(first posted 6/20/2013) I can hear it now: “Didn’t we just look at one of these?” Well, yes, but it is Lincoln week, and since it has been nearly a year since I first laid eyes on this remarkably preserved Continental, I feel that the time is right. And my seeing it again at the recent cruise night at South Park Mall on June 8 revived my memory. So, let’s take a closer look at the Wixom-produced example of the road-going Chris-Craft…
The 1958 Lincolns and Continentals were bigger than a Cadillac, plush, and with their 131-inch wheelbase, clearly had lots of stretch-out room. The expected assortment of coupes, sedans and hardtops were all shown in the annual roster, but if you wanted a convertible, there was only one way to go.
The dreamboat of the line was clearly the Continental Mark III convertible. No Lincoln Premiere or Capri drop-tops were offered, so if open-air motoring was a must, you needed to be prepared to shell out a princely $6223 for one of these yachts.
As you would expect, plenty of options were available on the already well-equipped Continental ‘vert, which boasted not only a top styled after the steel-roofed hardtop coupe, hardtop sedan and pillared sedan, but even had the very same power retractable backlight!
Yes, the Model 68A Continental Mark III convertible was a marvel of luxury and comfort by 1958 standards. It even had air suspension as an available option. Good luck finding one though, as only 2% of production had it.
All Continentals got the 4V, 430 CID V8 under the hood, with 375 horsepower. And if you wanted more power, you could have it, for a 400-hp version was available with three two-barrel carbs. It was good for 400-hp at 4600 rpm.
These prodigious V8s were necessary, as these cars stretched 229 inches long and were hardly light on their feet. The lightest 1958 Continental Mark III was the 4802-lb. hardtop coupe, while our featured CC was the heaviest, at 4927-lb.
But what about this car’s story? That’s the whole point of this article. Fortunately, the car’s current caretaker was nice enough to put up posters with the car’s history. Click the pictures to read a bigger version.
Interersting fact: This car was sold brand new at Lundahl Motors, in downtown Moline, IL. If you’ve been reading my CCs for a while, you may recall that my parents bought all their Volvos from Lundahl Volvo. Yes, the dealer was one and the same. They started out selling Lincoln-Mercury, added Volvo as a sideline, and in the late ’60s or early ’70s, became a Volvo only dealer.
Here are some “as found” pictures, which I always love to see.
Here’s the interior, which was as sleek inside as it was bulky outside. The instrument panel is particularly attractive to me, with the “TV screen” enclosing all the gauges and primary controls.
Neat little details abound, such as this ash tray in the rear armrest.
I first saw this car at the 2012 Geneseo show last September. As you can see in these pics from that occasion, the convertible top used similar engineering as the steel-topped 1957-59 Ford Retractable.
Unlike the Retractable, however, the Continental sported a REAL trunk separate from the top well and mechanism. It just wouldn’t do for Lincoln owners to have to put their parcels in the miniature horse trough that was the Retractable’s “trunk.”
Here’s a better picture of the instrument panel. I am having a hard time deciding which I like better: The 1958-59 “TV” dash, or the engine turned, Jaguaresque panel used on the 1960 model. They’re both cool.
The first time I saw this car it still had the original air cleaner and valve covers. As you can see in the engine picture further up this post, some refurbishing has been going on. I hope the owner hung on to the original parts, though.
So, in closing, I clearly have a thing for these little-loved Lincolns. I even have not one, but TWO of the excellent 1/18-scale 1958 Continentals by Sun Star: A convertible in Autumn Rose and a hardtop coupe in Seneca Blue. Paul has his Peugeots and Corvairs; for me, I guess it’s 1977-79 Bonnevilles and these Continentals. Isn’t variety great?
I love the dash on this car. Simple and ergonomic, without looking like it’s missing anything. Great find!
White paint instead of black really changes the whole look of these Continentals and accentuates the wheel cutouts. The silver, black and white combination of the wheel covers and tires is quite striking. It’s amazing that more cars with ashtrays built into upholstered armrests and the back of the front seats didn’t burn up.
What a great find. There could not have been many of these to start with, and to find one still original is fabulous. If only the original owner would have ordered the interior in red leather instead of the black. Oh well.
Those wheelcovers are intriguing – every Mark III I have ever seen uses the ones with the vanes as shown in the ad. I wonder if these were on the car from new, or if they were put on at some point after an original got damaged or lost.
I have always understood that the 58 model was the only one that had much performance cred, as the engines were detuned for 1959-60. These 58s were actually pretty fast for their day, especially given their size and weight.
Only the ’60 Continental got the “de-tuning” treatment; a 2-bbl carb on the 430 dropped gross HP down to 310 . . . . and the 1960 reverted to leaf springs. The 310 hp 2-bbl 430 carried over into ’61.
Any idea WHY the 430 was de tuned?
No emissions regs, no CAFE, and I can’t imagine a Conti buyer caring that much about fuel economy; and even so, a 2 barrel 430 is still a heavy drinker…
I had twelve of these behemoths, two of them were excellent cars. The hubcaps are 1958 Premiere and Capri hubcaps. I had many 2 and 4 door models, but thankfully, one of the good ones was a white convertible, with red/black/white interior and black convertible top. The prior owner had completely redone EVERYTHING on the car, most importantly, rewired it all. The car was 100% dependable, unlike most of the dozen. One black Mark III Landau the left rear door fit so tight it had long before torn most all the weatherstrip out. The same car, I had a flat with it on the right rear. While jacking it I heard a fhoomp sound but couldn’t identify the sound. I finished changing the tire. When I went to the driver’s door, I saw the windshield laying, in tact, on the hood. Most of them were absolute nightmares electrically. windows worked intermittently, as did the seat, and most every other piece of wiring on the cars. I couldn’t believe Ford Motor Company could make a worse system than Joseph Lucas Electrical of British car fame. I had plenty of British cars, none of which quit, didn’t work right or caught fire like these Lincolns and Continentals. An ice blue ’59 I bought for $15 had the entire front suspension collapse on the way home. I put that down to lack of maintenance, but while I went to a house and phone for AAA, the power widows caught fire and burned the car out. I fell in love with the ’58 on first sight at 10 years old, and still see them as beautiful. The white convertible was a dream. Like the featured car, mine had the three two’s and hd chrome with Continental emblem valve covers. Mine clocked off 0-60 in just under eight seconds, and given some room to accelerate, could push 130 mph, just not for long, as the fuel gauge was actually moving downward while doing the speed run. It normally got 10 mpg everywhere, uphill or down, 10 mpg. One night while cruising I wanted to see how bad mpg could get. I drove it harder than ever, the result , it used two GALLONS per mile. I ended up putting ’58 Premiere hubcaps on, as the complicated Continental caps, rattled and were expensive. I kept the originals in the trunk. My ownership of these cars was in the 70’s, gas was still cheap enough I drove the convert long distance several times. the steering was fast, the car handled well, it had gobs of power, and the comfort of the interior was amazing. Most people thought it was beautiful. The second dependable one was a black Capri 4 door Landau that had been completely gone through as the convertible had, again, most importantly, the wiring. This car was a dream to drive, as the convertible. Except for the same 10 mpg as the convert. Several of the dozen were ’59 and ’60’s (including a ’60 Mark V convertible, that had been done over and worked well, but not liking it as much, I sold soon. The two ’58’s I kept for several years. I still think the Mark III convertible was gorgeous.
It’s interesting how images can play tricks on you. I thought the chrome piece with the reflection of your arms was a piece of wood trim. Stainsey may have thought the same thing guessing Old Jag. Does the metal switch control anything in addition to the rear window? It looks like there are 3 parts to it. Yes, it is unfortunate that the interior is mostly black.
On second thought I think the switch lever is in the middle and the outer two pieces protect it.
Did the air suspension work or was it a dud like the GM example?
It is my understanding that most of the systems from that time were changed over to springs, no matter who made them. However, I recall reading an article about a guy with a 58 Eldorado Brougham that still had a functioning air suspension system in the early 70s, so I suppose one or two of these Lincolns could still be around too. I think everyone figured out pretty quickly that the systems’ high cost and complexity did not provide the benefits that everyone expected.
At the fall Hershey AACA meet two years ago, someone brought an immaculate 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special equipped with air suspension. The car’s suspension had “settled” during the show, so the owner had to wait a few minutes after starting the car for the air bags to re-inflate.
Watching that huge Cadillac slowly rise was a sight to behold.
This would be the perfect, suspense building scenario for a disaster or horror movie – the heroes can’t get away from the crazed killer/raging fire/killer bees/erupting volcano until their Cadillac’s air suspension lifts the car off the ground.
My mind turns more towards a dastardly killing where the poor victim is tied up under an air-suspension Cadillac and is slowly crushed to death as the air seeps from the system. I think I need to write a novel.
I’ve seen the act before, it reminds me of a camel getting up at the circus.
I know of several people who have air cars and want them that way. I am personal friends with a gentleman in Michigan who is patenting a system that provides replacement original looking air ride equipment for that vintage Cadillac. He is actually a suspension engineer for GM and has a test mule frame for testing. A company called Mastermind in California used to provide service for the air cars, they still do somewhat, but the original molds from US Royal were lost in Turkey years ago. Yes it is difficult to own an air car and you really have to know what you are doing, but the ride is absolutely fabulous.
Lincoln and Cadillac were trying to emulate the DS Citroen ride comfort and tried straight air and failed Rolls tried the same tricks the licenced Citroen suspension and brakes because they couldnt better it.
Two percent of 1958 Continentals having air suspension is an “urban legend” that has somehow worked its way into Lincoln lore. Air springs were never offered as an option on these cars, and zero percent of production vehicles had it. Early PR for the car did say that air suspension was planned as an option, but it never came to pass, which is probably how this myth got started.
Is that a Lincoln Log in your pants or are you just happy to see this car?…..seriously though, all this Lincoln coverage is going to make me go John Wilkes Booth…..
Sic semper Taurus…..
Just go sit in your Ford truck with its beautiful Lincoln steering wheel and take some deep breaths. 🙂 You are really bearing up very, very well and we are all proud of you. Personally, I’m happy that if we had to have a whole week devoted to something, at least it’s Lincoln. If we ever do GM F body week, I’m taking a vacation to a log cabin with no electricity.
The air suspension was never actually released as an option. The unusual (for Ford) coil rear suspension was created so that the air bags would slide in without much modification. With all of the other changes for ’58, they just couldn’t get the air suspension together, kind of “addition by subtraction”.
These were fast, Road & Track did 0-60 in 8.9 seconds with a convertible with the 375 horse engine. I routinely ran between 8.5-9.0 with my lightly breathed upon ’59 convertible back in the day.
At least on the Thunderbird, Ford also had a lot of trouble with the geometry of the rear trailing arms. Both the T-Bird and the Lincolns went back to Hotchkiss (parallel leaf springs) in MY1960.
I had experience with several GM cars with air suspension. I had the high line convertible from each 1958 GM division at once. A lt blue Impala, a lavender and white Bonneville, an ivory white with tri tone blue interior and blue top Olds “98” Starfire, a silver with red interior and black top Buick Limited and a Series “62” Daphne blue with white top Cadillac, again, all were convertibles and all had Factory air suspension. They actually worked pretty well (all less than 10 years old) but would all sink onto their frames overnight. You just had to allow 10 extra minutes in the morning. Procedure was, start the car, cold, on fast idle, the rear would rise 7 minutes after starting, then 3 minutes later the front would come up.I had others with A-S, including a ’58 Eldorado Brougham, they all acted as the convertibles did.
I never encountered a ’58-’60 Lincoln with A-S, but did own a ’58 Mercury Park Lane 2 dr ht, factory purple with white roof and purple interior, with 400 hp Marauder engine, wide whites, and black painted rims because the hubcaps wouldn’t stay on. It got out of the factory with air suspension and had it when I got it. That system was horrible, the car would start sinking while driving unless you went 45 mph or faster, of put it in a lower gear for engine rpm. The local dealer had the opinion it had to be one of the factory test cars that somehow got sold.
While it is not a Cadillac or an Imperial of the era, it is still a very bizarre looking car. Concave fender wells? Bulbous cantered headlamps? By the time the designers were finished, the only type of grille pattern that wouldn’t cause seizures upon viewing the entire front end is the simple one used. The headlamps and front fender wells are the most memorable styling feature, and they aren’t a plus. It isn’t a surprise that Lincoln modified them within the year. This also allowed them to create a more attractive grille. But this 1958 looks wacky from the front.
Additionally, these things are gargantuan in person. Photos don’t do their scale any justice. Having personally seen these vessels, I was still unprepared for the sheer massive size of their interiors, trunks and exterior dimensions. These are giant cars that swallow you completely within them, with plenty of room for other adults as well. Four adults can sit across these back seats. The leg room is more like a ballroom.
Being unibodied makes them even more intriging. 5000 pounds of massive car on a unibody? It’s amazing they haven’t collapsed inward after half a century of rust, dust and time.
When Fords and Chevies grew from 1955 to 1958, luxury cars had to grow even larger into what Mr. Romney called “Detroit Dinosaurs”. Seeing these cars today is like looking at relics from Jurassic Motown, definately.
I agree with your assessment on styling. I have always preferred the details on the 59 and 60 models, and can go either way between those two. The 58 is a distant 3rd place with me due to the exaggerated concave front fender scallops and the prominent pods that contain the headlights.
I would love to see the drag coefficient on these. With that backslanted rear window, these have to be one of the least aerodynamic cars of all time.
The 1958 version is the “purest” expression of this body style, but I find all three to be among the least attractive cars of their era.
They are as ugly as the 1958 Studebakers and “Packardbakers,” which featured headlight pods and tailfins grafted on to that tired 1953 Studebaker body shell to keep up with contemporary styling trends. Studebaker-Packard at least had an excuse – the company was out of money for all-new cars, so desperate measures were necessary. Ford started from scratch and spent a bundle of money to bring out this car.
The Cadillacs and Imperials of this era were garish and over-the-top, but they were still coherent designs (except, maybe, for the 1960 Imperial). These Lincolns are simply incoherent, overdone tanks.
I wonder how many Lincoln prospects looked at these cars, looked at a 1958-60 Thunderbird, and went with the latter. That choice would be a “no-brainer” for me.
My car-mentor Howard had worked for a guy who bought a new Lincoln from this series (can’t recall which year). Whenever my friend or I would bring these up, he would get really wound up about what junk these were. His boss’s car cracked a windshield going over railroad tracks. Also, after many months of dutifully pushing the auto-lubrication button on the dash, it was found that the thing was not hooked up and was simply not working. Howard hated few cars more than he hated these.
With apologies to the writer of this piece, these cars were epic fails in every way – they were ugly, unreliable and poorly built. It staggers the mind that Lincoln would follow up these cars with the stunning suicide-door generation!
geeber: well said. There was a reason one hardly EVER saw one of this still in service within a few years, and not just because of the weak sales.
These cars are the poster boys of what went wrong in Detroit in 1958, the perfect Insolent Chariot.
A totally new car, built with a new, unfamiliar body construction method, with a totally new engine in a totally new plant facility…what could possibly go wrong?
A late Lincoln Club friend took the first position of his engineering career at Wixom in 1958 when these cars were in start-up stage. He described it as an absolute madhouse…
Maybe a better name for this car would be Lincoln Continent?
This is worth watching-
I am not sure what would give me a bigger headache, trying to take in this car in person or trying to read the hand written black printing on fluorescent orange paper on the easel.
Anyone besides Tom & me think the aftermarket air cleaner & valve covers are a step backward?
If for no other reason that the owner feels the need to show it with the hood up because of them yes.
That air cleaner was offered on the ’58 Mercury Park Lane with the “Marauder” 400hp 430. (the one with the three-deuces). I’ve watched on You Tube over the years the old Chrysler comparison film of 1958 hosted by “Uncle” Tom McCahill. The Lincoln had dislodged coils going over the ramps at 45mph; the Cadillac did worse; the trunklid flew up and the left rear door popped open. A comparison Buick Roadmaster blew one it’s air bladders . . . .
I’ve seen that film. Memorable indeed.
I too, saw this film. All the 58 cars (except the Chrysler) had awful handling. The Chrysler put them all on the trailer.
they are not after market, they are the real deal
Although it is commonly stated that only the 1956-57 Mark II’s were “Continentals” as a separate marque, I notice that the 1958 literature still treated these as Continentals, not Lincolns, and referred to the Continental Division.
Just like the one driven in “North by North West.
Previous model owners laughed at this one in the day.. to big and ugly!.
Car was so long the monoque body bowed in the middle and the doors jammed,so I read..
Unloved for so long and for a reason.
hey guys what the difference between a lincoln continental ‘Landau’ vs the regular continental?
Landau meant it was the hardtop instead of the very slim sedan pillar model
I’d read that while engineering these cars in 1955-56, Ford (er, uh, ‘Continental Division’) went out and bought two Nash Ambassadors to learn how to make a large unibody car . . . .
The most amazing thing about this car is that it was bookended by the Mark II and ’61 Continental, both among the best of the post-war luxury designs.
It’s not like Ford hadn’t figured out how to make a great looking luxury car or would never again rise to such heights. A real mystery and total freak show.
That car was attractive to me when I was eight years old, just starting to love cars, and now its even better against all the blandness out there today. The fact that so few folks are familiar with it is part of what makes it so appealing. Although the slab-sided Continentals of ’61 were sharp, the sculpts and style cues of the 58-60 keep it very interesting to me.
Sometime between the cohorts which made all the library books when I was a kid (the ’55 and ’61 Continentals) it took me a long time to appreciate these.
Aside from the canted headlights, concave fender wells, and quadrafins, there is a lot to like.
Thanks for reissuing this essay. I was fourteen when these tanks came to market in the fall of 1957. I loved them then and I still do. Despite the mechanical problems, they are striking. Now as far as parking one of these… OUCH! I have attached an ad for the 1959. Look at how miniscule Mrs. Cassini looks in this monster automobile. International Harvester used to advertise their Travelall SUV’s (long before the term SUV was coined) with 5’11” and taller models. Mrs. Cassini was petite. So, she may have loved driving up and down Park Avenue in this tank, but she demonstrates how big this vehicle is. I read about one Continental Mark III from an owner who calls it his “dinner car” because he, his wife and three other couples can sit comfortably, four abreast, and go out to dinner in this tank.
I still have my AMT (?) model of one of these in drop top form! It doesn’t have air suspension, but does have a coil spring at each corner courtesy of 4 ball point pens……. 🙂
The design always has struck me as particularly bad, and given the simple grace of the ’61 these look even worse! Oh well, to each his own…… DFO
So the top-dog Continental has no chrome side trim… whereas the lesser Premiere and Capri both do. Anyone else find that interesting? Maybe that was just their way of tying the design back a bit more to the previous generation Mark II, which of course was notable for its lack of chrome ornamentation, especially on the bodysides.
I didn’t notice until you pointed it out. It is interesting because I think it cleans up the look a bit, on a design that won’t be a “stripper” without it.
The car Eva Marie Saint was driving near Mt. Rushmore in the great Hitchcock masterpiece ‘North by Northwest’.
True story: When we lived in Towson MD one of my Dad’s best friends from his days in Allentown PA was a well known architect and painter. He had a marvelous new ultra-modern glass and stone 1 story house in Allentown that he had designed, and in 1958 bought a new snow white Continental hardtop sedan with white & black leather interior, very similar to the car featured here. Once when Lee was visiting us Dad decided to take him golfing to our club in Dundalk, Sparrows Point CC, which was owned by Dad’s employer Bethlehem Steel, headquartered of course in PA. When entering into the driveway of the club you immediately came to a guardhouse manned by fellow in a snappy uniform. As the giant white Lincoln with PA plates approached the guard he stepped out of the little house, came to attention, and saluted as the car went by! Naturally seeing the Lincoln with that PA plate he’d assumed it was one of the big-wigs from the home office. My Dad told that story to everyone for weeks! Few cars screamed prestige at that time like those gargantuan monsters.