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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Our 1965 Lincoln Continental

The family, motoring in Baja California, 1970
     At about 1966 or 1967, we sought a new car—a really nice one. Ma seems to have been behind this. Ma and Pa had always struggled to improve the family’s circumstances, and they had come a long way; but Ma was getting tired of the endless sacrifices, the routine of buying cheap. “For once,” she said, she wanted something “nice.”
     At first, the idea was to buy one of the standout cars of the era—the Ford Thunderbird. This was before Ford (like so many other companies) started exploiting luxury/quality badges (like Thunderbird and Lincoln), selling more and more inferior products (such as later-generation Lincolns, Thunderbirds, etc.).

Evidently, "4th Generation" Lincolns, including the '65, are featured in the Matrix films.
     I recall that we spent at least some (I remember many, but who knows) weekends driving around, looking at privately owned T-Birds for sale. They were expensive. I seem to recall that that was a problem and its gradual recognition caused some gnashing of teeth.
     But the biggest problem was that the Thunderbird was impractical for a family of five (and a dog). The front seats could only seat two, and the rear seats seemed geared for two passengers as well.
     Somehow, we settled on the big Lincoln Continental as a replacement “nice car.” I don’t recall how that came about, but I know enough about old cars to know that the Lincoln Continentals of that era were good (if excessive) cars that are highly prized today. Eventually—it must have been about 1967—we bought a used 1965 Lincoln. I was amazed that we owned the thing, for it was seriously upscale, nothing like our old Fords. There was some sort of trouble about the title (on the seller’s end). But that was eventually straightened out.

From one of the Matrix movies: a '63 Lincoln
     As it turns out, our Lincoln Continental was at the height of the most admired “generation” of Lincoln Continentals, namely, the Fourth (1961-9) generation.
     And here’s an irony for you: that car was originally slated to become the new Ford Thunderbird. But Robert McNamara [who, famously, was the President of Ford just before he became JFK’s Secretary of Defense] decided to make it the new Lincoln!
     In 1961, the Continental was completely redesigned by Elwood Engel. … The new Continental's most recognized trademark, front opening rear doors, was a purely practical decision. … The suicide doors were to become the best-known feature of 1960s Lincolns. [The limousine in which JFK was assassinated was a 4th Generation Lincoln.] … The 1961 model was the first car manufactured in the U.S. to be sold with a 24,000 mi … or 2-year bumper-to-bumper warranty….
     [T]he new Lincoln was … heavier than anything from Cadillac or Imperial [those are GM and Chrysler’s “luxury” models]. This solid construction led to a rather enviable reputation as “Corporate management was determined to make it the finest mass-produced domestic automobile of its time and did so.”
     The 1961 Continental was Elwood Engel's Magnum Opus, as he was responsible for the complete design of the car. It was a sales success….
     Not long after the successful launch of the Fourth Generation Lincoln, Engel became the chief stylist at Chrysler.

A '65 Lincoln Continental is featured on the TV show "Entourage"
Some family stories:

     • When Raymond was young, he was so active that we often compared him to a monkey. He exhibited his monkey-like ways during travel also. One time, when we were driving on the freeway, the guy was flying around in the back seat and managed to open the rear door. This is when we discovered why those peculiar doors were called “suicide doors.” I quickly grabbed him and shoved him toward safety (I don’t recall how dramatic this little event actually was). Naturally, this was a big deal; it seemed that Ray could have been killed.
     You’d think that the door would be damaged, flying open like that at high speed, but it really wasn’t. (It was slightly out of alignment, I think. Pa did his best to bend the dang thing back into shape.)
     I recall everyone staring at the car, saying that these Lincoln Continentals are built like tanks. They’re indestructible. Sheesh.

     • One time, we took the Lincoln on one of our trips to Baja California in Mexico. Pa (being Pa) was not discouraged from driving that big boat off road, on the sand roads that, here and there, were indistinguishable from, well, just sand. Somehow, Pa made it work, using, I think, the momentum of his 5000 lb. vehicle, an unstoppable tank. We may have been stuck here and there, but, if so, we got out nicely enough. The car was rugged.

     • 1965 was the first year that Ford put disk brakes on any of its cars, and that caused some problems, ‘cause they hadn’t gotten all the kinks out yet, evidently. I recall that on two occasions, when we were driving home, downhill, from trips in the mountains (San Gorgonio?), the brakes failed. That’s not good. Things got pretty tense. But somehow we survived. We had to be careful going down long hills, though, in that big black car. Those disk brakes were hinky.

A 1965 Lincoln was featured on "Green Acres"
     For many years, the car was stored in the area nowadays occupied by our shop at the Trabuco property. So we continued to see it well into the eighties. Eventually, Pa sold it for next to nothing. Today, the car would be work several thousand dollars at least. It's a classic.

SEE ALSO Our Trip to Baja (Dissent the Blog)

Down Mexico way in a '65 Lincoln (not shown)

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