Coltrane's Continental

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
coltrane s continental

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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  • FreedMike Race car drivers are all alpha-types. Aggression is part of the deal. I think you see more of that stuff in NASCAR because crashes - the end result of said aggression - are far more survivable than they would be in F1 or IndyCar.
  • Analoggrotto Only allow Tesla drivers to race, we are the epitome of class and brilliance.
  • Wjtinfwb When my kids turned 16 and got their Operators, we spent $400 to send both (twins) to 2 driving schools. One held by the local Sherriff was pretty basic but a good starter on car control and dealing with police officers as they ran the school. Then they went to a full day class in N Atlanta on a racetrack, with the cars supplied by BMW. They learned evasive maneuvers, high speed braking, skid control on a wet skid pad and generally built a lot of confidence behind the wheel. Feeling better about their skills, we looked for cars. My son was adamant he wanted a manual, Halleluiah! Looking at used Civics and Golf's and concerned about reliability and safety, I got discouraged. Then noticed an AutoTrader adv. for a new leftover '16 Ford Focus ST six-speed. 25k MSRP advertised for $17,500. $2500 above my self-imposed limit. I went to look, a brand new car, 16 miles on it, black with just the sunroof. 3 year warranty and ABS, Airbags. One drive and the torquey turbo 2.0 convinced me and I bought it on the spot. 7 years and 66k miles later it still serves my son well with zero issues. My daughter was set on a Subaru, I easily found a year old Crosstrek with all the safety gear and only 3k miles. 21k but gave my wife and I lots of peace of mind. She still wheels the Subaru, loves it and it too has provided 7 years and 58k miles of low cost motoring. Buy what fits your budget but keep in mind total cost over the long haul and the peace of mind a reliable and safe car provides. Your kids are worth it.
  • Irvingklaws Here's something cheaper, non-german, and more intriguing...
  • Wjtinfwb Happy you're loving your Z4. Variety is the spice of life and an off-beat car like the Z4 intrigues me as well. More than anything, your article and pictures have me lusting for the dashboards of a decade ago. Big, round analog gauges. Knobs and buttons to dial up the A/C, Heat or Volume. Not a television screen in sight. Need to back up? Use the mirrors or look over your shoulder. If your Z4 had the six-speed manual, it would be about perfect. Today's electronified BMW's leave me ice cold, as do the new Mercedes and Audi's with their video game interiors. Even a lowly GTI cannot escape the glowing LED dashboard. I'm not a total luddite, Bluetooth streaming for the radio would be nice and I'd agree the cooled seats would be a bonus on a warm day with the top down. But the Atari dashboard is just a bridge too far for me.