Curbside Classic: 1960 Lincoln Sedan – Trying To Out-Cadillac Cadillac

(first posted 5/18/2012)   Lincoln really had a hard time finding its way in the 1950s. Known for some of the finest custom bodied luxury cars in the 1930s, the mid-priced Lincoln Zephyr in the late ’30s and early ’40s, and of course, the beautiful Lincoln Continental coupes and convertibles, you would think Lincoln would have had it made in the Fifties. Not exactly…

That is not to say they did not have some very nice cars. The 1952-55 Lincolns may have been more comparable to Oldsmobiles and Buicks than contemporary Cadillacs, but they went on to great fame as high performance road cars in the Carrera Panamericana.

The 1956 Lincoln was all new, and beautiful, but it unfortunately still did not approach Cadillac’s sales. Cadillac was the 600 pound gorilla in the luxury car market, and Lincoln and Imperial, despite being worthy competitors, never approached the popularity of GM’s prestige make. But Lincoln had a plan. The next Lincoln was to be bigger than current Cadillacs and loaded with new and advanced features.

The 1958 Lincolns were all new, which was obvious. It bore no resemblance to the 1956-57 models. They were bigger in every way, with an overall length of 229 inches and a 131″ wheelbase. These new Lincolns were produced in a brand new factory in Wixom, Michigan, along with the equally new 1958 Thunderbird.

While the Capri and Premiere lines carried on, the Continental was something else. Replacing the elegant, ultra expensive Continental Mark II was the the Mark III. As shown above, they were little more than a rebadge of the standard Lincoln, albeit with a reverse slanted roofline with retracting backlight, special wheel covers, grille and tail lamps, and Bridge of Weir leather interiors.

Lincolns and Continentals were also now unibodied. In fact, this was the largest unit body car made. Another new feature was air suspension, but much like the GM version, it was problematic; only two percent of ’58 Lincolns had it. So how did this Cadillac fighter do? Not well, not well. While it looks fairly tame compared to some other 1958 models, people just didn’t take to it very well. Production was down by over 10,000 units from 1957.

Lincoln didn’t waste any time in making the car look more conventional. For 1959, the wild flared front bumper and fenders were toned down. Funny that that same year, Cadillac introduced its wildest, most flamboyant car ever. The Lincoln looked positively normal next to a ’59 Coupe de Ville.

The 1960 Lincolns, despite being in the last model year for this body type, were extensively updated. While the Continental Mark Vs retained the reverse slant “Breezeway” window, standard Lincolns and Premieres received an attractive new roof with Thunderbird style C-pillars. Other revisions included a chrome full-length body spear, an even more conventional front bumper, plus a new grille and rear panel.

The interior was redone as well, with an extremely attractive instrument panel, replacing the “TV” style 1958-59 version. Each instrument was set into its own pod, with an engine-turned trim panel below. It reminds me of a 1950s-1960s Century Coronado or Chris Craft speedboat.

As befitting a luxury car, all Lincolns had a number of standard features, including power brakes, power steering, a heater with defroster, undercoating, whitewall tires, clock, radio and dual exhaust. All Lincolns were powered by a 430 CID V8 with a 2 BBL Carter carburetor. It produced 315 hp at 4100 rpm. It needed it, as these cars had a 4,900-5,200 pound curb weight, depending on the model. That was mostly due to the unit construction, which was heavily overbuilt to prevent flexing.

While the lineup consisted of Capri, Premiere and Continental for 1958-59, in 1960 the Capri name was nowhere to be seen. For some reason, the least expensive Lincoln was simply called a Lincoln. Our featured CC is thus a Lincoln Sedan. It was the second least expensive Lincoln at $5441 (approx. $42,300 adjusted).

The Lincoln four door hardtop, seen here in a vintage ad, interestingly sold for the exact same price as the sedan, $5441. The two door Lincoln hardtop was a bit less, retailing for $5253.

Premieres were the next step up, running about $500 higher than plain Lincolns. They were virtually identical outside, save for a small fender emblem. It was available in the same bodystyles as the Lincoln: four door sedan, four door hardtop and two door hardtop.

Premiere interiors were a bit fancier, and additional standard features included power windows, reading lamps in the rear compartment, and a four-way power seat.

Of course, the Continental Mark V was about $1000-1200 above the Premieres and retained its unique reverse-slant roof and “Breezeway” rear window. It also was the only way to get a convertible.

Our featured CC is currently in the collection of my friend and former boss, K. V. Dahl. As related in the Old Car Home piece, I had a brief career as a Ford salesman in 2011. K. V. and his dad, Vinje, are real car nuts and have quite a few cool old cars. One neat thing they do is rotate their collector cars in the showroom so people can see them. While I worked there, there was a ’61 Falcon, ’32 Ford street rod, ’38 LaSalle and a ’48 Willys Jeepster. When I stopped in a couple months ago and first saw this Lincoln, I was very impressed. 1958-60 Lincolns are seldom seen today.

While this one-of-1,093 Lincoln four door sedan is the entry-level Lincoln for 1960, you’d never know it. The rich black paint, heavy chrome trim and wide whitewalls do not suggest a cheapskate special. Just look at that door panel. Cloth, vinyl, chrome trim and a rear air conditioning/heating duct. And check out that ashtray with Lincoln script. Cool!

The silver interior is in nice shape, as is the rest of this car. It has so much room, I think you could seat four people apiece in the front and the back. We don’t need no SUV here, pardner! And that upholstery pattern looks like little planets or UFOs to me. Very jet set.

As far as I can tell, the instrument panel was the same regardless of model. All the major controls are clustered in front of the driver, while the passenger side sweeps away for a greater sense of space. This is clearly not a fleet special Custom 500 we have here. I’m not a huge fan of silver-painted cars, but it looks pretty good as an interior color. Hey, it was the late ’50s and early ’60s – why not have a “chrome” interior color?

While most of the interior is very American, the gauges themselves look very European, like something you’d see on a Lancia Fulvia or Alfa Berlina. I wonder if it was intentional?

Lincoln really played on the star theme for its logo. Just check out those stylized wheel covers. The black paint, chrome and wide whitewalls make for a very sharp car.

While they were not popular when new, and depreciated rapidly, these Lincolns are collectible today, especially the Continental Mark III, IV and V convertibles. While they may be a love it or hate it design, I think they are pretty cool. If you feel the same, this unit body land yacht is currently for sale. If nothing else, you’d definitely stand out at the cruise in, among the sea of Mustangs, Camaros and Corvettes.

The 1959 and 1960 Lincoln’s styling became much less wild than the ’58, but it didn’t help sales. Production dropped each year between 1957 and 1960. Starting with relatively healthy production of 41,567 in 1957, it dropped to 28,684 in ’58, 26,906 in ’59 and 24,820 in 1960. Lincoln lost over $60 million with their bigger-than-a-Cadillac unit bodied boats.

Robert MacNamara, the non-car guy president of Ford at the time, wanted to kill Lincoln after 1960. Apparently he saw it as a wasted effort, much like the recently-departed Edsel. The only thing that saved Lincoln was a chance viewing of a proposed Thunderbird. The Ford styling staff hurriedly turned it into a four door sedan, and Lincoln was saved. From 1961 on, Lincoln would do very well.