I’ve always loved going on road trips. From making periodic jaunts from Michigan to visit family in rural Ohio during childhood, to early-adulthood treks between college and my parents’ house, through present day, there has always been something so alluring about being on the road and going somewhere in a car. It was on many miles and stretches of interstate where my love of cars was solidified, as I learned to identify makes, models, and often model years – making mistakes and correcting them, and daydreaming about what it would be like when I was, myself, was old enough to drive. I’d also wonder about the lives of the families and individuals inside the cars we’d pass.
Family dynamics also seemed to change a bit while on such journeys. Being in such close proximity to one another also seemed both to promote kinder interactions between my two brothers and me, and keep us from causing a ruckus. Sure, we’d goof off, but we almost never fought in that back seat – that is, once the tension of which two of three got a window seat had subsided. When a hotel stay was needed, it was never at a nice chain. My parents’ frugality dictated we would usually end up at one of the less-seedy looking motels at the exit at which Dad chose to stop. Though Mom and Dad never knowingly put us in danger, a stay at a Holiday Inn would have been a pipe dream for us kids.
I was on a drive back to Chicago from Ohio about five years back when I spotted our featured car off an exit ramp in Indiana while gassing up. Ever ready with my camera (which is usually on the floor behind the driver’s seat), I try to pad my trips with a little extra time in the event I spot something cool. “Cool blue” is exactly how I’d describe the color of the finish on this fine, Lincoln personal luxury coupe. I can’t vouch for it being a ’77 model, as I was unable to confirm in my research by the paint color and wheel cover design that it wasn’t a ’78 or a ’79.
What I do know is that this is my all-time favorite iteration of the Continental Mark series. Chief designer Don De La Rossa and his team positively nailed the new, linear, late-70’s look of luxury these cars embodied. Long, low and indulgent, yet taut and tight, its styling was just the right amount of excess, and very tastefully executed. Standard power for ’77 came from Ford’s 179-horse 400-c.i. big block V8, with a 208-hp 460 as an option. With curb weight starting around 4,600 pounds, the extra 29 horses would have been money well spent.
These cars weren’t fast (0-60 came in about 13 seconds) and were super thirsty (probably about as many miles per gallon on the highway, on a good day), but it’s just this kind of car that would have inspired awe and more than a touch of envy if spotted in traffic on the expressway from my parents’ lowly ’77 Plymouth Volaré. Sales were solid throughout the Mark V’s three-year run, with 80,000 sold for ’77, with an additional 73,000 and 76,000 for ’78 and ’79, respectively.
As I was photographing this Mark V, something in the distance near the exit ramp caught my eye. It was a giant, hulking structure that looked like a hotel, but even from a distance, it eerily seemed devoid of any lights, signs, traffic, or life. As I pulled away from the gas station and toward this building, the more it became apparent that it was an abandoned motel. Common Sense Joe normally rules my life and makes all the important decisions, most of the time. Adventurous Joe, with all the raw emotion and bravura in the world, sometimes makes an executive decision and overrides CSJ. In my mind and in the moment, I might have been thinking something like, “I’m here, and I don’t know when I’m going to be passing by this way again. I’m not actually going to trespass… just get a few snaps and get back on the road.”
This old hotel was a Days Inn when it had closed, judging from the logo on the sign facing I-65 that was ominously painted over. Doing a bit of research, I learned that it had originally opened as a fancy Holiday Inn back in 1972. This complex was enormous, and didn’t look nearly old enough to be in this condition. The 70’s-era, brick-and-mansard roof architecture of its entrance and port cochére looked much nicer than many placed I’ve slept, and this once-beautiful property was, at one time, way further up the chain than anything the Dennis family would have stayed in when I was growing up.
Lost in my thoughts, imagination, and taking pictures, I heard the low rumble of tires on gravel coming to a crescendo, and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Slowly approaching was a white, late-model Dodge Charger with blue graphics and a light bar on top (Indiana Highway Patrol), inching up the abandoned motel’s service drive toward where I had parked my rental car. I just froze and suddenly felt nothing but the pounding of my frantically beating heart.
“Good afternoon, Officer,” I stammered, trying to project the fact that I hadn’t actually trespassed (and had no intention of doing so). “Hello… What brings you here?”, he responded. I explained that I was passing through, had seen this motel from the gas station, was intrigued, and had wanted to get a few pictures. He calmly, nicely said he had figured all was alright as soon as he saw my camera… and also that I should be on my way pretty soon. “I’m waaaaaay ahead of you,” Common Sense Joe blurted out in my head, as I managed a “Yes, Sir,” and fired up the engine.
As for the Holiday Inn itself, has there ever been an icon of the American road that embodied the adventurous, car travel culture of that mid-century period between the 1950’s and the 70’s as well as its “Great Sign”? Yes… that is actually what the towering, five-story, neon-and-bulb lit, cursive script font beauty was called. These signs would all but disappear after ’82, when the Great Sign was replaced by something squared-off and generic that was, well, square. Even Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson, in his retirement, lamented the company’s decision to do away with these sparkling beauties.
As our featured car relates to the Holiday Inn, they were both charming reminders of the times of taking road trips with my family as a young kid – days when I just couldn’t absorb enough new information, sights, and sounds. This was a time when I would entertain myself on long car rides – not with electronics, but with conversation, music, and most memorably, by looking out the window, taking it all in, lost in my own thoughts… as I am now. Perhaps another road trip should be in my near future.
Battle Ground, Indiana.
Monday, April 9, 2012.
- From J.P. Cavanaugh: Curbside Classic: 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V – Old School’s Last Graduate;
- From Jana Lingo: Curbside Classic: 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V Collector’s Series – The Mayor of Brougham City?; and
- From Don Andreina: Curbside Classic: 1977-79 Lincoln Continental Mark V – A Formative Influence.