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?