Rare Rides Icons: The Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part VII)
The Continental Division was in a very difficult place when it designed an all-new Mark III as the (sedan only) replacement for the slow-selling and super expensive Continental Mark II coupe. As we learned last time, shortly after the Mark II went on sale the Continental Division was already on its last legs. It continued to lose money hand over foot after Ford’s huge initial investment and was doomed to a quick closure.
And so it was the 1956 and 1957 Mark IIs became the only Continental Division product and the only Marks that were hand-assembled in a factory-built, especially for Continental. After Continental’s closure, Ford’s new VP of passenger vehicles Lewis Crusoe quickly dismantled the division and integrated its employees into Lincoln. The Continental factory became the Edsel factory, and the three extant Mark III prototypes became a burden.
A free-standing Mark III model in the Lincoln lineup was entirely out of the question, as Crusoe and upper management focused on saving money, cutting build costs, and making the Lincoln brand as profitable as possible in the shortest amount of time. Even though the Mark III was complete from a design perspective, the prototypes were disassembled and thrown in the bin.
The Continental name was spared, however, as was its crosshair logo, and both were put to good use for 1958. The Continental Division logo became Lincoln’s in 1958, across the lineup. The company used a greyhound hood ornament in the Twenties and Thirties, and then switched to a knight’s helmet until the early Forties. Around that time, Lincoln followed the “luxury” cue from other domestic manufacturers and added a heraldic coat of arms with a red cross.
After World War II was finished, Lincoln swapped to a rocket hood ornament. Once the four-pointed star replaced the rocket in ’58 it evolved slowly, and gradually morphed into the vertically-oriented crosshair style Lincoln buyers have enjoyed since the 1980 model year. Today the logo is available with its own lighting, as we head back toward the taste levels of 1978.
Continental’s name was applied to the 1958 Mark III, which was marketed as the Continental Mark III. Lincoln’s PR people attempted to sell the trim rework of the Premier as a legitimate Mark II coupe successor. On the interior of each new Mark III, the branding was a bit clearer, as a dash plaque stated “Mark III Continental by Lincoln.”
The Mark III presented Lincoln with an opportunity to field a “competitor” to the super expensive four-door Cadillac Eldorado Brougham in 1958, and to add a third offering to Lincoln’s skimpy lineup. The other ’58 Lincolns debuted new styling and continued in their base Capri and upscale Premiere model lines. As the Mark III was not related to the Mark II which it replaced, we’ll discuss the difference in Premieres at this juncture.
The Premiere debuted for 1956 as the full-size replacement for Lincoln’s Cosmopolitan. Unlike the coupe-exclusive Mark II of the same year, it was available in three different body styles. With two doors it was offered as a hardtop or convertible, and with four doors as a sedan. Though marketed as a separate model, the Premiere was the upscale trim take of the Lincoln Capri and looked very similar to its affordable sibling the Mercury Montclair.
The Premiere of 1956 and 1957 was notable for its stacked quad headlamps, which peeked out from angled front fenders. Lamps were encased in chrome much like the horizontal front grille, which was split into two sections by the bumper. Large driving lamps occupied much of the horizontal space of the top part of the bumper.
From the side, Premiere was very much “Fifties American sedan,” with an upright A-pillar, and a fast roofline that arced down to a wrap-around rear window. Chrome decorated the side of the body in a strip that split upward at the rear door in a boomerang flourish and headed toward the rear where it bent around the rear fender’s V8 badge. The rear end sported its own horizontal grille above the bumper, and a set of pointed tail lamps inset into very aggressive fins.
Compared to what happened to the Premiere with its new-for-’58 styling, the 1957’s aggressive fins and chrome accouterments seemed incredibly restrained. 1958 was not a great year for American car styling, and the Lincolns were among the worst of type.
Stacked headlamps of the old Premiere remained, but the upper pair tried to escape and were staggered outward. The overall effect was to give the ’58 Lincolns an angry appearance. Lamps exited from a chromed oval at the end of a more rounded fender. Between the lamps was a much larger grille, with a fine egg-crate design that was entirely coated in chrome.
The bumper that used to contain half the grille was revised into an arrangement with dual Dagmars, as Americans desired pointy boobies on the front of their cars that year. The protrusions in front of the grille were supported by large chrome spears on either side of the bumper. Said spears formed an “end cap” look for new squared-off wheel arches, which gained their own rounded and rectangular styling extensions that protruded from the body very notably.
Though the A-pillar of the 1958 Premiere was upright, it no longer canted forward like it did in 1957. Roof lines were more formal in 1958, with a C-pillar that was much thicker and taller than before. The pillar’s size meant less glass area at the rear, but the roof’s shape meant more headroom for rear passengers.
The character line was an indention rather than an extension in 1958 and created a crease in the metal down the side of the body. The crease ran just under the door handles (which were lower than before) and carried on to the rear where it formed the lower edge of a revised rear fin. Lincoln’s new crosshair logo from Continental was placed on the front door, ahead of a chrome spear that widened at the rear. It also appeared as a hood ornament, and on the fuel door.
Said spear traveled over the rear wheels, where the general shape of the front wheel well décor was repeated but did not extend out from the body. At the rear end, the spear extended downward to mold into a rear bumper that was pointed at its lower corners, and upward around the trunk lid to form a large hoop of chrome. Aside from the chrome points on either side of the bumper, there were additional pointed chrome caps at the end of the tail fins. The fins were more upright and less pointy than in 1957.
The chrome hoop formed by trim and the bumper contained a chromed horizontal grille made of several slats, which integrated the spear-shaped brake lamps at either side. There was also a central fuel door that was hidden by the faux rear grille.
As a halo vehicle, the new “Continental Mark III” was very slightly different from the Premiere. Mark III customers of 1958 enjoyed a grille that was a tight egg-crate rather than the horizontal sections of the Premiere, and the special grill was repeated within the rear fascia. Denoting its upmarket tastefulness, the Mark III went without the chrome side spear of the Premiere. Exterior badging read “Continental” in the grille, and “Continental III” on the front fender. Premiere’s namesake badging was at the rear fender.
As far as interiors were concerned, the Mark III and Premiere were separated only by color choices and options, as well as the aforementioned dash plaque. The Mark III Had the same gauges, steering wheel, and the same grille decor in front of the passenger’s side of the dash. Gauges were modernized for the Lincolns of 1958 and set into a silver panel with white lettering. Lettering was printed on the glass of the instrument panel cover instead of on the gauge face itself, which gave the text and numbers a floating look.
All controls were centralized within the driver’s pod and included the radio, clock, and HVAC. Unusually, the HVAC employed a circular gauge to convey information about the temperature setting of the climate control. It looked similar to a temperature gauge.
The thing customers likely noted is how all body panels between Capri, Premiere, and Mark III were identical; only trim differed slightly. In an effort to bring that Continental Division feeling to Mark III customers, it reserved one Lincoln feature just for them: A Breezeway window. In case you were unaware, Breezeway was the Ford company name for a rear window that rolled down and let copious exhaust fumes into the cabin whenever the car was at a standstill. And that was it, that was the Mark III difference.
With their minimal work finished, Lincoln put the ridiculous and identical-looking Capri, Premiere, and Mark III on sale at vastly different price points. We’ll pick up there next time to see how it went, as well as review the Lincoln lineup’s mechanicals for 1958.
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