Rare Rides Icons: The Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IX)
Our Lincoln Mark Series coverage continues today, and we pick up at the end of 1958. After Ford dumped many millions into the Continental Division and quickly shut it down, the company then spent a lot more money to develop an all-new unibody platform for Lincoln’s usage. In an attempt to woo customers away from Cadillac, the new Lincolns for 1958 wore some of the most shocking styling ever to come from Detroit.
All three of Lincoln’s new “models” were really just trim levels of the same car. Said models included Capri, Premier, and the top-tier Continental Mark III, which was not a Continental except in trim badges. At least it had a Breezeway window! At the 1958 launch of Lincoln’s new unibody line there was a steep recession across the globe, as lots of Americans decided they didn’t actually need a new car every year or two. Nevertheless, the Continental Mark III made up 62 percent of Lincoln’s sales that year. Lincoln veered off on a revised course in 1959, hoping to improve its lot with some more “new” models.
Lincoln somewhat abandoned the Continental Division branding tactic it tried for 1958. Instead of the prior Continental Mark III with “Continental III” badging, the 1959 was officially the “Mark IV Continental.” It was a surprising case of model escalation, and a change in tack from how Marks operated previously.
Up to that point a new generation, not a new model year, earned a new series of Mark. Continental and Mark IV were no longer together on one badge, but separate pieces of trim as the Mark became a version of the Continental model, which expanded to cover more illustrious territory. The Mark IV name was always listed before Continental in marketing materials for 1959. Additionally, phrasing like “every Lincoln and Continental” attempted to position the Continental as something separate.
Lincoln returned with the same Mark body styles in ’59 that it used in 1958: Two-doors in hardtop or convertible guise, as well as four-door pillared sedan, and four-door hardtop marketed as Landau. In addition to the standard Mark IV body styles, there were two brand new four-doors in 1959: Mark IV Continental Town Car, and Mark IV Continental Limousine.
The Town car and Limousine took the Mark IV to a more exclusive level in 1959, and formed the halo offering of the model. In that addition, the convertible was relegated to second tier. Both new versions of Mark IV were of a more formal style, to appeal to the higher-end customer for which a regular Mark IV sedan was too casual. It was the first time the Town Car name was used on a factory-built Lincoln.
The Town Car’s primary difference to the standard Mark IV was in the rear window. Town Car swapped the reverse-angled Breezeway setup for a more traditional forward-angled piece of glass. Altering the window’s angle meant there was more room in the back: Lincoln moved the rear seat back by several inches to give the Town Car more rear legroom than a standard Mark IV. It was clever rework, as it allowed for a marketable interior change but required no sheet metal edits.
To create the even more special Limousine version of the Mark IV, Lincoln’s designers added a glass rear partition. Both Town Car and Limousine offered a vinyl roof option, and even separate air conditioning units for front and rear passengers. In a move that would have made Henry Ford smile, the Town Car and Limousine were offered only in black.
Of course one of the most important big news aspects in cars of the Fifties was the annual visual update. Given Ford had just spent so much on Lincoln, the changes from 1958 to 1959 were mostly minor, and intended to reel in the excessive (and broadly disliked) looks of the ’58. At the front end, the Continental toned down its canted quad headlamps by integrating them into the grille.
As the lights were no longer in separate pods, the grille was free to extend into the lighting area. That made the front end look more cohesive. The eggcrate grille (surprisingly) remained the same for 1959, though it gained a new decoration above it via a chrome trim strip. Like the grille, the new strip blended into the headlamp housing to make it look less ridiculous.
Under the grille resided a new bumper, which lost the boob-inspired Dagmars of 1958. In their place was a smooth surface that had a smaller license plate cut-out area than before. The simpler bumper looked less heavy, and ended in two jet-shaped decorative chrome spears. The vertical area of the spears was slimmer than before, but the tail end of the rocket newly extended into the front fender near the wheel.
From a side view, the Mark IV was a bit less jarring than the Mark III. The protruding front and rear fender scallops were smoothed considerably, and appeared much more as an outline than a raised platform. The roof line and other aspects of the side profile carried on to 1959 unchanged.
The rear of the Mark IV experienced fewer edits than the front in its transition to 1959. The most notable change were ovoid rear lamps which still numbered six, but now looked better integrated via their own chrome trim ring. The concave rear grille design of 1958 was reshaped for the following year, and became convex and softer looking. There were no other changes to the rear bumper or fascia.
With its new less is more type styling, the Mark IV Continental was slightly smaller than the Continental Mark III. Overall length shrunk by almost two inches, from 229″ to 227.1″. Width remained the same record holding 80.1 inches, and height increased very slightly from 56.5″ to 56.7 inches.
Weight ballooned on the Town Car and Limousine with all their extra luxury equipment, and it’s believed the two hold the title of heaviest American standard wheelbase sedans since World War II. The 1959 Continental coupe was 5,220 pounds, while the pillarless Landau shaved four pounds off the 5,306 of the sedan. The convertible was the heaviest standard offering at 5,330 pounds. Lincoln didn’t publish the weight of the Town Car or Limousine, but encouraged buyers to ask their dealer.
As the 430 cubic inch (7.0 liters) MEL engine was new for 1958, Lincoln only made one small change for 1959: Detuning. The 375 horsepower of the prior year was sapped to 350 in 1959. The three-speed Cruise-O-Matic (Turbo-Matic) remained unchanged as well.
Less styling, more weight, less power, but a better economy. Did that mean the Mark IV Continentals sold better than their predecessor? No! While total Lincoln production was 26,906 in 1959 (much better than the 17,134 of 1958), there were actually fewer Continentals sold even though there were more models available.
Total 1959 Mark IV production was 11,126 (down from 12,550). The best selling model was the Landau at 6,146 examples, followed by the convertible at 2,195. The hardtop coupe sold 1,703 examples, while the standard sedan with its lack of flamboyance shifted only 955 examples. The limited production Town Car sold 78 times, and the Limousine managed only 49 sales.
Part of the sedan’s appeal problem was its matching $6,845 ($68,991 adj.) price to the Landau hardtop. The hardtop two-door was $6,600 ($66,522 adj.). Forcing the exclusivity of the Town Car was its price, a shocking $9,200 ($92,728 adj.), topped only by the Limousine’s $10,200 ($102,807 adj.). Overall, prices in 1959 were about 12 percent higher than 1958. One of the rare instances it works, one can get a good inflation calculation of 1959 prices in 2022 by simply adding a zero.
Lincoln wasn’t finished with its unibody Continental edits however, and the elephants would see one more model year before Lincoln threw in the Mark series towel for nearly a decade. We pick up next time in 1960.
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