Curbside Classic: 1977-79 Lincoln Continental Mark V – A Formative Influence.

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When I was very young, I would sit and listen to my father expound with authority on the various subjects that constitute life. Of course, any conversation with me from the age of 4 or 5 onwards would inevitably turn to cars. Dad would talk about big cars, and how they weren’t to his taste or needs. ‘What’s a big car, Dad?’ I once asked him. ‘Six cylinders,’ he replied.

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Before emigrating to Australia, Dad had grown up in the austerity of post-war Italy, and a six cylinder car was genuinely large at that time and place. When he came of age, it was with a Fiat 500 Topolino (no, that’s not him) and to this day he has not owned a car of more than four cylinders.

My brother and I (and later my sister) were ferried around in a miscellany of European brands; a Volkswagen Beetle, Vauxhall Victor, Fiat 125 and 131 until Dad settled on a Volvo 145DL which was matched 10 years later with a 240 sedan for Mum. My father did well in life, but his frugality has never left him. Nor did he ever need a bigger car; both his business requirements and our family trips were adequately served by the Volvo wagon.

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My brother and I grew up around greater prosperity, and managed to own a Lincoln Continental MkV. Red with white plastic roof, it was first shown in the eagerly anticipated 1979/80 Matchbox Catalogue on the new releases page.

This was a bit of a watershed edition for us; finally Matchbox had produced a US policecar with a twinsonic-type lightbar. The Mercury sedan police car in this range had been around for too long, and featured a boring old single dome flasher. The Plymouth “Gran Fury” Police Car was first on the must-get list, and in time the Lincoln was duly acquired. Once in our hands, its lines and proportions were studied and discussed, although we never noticed that Matchbox had deprived us of the full brougham effect by leaving the headlights exposed.

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In the mid to late 1970s, seeing an American car on the streets of Melbourne was not a common event. Our big three had imported fullsize cars in small numbers to top their ranges, but that ended in the early 1970s. You’d see one every now and then, but they were as rare and exotic as a Porsche.

So we had cop shows and movies to educate us. Of course, the police cars screeching around corners with their distinctive panda livery and flashing lights commanded our attention, but eventually we were able to discern the other cars involved. One of the easiest to identify was the two-door Lincoln Continental Mark models.

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It was so readily recognisable because of that grille. Fastened to an opulently long coupe body, the grille took on a life of its own far beyond the prestigious British marque that had inspired it. No European car came with those proportions, and no other US marque matched them with that face.

Usually driven by some leather-jacketted baddie or a silver-topped-and-sideburned captain of industry, it was clear to us where this car fitted within the social strata as defined by US television and movies. There was also an added excitement suggested by those hidden headlights; of a grand, dangerous and perhaps dissolute life enjoyed behind closed doors.

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As time progessed, it was the extra-seldom seen 1972 Mark IV with its smaller front bumper that became my favourite. But my second favourite is the Mark V. This fine example was caught north of Melbourne’s CBD, and is especially nice. The bronze metallic hue allows the sun to highlight its razor-edged body perfectly. This one doesn’t go overboard with the gingerbread. No vinyl on the roof (a delete?) or on the rear tire mound, nor much other extra decoration save the bodyside pinstripe. Can anyone identify this car’s year?

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It does have the opera windows. Mum loves opera, but I doubt she would understand how this optional extra fits with the masterful performances of Pavarotti and Sutherland. For my brother and I there was a singsong aspect to the words ‘Lincoln Continental’ that we would incorporate into our improvised ditties. I can still hear the melody in my head; those multi-syllable words have their own natural meter.

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Under that imposing hood lies a 400 cubic inch V8 or possibly the 1977-78 only 460 option; either engine more than enough to make my father blanche. Before I was born, my grandfather had a Ford Galaxie company car, which to the best of my inquiry I can ascertain was a mid to late sixties model.

‘Did it have stacked headlights Dad?’ ‘Can’t remember.’

Dad’s loss of memory was no doubt fuelled by the one occasion he had use of the car when his father-in-law went away on a trip. Come time to fill the tank, it swallowed up his week’s wages – or at least that’s how he recalls it.

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I’ve never owned an American car. The closest I’ve come is a Valiant AP5 Regal Safari with a slant-six 225, pretty much the same car as the 1964 Plymouth Valiant wagon. Or, as Americans would describe it, a compact. I’m lucky in that I don’t need a car as a daily driver – public transport and feet take care of that. So fuel prices are not the barrier to entry here.

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If and when the time comes to make the serious commitment, though, it won’t be with a Continental. It’ll be with a fullsize wagon, perhaps a 1965 Pontiac – another formative car from my childhood. But that’s for another CC.

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Still, I’ve got a lot of affection for this Mark V. I like its crisp lines and its evocative colour. I like its excessive size and overhangs. I like that it’s not some precious trailer queen. And I love the role the Mark series played in my automotive education.

Further Reading

JPCavanaugh on the Mark V

Jana Lingo on the Mark V

Perry Shoar on the Mark V

Tom Klockau on the Mark V

Paul Niedermeyer on the Origins of the Species