Curbside Classic: 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car – Best Prom Car Ever

If there is a car that came out in the 1970’s and retained its popularity as desirable daily transportation longer than these Lincolns of late in the decade, I don’t imagine there are many.  I shot this car quite a number of years ago, and am not sure why I never wrote it up.  Looking back, could this have been the last of these I saw as a weathered but decent original still doing daily duty?  Pristine examples are still seen at the occasional show or as “Sunday drivers” but this was not one of those.

Perhaps I was waiting to find a 2 door, which had been the version that figured in my life.  But I guess it’s time to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and move forward on what I have.

I probably spent as much time around Lincolns of the 1970s as anyone.  My father had a string of four (almost) in a row from 1970 (Mark III) to 1980 (Town Coupe).  His second, the 72 Mark IV was the one he kept the longest, but it was his third – a 1978 Town Coupe – that was my favorite of the batch.  And perhaps my favorite of any car he ever had.

As you might imagine, I was heavily involved in trying to influence his automotive choices all through the decade.  Most of the time without success.  When I wanted him to get a suicide-door Continental he waited too long, then picked the Mark III.  He chose the Mark IV before I even knew he was looking, so that one was a surprise.  I made attempts to sell him on an Imperial or even an Avanti in 74, but would have been cool with the Continental coupe he considered before deciding that a replacement for my step-mom’s ’68 Cutlass was more of a need when two new cars in a nasty recession year was not on the menu.

I was all in on either a New Yorker or a Continental in ’76 – I should have been able to sell this, but he strangely went for a Mercury Monarch Ghia which was equipped as almost a proto-Versailles (including a 351 V8 for some scoot) so by now my batting average was pretty terrible.  But in 1978 he finally saw things my way and decided that the Town Coupe was the right choice.  OK, in truth I would have preferred the Town Car which would have eliminated the awkward climb into the back seat, but after my prior record I was not going to quibble.

Dad was a white car kind of guy, but was willing to entertain suggestions. I liked these in dark colors, but after Dad’s brief infatuation with a combo of baby blue paint and tan interior (a choice which my Step-Mom shot down, God bless her) his eventual choice of white paint and vinyl roof with cordovan (oxblood) velour interior was something I could live with.

That cordovan interior may have been a Lincoln-only color, as I don’t ever recall seeing it on any other FoMoCo car.  It was featured in the brochure that year in a photo that is so dark as to be barely discernable.  From personal experience I can tell you that it was so much more attractive than that sour cherry cough drop red that Ford was putting inside of so many cars around that time.

Although this white leather with red trim would have really completed the perfect 1978 package.  It also did not hurt my feelings when he checked the box for the 460, which had been quietly moved from the “standard” to the “optional” list that year.  My entreaties for the turbine alloy wheels fell on deaf ears, however, and it would be bland standard wheelcovers for us.

I was in my senior year of high school when Dad picked this one up and was allowed to drive it on an occasional errand or on a family trip.  I remember getting my chance to pilot the nearly new car on a family trip to Philly for Thanksgiving of 1977.  It was a lot of car to keep between the lines on the old Pensy Turnpike, but I still recall feeling special behind the wheel as that big, smooth cruiser did what it was best at.  I still remember the way it easily handled the grades in the Alleghenies with a really satisfying combination of torque and silence.

At the time I liked the idea of the first new dash since 1970, but in hindsight I like the old one better.  One thing I never understood was the trim panel between the taillights.   It reminded me of the fussy trim on a 1960’s Frigidaire appliances in the kitchen of my Uncle Bob, who worked for GM at the time.

Not my father’s car, but one virtually identical to it as found in an online photo.

My parents were divorced so I did not live with the Lincoln most of the time, but I got full custody for one weekend – that of my senior prom.  I got the car early Saturday morning, trading keys with Dad so that he got my ’67 Galaxie 500 convertible.  The Lincoln was about six months old in May of 1978 – and it was filthy.  Dad was piling 30k miles a year on a car back then and it showed.  The bottom 1/4 of each side was heavily spattered with tar and the front end was covered with the remains of a bazillion unlucky victims from the insect kingdom.  I spent the day returning the car to the way it was supposed to look, and both it and I looked maahvelous by go-time.  It was by-far the nicest car any of my friends took – this was an era before everyone’s parents rented garish stretch limos.  Ferkryinoutloud, it was a high school prom, not a wedding.  A shiny nearly-new Lincoln was quite enough for me, thank you.

I should have expected that the car’s time with Dad would come to an end when, in the summer of 1979, we took a trip to the east coast for my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Dad had a client who did motor home rentals and we got a big Pace Arrow for the vacation.  Who knows how things might have gone had we stayed home, but the northeast during the summer of 1979 was no place for a 4-6 mpg motorhome.  That was the time and place for fuel shortages and gas lines – in which we spent several hours.  After that experience, I am sure Dad saw the wisdom of trading for the new, downsized and more efficient Town Coupe that was introduced in the fall of 1979.

” . . . but by 1980 they will be SOL.”

I got to drive the ’80 not long after he got it, and considered it a horrible downgrade.  It felt thin and cheap after that big bruising 78 and was ugly as hell besides.  Lincoln, at that point, became dead to me.  I never have developed a real love for the Panther Lincolns, and the entire reason for that is this car right here.  No matter the color or equipment level, this car did American luxury in a way few others of its day could manage.  It also may have been one of the best all-around cars to come out of the Ford Motor Company in a good long time.  These cars had one mission – elegance.  They may not have been as elegant as the Lincolns of the mid 1960s, but they were a darn sight more elegant than any other car put out by a US manufacturer.  And they were smoother and quieter than any other car put out by any other manufacturer anywhere.  Is this the last time an American car could say this?

So if you are looking for an objective critique of these cars, I’m not your guy.  Because I flat-out love these, which is something I have a hard time saying when it comes to about anything else built by Ford in that difficult decade.  And this was undoubtedly why I stopped to photograph this one in a Wendy’s parking lot in October of 2011.  If someone was willing to pay to keep gas in the tank, that person would be amply rewarded with something as durable, comfortable and attractive as you could ask for from its time.  That these have survived in such numbers as they have means that a lot of others understood this too.

Photographed October 6, 2011, Suburban Northeast Indianapolis, Indiana

Further Reading:

1978 Lincoln Continental Town Coupe – Tom Klockau

1979 Lincoln Continental Collectors Series – Tom Klockau

1979 Lincoln Continental Town Car – Eric703