Rare Rides Icons: The Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part XV)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides icons the lincoln mark series cars feeling continental part xv

Much to the delight of accountants at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, the new Thunderbird-based 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III was an immediate sales success. It was a case of the right product (a personal luxury coupe) at the right time. The Mark III went head-to-head with its rival and closest competition, the Cadillac Eldorado. 

And though the Eldorado nameplate had a long history and was better established than the Mark, Lincoln’s offering topped the Cadillac in sales in its first year. Part of that was down to an exceptionally long first model year that padded the figures, but credit also went to the excitement generated by the Mark. Mark III was all new in 1968 (for the ‘69 model year), while the front-drive E-body Eldorado had been on sale since 1967. Though a few updates happened within its debut model year (that ran from March 1968 to December 1969), product vice president Lee Iacocca knew his pet project needed additional updates to keep consumer interest going.

At this juncture, it’s appropriate to get some context on the overall Continental line. The two- and four-door Continental models of Elwood Engel’s design were on sale since 1961 without major updates. For its final year, the old Continental coupe was sold alongside the Continental Mark III. It was older, more conservative, and much less popular (and nobody remembers it). 

Lincoln debuted a new generation Continental for the 1970 model year that was larger, more slab-sided, less dignified looking, and a return to body-on-frame construction. The new Continental was also very similar in appearance to the Mercury Marquis and Marquis Brougham. In 1970 Continental moved to share a platform with the Marquis that debuted in 1969, and essentially previewed Continental styling of 1970. In retrospect was that a good idea? Absolutely not.

Alongside the revised 1970 Mark III at Lincoln dealers were the Continental coupe and pillared hardtop sedan. The Town Car name reappeared again, this time as an interior package for the Continental sedan. It came with a vinyl roof as standard, a leather interior, and nicer carpeting. It would remain a trim package through 1971.

Though changes were required in a new model year, designers at Lincoln chose not to fettle the Mark III’s successful looks all that much. The front clip of the Mark III remained largely untouched, save for an edit to the corner marker lenses. On ‘69 models the lens was clear and lacked any amber tinting. In 1970 an amber section appeared and was placed vertically on the outside corner of the lens. 

Nearby there was a new optional wheel cover design. Mark III’s wheel covers for 1969 were Sixties-looking and fluted, with veining (like on the old Mark II). In 1970 the new wheel cover was updated to a flatter disc design. It had a central chrome area that was flat like a dinner plate. The plate was surrounded by smaller, less notable veins. 

Other visual identifiers of the 1970 Mark III included the redesigned wiper arrangement. The wipers on all 1969 examples were exposed and mounted to a panel between the hood and windshield. In 1970 that panel was raised and redesigned to conceal the wipers and make the hood look like one continuous piece of metal. Comparing the two, the concealed wiper look was much cleaner.

And while it was more complicated to hide the wipers, another change made things easier in 1970: the roof. In 1969 a painted roof was standard, which generated less profit at the time of sale and required more work at the factory for its smoother, paint-ready roof seams. The vinyl roof became a standard feature in 1970. No more worries about roof quality control at Wixom Assembly!

There was only one other visual change for 1970, as the side profile and rear design remained almost exactly as they were in 1969. The aforementioned amber lens edit was part of a new federal safety regulation for 1970, which also mandated red reflectors at the rear. Complying with government interference as cheaply as possible, cut-outs were made to the bumper at either corner, and a small red lens was installed. As a result, subsequent years of Mark III were never as clean looking at the rear as in 1969.

Elsewhere Ford made improvements in the name of safety. A locking steering column became standard equipment, as did a redesigned steering wheel. The wheel lost its horn ring and was swapped for a rim blow design.

Implemented across several brands for a very short while between 1969 and 1974, the rim blow wheel had a rubber pad and wires in place of the traditional horn ring, or the less common (at the time) horn buttons or central horn pad. The rubber pad had wires underneath and was mounted around the inner portion of the whole wheel. 

This was considered a safer design because the inside of the wheel rim could be pressed in any area to honk the horn, and that meant hands could remain on the wheel. However, time proved not so kind to the design as aging took effect on the rubber padding. 

Often, rubber shrinkage would cause the horn to honk unintentionally at random. Alternatively, if shrinking were not an issue the rubber would harden and make the horn continually more difficult to honk. Generally, consumers disliked the poorly thought out wheel design, and it was not used in any cars after 1974. Ford and Dodge were the last to let go of the rim blow wheel.

Other safety changes included the introduction of more modern three-point seatbelts. And in a nod to the future, radial tires became a standard feature of the Mark III in 1970. It made Mark III the first American car fitted with radial tires as standard. At the time, a 1968 Consumer Reports study had recently proved cross-ply tires inferior to radial tires in every way. The Mark III was the first in a quick market conversion that saw 100 percent of North American cars adopt radial tires by 1976.

There was additional federal intervention in 1970, as the government turned its eye to emissions standards. New emission regulation required Ford to add air injection to the Mark III’s 460 V8, a system they called Thermactor. Thermactor was a secondary air injection system to lower emissions, an idea created in 1966. Fresh air was injected (pumped) into the exhaust, which aided in fuller combustion and meant cleaner emissions. The pumped air injection was often called a “smog pump.” It had no effect on the 460’s 365 horsepower, yet.

In our next entry, we’ll review the interior changes on the 1970 Mark III, and cover changes made for 1971. We’ll also discuss the sales figures and pricing for the final two years of the rather short-lived Mark III.

[Images: Ford]

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3 of 7 comments
  • Irvingklaws Irvingklaws on Sep 21, 2022

    Had a 70' Mercury Cyclone GT back in the late 80's with that rim blow steering wheel. All the things you mentioned are exactly what happened. The rubber around the rim got melty-tacky and it would only honk sometimes when squeezed in just the right place, or occasionally beep by itself. Still, it was a awesome looking car. Vacuum headlight doors and a scoop molded into the hood reminded me of the batmobile. Wish I could have kept that one.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Sep 21, 2022

    Lincoln/Mercury/Ford were 'on a roll' with their full sized vehicles from circa 1969 to the mid/early late 1970's.

    Until GM unveiled their 'downsized' fullsized cars, in my opinion the Ford products were much more 'representative of the time'.

    One reason why the Mark may have outsold the Eldorado was that the Mark was rear wheel drive. At the time there was still a stigma regarding front wheel drive vehicles.

    Note the available 'luxury' features. Demonstrates the 'progress' that we have made in that regard. However the 27 'available' exterior colours is something we no longer regard as 'normal'. I cannot remember how many interior colours were available.

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Sep 22, 2022

      A typical modern automated paint line is limited to 10 paint colors (without doing extra work). Those colors are 'shared' among any vehicle models coming down the same line (e.g., if the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger assembled at Brampton share the paint line, they share the paint colors - this would mean 300 "Gloss-Black" is exactly the same paint as Charger "Pitch Black"). Fun fact: You waste a little paint when the robots 'purge' from one of the ten colors to the next, so many manufacturers will 'batch' similar colors together (which at a typical OEM means a line of gray CUV's, then a line of silver CUV's, three blacks, a red, and back to gray). Those of you following along closely with the Brampton example should now be rubbing your hands with glee as you point out that the 2022 Charger/Challenger have 13 paint colors available right there on the website. I'm told Brampton installed a new paint line circa 2018, so they *may* have more than 10 colors available at a go - but looking at the $395 upcharge for certain colors I suspect that they have the same old 'choose 10' as everyone else. (You waste a lot more paint changing out one of the 10 colors, but if you batch the vehicles and pocket the upcharge, it all works out.)

  • Teddyc73 Was anyone really clamoring to buy one?
  • MaintenanceCosts This looks really surprisingly different from the Blazer EV. It's more boring, but it's also more Honda, and for that reason alone it will be taken a lot more seriously in US markets.
  • ToolGuy I found this interesting; you might too: https://youtu.be/asb4jLWWTbQ
  • SCE to AUX Q: "How do you fix automotive media?A: The same way you fix the auto show.That is to say: Don't live in the past, believing every story is original with you. Offer something insightful and useful to your audience that they can't get anywhere else.The auto show allows consumers to sit inside many vehicles under one roof, without sales pressure - something unavailable anywhere else. That's it. The media should accept that the auto show offers nothing new for them anymore, and the auto show should stop pretending that it does.Good examples:[list][*]I've flamed Posky many times, but his long background stories can be thought-provoking and informative. I may not always agree with some of the posturing, but at least they dig deeper than someone's press release.[/*][*]Alex on Autos has some of the best video reviews. He wastes absolutely no time getting to the substance, and his formula is reliable. He packs a lot into 25 minutes.[/*][*]Everyday Reviews: This likeable couple/family covers the daily life aspects of new cars they test - child car seats, user interface, fuel economy, and so on. No hype - just useful.[/*][/list]Bad examples:[list][*]DragTimes: In a 20-minute video, you get 1 minute of racing and 19 minutes of bromance talk. I keep hoping it will improve, but it doesn't.[/*][*]Road and Track's web page is heavily tilted toward unaffordable niche sports cars and racing, with a few feature articles on daily drivers. I visit, but it feels like I'm in a Porsche dealership.[/*][/list]
  • BSttac Honestly automotive journalism is all but dead. Its mostly bloggers with a left based agenda. Cnet and the Drive especially had some really horrible bloggers. Road and Track also has some terrible bloggers so it would not surprise me if they are next. Just look at most bloggers complain about going to an automotive show when they dont realize its not even for them. Very spoiled and out of touch individuals