Curbside Classic: 1977 Lincoln Continental Mark V – Navigating Big City Streets

The Continental Mark V seems to be a perennial favorite here at CC, with at least seven articles having been written about it, by my count.  I find much to like about these cars, having written about one myself just last April.  Given that much ground has previously been covered, the point of this article isn’t so much to restate what has already been said.  Having rediscovered and been inspired by a CC post from 2016 that featured some of the incredible, night-time photography of Langdon Clay from the mid-1970s in New York City, I started to notice a certain similarity among many of the cars he had depicted so expertly.  Many of these vehicles, though they would have been only a few years old at the time of being photographed, looked prematurely dented, rusted, or otherwise busted in some way.  NYC traffic, across pretty much any decade, seems never to have been kind to the automobile.

I remember being eight years old in the mid-’80s and riding in a car from JFK airport to my Aunt Angie’s house out in Jamaica, Queens, and being shocked by the number of rolling heaps and gutted-out cars that lined the streets.  Particularly haunting had been what appeared to be a ’74 or ’75 Chevy Vega hatchback that had been t-boned (badly) and just pushed to the curb to sit there, with its shattered windows and everything.  It remember it looking like it had been sitting at that curb for a while.

Granted, that little Vega, up to that point, had “lived” an unusually long life (especially for a mid-run Vega) at eight years old or so in the borough of Queens, but many other vehicles I saw – both on the street at that time, and also as depicted by Mr. Clay – looked to be much newer and much worse for wear.  It dawned on me that given the physically larger dimensions of many cars in the ’70s, combined with the stop-and-go nature of darting through city traffic, probably combined to make a lot of them age prematurely in that environment.

I had spotted our featured car about six-and-a-half years ago in Chicago’s Loop district while walking from work to an afternoon appointment.  Opting for footing-it over taking a cab or the L to get from one end of the Loop to the other, I usually keep a pretty fast pace – unless something, like this Lincoln, stops me dead in my tracks.  These cars are enormous – and simply striking in the metal.  Long one of my favorites of the upper-crust personal luxury cars, I could wax poetic about their lines – but seeing that I’ve already done that, suffice it to say that these pictures don’t really do it justice.

The body was straight and clean, and its paint and vinyl were shiny.  This lead me to believe that its trip into the city on this day was probably not a regularly occurring thing.  I can’t actually vouch for its model year, as I was unable to distinguish this one as a first-year ’77, a ’78, or a final-year ’79.  What I do know is that for ’77, these cars came standard with a 179-horsepower, 400-cubic inch V8 (with a 210-hp 460 as an option) and weighed close to 4,700 pounds.  As far as darting around in downtown traffic, this car isn’t going to be doing much of that.  However, if elongated, articulated buses can move smartly enough among the cabs, bicycles, food trucks, and other regular, private passenger vehicles, this Lincoln can certainly do the same.

It had dawned on me that the modern-day prestige model in Lincoln’s lineup that would correspond to this Mark V might be the Navigator – a vehicle, as they might say, which is a horse of a different color.  The Nav is a big, truck-based hauler of the premium ilk, while the Mark V is a long, low, wide expression of personal indulgence.  My gosh, how I love the concept of the personal luxury car, with no trace of irony.  In the ’70s, it was often about being the biggest, poshest, most extreme and wasteful private passenger car possible, just for the sake of style.  One can actually use a Navigator for a host of things, including hauling people and things.  This Mark V?  Good luck even seeing out of those rear-quarter “opera” windows.  If ever a car’s exterior dimensions screamed for a backup camera, it’s this one.  How did people ever do it back then?

One of the styling features that had confounded me as a young child was the “Continental” trunk sculpting.  I tell you the truth – when I was learning how to read a clock, I used to stare at the back of these cars and, in all seriousness, try to figure out how to “tell time” by what was going on back there.  I mean, look at it… the artful way the “C O N T I N E N T A L” letters are arched across the top of that hump, and the central “Lincoln” emblem that covers the trunk lock has always looked like some kind of weird clock to me.  One of my brothers still teases me when we happen to be around one of these cars, as he’ll ask me, jokingly, “What time is it?”

Anyway, even if this car wasn’t a perfect “ten” with just a few, little cosmetic things that could be attended to (the vacuum-operated headlamp doors stuck in the “open” position, a few, little nicks in the paint), it looked to be in fantastic condition.  This would definitely not be my first choice of car to drive anywhere in the Loop.  I can’t even imagine trying to change lanes in this thing.

As a rolling piece of sculpture, though, I’d gladly keep it around to occasionally tool around the area in the northern part of the Windy City.  Lake Shore Drive would seem like just the kind of place to go for a cruise with one other person riding up front.  Its lanes, just a little bit wider than those found on other main thoroughfares, would be just navigable enough for some classy, North Side cruising in what was once the fairest Lincoln of them all.

Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011.

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