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.