When I was a youngster dreaming of owning my first car, part of that fantasy often included a custom or “vanity” license plate. I’m mentally running through a list of some of the alphanumeric combinations I had dreamed about: “JVLN AMX”, “69 CHVL”, and a few others. If I remember correctly, vanity plates in Michigan allowed for up eight characters, including spaces. This was around the early ’90s, which is when I became a licensed driver.
I would also spend a lot of time sketching cars in my free time, as my teenage dream career of the future was to be a car designer. These drawings often included custom plates which included model year and/or the name I had come up with. While I enjoyed drawing cars, a young Ed Welburn or Chuck Jordan I was never going to be, so while I’ve kept many of my drawings, none of them are currently displayed anywhere in my home.
This creampuff of a Lincoln Continental was situated in the parking lot of my favorite, local coffee roastery last fall. I walk past Metropolis Coffee Company on my way to and from the CTA Red Line train, and I can count fingers on more than one hand the number of times a car or truck I’ve spotted there has contributed to me being late in getting somewhere. To be clear, I accept full responsibility for my tardiness in those instances. If I wasn’t always trying to engineer every last minute of efficiency in the use of my time (procrastinating) and would leave well in advance of what would be a reasonable ETA, stopping for five or ten minutes to take some pictures wouldn’t throw off my punctuality under normal circumstances.
A couple of things about this car jumped immediately out at me from my peripheral vision while I strode decisively toward my morning train that day. First, there was its sheer size. It doesn’t matter that my eyes were aimed ahead toward the station two blocks away with almost like laser-like focus. This Town Coup-ay didn’t need to be painted in some outlandish color for me to notice it out of the corner of my left eye. You think a Buick Electra 225 that originally measured in at that many inches from bumper-to-bumper is a big car? This two-door Lincoln is a full eight inches longer than that, at 233″ from stem to stern. To be fair, the downsized ’77 Electra 225 four-door measured in at only 222.1″ long – but still. This Lincoln is a lotta car. A lot of two-door car.
I immediately gave kudos mentally to its owner for having parked it not only facing forward, but also solidly between the yellow lines. Impressive. Notice also how many
inches feet the front of this car protrudes from its demarcated space. This was a parking job that could have been the handiwork of an experienced valet. It was from its front, three-quarter angle that I noticed the custom plate out front, which read: “76 302”. I didn’t really think much of those numbers when snapping these pictures, but I do remember being thankful that they probably provided some clues about this car that would eliminate a license plate search. Or, did they?
The Continental Town Car and Coupé were restyled up front with a much more vertical, radiator-style grille for ’77. It’s entirely possible that this dove gray beauty rolled off the line at Wixom Assembly in the fall of ’76, so those first two digits aren’t necessarily problematic, even if slightly misleading. It’s the “302” that threw me for a loop. I’m not the Lincoln expert by a long shot, but I am adept at searching for information, both online and on physical pages. Even if I wouldn’t have bet my entire “Final Jeopardy” fortune on guessing what was under the hood, the fact that the most powerful, same-year Mustang II had a 302 (and was still somewhat underpowered) caused me to raise an eyebrow when considering that this two-and-a-half ton Lincoln may be powered by Ford’s 4.9L mill.
A 400-cubic inch V8 with 179 horsepower was standard for all big Lincolns that year (including the Continental Mark V), with a 208-hp 460 being optional. In fact, the 302 (with no more than 137 horsepower for ’77) wasn’t offered even in the Ford Granada-based Versailles, which had a 135-horse 351 as the only engine available for it that year. The 302 would become standard for the Versailles for ’78, continuing though that model’s final year of 1980.
Thinking about the Lincoln Continental’s place in the North American marketplace often leads me to comparisons with Cadillac’s comparable DeVille series. Much like Lincoln did with denoting “Town Car” as the four-door and “Town Coupé” as the two-door, Cadillac did something similar with the nomenclature of its “Sedan” and “Coupe” Deville. That GM’s mainstream luxury make and model was “right-sized” for ’77 has been covered at CC before, but in looking at production figures of both the Lincoln and Cadillac before the latter’s big shrink, there was one clear trend. By the mid-’70s, more Cadillac buyers preferred their DeVilles as coupes, and more Lincoln buyers preferred their non-Mark Continentals as four-doors.
Following ’73, where almost as many Sedan deVilles (103,000) found buyers as Coupe deVilles (113,000), the ratio of the latter to the former was almost 2:1 the very next year. There was no such contest at Lincoln. With the exception of model year ’75 (21,000 coupes to 33,000 sedans), most model years saw the two-doors comprising a much lower fraction of non-Mark Continental production. Aesthetics are always subjective, but I honestly don’t think the two-door Cadillac looks any more “coupe”-like than its Lincoln counterpart, and both vehicles have their big-car charms. The same goes for the four-door versions of both rivals. I don’t see the basic styling of either vehicle being more or less suitable as a big sedan.
It’s a cloudy day outside my windows as I write this. The peaceful color of the dimly lit noon sky seems to echo the pretty dove gray finish of our featured car. I imagine that this Lincoln positively floats over uneven surfaces, and that the interior envelops its occupants in creamy, cumulus-like comfort. Hopefully, this car is parked in a secure, dry garage while its owner awaits his or her next opportunity to fire up its mighty 460. If I was its owner, though, I might occasionally find myself practicing a little “social distancing” in its garage, behind the wheel, cradled in this two-door expression of some of the finest automotive luxury the 1970s had to offer.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, October 23, 2019.