Curbside Classic: 1979 Lincoln Continental Collector’s Series – What A Name; What A Car!

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Since I have decreed this week Lincoln Continental Week, I would be remiss in not mentioning what is perhaps the most collectible four-door Lincoln of the Seventies: The ’79 Collector’s Series. This car, and its Mark V CS companion model, marked the end of the lovely, lardly Lincoln Continentals of yore. Starting in 1980, the Connie went on a crash diet (thanks, CAFE) and never wore such an ample frame as these.

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It was the end of an era, with the big, blowsy Chrysler New Yorker bowing out after 1978 and the zaftig Caddys in ’76 (though the big Eldo and Toronado carried on through ’78, same as the NYB). Ford Motor Company held out the longest, perhaps due to Henry Ford II’s long-held disdain for little cars, though he did have a customized Pinto.

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CAFE, as related by CraiginNC’s great GM insider article, really bit the American manufacturers in the butt. Americans liked big cars. True, many went to imports and Vegas, Pintos and Gremlins after the ’73 gas scare, but, true to form, went out and bought their traditional Delta 88s, LTDs and Impalas once prices dropped. But CAFE’s arrival in 1978 changed the status quo, and the Big Three were going to have to either adapt, or pay through the nose in government fines.

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Thus, really big cars started to drop off one by one. GM was the early adopter with their right-sized 1977 B- and C-bodies. Continually strapped Chrysler “downsized” their Monaco by slapping the nameplate on the ex-Coronet B-body, and the C-body Royal Monaco and Gran Fury departed that same year. Ford introduced the “downsized” LTD II, but it was really just a Gran Torino in a Nehru jacket.

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In 1978, Ford was the only company that still had a full line of big LTD, Marquis and Continental coupes and sedans–plus the Colony Park and Country Squire wagons. But the Panther took over for the 1979 model year, leaving Lincolns as the only full-figured option.

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If you walked into a L-M showroom in the fall of 1978 and ordered just a plain white, no-option Continental Sedan, you still got quite the comfy, well-equipped vehicle. All that weight, the long wheelbase and sound deadening combined to make for a very plush ride, if a bit sea sickness-inducing at times. The only concession to CAFE was the departure of the big-block 460 CID V8–all Continentals had to make do with the 400 CID engine.

1979 Lincoln Ad-02

Yes, it was the end of a long line of big, cushy Continentals, but it wasn’t quite over yet. As long as the music’s still playing, might as well dance while we’re here, right? So to celebrate the last of the biggies, the Collector’s Series was introduced.

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Available on both the Continental Sedan and Continental Mark V (sorry, Town Coupé fans, you were out of luck), the package included your choice of White or Midnight Blue paint (though a handful made it out the door with silver paint).

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The turbine alloy wheels were accented with Midnight Blue paint, and Collector’s Series scripts graced the sail panels. A gold-accented grille, standard coach roof with opera lights, and the premium bodyside moldings rounded out the exterior changes.

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The trademark oval opera window was not available on either the Mark V or Continental CS. And these models were NOT Town Cars, despite the premium equipment and Town Car seats. The giveaway was the lack of Town Car script on the front fenders, and the “Lincoln Continental” badge on the instrument panel, instead of “Lincoln Town Car.”

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Inside, extra-plush 36-ounce carpet was standard, as well as Kasman II luxury cloth for the seating–unless you preferred leather. A leather-bound owner’s manual, tool kit and umbrella were also included. Many features optional on the Continental and Town Car/Coupé were standard on the CS, such as illuminated entry, an integrated visor-mounted garage door opener, and the top-drawer Electronic AM/FM Stereo Search radio with built-in 8-track player.

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Despite the hoopla of the “last big Continental,” the second gas crisis struck not long after the ’79s went on sale, and most Americans once again went on a small-car shopping spree–again, temporarily. As a result 1979 Continentals languished on L-M dealership lots, and it is likely that you could still get a brand new one well after the ’80 Panther Continentals started appearing.

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Like my Grandpa Bob’s 1987 Continental, I was heavily influenced by a 1979 Collector’s Series. Our neighbors across the alley, the Yokases, were middle-aged when I was a kid and Bill was very tolerant of me and my brother visiting. He worked in his garage all the time, and had woodworking equipment in there, among other cool stuff.

5661029358_29659feaa7_zimage: That Hartford Guy’s photostream on flickr

One of the other cool things in there was a pristine white 1979 Continental CS, in white with the navy cloth interior–I believe it also had the factory CB radio (though not the fixed glass moonroof on the example above). It had belonged to Bill’s brother, and he inherited it when he passed away.

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The Continental was strictly for special occasions, and always resided in the unattached garage. Indeed, ONLY the Continental was in the garage, as the other half of the two-bay structure was given over to Bill’s tools, wood lathe, etc. His wife’s car lived in the single-stall garage that was built into the house.

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His daily driver was a black 1982 non-woody Cougar wagon, with dark red interior. Before that, he had a gigantic dark green 1972 Pontiac Safari. At the same time his wife had a fastback Pontiac J2000 (later traded for a 2nd-gen Voyager SE), his daughter, who was in her early 20s back then, had a maroon 25th Anniversary Cougar XR7. Maybe you’re beginning to understand why I was over there frequently…there were always lots of neat cars over there!

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It was pampered and only driven by Bill and his wife to the Greek Orthodox church for services and the inevitable coffee/visiting sessions that came after. I got to sit in the driver’s seat of that car when I was about ten, and let me tell you, I was impressed. It was even bigger than the 1977 Continental Mark V my grandfather had, and that was saying something!

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Sadly, Bill passed away in about 1998, and as we had moved across town in 1995, I never found out what happened to that car. Hopefully it went to one of his sons, or a good caretaker at any rate. It really was a family heirloom for them. Bill was always generous with his time, and I learned a lot from him–the first moped I ever saw was, you guessed it, in his garage. I remember his pointing out how it worked, what this was, and that did, etc. He talked to you as if you were an adult, not just a stupid kid, which, back then, I kind of was!

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Today, the Collector’s Series is a minor collectible in four-door Continental form. The Mark V CS, needless to say, is much more popular these days (along with the Diamond Jubilee and Designer Series versions), but I must say, I’ve always loved the sedans. The Collector’s Series was the best of them all, when a Lincoln was REALLY a Lincoln.

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