Museum Classics: 1956 Lincoln Premiere Convertible And Sedan – When One 1956 Lincoln Just Isn’t Enough

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If you have been a Curbside Classic reader for even just a little while, you have most likely gathered that I am a fan of Lincoln motor cars. Well, how could I not? I was an impressionable little preschooler when I rode in my Grandpa Bob’s 1977 triple-navy blue Continental Mark V for the first time, and the subsequent Rose Quartz 1987 Continental firmly cemented any lingering doubt. When I got my driver’s license in September 1997, I followed my parents into Volvodom, but I finally succumbed to the twenty-odd-year inevitable and bought a Lincoln of my own. But we’re not here today to talk about my Town Car; we’re going to talk about my friend K V Dahl and his dad Vinje’s 1956 Lincoln Premieres.

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The 1956 Lincolns were a big step forward. For some reason, Earle MacPherson decided to go up against the Oldsmobile with the “Road Race” 1952-55 Lincolns. They were fine cars in their own right, but as attractive as they were, they never quite reached Cadillac levels of luxury or presence. But in 1956, that would all change.

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Perhaps the biggest driver of what would become the 1956 Lincoln was William F. “Bill” Schmidt, who was a long-time Lincoln stylist by the mid-Fifties. He designed the 1956 Futura dream car, which previewed many ’56 Lincoln styling cues. He has been quoted that scuba diving in the Bahamas had a large hand in the design, especially the movements of fish and manta rays under water. Such undersea life can certainly be seen in the smooth lines.

5-21-2014 002I was a lucky passenger!

I got to know K V Dahl during my short automotive sales career at Dahl Ford. K V and his family has run the dealership since 1937 in Davenport, Iowa, so they know a thing or two about cars–and acquiring fine examples of classics over the years.

5-21-2014 003K V at the helm of one of the great Fifties instrument panels.

I was perhaps the last person in the greater Quad City area to join Facebook. Shortly thereafter, I viewed some pictures of K V and his dad Vinje at the Mecum auction in Indianapolis.

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They wound up at Indy in a rather roundabout way. As you might expect, they are Ford fans, and when they got word that a collector of 1930s Ford V8s had gone on to his reward, and his collection auctioned off, they were intrigued, for it was rumored that he had one of every body style of 1932 Ford. Sedan Delivery, roadster, phaeton, you-name-it. So they went. But unfortunately, the cars were, uh, less than ideal? Think bondo, think rust, think missing parts. Some of them had ’80s wire wheel covers instead of real wire wheels!

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Yeah, it was a bust. And not a good one. They were already in the Buckeye State, how to salvage the day? Simple, cancel their hotel room, call their buddy at Mecum, and head to Indianapolis. Their passes were waiting at the front gate, and, wouldn’t you know it, both K V and Vinje found something to take home!

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While Vinje got a beautiful 1938 Buick Century convertible in midnight blue with saddle tan interior (I actually thought it was black until a recent visit to the Old Car Home), K V found something to warm the heart of any self-respecting LCOC member: a 1956 Lincoln Premiere convertible, one of only 2,447 made.

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Many pictures of the Premiere were posted on K V’s Facebook page, and I recall mentioning that I would just HAVE to write this car up for CC when I read the car was coming home with them. I mean, come on? Who wouldn’t love to read about such a beautiful Lincoln?

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The standard 1956 Lincolns used the same 285 hp 368 cubic inch engine as the vaunted, $10,000 Continental Mark II, save for colors, valve covers and some other minor things. Everything else, however, was very different. And very different from the outgoing 1955 Lincoln.

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If the exterior isn’t enough, these cars had one of the most fantastic instrument panels. So clean, yet so intriguing. So simple, yet so luxurious. A luxury spaceship to whisk you and your friends off for prime rib, martinis and baked potatoes with butter and sour cream! Those were the days, my friend.

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The luxury-car buying public responded too. While Cadillac was still king in 1956, Lincoln sales were nearly double that of the 1955 model. And why not? In 1956 the Cadillac was largely the same as the ’55, notwithstanding some lovely trim and interior updates. The Imperial had been all-new in ’55, so also sported minor revisions, primarily straighter quarter panels and the addition of a four-door hardtop to the line.

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And Packard? For those who were still paying attention, Packard was still a fine car, but 1955 quality glitches had scared a lot of people off. It has been suggested that a lot of ex-Packard owners might well have found themselves in a Lincoln showroom during 1956.

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It certainly was a cohesive design. Everything looked like it belonged, even the ample chrome trim. From the smooth flanks to the simple yet elegant wheel covers, everything about the 1956 Lincoln was attractive.

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The Premiere convertible was the beauty queen of the line, and the only convertible cataloged. The 4,452-lb. drop top went for $4,747. The less-fancy Capri was offered only in two-door hardtop and four-door sedan body styles.

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Plenty of Fifties cues here: bumper-mounted exhaust pods, ample chrome, smooth lines, pastel coloring, plenty of stretch-out room, luxurious al fresco motoring. It has it all!

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When cars were cars, men were men, women were women, drinks were drinks, and cars had COLORS!

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And just look at that door panel. It’s just a door panel, and yet, even it is a work of art!

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And the levers for the heating and ventilation are just as amazing. So much detail here. “Dad, can I turn on the heat? Can I? Can I? Pleeeeease?” Something you will never hear from within the confines of a beige Camry LE.

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I also especially liked the transmission quadrant, well-integrated into the steering column. It appears to be a part of the steering wheel itself, but is actually stationary.

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The back seat is an equally nice place to be, I am sure. Can’t you picture some Hollywood swells riding down to the studio in one of these? I can.

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What an instrument panel. Who wouldn’t be proud to ferry this luxury car down a country lane, top down, on a sunny spring day?

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And yes, a genuine analog clock. Not only functional, but an attractive addition to an already attractive instrument panel. Details, man! It’s all in the details.

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Now that’s a radio! On/off/volume knob, tuning knob, and six pre-selector buttons. Touchscreens? Perish the thought!

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Of course, being a car nut, I had to ask K V if he’d take my picture behind the wheel. “This might sound strange K V, but would you take my picture behind the wheel?” “Hell yes!” K V’s a good guy.

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I love that Lincoln script. Why do most new cars just have block letters? BOR-RING!

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And just look at that trunk. Just think how many people you could smuggle into the drive-in! The spare tire looks a little lost…

Yes, it was a beautiful car, and getting to ride in such an amazing car just made for a topper of a day! My Town Car rides wonderfully, but this 1956 Premiere is in a whole other category of smooth!

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But wait, there’s even more! For the lovely convertible is not the only 1956 Lincoln in the fleet. Technically this one is Vinje’s car, as he bought it back at the tail end of the Sixties, but hey, it’s all in the family!

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You have to give the nod to Bill Schmidt when even the four-door pillared sedan (a hardtop sedan, the Landau, would not arrive until MY ’57) looked amazing. And so it is with this car: Amazing!

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This car has a pretty interesting story as well. K V’s dad, Vinje, grew up in the river town of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where there was a Dahl dealership. His neighbor bought this 1956 Premiere sedan brand new, and he always admired it. How could he not? It was beautiful.

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Time passed, and in about 1968 or 1969 the neighbor traded it in to Dahl for a brand-new car. Vinje wanted it–had to have it, you might say. So he went into the business office and told them he wanted that car–NOW! The answer came back: “Vinje, you can have the car, but you have to at least pay what we gave for it in trade, so we can even it out with the accounting guys.” What price Lincoln loveliness? Seventy-Five bucks. I know, hard to believe, but there wasn’t exactly a run on 1956 Lincolns in LaCrosse in late 1968. It only had 50,000 miles on it at the time.

There was a bit of rust in the front fenders behind the front wheels, but some new sheet metal and a lick of paint on the rockers put the Premiere back in Bristol fashion in no time. The rest of the paint and metal is factory applied. And 45-odd years later, she still looks good–and is still driven several times a year. All for $75. Lucky man, that Vinje…

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There’s those amazing HVAC levers again. Long love the Fifties, and their Buck Rogers-inspired design!

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Such details. You can still see the modern Lincoln star in the “sunburst” star below the knight’s head of the hood ornament. Such history…

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Again: Such detail! When fine materials were inexpensive and labor was cheap.

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Chrome, black lacquer and lovely trim bits. I love it when a Premiere comes together!

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The black-and-white interior was no less lovely than the cream yellow and black trim of K V’s convertible. I’m already spoiled with my Premiere convertible ride, but I’d love to go round the block in the sedan sometime too!

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The rear compartment. Don’t call it as plebeian as a “back seat!” This was the lap of luxury. Note the Lincoln emblem on the inside of the C-pillar: A mirror image of the exterior C-pillar trim.

Did my car sales career pan out? Nope! But I still have no regrets, for I made friends with a couple of die-hard car guys as a result, and have gotten to ride in some fine vintage steel as a result! And you know, there really is nothing like a Lincoln…