COAL: Mr. President and Me – One Man’s Love for the Big American Automobile, Again

“Why do you want to drive a big old car like this?” he asked.  

Posing this question from the back seat of the 1979 Lincoln Continental Town Car he had put up for sale, and in the midst of the test drive, I was irritated by the query tossed at me in a casual fashion. It was already engaging all my mental faculties to pay close attention to the sounds of the engine, chassis, and other components without falling into a zen-like trance as the 4600-pound, 19 1/2-foot parade float coasted along down the mean streets of Regina, Saskatchewan.  

I don’t recall anymore what my answer was that day. But I imagine it touched vaguely on the qualities I’ve always enjoyed in my motorized conveyances of choice: size, room (the true luxury), smoothness, and durability. Since I was ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’, nearly every vehicle in my midst was big: full-size half-tons, full-size sedans, full-size SUVs. An endless parade of “wide-body” GM half-tons, a Suburban of the same generation, a Panther-body Grand Marquis, and, although I don’t recollect, a 1976 Ford LTD for good measure.  

While we consciously try to reject what our parents liked, sometimes we’re inexorably influenced by them. And growing up in a largely agricultural area meant that you identified with equipment that was ridiculously overbuilt. And so, we turn our attention to the subject vehicle.  

Before purchasing this car, I test drove a 1976 New Yorker. While the intoxicating burble of the 440 made me weak in the knees and perilously close to purchasing it on that basis alone, when I drove it, it didn’t have that insulating ride I was accustomed to. Perhaps this was a feature of its unibody construction, but in any event piloting the Lincoln was a marked improvement for me (plus it had a rotten exhaust so was similarly noisy to the Chrysler, even if the small block 400 couldn’t match the aural sex of the Mopar big block). 

And so, the decision was made, one balmy July evening in 2013, to ‘put up or shut up’ and join the classic car hobby with a very fetching white over wedgewood blue Conty. The price was eminently reasonable, the condition was more than acceptable, and the driving experience… sublime. I thought I had sought out smooth-riding vehicles in my previous purchases, but this so far exceeded anything I’d experienced at that point, as to be ‘next-level’. 

It joined our family then, and was christened Mr. President by my very-pregnant spouse (I did a tongue-in-cheek birth announcement heralding the arrival of the car deep into her third trimester). When the real birth took place, it quickly became a favourite of my daughter, who called it ‘daddy’s big boo ca’ and was an eminently enjoyable vehicle to take out for ice cream treats, even attracting attention from today’s smartphone-addled populace.  

It stayed looking sharp for the years it was in my possession, in part due to a Ming Finish the previous (original) owner had professionally applied. I always found it remarkable how easily bug splatter washed off, and how the paint and chrome shined with little effort. The colour really ‘popped’ and it was frequently the first thing people commented on at show and shines. 

It was a reliable friend, only leaving me stranded once, due to a clogged fuel filter (which was as much pilot-error as anything, having left the gas tank too low during winter storage and dredging up some 40-year-old crud from the bottom. Having left it thirsty for too long, it exacted its revenge). Its maiden voyage upon purchase was flying down to a small town car show, an hour and a half away, on what were later determined to be 20-year-old Michelin X Radial tires. Happily, their integrity held, and it was able to sojourn to many other car shows over subsequent years, always drawing an appreciative eye or two, and a story from onlookers about how their uncle, or grandparent owned one.  

It was considered something special even during its final run, and while it’s never achieved the cachet of its 60s counterpart, with every passing year it becomes all the more remarkable. It becomes remarkable as something that will never be built again. And for that, I am proud to have had my time with it behind the wheel. There is no such thing as perpetual happiness. We can achieve life satisfaction, but happiness comes to us in moments. It can manifest in infinite ways: a peaceful evening spent with a child picking raspberries; gazing on the wonder of a Perseids meteor shower; a hot beach and a cold beer.  

Maybe other things we can’t discuss on a family-friendly site?


For car guys, a summer night with the right car running right is that moment of happiness; when the experience is sublime; that moment of zen.