The Continental Mark V has received considerable attention here as the epitome of the 1970s Brougham Era of American cars, including as “The Mayor of Brougham City” by one of our writers and as the car of the family patriarch in the quintessential TV show of the late 1970s, Jock Ewing of Dallas. Mark Vs can be spotted on city and suburban streets with some frequency, having been sold in large numbers and collected by many when new, and at least one has made its way all the way to Australia where one of our writers saw it. Seeing one roaming the wide open highways of the American West does not happen often, though. I had the good fortune to encounter a Mark V used in exactly this way in August and of course had to share the sighting here with fans of Brougham Era cars.
The drivers of this Mark V were Adam and Lon, brothers who grew up in Pittsburgh. As fans of classic cars, they were quite familiar with Curbside Classic and as a result did not regard me as weird (I think) when I approached them in the parking lot of Arches National Park in Utah (shown here) and asked if they were interested in having their car featured on the site. It turned out that Adam now lives less than five miles away from me in northern Virginia, so we were able to meet up later and chat further about cars and our road trips.
Adam and Lon bought the car locally in Pittsburgh intending to make an epic road trip out west. Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon, Texas, and too many places along the way to list were all on their intended route. They were only halfway through their journey when I met them and photographed this growing map of souvenir state magnets on their dashboard. With both wide open desert highways in August heat and winding roads through the mountains ahead of them, they had a mechanic friend, Donald Dambaugh, look over the engine, brakes and other major systems in preparation for the trip. Donnie, who has been around long enough to remember these cars well from when they were new, spent numerous evening and weekends helping Adam and Lon to get the car ready.
The Mark V chosen for this road trip was a Collector’s Series, the penultimate Mark V, the commemorative edition made in the last year before Ford finally followed GM’s lead and downsized its full size cars. As Adam explained, it began its life in the Midnight Blue color used on most of the Mark V Collector’s Series, but at some point it received a repaint in silver, as used on only an ultra-rare late model year run of 125 cars. These small numbers in “Light Silver Moondust Metallic,” along with a similarly small late model year run in “Diamond Blue Moondust Metallic,” were the only Collector’s Series Mark Vs not in Midnight Blue.
Whatever one thinks of the Mark V and other cars of its type, one has to agree that this car would be a very comfortable place for two people to spend a long road trip. With plush seats, plenty of space in front (maybe not in back, but with only two people, it doesn’t matter), and extreme quiet, it was made to be a peaceful place on long highway drives. A huge sliding glass sunroof and those clever little power vent windows exclusive to Lincolns and other high-end full size Fords of the 1970s and 1980s give plenty of sun and fresh air when wanted, without the unwanted wind noise of a convertible.
Cornering and braking on mountain switchback roads may be cause for concern, and gas mileage would not be good in an approximately 5,000 pound car with a 400 cubic inch V8, but not trying to drive it like a sports car and a sufficient budget for gas address those concerns.
Trying to be inconspicuous on a road trip with a car like this Mark V is impossible. With rental SUVs and sedans and groups of Harley-Davidsons dominating the highways and national parks, a long, wide and low Mark V cannot help but stand out. Budgeting extra time at each stop to answer questions and talk about the car is essential. You become an instant celebrity of sorts, for better or worse.
Adam and Lon certainly had the celebrity experience with their Mark V. The many German tourists visiting the national parks of the Southwest were especially captivated with it. Here, a German family’s two teenage sons are enjoying the experience of sitting behind the wheel of one of the enormous classic American cars that they have heard about and may have seen at classic car events back in Germany. A few years from now, they may become some of the thousands of Germans buying up our unloved old land yachts and giving them new lives as exotic, coveted classics in Europe.
If you are standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and a girl (my Lord) in a flatbed Ford slows down to take a look at you, it may have helped to be standing in front of a Lincoln Mark V.
I wish that I could report that Adam and Lon had a perfect road trip in their classic Lincoln, but unfortunately, years of hidden, unseen wear asserted themselves to bring the trip to a halt after most of the mileage had passed well. In Texas, in Wichita Falls between Amarillo and Dallas, the 400 V-8’s fiber timing gear gave out 4,100 miles into the road trip. No doubt a contributor to the quiet running expected of a Lincoln, the use of fiber instead of steel timing gears created a problem after 37 years. With the engine dead over 1,200 miles from home, Adam and Lon had to leave the car behind in Texas and figure out what to do with it. About a week later, they rented a pickup truck and drove it all the way back to Texas to recover the Mark V.
The recovery of the Mark V was made possible by the assistance of friends who had helped to get Adam and Lon interested in classic cars years ago. They acquired their interest after high school while working at Meyer’s Tire Service in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, and they remained good friends with the Meyers more than a decade after working there. When Paul Meyer learned of Adam and Lon’s situation, he actually arranged to buy a trailer in Wichita Falls, Texas that they could pick up and use to tow the Lincoln, instead of towing a trailer all the way from the Pittsburgh area for the task, saying that he already wanted to buy a new one. The Mark V is now safely home back in the Pittsburgh area, soon to be repaired and put back on the road for its next adventure.
Covering over 4,000 miles and 13 states, and including many of the country’s greatest national parks, this road trip out West was the sort that some of us have done and almost everyone would like to do. Doing it in a 37 year old American classic of the 1970s required vision and commitment, and Adam and Lon had it, along with the ability to deal with the adversity that the trip threw at them. Perhaps this story, along with that of the CC Nashville Meet-Up earlier this year and other road trip stories here, will inspire you to do something similar.
All photos except 2 through 5 are by Adam Baehr.