I have wanted to write about a Continental Mark III since I began writing for CC over a decade ago. Not the gargantuan 1959 version, but the one from the Nixon Administration which moved Lincoln into the big leagues in terms of American luxury car sales. I shot these (not very good) pictures of a genuine CC Mark III in June of 2011. I let them sit there so long because from the start I knew I would soon stumble across a better subject that would result in better photos. Here it is 2022 and I am still waiting. And we all know what will happen – one will park in my office parking lot tomorrow morning. Oh well.
My reason for wanting to spend some CC time with a Mark III is because one of these cars was the first Lincoln that young me got to experience up close and personal. It was probably not the experience that the Execs in Dearborn were hoping for.
I have written before about my father and some of his cars, like the 1969 Ford LTD and the 1972 Continental Mark IV. A 1970 Mark III was the one that was sandwiched between those, and was a remarkable tale – for quite a few reasons. And yes, I know that the car I photographed with the exposed chrome wipers is a 1969 model. But it was a ’70 that generates this tale, so we will have to make allowances.
In the fall of 1969 my parents had been divorced for a little over two years, and my father was heading towards his first anniversary with the wonderful lady with whom he would spend the rest of his life. Everything about life at that time was new to me. Some of that happens to every ten year old as we start to see and understand things about the world that we never noticed before. Other things were unique to my situation, learning to move between homes and navigate life with two different families. Things were new for Dad too, as he had left his longtime employer (and the ’66 Country Squire that had figured largely in my life) and hung out a shingle as a self-employed management consultant.
One of the beliefs my father carried with him until his dying day was that if a person wants to be taken seriously in business, that person has to look the part. Dad was always freshly shaven with nary a hair out of place. He was well dressed in a sort of “stylish conservative” way that seemed to fit his Silent Generation. As a man of 34 in 1969, he was far too young for the Bryl Creme and wingtips of some older dads, but was to old for the “mod” looks favored by the earliest of the Baby Boomers that were a decade behind him.
This personal style informed his cars too. The company-supplied Country Squire or the 4-door LTD had been OK, but he was in need of something a little – – – more. That was when I saw the brochure for the Mark III. Frankly, I was disappointed. I was a big car guy (at the age of ten just as I am now) and tried to do a little PR for the big Continental. But Dad was just not there. He told me that he would have been interested if Lincoln had still been offering the suicide door-style, but the 1970 remake seemed too old for him. My father had grown up in the privileged lifestyle of the Philadelphia Main Line and had surely seen young attractive people behind the wheel of the original Continental. The Mark III must have seemed to him as the modern-day version, and in late 1969 that was not an unreasonable idea.
I think it was late November when Dad showed up one Friday evening to pick up my sister and me for the weekend. But instead of the robin’s egg blue LTD in the driveway there was a Mark III. It was cool that he had a new car, but it was not a big Lincoln. Strike 1. Another thing I noticed immediately was the paint color – Dad’s new Mark III was pastel yellow. Strike 2.
I don’t know why, but yellow has always been near the bottom of my personal hierarchy for car colors. But I have no doubt that my father liked those light creamy yellows that were the glamour colors on cars of his 1940’s youth. Another issue for me was the trim pairing – the dark ivy-ish green vinyl roof and similar colored leather inside. The leather was cool – and felt very luxurious to a kid raised on vinyl seats. But that pale yellow with the dark green roof and interior just looked wrong to me. And still does. According to Automotive Mileposts, Lincoln offered 27 different colors on the Mark III for 1970 – nearly as much variety as at Baskin-Robins. And ten color choices for the interior leather. But – – – yellow and dark green? A deep burgundy like the car I photographed would have been much better. This was always a car that looked best in dark colors.
That reference source also taught me a bit of trivia – that the apple green pinstripe on Dad’s car was discontinued half way through 1970 production. That was also the first time I had noticed a factory pinstripe on a new car. My father, of course, knew them from their heyday in his youth.
That dark interior with the high-back seats was fairly claustrophobic. There was at least some entertainment in the back seat, with little power windows that retracted rearward into the C pillars rather than the customary downward travel into the quarter panel. At least until Dad flicked the “window lock” toggle. The multi-speed wipers were impressive, as was the red light for the “Sure-Trak” anti-lock brake system. Less impressive were the standard, flat-faced wheelcovers instead of those cone-shaped discs with the individual vanes. Similarly unimpressive was the AM radio which was kept tuned to Fort Wayne’s WOWO. I still have vivid memories of listening to Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?” in the back seat of that Lincoln on a cold snowy day.
Dad had the car for two years. But for a car that could boast of being among the most costly American production cars on offer, it certainly did not act the part. And as the owner (OK, lessee) of such a rarified piece of machinery, neither did Dad. I remember lots of things – in no particular order – like listening to the dealer mechanic after hours on a Friday evening as he finished fixing something. Then the starter that would sometimes engage and start the engine or would just do its groaning spin without trying to make friends with the flywheel. One of the power windows stopped working. The exhaust manifold cracked so that the car sounded like something owned by a broke teenager until it warmed up enough to seal itself and quiet down. And I remember more than one weekend spent with a triple dark green 1970 Mercury Marquis dealer loaner while the Lincoln was in the shop.
Dad caused some of his own trouble, like how he bumped a parking lot light pole with that very expensive diecast grille, which loosened a couple of its teeth and rattled every time you slammed a door. Then a couple of sideswipes on the left side wheel arches that removed some of that yellow paint. After that one I discovered how badly rust shows up on a yellow car. And yes, the headlight covers were almost always fully open after being parked for a day after the first year or so.
After two years the car went away in a fairly dramatic fashion. It failed to start one morning and Dad called his friend who owned the Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Van Wert, Ohio, who promptly dispatched a tow truck. As the car was being towed the 20 miles to the dealer, one of the Michelin X tires on the front decided to pack it in. In fairness, those tires probably had the 40,000 guaranteed miles under their (steel) belts by then. But whether the tow truck driver failed to notice or simply didn’t care, the trip continued with quite a bit of damage being done to the car. That incident sealed the car’s fate, with an insurance check allowing the cycle to begin anew with a fresh Mark IV just a couple of months after its introduction. That car would not be yellow, and would be a far better car (though still not as good as it should have been)
I learned that all kinds of cars can be embarrassing pieces of crap, even those that are really expensive. And I learned that it does no good to drive a fancy car that looks bad. My method has been to drive old cheap cars that look good. But I have reached the age where I wonder if Dad was right, and maybe a fresh black BMW on lease would have been a lot better for attracting clients than my series of fifteen year old AARP cars, nice though they may have been.
I looked at one of these as an adult – a very nice one painted ivy green with a green cloth interior, and another one that was rougher, a black one with a sunroof. Just like the way the 1970 Continental did not seem to fit my father, these Mark IIIs did not seem to fit me. The lines that I had found so beautiful in the early 1970’s (especially after the bloated Mark IV replaced it) now seemed less so, even appearing a little awkward from certain angles. Had the sellers of those cars been offering big Lincolns, I may have bit.
So that is the story of my father’s first Lincoln. From its very beginning, the Mark III has been a car which which I have had a very strange relationship. As is usually the case, some of that is the car and some of it is just me. As I have gotten older there are many cars I loved as a kid but wonder now what I saw in them. And others that I either ignored or detested then that I like quite a lot now. The Mark III remains in an odd spot – it is a car that I cannot really embrace but that also still tugs on me in some mysterious way. As with so many other things in life, it’s complicated.
The burgundy 1969 car photographed in Indianapolis in June, 2011 by the author. The photos of cars depicting the yellow/green trim combination of my father’s actual car (all cars that were surely MUCH better cars than my father’s) were found randomly on the internet.
These Mark IIIs have always struck me as indecisive. While not ugly, they aren’t beautiful, either.
In a way they appear to be a hybrid of early to mid-60s (such as the wheel openings having the trailing off in the back, reminding me of an early ’60s Galaxie) and elements that would be definitive 1970s Lincoln, with the slab sides being the leading indicator of that. In appearance, the car is bridging two vastly different eras.
Granted, nobody could realize that in 1970, but that is how this Lincoln comes across now.
Other than this Mark III, it has always sounded like your dad got some good ones. Although didn’t he have a Mark VI? Well, nobody bats a thousand.
And your father’s cars are infinitely more interesting than the cars my father has had.
“And your father’s cars are infinitely more interesting than the cars my father has had.”
Given our age difference, some of that is unavoidable. It seems that I have always found the most boring cars of my childhood infinitely more interesting than the most boring cars of later years. I have sometimes wondered if that was more about me or about the cars, but I think I will mostly blame the cars. 🙂
I recall sitting in a new Lincoln in an early 1970s showroom while my co-worker was getting his Capri serviced and thinking how much nicer this car is than my bare bones Duster, and how life would be so much better if I could be driving this car. Just look at the dashboard, the clock is a Cartier!
After reading this post, perhaps I was wrong.
But I still remember how nice that leather felt.
I’m a later member of the silent generation (b. 1944) than your father, so much so that most of my life activities have been baby boomer-ish in appearance. But much of what you describe reminds me of the era when I worked at Shell Oil and Grumman in the 1960s.
Happy fathers day.
A different 1970 Mark III with similar delightful quirks owned by a man named Eddie Campos became largely responsible for getting the ball rolling on what eventually became the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act when he doused his in gasoline and lit it on fire on the lawn of one of Ford’s production plants in California in August 1971.
Highlights of precision engineering and workmanship included the ignition system falling out and onto the floor during his first two weeks of ownership, as well as the A/C failing while the windows froze in the up position on a trip driving back to California from Las Vegas (apparently the fuse relay for the accessories is poorly placed in these cars and was prone to overheat and pop the circuit). Fittingly, his car was black… The story went national on the CBS nightly news, and Ford eventually claimed they “only” had proof of 11 warranty and service claims that were satisfied during the 22 months prior to the cookout, while Eddie claimed otherwise.
I don’t consider myself a ” big car ” person as I tend to prefer a sporty/smallish vehicle, but I have no quibbles about the styling of the Mark III or it’s Thunderbird ” cousin “…as long as the correct color choices are made.
Yes, pastel colors look wrong on a luxury car, but I actually like a soft yellow, or almost any shade of yellow depending on the car in question.
My only ” problem ” with the Mark III is that it looks smallish, but also looks like it is massive, made out of extremely dense lead massive. Looking at the specs in The Encyclopedia of American Cars, the Chevy Monte Carlo for 1970 was the same length yet it managed to weigh 1,000 pounds LESS than the Mark III. Had these 2 cars cost the same (they obviously didn’t) I would have given the Chevrolet a serious consideration.
So this is the counterpart to my father’s 1968 Dart stripper?
It’s endlessly fascinating how people choose their cars and how it reflects their personality. Life is all about the narrative; the story of our life and the stories we tell ourselves about the rest of the world. And cars play such significant roles in those narratives.
I’m stating the obvious, of course, but this piece brings to life a few more facets about your father’s (and your) life, to add to others I’ve here over the years.
CC used to have the subtitle “Every Car Has A Story”. Given all the COALs and autobiographical content, maybe it should have been “Every Person Has A Car Story”.
I too had mixed feelings about this MKII. I vividly remember reading a story in Car & Driver by Charles Fox where he took it for a very long drive on I-95, like NYC to Miami (I could be wrong on the destination) and waxed eloquently about what it was like to waft along at 80 or so with the cruise control on, in air conditioned isolation, listening to music on the 8 track player (IIRC).
It left a deep impression on me, because I was attracted to that experience on some level, but also repelled. It represented the future; soon we’d all be rolling along in our isolation chambers in great comfort, having ditched our hot, uncomfortable crappy six cylinder sedans and wagons, jammed with complaining kids in the unbearable heat and humidity.
But my other side wanted a different experience: to drive down remote two lane highways and back roads with the windows open in an…old VW Beetle, fully connected to the world outside, noting the scenery, smelling the air, engaging with whatever came along the way.
I came to accept and embrace some aspects of the isolation experience; living in LA will do that. But it’s just never taken root with me, and although I appreciate the comforts of a nice car or van on a long trip, ultimately I want to be connected to what’s going on outside. Which explains why I still often drive with the windows open, to Stephanie’s consternation.
The MKII and everything it represents was just not going to be my thing, at least not for more than brief segments, where I could and can appreciate what it and its kind offered.
I didn’t know where this comment was going when I started it, but the fact that I’m about to pack up and head off to the wilds of Eastern Oregon in a couple of hours for our annual EXBRO sort of underscores that reality.
Thanks for a stimulating post. It’s got me thinking about a number of things…
I’m on the sine wave program with the Mark III; I liked them as a teenager back in the ’90s, grew out of step with them in adulthood, and am now appreciating them again in middle age. I just snapped a few pictures of one at Motor Muster yesterday; I notice now that the headlights are stuck in the open position, must be a character trait.
Interesting story, and shows that what is considered unattainable or desirable by many ends up being just…a mechanical device produced by a company trying to make a profit and is beset by the same woes and flaws as any other that become evident far too soon.
Styling-wise, after studying the pictures, it comes across as square and swoopy at the same time, Jason’s word “indecisive” above explains that best. It doesn’t really seem comfortable in its own skin or metal, and color doesn’t seem to make much difference there.
I too came across one recently, in black, and while it stood out for its size vs height vs. extravagance compared to whatever was next to it, I found it difficult to get excited about it. There are plenty of old cars that you want to just get in and take for a spin to see what it’s like, this one not so much (for me at least). Whereas with an equivalent year Coupe De Ville or Jaguar or Mercedes, sure, where are the keys?
The vehicles that perhaps best embody what these cars have become or turned into are what is pictured twice, side by side in the background of seventh picture, two Cadillac Escalade Pickup Trucks. Big, comfortable, noticeable, but not offering much that wasn’t available in the twinned showroom for a far lower price, i.e. spending money due to the ability (and desire) to do so, not the need (objective rather than subjective) to do so.
Happy Father’s Day!
I owned a 1970 mark 3 silver and black final roof bought it used in 1982 1 th 800. Price great looking car pretty sure it was a 500 cubic inch blk nothing big trouble my good merch told me to sell it I did smash lower front fender hit a wall railroad sills I am a big car. Now own a 2011 lincoln mkz love it v 6 low millage 15 th fwd by the way I sold the mark 3 after 4 months did not lose nothing on it but loved the look my 1970es GM Buick 225 ran better than the mark3 I owned 2 Buick 225 still love a v8 rear wheel drive car best ride going. Happy father’s day everyone
Great article! And thanks for the memories of WOWO!! Used to listen to that in my 1965 Thunderbird’s AM radio!!
We had a neighbor in Columbus Ohio driving home in his brand new 1971 Mark III when a freak hail storm started. Golf ball sized hauled totaled it.
My father was aspirational and that went for his choices of cars, too. But as a GM man that meant that only Cadillac was the object of desire. Until he could afford one, it was only Chevrolets.
He got into Cadillacs with a 1963 which is fondly remembered. It was a “Bahama Sand” four window sedan, a solid, reliable, comfortable car which is probably why I have entertained the transient thought of getting one for myself. It never gave one whit of trouble or cause for complaint.
But aspirations demand keeping up with the newest so he went through a succession of Cadillacs, each less solid than its predecessor. The 1971 was, by all meadures, a “Big Chevy.” The disaster: the 1979 Eldorado Diesel. Its styling was classic and its interior opulence, impressive. But its materials quality was pure Malaise GM and its engine…we all know about that. It was the end of Cadillac for him…they never had a chance to follow up (like that Lincoln Mk IV after the Mk III) because in aspirational circles Mercedes-Benz had replaced Cadillac. He stuck with Diesel, though, with a Mercedes W126 300SD Turbodiesel that was a disaster in San Francisco where its turbo never spun up enough on steep hills, and it crawled up.
That was the end of “aspirational.” Next? A minivan…
Great write-up JP. My parents owned a 1969 Mark III bought new at Strickland Lincoln Mercury, 5000 N. Keystone in Indianapolis. My father traded in a 1967 Thunderbird, bought new at Jerry Alderman Ford, 5500 N. Keystone, on it.
The Mark III had several issues. The car was the same color as your opening photograph and the paint began to rub off whenever the car was washed, necessitating a repaint. In the 7 years my folks owned it, it had 2 complete exhaust systems (from the manifolds back) replaced, a water pump replaced and the Borg Warner AC compressor while never repaired or replaced always sounded loud and terrible. The neutral safety switch was also an issue. To start the car, you had to pull on the shifter way past PARK. The transmission shift linkage always felt sloppy and loose. It seems to me that Fords of this era tended to slip out of PARK and roll away. The lug wrench was a poor fitting piece of crap as I tried to change a flat tire once and ended up rounding off all the lug nuts. Oh yes. The headlamp doors would not stay closed with the engine off.
Re: the 1970 Mark III with the ignition cylinder falling on the floor, the same thing happened to my parents’ 1971 Fairlane wagon when it was no more than a year old. I used to pull it out, start the car with a screwdriver, and drive it around the mall parking lot while the rest of the family was inside shopping. I had no driver’s license.
I was 13 years old when these cars debuted and they were exactly what I loved in a car. I was sure that this Lincoln was going to be considered a modern classic, much like the 55-57 Thunderbirds. I told myself that someday, when they have depreciated to a price point that I could afford, that I’d surely buy one.
But that never happened. The car was not embraced by collectors like the original ’40’s era Continentals. While I bought a lot of older Cadillacs and even a couple of three year old models over the years, I never bought a Continental Mark. Of course it took years for it to depreciate to my price neighborhood but I chose a three year old ’77 Coupe de Ville instead. It seemed to be a reflection of the values that I wanted in a luxury car. I felt that the CdV was a real car, almost a kind of a driver’s car. The Mark was like the Cougar that I bought new in ’84, and the ’60’s Rivieras that I bought in the ’90s, but just a tad more overdone. I still appreciate them, but my time for wanting to own one passed years ago.
Shame on your father for locking the rear windows! Marks had operable rear windows through 1975. Starting in 1976, they became fixed to cost costs.
I was mixed on the Mark in its day, I was more in tune with the aesthetic of the Mitchell design house. Love this car today, but see it as an expensive and tempestuous mistress, as ’60 Lincolns and Thunderbirds seem to have been.
Our ’68 Impala at the time seemed boring, but I realize now it was a very practical decision. With it’s perfectly serviceable aftermarket Montgomery Ward air-conditioning, it provided 95% of the potential benefit of the large American car with reasonable cost, decent reliability for the era (not much on it to break, as the owners of simple cars were likely to point out), and a parts and service network second to none.
By global standards, our Impala was was dream car. It takes a bit of living to appreciate what you have if you’ve enjoyed a comfortable life.
Still like these, though the later cars were perhaps even better.
Nice tale, well told. Thanks
Thank you Mr. C. for a very interesting story on Father’s Day. I especially appreciated your warm tribute to your stepmother.
I was out of graduate school and living across the country by the time Dad bought a new Mark V in 1978. I’ve never understood exactly why he bought the car. He was a a member of the United Steelworkers Union and certainly did not buy it to impress anyone as he only drove it on trips and special occasions. He previously had two nice cars from Wixom – a 65 Thunderbird and a 71 Lincoln Continental bought lightly used – so he knew a bit about what he was getting into. Dad was mostly a Ford man and I believe he thought the car would be great for a lot of interstate highway trips across the country, to visit me in CA and other places, and indeed he and his lady friend used the car for many trips. It was more reliable than your Dad’s Mark III but had some issues. During an Indiana winter evening he turned on the rear window de-fogger and the glass exploded into a thousand pieces. The headlight doors did not want to stay closed. There were other vacuum and electrical problems and interior trim pieces that broke. Early on a hailstorm shredded the vinyl top before he had a chance to get the car into the garage and it was in the shop for months before the dealer could get it repaired correctly. He only kept the car a few years before he traded it for a new Nissan truck!
I’ll close by noting that the Mark series was aspirational for all kinds of people. I knew a prominent faculty member and dean at UCLA who had a Bill Blass edition and clothes to match. Iacocca knew his market and sales were phenomenal.
Happy Father’s Day week-end to everyone.
I always liked the Mark III, Elvis had a black one and drove it in the documentary Elvis That’s the Way It Is. My dad bought one in the early 80s and painted it black, had red leather interior. But from my experiences Lincoln’s are junk. I’d like to have that body on a modern frame with updated electronics.
Back in the early seventies a bunch of friends and I would attend dozens of Baltimore Oriole games at old Memorial stadium. The players parking lot was right in front, totally open to the passing public. Always liked to walk through there to check out the players cars. Mark III’s, IV’s and later V’s were easily the most plentiful, with maybe an occasional Mercedes. No Rollers, Bentleys, Ferrari’s or other foreign exotica that professional athletes feast on today. Of course back then few players made over $100K a year, quite a difference from their eight figure salaries of today.
I owned a 1969 brand new and have had over a thousand classics in between. I purchased this 1970 four years ago. It was sitting on jack stands since 1974 with the air let out of the tire with only 9200 original miles.
I spent two months preserving everything and drove it to the AACA nationals and won first place against restored cars in class 29
It is the most fantastic running and driving experience with a cloud like ride. I still have 30 cars and a new Maybach that is not as good of a ride as the Continental
Peggy Lee “Is that all there is” came out in 1975. What year was the mark iv?
“Peggy Lee “Is that all there is” came out in 1975.”
Sorry, but that is not correct. It was released by Capital as a single in August, 1969 and later on an album in November, 1969. It was credited as the No. 10 song of the Cash Box Top 100 for the week of November 8, 1969. My father got his 1970 Mark III in probably October of 1969.
Yup, and the circumstances of how Peggy Lee came to record that song (which she did in January 1969) are pretty well-documented. Here’s an essay about it:
In the early 70s, the house at the mouth of our street had two Mark IIIs.
I was working a job in the late 80’s. Manager of a department a couple of doors down had one. I was well into BMWs by then and unimpressed with big cars, but his clean, shinny, well kept black one turned heads, looked classy and made him look classy. Big, too big really, but didn’t have that bulbous look that say a Cad from that era would have had. Again, not what I would normally notice, but that one I remember 35 years later. Guess it made an impression on me.