Lincoln brand continues to inspire passionate discussion. Whether it’s my open letter to the company or Derek’s dissection of the star-crossed MKZ, our Lincoln-related posts have been among the most widely read, and fervently discussed, ones on this site. People ’round these parts still care about the idea of American luxury automobiles and they’re unwilling to just forget about the brand the way we forgot about Curtis-Mathes or Florsheim after they sank beneath the waves of imported competitors.

One of the things that’s happened to Lincoln has been what I think of as story compression. For whatever reason, most people forty or under remember an extremely specific version of the company’s history that runs, chronologically, something like this: founded whenever, freaky old cars nobody bought, the car Morpheus rolled around in, the car Kennedy got shot in, the Continental Mark V, livery service in New York. There’s this perception that the only desirable Lincoln in history was that Elwood Engel Continental, and that impression is so pervasive that, when I read about John Coltrane’s demand for a Lincoln Continental, my mind automatically time-warped him into a black ’63, possibly right next to a trenchcoated Lawrence Fishburne.

I was wrong, of course.

When Atlantic Records, in the person of co-founder Neshui Ertegun, pinched Coltrane from the much less pretentious or artist-friendly Prestige, he offered the man $7,000 a year — $60K in today’s money. It was a solid payday for a jazzman both at the time and, sadly enough, today. A popular player could maybe move 20,000 records a year, and that was only if he was willing to do three new releases during that year. Just to put jazz in a little historical/financial perspective, every source I can find seems to suggest that, when added together, Coltrane and Miles Davis haven’t sold as many records as Mumford & Sons have. This might be because M&S recorded the ultimate beta-male anthem “I Will Wait” while the hard-bopping Coltrane could only come up with “Naima”, which doesn’t even have words of any kind, much less some crap about sitting at home like a stone while your woman’s out helping IMSA drivers measure their inseams.

Anyway, it would appear that Mr. Coltrane required a little incentive to sign the contract, so Ertegun let Coltrane pick out a car to receive as a signing bonus. The car he chose is referred to as a “Lincoln Continental” in various sources, but photos of the car don’t seem to be available. There’s also no word as to whether it was a ’59 or ’60 that Coltrane wanted.

As it happens, however, the ’59 and ’60 Continentals were more or less the same. This video shows the car’s tremendous size — at 227 inches long and 80 inches wide, it was often called the “largest production unibody car ever built”. It covers a patch of ground very similar to what a Maybach 57 does today, although the Continental’s a featherweight at no more than 5400 pounds against the Maybach’s three tons even. They shared most of their body panels with the “Premiere” full-size Lincoln of the same years, although the “Continentals” could be had with a power-operated reverse-angle “breezeway” rear window that offered some flair at the expense of legroom.

Strictly speaking, these are Continentals, not Lincoln Continentals, and they are badged Mark IV for the ’59 and Mark V for the ’60. Lincoln’s decision to reuse those badges later helped push these big boats further into obscurity. When the iconic new Continental arrived in 1961, sharing nothing with their predecessors but the 430-cubic-inch engine, they immediately made the old cars look older still. One imagines that when Coltrane went to trade the thing in he didn’t get much for it.

Trade it in he most certainly did. In 1964, with his status as jazz superstar assured and his big hit — A Love Supreme — right around the corner, the man took delivery of a white E-Type coupe. Supposedly he didn’t use it much, preferring the Chrysler wagons with which he had toured since the Miles Davis era. He didn’t quite survive three years after that, having basically worked himself to death with twelve hours a day of practicing and an obsessive attention to detail.

What would a reincarnated John Coltrane drive today? It seems unlikely that the current Lincoln lineup would do much for him. I suppose it would depend on which Coltrane you got; the humble, religiously-focused man at the height of his career might just pick up a Chrysler Town & Country, put the rest of a quartet in it, and start touring the dives again. If you could get that 1959 Coltrane back, though, I suspect he’d look right past the Lincoln dealer and demand that his new contract involve the only truly swaggeriffic American car left, right? Surely the man would have a 300C?

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53 Comments on “Coltrane’s Continental...”

  • avatar

    Wow, a *real* car.

    • 0 avatar

      A real Lincoln…

      Too many overcomplicate the woes of The Lincoln Motor Company, PLC, H.M.S

      What should a Lincoln be in order to be what Lincoln presents its product as?:

      1) It should have a bold presence that distinguishes it as a premium product.

      2) It should have powerful yet aesthetically pleasing lines.

      3) It should have a powerful, torque rich motor that always has more than enough lung capacity at the ready, with a mere prodding, yet never voices a strained or unpleasant tone.

      4) It should be meticulously trimmed with premium quality materials.

      5) It should be as quiet as a library at cruising speeds.

      6) It should be as solid as a bank vault and let its passengers know this over even the worst road surfaces.

      7) It should be a reliable, headache free mode of stylish and comfortable transportation.

      8) It shouldn’t crib off of, let alone copy, its less premium, working class branded, stable mate.

      How many of these bullet points is current day Lincoln pulling off?

      • 0 avatar

        Lincoln of 50s-60s was a statement of America’s self-confidence, exceptionalism and ability to accomplish any goals no matter how difficult they were. Sending man to Moon in 9 years or building airplane or biggest accelerator in the world was not a small accomplishment. Today America is rather weak, self-doubting welfare state deep in debt which is unsure of its goals and objectives. It was humiliated many times since 60s – in Vietnam, by Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Germans and others in so many occasions be it cars, LHC, success of Ariane rockets (which is the best selling rocket in the world), dominance of Airbus and list goes on and on. Modern American cars are statement of America trying to emulate other countries in attempt to stay relevant.

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah, we *so* suck.

          That’s why every day I see Coast Guard reports of all the Cubans, Central Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Chinese, and increasingly North Africans and South Asians being interdicted trying to get here in their chug-chugs and fed, nursed and repatriated at our expense.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah it is what we need right now – more low skill workers from 3rd world countries many of whom just come to get into welfare. It will certainly help us to compete with EU, Japan and Korea.

          • 0 avatar

            @inside looking out –

            You can either believe what I’m about to write or remain ignorant of reality:

            Without immigrant labor, the company I work for (and many others in the same industry) literally … Let me emphasize LITERALLY… could not survive.

            What average wage do they receive? Approximately $18 an hour, and as much as $26 an hour if it’s an emergency, priority status type situation based on the client’s needs.

            We can not find, even in a quite depressed economy, enough Americans who will do this work at ANY wage (we’ve had dozens of American hires quit after a few hours on their first day on the job site).

            But it gets better – do you think produce would get picked in sufficient quantity (there are Florida orange and tomato farmers who have massive quantities of crops rotting in their fields due to lack of laborers to pick them in time), and many hotels are short maids & other laborers on a constant basis (many Haitians do this work in tourist states) – and these jobs are monotonous, physical and low paying ones.

            I have an uncle who owns an asphalt company in Arizona, and without a very large pool of SKILLED laborers who hail mainly from Mexico and central and south America, he’d have to close his business.

            Have you ever worked asphalt when it’s 105 degrees AT NIGHT, under halide lighting?

            I am not trying to insult you, and ignorance does not equal stupidity, and therefore I will state that opinions are ignorant.

  • avatar

    Everybody knows what he would drive…

    “Smooth as John Coltrane cruising in the Cadillac

    • 0 avatar

      Except Caddy no longer makes a Seville. And Coltrane would either laugh or cry at the ridiculous notion of Rick Ross being considered a musician.

      I think Jack nailed it with the 300C. It is the only American (-badged) automobile being made today that comes close to the gravitas and swagger of a ’59 Lincoln.

      • 0 avatar

        Why not the Grand Cherokee? His daily driver was a Chrysler wagon, he even did some ads for Jeep in the late 90’s, which he never saw a dime from. I would think he could have at least struck the same deal with Chrysler as he did with with Atlantic

        • 0 avatar

          Coltrane died in ’67, so I doubt he personally did commercials in the ’90s, paid or otherwise. Unless it was with the aid of a certain Delorean…

          • 0 avatar

            Sounds like his family instead opted to make a fast buck by licensing use of his image.

          • 0 avatar

            um… and that’s why he never saw a dime

            Perhaps Jack needs to clarify that this is a fictional scenario, because it’s common knowledge that anyone who’s been dead since 1967 would drive the Lincoln

          • 0 avatar

            BTW, he also did a Kmart Christmas commercial where he does “Favorite Things” about the same time. Must be lot’s of old musicians goin’ 88mph in Deloreans these days… Wow, there goes Elvis now! and look, it’s Nat King Cole!

        • 0 avatar

          The Grand Compass?

          What purse would he wear to go with it?

  • avatar

    I´ll take a Lincoln Continental Mark II Coupe, please. Best looking two-door of the era with the possible exception of the Facel Vega HK500.

  • avatar

    Methyl juke box junk tend to think more of William Conrad. Fat bloke in bloated pram wheels that didn’t do corners. Never thought Lincoln serious Mercedes contender.

    Agreed on the 300C handsome lines.

  • avatar

    Hey Florsheim is alive and well, OK maybe just alive.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    I don’t see how they sold any of the ’59 or ’60s as pictured above against a ’59 OR ’60 Cadillac.

    Gosh, those Lincolns were boats. I have seen one like this in real life. A dusk rose colored convertible. It is BIG and bulky.

    And I consider myself a Ford man.

    I wonder why the wheel covers on this one look like the ones that were on my mother’s ’71 Mark III? Now hers was a pretty Lincoln.

  • avatar

    One thing to say about designers 70 years ago, they weren’t afraid to take chances. We could use a little bit of that in current designs.

  • avatar

    ’59 Invicta makes this look Soviet.

    Angry Buicks forever.

  • avatar

    The 300C is exactly what you’d expect a respectable, somewhat successful musician of old to drive. Even without the Hemi, it’s a respectable hunk of tin.

    Then again, you can fit more gear in the back of a van…

  • avatar

    I’m not sure how the Breezeway rear window sacrificed leg room as they were behind the rear seat.

    I’d like to think Coltrane had the coupe or maybe even the convertible which still had the reverse angle breezeway window and therefore a very unique convertible top.

  • avatar

    Coolest title of the month.

  • avatar

    Not my favorite Lincoln. In fact it makes me
    Kind of Blue

  • avatar

    I have actually considered buying one of these, but was stopped short by the idea of 5 MPG and nowhere to park such a massive boat.

    IMHO cars from this era radiate an optimism and an exuberance that could only have occurred in a prosperous post-war america ridding high on the jet age/rocket age aura.

    Cars today ride a wave of massed produced globalization and cost-cutting with a few hundred regulations thrown in, leading to a more generic experience.

  • avatar

    I was a Coltrane fanatic back in my tenor player/music major/gigging jazz musician days, so I really like this article. I remember reading in one of the Coltrane biographies (but forget which) that he greatly preferred the wagons for touring, as they carried a lot of stuff and people. As an aside, the same biography said that Coltrane once let Elvin Jones drive while everyone else got some sleep. ‘Trane woke to find Jones furiously beating on the steering wheel like a drum and punching the accelerator like a kick and realized they were going over 90MPH. The book said Elvin was never allowed to drive them again.

    For Coltrane’s personal, seldom driven car, I’d guess he’d want something both classy and intense, but with little artifice. If he’d consider an import, maybe he’d find an S2000 or a Boxer. For his main use replacement of the Town & Country, I’d guess he’d consider an Outback or even one of the “Sportwagons.” But I mainly think he’d go for an Explorer, which would be aptly named, as that is what he never ceased to be.

    I’ll also throw in a recommendation. Coltrane passed far too early for me to ever see, but I was fortunate to see Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and many others play. I also was lucky enough to meet a few, but unfortunately never asked what any of them drive. If anyone with any interest in jazz has a chance to see those who are left, please go, as there won’t be many more chances. Even many of the “younger generation” jazz greats are getting up there in age. For instance, Joe Lovano is now 60 (and definitely see him play if you can,)

    • 0 avatar

      I was born the day that Coltrane died. Thanks for posting–somehow I never thought to research his cars and do not remember much about them from the biographies. Am off to listen to Live in Stockholm ’61…Dolphy’s bass clarinet solo on Naima is a wonder.

      In my 20+ years as a gigging musician (not jazz) scores of boring cars (my own excepted) turned up in the back lot of nightclubs. The successful guys came on buses or rentals, the locals nearly all had utilitarian transport. I often have said I never added upright bass to my arsenal because I do not want the instrument I play to dictate the size of my automobiles. There was one cat, however, in the Ithaca, NY area who used to cart his doghouse about in a ’52 Chevy. It fit into the backseat with no problem.

  • avatar

    I’d say one of those million plus Newell luxury coaches.

  • avatar

    I would guess today’s Coltrane would drive a ’59 or ’60 Continental.

  • avatar

    I miss my ’65 Lincoln , it was a big , FAST boat that actually stopped thanx to the oversized front disc brakes .

    My Russian G.F.’s daddy bought that car new and didn’t want it after a very few years .

    Terrific car unless you wanted to drive anywhere there were curves .

    Kinda thirsty too =8-) .


  • avatar

    I do like the old Lincolns, but NOT the cat eye versions like the one pictured. They’re just too goofy. The Olds 98 was more elegant.

  • avatar

    Who says he has to buy or drive or be driven in a new car? I’d say a restored one of cars up top would do just fine.

    But if he has to…yup, 300C. The one with the fancy wood trim.

  • avatar

    Maybe an Escalade? Who knows. But I tend to agree with the 300.

  • avatar

    the 300C is a poor imitation of the muscle cars of yore, and it’s got those damn slit windows. I don’t know what Coltrane would drive. But he was just too damn good to have to settle. If he wasn’t a road trips kind of guy, maybe he’d go for a Fisker. If he was, I could see him in a big Merc or Audi. Or a Honda Clarity, if you can still lease them.

    But who am I to try to guess what a jazz great, dead since ’67, would drive from among what’s available today?

  • avatar

    I do love that ’59/60 Continental. It’s so blatantly ostentatious, like a really fancy bar. It looks better in red than black, though

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I always liked the 1958 styling much more .

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