Lincoln is not among the oldest American auto companies, but it has a more distinguished and interesting history than many. Attending three large classic car auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona in January gave me occasion to see a pretty wide selection of Lincolns from several eras. Some are very commonly seen at auctions, some less so. There should be plenty of eye candy here for lovers of 20th century American luxury cars.
The cars I saw span a period of about fifty years, so I’ve broken them up into two articles. Today we’ll look at the earlier, traditional collector cars. In the second half publishing soon, we’ll see the latter day cars that would be more regular Curbside Classic specimens (though probably nicer condition than you would generally find parked on the street).
The top photo is a 1948 Continental cabriolet, which sold at Barrett-Jackson for
Here’s the top selling early Continental at Barrett-Jackson, a 1947 Continental cabriolet sold for
1940 was the first year for actual production of the Continental, though much if it was by hand and it took a while to get up to speed. There were a number of small running changes the first year. 1941 is probably the favorite year for most fans of the early Contis. The styling is graceful and was the original conception of Edsel Ford and stylist E.T. Gregorie. Lincoln made 404 1940 models as production got up to “speed” (for a largely handbuilt body), then made over 1200 for 1941.
Only 336 ’42 models left the factory, of course owning to production being cut short with the onset of WWII. Barrett-Jackson had a 1942 Continental coupe which sold for
Even Silver had an early Continental. Postwar Continentals are hard to differentiate by year, the only external change I’m aware of is the hubcaps. Assuming this car has the correct hubcaps for its year, it is a ’46 or early ’47, I can’t remember what the year listed was. Silver never made their results available online, so one can’t look up their cars or find out if they sold.
I caught this car while it was being detailed. I asked the owner (or at least a person who looked like the owner) if I could open a door. I’ve always been curious how the pushbutton doors work. Starting in 1941, Continentals (and ’42 and ’46 Zephyrs) did not have a conventional door handle, just a button on the inside and the outside. Well, I can report that they work very well. The doors are spring loaded, so when you press the button, it springs open a few inches. It closes like a regular door, you just don’t have a handle to push on.
This car is missing the tiny side mirrors usually seen on these cars. Perhaps they were optional. Lincoln factory pictures show cars without even a driver side mirror, but most real cars I’ve seen have at least one. I would think if you were planning to ever drive one on the street and possibly need to have the top up, you’d absolutely need them. With no rear quarter windows and a tiny rear window, that is one huge blind spot.
So what does it do to a car’s value if it it isn’t running when it crosses the auction block? That’s a yellow tow strap under a 1946 Continental coupe, which I snapped a picture of while it was being towed back from its auction. I didn’t inspect it closely, but it looked presentable. Selling for $13,200, someone either picked up a great deal or a great headache.
This car is also interesting because it does not have its rear fender skirts on. They were standard, but you occasionally see one without them because the underlying fender looks fine without it, aside from the lower chrome trim doesn’t extend forward all the way to the wheel opening. They look a little bit naked without the skirts, to my eye, which is funny because I generally prefer cars with larger rear wheel openings (and can’t stand fender skirts on cars that didn’t originally have them).
I also am not a fan of cars with continental spare tires, but they work on these since they are…well…Continentals!
Ford debuted all-new cars in all its brands for 1949. With a full slab-sided look shared with Ford and Mercury, Lincoln’s new post war line was represented at Barrett-Jackson by a 1949 Cosmopolitan Club Coupe which sold for
Lincolns came in two varieties: standard and Cosmopolitan. The standard model shared its body with the Mercury, with a three inch longer wheelbase. Cosmos rode a wheelbase four more inches longer, and while sharing front and rear end styling with the standard model, actually had their own bodies. Both models had a 152hp 337cid flathead V8, replacing the V12 which had been in use starting with the 1936 Zephyr (not to be confused with the earlier V12 used in the big Lincolns). Sedans in both series also had suicide rear doors.
Yet another gem at Silver was this 1951 Cosmopolitan Convertible. Even though Silver has not posted their results online, for once I actually know how it sold! Hagerty reported the top 10 sales at all the auctions and this was number 10, selling for $49,680. I don’t recall exactly what the seller said about the car, but I believe it has been restored.
1951 was the last year for this styling cycle, which saw minimal change beyond grille, side trim and hubcap revisions. What I really like about the Lincolns is the front end treatment. The low v-shaped grille, smooth upper body surface and sunken headlights really work together to make a unique, attractive design, in my opinion.
I actually prefer the standard model. With the Mercury body, it has fade-away front fenders that break up the slab sides a bit. It’s also 200-300 lbs lighter, with the same engine as the Cosmopolitan, so it would be a bit peppier. Unfortunately, after 1949 the convertible was only available on the Cosmo.
This car has a cream or very light yellow color, which is unusual. Typically these are seen in darker hues. I don’t have an interior shot, but if you look carefully it has a maroon or dark red interior. The car has subtle complimenting red accents around the cloth top (probably not original) and red wheels peeking out around the hubcaps. The interior and exterior colors make a great combo, I think. It has some impressive wraparound rear bumpers!
Lincoln sold 857 convertibles in 1951, so this is not a common car, even at auctions. Perhaps that’s because it’s not as esteemed among Lincoln collectors as some other generations. Barrett-Jackson has only run 10 ’49-’51 Lincolns in all its auctions since 2006.
A car that is esteemed by Lincoln lovers was seen at Barrett-Jackson and was surprisingly affordable: a 1956 Continental Mark II selling for
The Mark II is an impressive vehicle. It was conceived more as a halo car than a money maker, and was thus not built to a price to the extent most cars are, but built to bestow esteem on Lincoln as a company that could make serious luxury cars such as hadn’t been built in America since the 1930’s. List price was $34 short of ten grand, by far the most expensive U.S. car in 1956, but Ford still lost money on them. The only optional equipment was air conditioning and buyers could choose from 19 exterior colors and 43 interior trims.
The 285hp 368cid Y-block V8 was shared with the regular Lincoln, as were suspension parts and numerous other mechanical pieces. The body and chassis were unique, though, and massive. With A/C, the Continental weighed in at 5,190lbs. The car was overbuilt to provide rigidity and prevent squeaks, rattles, sagging doors, or any other indignities suffered by ordinary cars. They were largely hand built, taking twice as long to assemble as Lincolns, which were themselves pretty well put together. After extensive quality testing, each car was shipped in a fleece-lined plastic and canvas envelope.
The original Continental’s trademarks were the long hood/short deck body and rear mounted spare tire. The Mark II has the proportions, if not a true continental spare. There is actually a tire mounted under the hump, though. The trunk hump itself became a trademark, being used on all Marks through 1998 (not counting ’58-’60). The fuel filler is hidden behind the left tail light. Exhaust comes out of the bumper below the taillights, after running outboard of the frame from just behind the front wheels. The frame was a special perimeter design, with seven cross members, sunken foot wells and a third frame rail down the center, made possible by a three point driveshaft. One of the frame members was sealed and used as a vacuum reservoir for the brakes.
Interior materials were the finest Ford could muster. The full gauge panel was tasteful, legible and of watchmaker quality. It was welded rather than bolted onto the dash to prevent the possibility of rattles.
Naturally, I am a fan. I was looking forward to seeing one or more at the auctions, as they are a pretty reliable presence at Barrett-Jackson. I saw two at Russo and Steele, my first destination, and another one early the next day at B-J. They were all disappointing, having external modifications and/or not in great condition, including all oddly having large cracks in the passenger windows. I was despairing of finding a nice example, but then I finally ran into this one. It would be considered driver quality, but was quite presentable and suitable for driving, taking to car shows or just about anything except serious trophy judging.
I didn’t need to fear coming up empty on Mark II’s, though, because B-J had another 1956 Mark II in the indoor tents, where I didn’t get many photos because all my batteries died. It was a maximum restored trailer queen that sold for $95,700, which adjusted for inflation is about what they cost new.
You might say that the Mark II was the original retro car. It was made for a company and many Lincoln lovers who were nostalgic both for a car that had only been out of production for eight years and for the fine engineering and coachwork seen on American luxury cars in the ’20’s and ’30’s. Paul did a full CC on a Mark II that was actually parked on the street a couple of years ago here.
The next iconic Lincoln that is guaranteed to show up at most auctions is the ’60’s suicide door convertible. Fortunately for me, I love them. Here is a 1964 Continental selling at Barrett-Jackson for $75,900. This is the earliest ’60’s Lincoln that I photographed. B-J did have a 1963 Continental indoors which sold for
Starting in 1961, Lincoln’s approach to their cars was atypical of Detroit practices of the time. The styling theme was clean and unadorned, and this theme was continued for several years with only detail changes, in an era when significant styling changes every year or two was the industry norm. The biggest changes so far in the generation was for 1964, when the wheelbase was extended three inches, to increase rear seat room and rear door length. Sedans had a larger and more squared off greenhouse.
The most visible change was a switch to flat side glass, primarily for cost saving from what I’ve read. Some people bemoan this change, but I think the flat glass works on this car. The early models had possibly too much curve and “tumblehome”, to my eyes. It looked good on the Thunderbird, but not as much on the Lincoln.
Many ’60’s Lincolns out there suffer from the ailment of whitewallamegaly, or inappropriately wide white walls. Only the ’61’s had wide whites from the factory. Detroit makers industry-wide went to thinner white stripes in 1962, but it seems to be a common pathology on Lincolns that the white grows and overtakes the tires. Science is working on a cure.
1964 also saw the first major interior revisions, with new dashboard and door panels.
1966 saw the most major revision of the platform, with all new sheetmetal giving the car a more flowing look while still retaining the basic design theme of the ’61. This car hits the sweet spot of Lincoln styling for my tastes. Curved side glass returned, but it is a “just right” compromise between the extreme tumblehome of the ’61-’63 and the perhaps-too-upright ’64-’65 with the window curve now matching well the curve of the lower body.
About my only pet peeve with these Lincolns is that the front track is wider than the rear. I’m not sure why they did this.
It’s tough not to love a ’60’s Lincoln in black. I had to keep my distance from this 1966 Continental convertible at Russo and Steele to keep from drooling on it. Somebody lucky enough to have $53,000 and smart enough to bid on this car went home happy.
If it’s possible, this car is made even cooler by the original black California license plate. Yes, that was one of the underwhelming Mark II examples behind it.
Tasteful, elegant and spacious interior has an irresistible “come hither” look. I wouldn’t care if David Duke and Jeffery Dahmer were sitting in it and Satan was driving, nothing could stop me from getting in this car.
This one could be a true curbside classic. Silver featured a 1966 Continental sedan, billed as a one family car out of the Seattle area. It looks pretty good from a distance, but up close it’s clear the Pacific Northwest’s gentle rains have not perfectly preserved the car. The survivor’s paint has plenty of mars and it has some rust on the lower fenders and peaking out various places. The interior is pretty decent, though.
Though seldom seen at auctions, of course sedans far outsold convertibles. Drop tops made up about 5-15% of Lincoln production in the ’60’s. A coupe was added for 1966 and accounted for about a third of production in ’66-’69, without dropping sedan sales substantially.
With the rust, this would probably not be a financially practical candidate for a full restoration. But who knows, maybe it’s just “surface rust”, as they say. I think maybe I’d find a southwestern car with a bone dry body but bad interior and combine the two. With this car, you’d be hard pressed to find cooler transportation. I wish I knew what it sold for.
This is a car I could take home! A 1967 Continental selling at Barrett-Jackson for
The ’60’s Lincolns are most famously associated with President Kennedy, but they were also embraced by his successor. This car’s color reminds me of the trip we took a few years ago to the LBJ ranch near Johnson City, TX. Whatever you think of his policies or personality, there’s no denying he was a gifted politician and an interesting, larger than life figure. I learned he favored Lincoln convertibles for his personal car. He would drive them all over his ranch. Today they have two of his Lincolns on display there, along with a few other vehicles.
The other suicide door Lincoln at Russo and Steele was a 1967 Continental, which unfortunately was a no sale. You can’t go wrong with a red convertible, though this isn’t my favorite color in a Continental. It doesn’t look bad with the red interior, I think.
The 1967 movie In The Heat Of The Night won Oscars and critical acclaim for the great acting performances and its tackling of race relations in the Deep South. However, we CC readers know the best and most important scene in the movie is when Sidney Poitier examines the murder victim’s 1967 Lincoln Continental convertible for clues, retracting the top and looking all over the interior in very close up shots. That’s clearly why it won the Oscar. Amazingly, this scene appears not to be available on You Tube, but if you’ve seen the film you know the scene, and if you haven’t, make a point to soon.
The owner of this Continental provided some good working top pictures, which I’ll show below.
You probably know the story on the unique top mechanism on the convertibles. It’s quite an elaborate system. An owner of these has to be willing to compromise on trunk function. Trunk room isn’t bad with the top up, so long as you don’t mind accessing it from the sides.
Treat your friends and random onlookers to a show every time you raise or lower the top.
With the top stowed, you lose whatever trunk storage you had.
Keeping that complex mechanism functional while having a huge car with no trunk may be a burden, but it all pays off when the top drops. The cars look great top down, with a totally smooth deck and the top completely out of view.
Paul also wrote an extensive, loving article on a curbside ’65 Continental sedan and the story of this generation.
Stay tuned for more Lincolns soon, many of which should be right up the alley of lots of CC readers.
Other articles in my 2018 Scottsdale auction series: