The US motor industry is not and never was the place to look if you want efficiency in automotive packaging. Its ‘compact’ cars were considered ‘full-size‘ in most markets and when various manufacturers started producing ‘personal’ cars they took half a city block to park.
The first Lincoln Continental appeared in 1939 and was based on a car produced a year earlier for the ‘personal’ use of Edsel Ford. A Mark II version appeared in 1955 and the concept was revived again in 1968 when the Continental Mark III appeared.
Available only as a two-door coupe, the design mentored by Ford marketing guru Lee Iacocca incorporated a grille influenced by Rolls-Royce. There was also a spare-wheel ‘boot bulge’ that linked the Mark III directly to the original 1938 design and in a first for Lincoln, the headlights hid behind vacuumoperated covers.
Comforts included a timber veneer dash and door trimmings, power windows, map lights and a vanity mirror. The options list was headed by air-conditioning and almost all the Continentals built in 1969 had it, while 84 per cent of cars came with vinyl roof covering.
The Mark IV model released for 1972 adopted a more bulky and angular shape that would define Continental styling for almost a decade.
Although the 7.5-litre engine remained largely unchanged, its claimed power output suffered a massive downturn due to law changes that stopped manufacturers quoting exaggerated ‘gross’ horsepower figures.
Various ‘special’ editions of the Mark IV and later Mark V Continentals were produced, each with distinguishing colour schemes and subtle variations to trim and equipment.
1976 saw four ‘Designer’ editions released – among them the silver-grey ‘Cartier’ and cream over metallic blue ‘Bill Blass’ versions. Dashboards in these Continentals carried a gold-plated plaque which could be engraved with the purchaser’s name.
The Mark V released in 1977 differed in detail only from earlier cars but weight was pruned by 127kg to a still-immense 2115kg.
The standard engine now displaced 400 cubic inches (6.6-litres), with the ‘460’ optional until 1979.
Heaving more than two tonnes away from a standing start presented no problems for an engine that produced almost 500Nm of torque at 2200 rpm and 0-60mph (0-96km/h) in a Mark III took less than nine seconds.
Australia was a popular destination for new Series III and IV Continentals. Most were optioned to the hilt and locally-sold cars seem to have been well maintained by their owners.
Converting these complex cars to right-hand drive was an expensive procedure, and vendors expect a bit extra when selling a high-quality RHD car. Mark III models are less common here and in the US market which values them 20 per cent higher than later versions.
In Australia, condition seems more significant than model but a top-class Mark III can exceed $30,000. Mark IV and V models in tidy condition perhaps needing minor trim and paint are worth $5000-8000 less. RHD cars with noticeable rust and trim problems should cost less than $12,000.
If you have more money than sense or are competent to perform your own vehicle body repairs a rusty Lincoln might be viable. If not, check the sills, door bottoms and rear quarter panels, around the windows and the floor beside the front pillars. Any bubbling or discolouration of the roof covering is a good indication of problems beneath the vinyl on cars that have recently arrived from the USA. Any car that passes the visual check should undergo a hoist inspection to detect structural rust. Good bumpers are difficult to find second-hand and expensive to repair. Indicator and tail-light lenses are available but cost $150 each from US suppliers, with complete new units $500 each.
The V8s used in these cars do their work at low rpms and don’t suffer from stress. Only serious neglect is going to stop them remaining reliable for more than 300,000 kilometres. Blue exhaust smoke accompanied by bearing rumble at start-up indicates a tired but not necessarily dead engine. Leave the engine idling at the end of the test drive and listen for bubbling noises from a blocked radiator. Reconditioned replacement engines cost upwards of $6000. The hefty C6 automatic transmission is very durable but be wary of jerky upshifts, slow engagement of reverse gear and serious fluid leaks.
NUMBER BUILT: Mark III – 79,381 Mark IV – 278,600 Mark V – 228,860
BODY STYLE: all steel separate body/chassis two-door hardtop
ENGINES: 6556cc or 7539cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 151kW @ 3800rpm, 482Nm @ 2200rpm (7.5-litre Mark IV)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h – 10.6 seconds, 0-400 metres – 17.4 seconds (7.5-litre Mark IV)
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f), Live axle with coil springs, trailing links, hydraulic shock absorbers and transverse stabiliser (r) BRAKES: disc (f) drum (r) with power assistance
TYRES: LR78-15 crossply or 235/75 H15 radial
Excessive bouncing over minor bumps, creaking or hissing sounds when the steering wheel is turned and irregular tyre wear indicate worn suspension components or a dodgy/deteriorating RHD conversion. Cars that aren’t used frequently can suffer fluid leaks and other brake hydraulic problems but new parts are available and not expensive. A kit of new brake drums, rotors, pads and hydraulic cylinders will cost around $1600.
Allow plenty of time to check that all systems in the Continental cabin are ‘go’. Seats, windows, door locks, headlights and mirrors activate electrically and must be working properly for a car to justify top money. Even when in prime fettle, the air-conditioning won’t match the efficiency of a 21st Century system but it should blow a solid volume of cold air. Correct materials to replace the leather and cloth interior trim are unavailable so damage will need to be repaired by a trimmer who can match colours and patterns. Suppliers in the USA will provide complete replacement carpet sets for US$800, but shipping weight of 20kg will attract steep freight charges.