The new Continental Mark III coupe was a smash hit at its debut in 1969. The Thunderbird-based design proved a cost-saving device for the Lincoln-Mercury Division and put the company’s revenue in the black for the first time in a while. After an exceptionally long model year in 1969, regulatory forces, trim edits, and cost-saving measures took place for the model’s second year in 1970. We covered the exterior changes last time, and today slide into bucket seats in our polyester suits.
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.
Today we return to the groovy year of 1968 in our Lincoln Mark timeline. In March, the quickly and affordably developed Continental Mark III made its debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida. It generated plenty of buyer excitement overnight, and went on sale immediately. Based on the fifth generation Thunderbird, Lincoln’s most exciting car was once again a halo personal luxury coupe.
After almost a decade where Lincoln offered a small number of variations of the Continental sedan that debuted in 1961, the Mark III was something different. We covered its development and styling in our last entry, and now it’s time to step inside a world of gently tufted luxury.
We return to the Lincoln Mark story at a very promising time for the personal luxury coupe. Aside from Ford’s floundering Thunderbird, several other new PLC models arrived in the late sixties. Every major Detroit automaker had one, and circa the turn of the Seventies even more would arrive!
Together, they formed three tiers of personal luxury, segmented by asking price. At the top was the long-standing Cadillac Eldorado, and in the middle were the Thunderbird, Buick Riviera, and Oldsmobile Toronado. They’d be joined in the Seventies by the likes of the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chrysler Cordoba, and Chevy Monte Carlo.
In 1965 Ford’s VP of passenger car product, Lee Iacocca, decided he’d make some use of the fifth-generation Thunderbird’s platform for a higher PLC purpose. With as much parts sharing and cost saving as possible, he’d create a luxurious new Mark that could take on the Eldorado. Ignoring the Marks III, IV, and V of the Fifties, the new Mark would start at III, and attempt to connect itself with the ultra-luxurious Continental Mark II of 1956. We begin today (oddly) with some endurance racing.
Lincoln was in a bad way at the turn of the Sixties, both financially and in terms of its product. The company lost hundreds of millions (adjusted) in the early and middle portion of the decade, when it invested in and then promptly canceled the Continental Division. Attempting a rebound, Lincoln dumped lots more cash into a new unibody platform that was exclusive to Lincoln models.
The new lineup was on sale from 1958 to 1960 and was unfortunately introduced at the start of a sharp economic recession. However, even after the recession ended Lincoln’s gaudy and overworked styling caused customers to steer clear of Lincoln and purchase Cadillacs instead. Lincoln lost $60 million ($550 million adj.) more.
1961 heralded the arrival of an all-Continental lineup, the Elwood Engel design that was instantly popular and saved the company. However, the new and streamlined (in all ways) Lincoln lineup spared no room for a Continental Mark series. The Mark slumbered until 1968.
We resume our Mark series coverage in the 1960 model year, which happened to be a last-of for several reasons. It was the last of the unibody Lincoln lineup that debuted in 1958, the Continental Mark line of models, and for Lincoln’s model naming scheme as a whole. We covered the visual edits in our last entry; a return to some of the garishness of 1958 that Elwood Engel tried to tone down in 1959. With the additional gingerbread hanging off of every possible surface of the Mark V Continentals for 1960, the lineup grew larger in every direction and heavier than ever before.
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.
With the Continental Division dead, a cost-weary and (newly) publicly traded Ford Motor Company headed into the 1958 model year determined to unveil a solid luxury car showing against its primary rival, Cadillac. However, the “Continental Mark III by Lincoln” was a Continental in name only: It wore the same metal and was produced at the same new factory, Wixom Assembly, as the rest of the Lincoln models (Capri, Premiere) that year.
Brass at Ford hoped the Continental name on the Mark III would make customers believe it was something special, like the Cadillac Eldorado with which it competed. As mentioned last time, aside from its Continental name, the Mark III for 1958 used One Simple Trick to lure buyers into its leather seats: a Breezeway window. First up today, pricing problems.
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.
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- Urlik GDI engines emit 5 to 10 times the particulate matter that PFI engines emit. The particles are not just carbon either.
- Pgb65773699 I enjoyed it, it is what you expect , funny
- Redapple2 Brandee. Another Stanford grad. Bankman Fried. The blood test girl. Mary Barra.
- Redapple2 CruiseSTUPID, battery problems, software, killing carplay and AM. Why is this so hard.
- Alan Like all testing and analysis work you need a good set of requirements. If you don't you'll find or end up with gaps.