[Several members of the CC contributor’s guild are recovering from travel exhaustion after a great Detroit meetup. Fortunately, one of them overcame his tendencies towards procrastination and finished something in advance. There will undoubtedly be some news of the Meetup soon. – JPC]
Some cars just have a way of making a connection with a guy. There are cars that have become iconic in film. There are cars that loom large from youth. There are cars that are just so strikingly unique that they cannot help but make an indelible impression. What do you have when a car checks all three boxes? We have this one right here.
My favorite motion picture of all time may be the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock thriller North by Northwest. In it, Cary Grant’s character (advertising man Roger Thornhill) is mistaken for a mysterious spy named George Kaplan. In running for his life from the sophisticated criminals who are trying to kill Kaplan, Thornhill meets a Miss Eve Kendall, who was played by the lovely Eva Marie Saint.
The movie is vintage Hitchcock, with suspense, action and little bits of subtle comedy. For those who have not seen it, I am doing my best to avoid plot spoilers, and urge you to leave your computers or other electronic devices immediately and go see it on the biggest screen you can find. I love the film for many reasons, but one of them is a couple of scenes where we get glimpses of Miss Kendall’s ride – a sparkling white 1958 Continental Mark III convertible, almost the spitting image of this car.
And the reason that this car resonated so much with me by the time I first saw this movie in the 1970s? It was because the 1958-60 Lincoln and I had some history.
I met my best friend Dan shortly after we both started 7th grade. We became fast friends and shared an interest in cars (and other things) that had come before our time. Dan’s father (my Car-Mentor Howard) had a beautiful original 1947 Lincoln V-12 sedan and my own father was only six months into a 1972 Continental Mark IV. I suppose you could also say that we were both wired to avoid current fads. All of these things came together and we became simply crazy about Lincolns of all kinds.
These 1958-1960 behemoths stood out, of course, as some of the most outlandish of the breed. This meant that Dan and I loved them simply for that reason. If there was any vehicle that was 180 degrees out of phase with the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, the monstrous 1958-60 Lincoln would be it. Silently egging us on was a derelict copper 1960 Lincoln Premier 4 door that sat in a driveway somewhere near Dan’s neighborhood. We would ride our bikes there just to look at it, fantasizing how we could pool our money, buy it, clean it up, fix a couple of things and have the coolest car of any kid in Fort Wayne.
The fun began when one of us mentioned this idea to Howard, probably looking for some idea of how much such a car would sell for. We might as well have suggested donating to the Communist Party. “Junk!” was the first word that spat from Howard’s mouth. “Absolute Junk. These things were junk when they were new.” Howard went on for the next ten or fifteen minutes detailing how a man he worked for had bought one in about 1959 and had nothing but trouble with it. He remembered how the windshield cracked when the man drove it over some railroad tracks. He ended with the warning that if Dan ever tried to bring one of those things home, bad things were going to happen. I had never heard Howard take such a set against a car, but it was plain that he simply hated these things. An older me might have smiled and retorted with something like “That’s pretty strong talk for a guy with one of those POS 292 V-12s under a hood in your garage.” But having just barely made it into my teens (and it being over 45 years ago) that sort of backtalk just wasn’t done. Anyhow, with such venomous disapproval from an elder, the forbidden fruit of this generation of Lincolns became all the more attractive to us.
As Dan and I got older we moved on to other cars and neither of us ever got that ’58-60 Lincoln we were so crazy about at age thirteen. But they still fascinate me the way few other cars of that era do.
I am going to go out on a limb here and assert that these are the best looking American luxury cars of 1960, and not by a little. Not that the bar is all that high. This car should get more credit than it does for a basic shape that turned out to be quite predictive of the future. This car (along with the 1958-60 Thunderbird) was one of the first to offer the unapologetically rectangular shape that would become so mundane by 1970 after so much of the character had been removed from these earlier designs. Seriously, the styling on this car is far closer to the 1970 Lincoln Continental than would be 1960 to 70 comparisons of Cadillac or Imperial.
As briefly influential as Virgil Exner’s 1957 Chryslers and Imperials were and as flamboyantly famous as Harley Earl’s outrageously finned 1959 Cadillac would become, the 1958-60 Lincoln turned out to be the design most predictive of the future. Forget the fins, the huge expanses of chrome and the over the top sculpting of the Cadillac and the Imp, because this Lincoln is positively conservative in comparison. The Lincoln is simply one great big broad-shouldered rectangle (albeit one with a lot of visual interest).
Did I say visual interest? If it were possible to ditch the canted headlights, the wraparound windshield and the period roofline, the basic bones of this car could have been competitive in 1970.
After all, a 5,200 pound car of these dimensions would not become out of the ordinary until the New World Order writ by the Energy Crisis of the 1970s and the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulatory scheme that it spawned.
Here is something I’ll bet you didn’t know about these Continental Mark V convertibles: One of 2,044 produced, this convertible was the 2nd highest production body style behind the 4 door hardtop (6,604). The big droptop Connie outsold the 2 door hardtop by nearly 600 units, and roughly doubled production of the 4 door sedan, the 4 door town car and the 4 door executive limo combined. I can’t think of another American convertible that performed so well in comparison with the other body styles offered. You have to admit that these made for a particularly impressive convertible.
You also have to admit that I have become something of the Continental convertible whisperer here on CC. Some time ago I stumbled across a 1940 Continental being loaded onto a transport and now this. Is there a car more opposite the original Lincoln Continental in concept, design and execution than this one? With the possible exception of the beautiful red leather that both offered, that is. The 1940-41 model ruled for decades as the “it car” of its generation. This one? More like the Anti-It.
I very nearly missed this one. I was on my way to the bank with a deposit for my office. I did not have long before the bank closed and there was no time to waste. Until I spied this giganto Lincoln about to be loaded onto a truck parked on a vacant lot. The driver knew nothing about it but had no problem with me stopping to snap a few pictures. I could have stared at that inviting red leather interior until nightfall, but the driver had to move along and I had to get to the bank. It was a good thing I stopped when I did because by the time I left the bank (having made it there with moments to spare) the Lincoln was there no more.
Just like in North By Northwest, the car was there for a brief moment for me to enjoy and then it was gone. All that was missing was Eva Marie Saint. Or Howard, shaking his head and saying “Yes, it looks nice. But it’s still junk.”