I was on my way home from a night out early on a Sunday morning over eight years ago when I came across this ’78 Continental Town Car. It was around this time that I had started to feel comfortable enough in bringing my Canon SLR camera around with me at night. It was my purpose to capture as many aspects of my life as possible as part of a sort of visual journal, a journey I’m glad I had begun and still continue today, even as my life has evolved. I had seen this car on a previous night, stuffed full of what had looked to be college student-aged young adults, at least a few of whom might have been enrolled at nearby Loyola University’s Lake Shore campus. Catching a glimpse of chrome out of the corner of my eye, and as soon as I recognized this car as that same Lincoln, I walked down that side street to get a few shots of it.
I had been a regular reader of Curbside Classic for a while before I became a contributor of my photographs, and later, my writing. There have been many factual things I’ve learned about various makes and models from both the other writers here and also the commenters, including how I came to identify this Town Car as a ’78. It lacks the separate fender skirts of the ’77, and the bodyside molding stretches all the way back to the bumper on the rear quarter panel instead of being slightly foreshortened as on the ’79. The camera angle in the above shot contributes to the illusion that the Lincoln is almost twice as long as the first-generation Ford Focus sedan in front of it, when in fact the Lincoln (230.3″ long) is only 55.4″ longer than the compact Ford (174.9″ long).
The length of the side molding as a cue to the model year of these Lincolns is something I never would have known or paid attention to before my tenure at Curbside, as a car like this normally wouldn’t have been on my radar before I grew to appreciate them more in adulthood. Seventy-eight was the penultimate year for these biggies, with the standard-sized Cadillac DeVilles having undergone a substantial downsizing the year before. Chrysler’s New Yorker Brougham from that same year, born an Imperial LeBaron for ’74, was in its last year.
There were just over 67,000 four-door Town Cars produced in ’78, along with an additional 21,000 Town Coupés. (Question: Did anyone actually call it a “Town Coo-PAY” due to the accent over the “e”? I’m asking only because I’ve just never heard it pronounced this way.) This 88,000 sales total, though healthy, was a fraction of the 207,000 total number of Cadillac DeVilles that found buyers that year, broken into 118,000 coupes and 89,000 sedans. Just to complete the comparison and since I had mentioned it before, the ’78 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham managed 44,500 sales, which is more than I would have assumed otherwise, given Chrysler Corporation’s worsening financial situation by that time. The 166-hp 400 cubic inch V8 was standard on the ’78 Continentals, but this was the last year one could opt for the 210-horse 460.
The Sovereign’s east-facing façade. Tuesday, January 12, 2010.
What also struck me immediately as I approached this Lincoln was the gorgeous backdrop of the Sovereign, with this grand structure being dramatically uplit by floodlights installed near its landscaping. October is traditionally the month where the Chicago Architecture Center hosts a series of events that comprise “Open House Chicago“, in which participants can tour historically significant sites and buildings in many neighborhoods throughout the city. I participated with friends back in 2019, seeing sites both downtown and in my own neighborhood of Edgewater, and it was an eye-opening window into how life was like for some of the population here back then. Chicago’s rich architectural history and respect for its past are some of the reasons I love living here so much.
A former ballroom at The Sovereign, now part of a health club. Saturday, October 10, 2009.
Construction of the Sovereign was completed in 1923, and it was originally an upscale hotel that featured 600 rooms, a swimming pool, and not one, but two ballrooms. According to the Edgewater Historical Society, the Prince of Wales had visited the Sovereign shortly after it opened and had presented two vases as gifts, which are still there and on display. The Sovereign was converted into a 234-unit apartment building in 1949, by which point Edgewater was on a then-downward trajectory that changed its flavor and character, with many formerly large and beautiful stand-alone mansions being demolished to make way for midrise, midcentury apartment buildings. Today, the Sovereign stands as a beautiful jewel of the neighborhood, in which the health club to which I formerly belonged still operates in one of its former ballrooms and its indoor swimming pool.
I like old, classic things (like hotels and big Lincolns) and it was a trip sometimes to be working out in the morning underneath a giant, ancient, crystal chandelier. The Sovereign has held on long enough throughout all of the changes in this neighborhood from the time of its construction almost a century ago to merit various upgrades and renovations throughout the years, in order to persevere as the large, imposing, ornate thing of beauty that many of us in the neighborhood pass and gaze upon regularly, often without even thinking about it.
By comparison, the decrepit, rust-perforated condition of this Town Car stood in stark contrast to the upscale, solid image it surely must have projected when new. Its vacuum-operated headlamp doors were eerily frozen open like the eyes of a zombie. There were no dents or bent sheetmetal around the perimeter of the vehicle that would indicate a negligent lack of care for it outside of simply letting it decay. There’s clearly no bringing this Lincoln back, and it calls to my mind what happens when a formerly great building is gradually, sometimes imperceptibly allowed to degrade over time to a certain point before it is then deemed unprofitable to restore and subsequently demolished.
I would see this Lincoln for the last time in May of 2013, though I’m not sure if that was related more to the owner moving away, this Town Car’s proverbial death, or both. I’d say that thirty-five years was a good run for an American luxury car, regardless of what eventually happened to this one. It is often said of cars and buildings like these that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore”, which is true of both this Lincoln and the Sovereign. If anything, the disappearance of both vehicles and structures like these have made me appreciate those that remain all the more.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
(Early) Sunday, January 6, 2013.
Brochure photos as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.com.