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Homepage. This page: How this visitor to oldclassiccar chose his big Yank.

Buying this mighty Lincoln Continental

Lincoln Continental Coupe

"Uncle Joe" dropped me a note, with the interesting story of how he came to buy a huge Lincoln Continental, built in 1970 ... but first, some background as to why he goes for older American cars ...

Early interests in cars and motorcycles
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my elder brother was apprenticed to a local engineering company. One day, I picked up some of his textbooks and began first to look at them, and then to read them. I was absolutely fascinated by all the lathes, millers and so on. Later I began to read material specifications and so on. I had become interested in engineering! When my brother bought his first motorcycle, he also started to buy magazines such as “The Motor Cycle” and “Motor Cycle News.” Soon, I was reading these as well, when other kids of my age were reading “Beano” and “Dandy.” I remember being especially fascinated by technical articles in “The Motor Cycle.” Later on, my brother bought his first car, then obviously various car magazines, which we read avidly. About this time, a change of employment for my brother meant that he had to travel into Manchester once a week. This meant that he was suddenly able to buy American magazines such as “Car Craft” and “Hot Rod.” Unfortunately, he only managed to get hold of one copy of the magazine that really interested me. It was called “Customs Illustrated.” The cars featured in this magazine were, to my young eyes, quite fantastic. I still remember to this day three cars from this magazine from 40-odd years ago. The “Mako Shark,” which was a Corvette prototype, I believe. A hot rod called “the Undertaker.” This was a street legal (in America) dragster. And the very first 23T Hot Rod I had ever seen. A midnight blue beauty with four chromed exhaust pipes on each side that had been styled into totally unusable running boards.

It was also about this time that I actually saw my first piece of Detroit iron. One day, when out riding on my bicycle with a friend, we rode past a used car pitch. Standing on it was a beige coloured Ford Thunderbird. The 1961- 63 model, that was also known as Bulletbird, because of its shape. Even the name sounded wonderful! Especially when compared to the British model names of the time. Try and think of a better named English car of the period. Oxford, Cambridge, Victor, Cresta. The last one sounds like something we used to drink…! I remember that my friend asked me if I knew the reason that this car had such a wide, flat area on top of the drivers door.

“Yes I do,” I said. “Its because when you drive these, you have to drive them in a special way. What you do is wind the window down, rest your arm on the ledge, and steer with one hand. Your other arm can then be put around your girlfriends shoulder!”

“Does that not make driving difficult?” he replied.

“Oh, no, they´ve all got Power Steering!”

Thus, American cars became my dream, and I knew that someday, I would have to buy one for myself. I knew that day would have to be in the future. First, I had to finish school, get a job and so on. For some reason though, my brother, though he also liked American cars, never ever bothered to look for one. What he did do however, is come home one day, and say that he was going to look for a pre-war British car.

Somehow, he managed to find a restoration object, a 1937 Austin Light 12. Within a few days, he had also found an identical spares car as well. How he did this, I´ll never know! One strange thing about my brother though. In spite of the fact that he had worked for an Engineering Company, he wasn´t a good Mechanic. Basic things, OK, but the more complicated, no way. Thus, before I left school, I had my first restoration under my belt. At this point, I would like to add something. When I was about 11, I had started to ride motorcycles on a local farm. This was together with a group of older boys. Being a true democracy, we shared all of the running costs, and also maintenance. Stripping and rebuilding single cylinder two and four strokes, repairing electrical failures and so on became a part of my spare time. And a good hands on foundation for a mechanic. After leaving school, a succession of first motorcycles, and then cars, each as dubious as the next, followed. Not many restorations, but a lot of repairs. During this time, it had become a dream to buy an American car but it wasn’t until the week before Christmas 1976 that I got my first yank, a 1966 Plymouth Fury III.

Not many weeks later, a 1965 Chevy Impala “easy restoration” joined it. Later these were replaced by first of all a Ford Mustang, complete with a 7-litre V8, and then an ex-US Embassy Cadillac. This was probably the heaviest car that I have ever owned, and with its soft suspension, the nearest to a boat. I remember very well knocking the exhaust off one night driving past Blackpool Zoo due to bottoming out this suspension. I’m sure that the big bellowing motor sent all of the local residents into a panic, thinking that some of the more dangerous animals had escaped!

This was the last American car that I had for quite a while. Marriage, combined with moving abroad put paid to any more. But I suppose that once the car bug has bitten, and a couple have been restored, its only a matter of time before another one (or two, or three or…) follows. Then, sometime around 1998 or `99, my wife and I started to talk about getting a “Hobby Car,” as we call it. First, we started not to look for a specific make or model, but to list features that the car would have to have. Driving conditions here in Sweden are quite different to the UK. We have comparatively little traffic. Distances are much greater. Its common to have a round trip of maybe 150 miles for a cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon. My wife can have an allergic reaction to man made materials, so therefore the seats had to be leather. If it didn´t run on unleaded, then it had to be easily converted. I don´t know how it is in the UK, but here, leaded petrol started to be phased out in the late Eighties, to have completely disappeared by the mid Nineties. Various other things were added to the list as well. I think that a list such as this is a good way to get started, as it helps to get things clear. Although I suppose that it can also put some people off as well. Still, its better than starting something that can´t be finished, and wasting money.

Deciding on a 'hobby car' to restore and run
Initially, we started to look at things like Rover P4 and 5´s, Humber Super Snipes and so on, ie the larger British cars, but these really fell down on spare parts and unleaded conversions. So, we started to look at American cars. There is quite a large following for these here, which also means that there are a lot of meetings for them. During the Summer, it is possible to go to maybe 3 or 4 a week. So at least we would have somewhere to show off our motor. But which one to look for? The feature list got bigger. I wanted a two door hardtop. A Big Block engine. An automatic gearbox.

For those that aren´t familiar with American terminology, I suppose that I had better explain these terms. A two door hardtop is what I believe used to be called a pillarless Coupé. That is to say, there are front and rear side windows, but when they are wound down, the side is open, as there is no door pillar between them. This gives a sportier (!) young mans image – at least to the Americans! After all, Mom would buy a Station Wagon, and Pop a four-door. Big Block engine. American cars used to have three basic kinds of engine. A straight six, of typically three to four litres in size. This was regarded as the “economy” version for Mom's wagon. A Small Block, maybe four to six litres for Pops four-door. Then there was the Big Block. This was the performance engine for Mustangs, Thunderbirds, and so on. But also the lazy engine for the big Cadillacs and Lincolns.

Ever since I owned the Plymouth, I have always preferred Chrysler products. Researching these gave me the idea of buying a letter series 300. In their day, these cars were known as Bankers Hot Rods. Lowered suspension and Chryslers famous Hemi engine in a luxury car. The one for us. Any year would be OK for me, as that would broaden the choice. I found a 1965 for sale within a couple of weeks, but not only that, I recognised the telephone number as being that of a friend of ours. We were going to her shop the following day anyway, so when we were there we asked her about the car. Unfortunately, it had been sold a few weeks earlier. I hadn´t noticed that it was an old advertisement. But she said that she had got a 1970 Lincoln Continental Coupé as part of her divorce settlement, and could think about selling it for a good price. Could I be interested? Even though my wife and I were a bit dubious, we agreed to look at it on the following Sunday.

Seeing the Continental for the first time
Sunday came, and we drove out to see the Lincoln. To be truthful, we both fell in love with it as soon as we saw it. This huge black beast, sitting there in the traditional barn, with years of dust on it. Close inspection showed it to be a solid car with very little rust. Even the chrome was acceptable, despite it having been stood for a few years. The biggest problems were that the leather interior needed repair or replacement, and that the paintwork had crazed. Would it start? The battery was flat of course, but jump leads connected to her boyfriends car soon helped that, and it started second try. Blowing a family of mice out of the exhaust, and splattering them against the Barn. It looked a bit like a cartoon film, and I found myself waiting for them to do the vertical scratch marks as they slid down to the floor. We couldn´t drive it, but I had checked that the fluid in the gearbox looked like fresh blood, and as it did, there was no reason to suspect any faults. The brakes felt good, in fact I was told that they had been repaired just before it was put in the barn. I said that we wanted a couple of days to think things over, but even so we agreed on a price, if we decided to go ahead with the deal. My real thinking behind this was to research into the model a little, as I had realised that it wasn´t the usual Mark series Lincoln.

Trawling the net turned up a good bit of information. I suppose the styling is questionable. The front is all flat and vertical, and the rear almost sporty, until you realise how big it is. But basically, its just a typical American car. Under the bonnet is a 460 cu. in (7,5 litre) V8 developing a claimed 365 bhp and no less than 500 ft. lb. of torque. I dont think that those figures are true. What I do know is that in the late sixties / early seventies all of the US manufacturers claimed substantially lower power outputs for insurance purposes. Contemporary road tests confirm this, with performance usually better than it should be for the available power. Only 3073 were ever manufactured, which makes it a rare car by their standards. It was full of accessories, such as central locking, electric windows, ATC, 4 speaker radio, and so on. But the self levelling suspension, antilock braking (on the rear only!), retractable headlights, three rear lights on each side, with each split into pairs, were some of the features that decided me. Making the rear lights look like a total of twelve is a masterstroke of design that can only be thought of in the USA. Hit the brakes, and following cars think that they are driving into a forest fire! I have often thought that there are only two countries that can design cars. The Italians, that make the mistresses that gets one into trouble, and the Americans that make the mothers that keep one out of trouble. Think about this one. There is a safety question about a lot of classic cars. My Lincoln weighs 2,5 tons. The jacking points are the bumpers. If you can lift this weight with the bumper, what sort of damage can the same bumper inflict on a typical family car that weighs maybe half as much? The biggest problem with it was that some spares seemed to be impossible to obtain, but this was offset to a certain degree that the common ones were really easy, and cheap.

We decided to make the purchase, and so a few days later handed over our money, and took the car home. The next few days were spent generally poking, prodding and inspecting it, looking for the things that had to be done to get it roadworthy. These turned out to be relatively few. Some rust in the boot had to be welded. A steering joint needed replacing. The exhaust had seen better days. The battery wouldn´t charge. Chrysler rims on the front, as well as the tyres needed replacing. But most surprisingly, the “repaired” brakes needed a lot of work. Of these, believe it or not, the most troublesome repair was the battery!

Restoring the Lincoln back to roadworthiness
The first thing that I did was to order original workshop manuals, wiring diagram, original owners manual, and a parts book. There´s no real point in going through the repairs, as they are not unusual. But the battery repair is, as it turned out to be one of these typical odd problems that can turn up with old cars. It went like this. The first thing that I found was that the battery wasn´t getting a charge. I removed the alternator, and stripped it. Finding that the carbon brushes were so worn that one of them had fell out of its holder, and was bridging over to the other one, I bought a repair kit, fitted it, and reassembled the alternator, and refitted it. When the engine was started, it still didn´t charge. Then I saw that I had missed a refitting a wire. I stopped the engine (important this!) and refitted the wire. The engine was restarted. Success! It charged! I went to switch off the engine. But couldn´t! Even with the ignition key in the “off” position it kept running! So the position was. Wire on, will charge but wont stop. Wire off, wont charge but will stop. Hmmm… A look through the books showed that it could be the regulator that was at fault. Trouble is, no matter how much I searched, I just couldn´t find it! Then I realised that the alternator had a built-in regulator. OK, but where did that leave me? Then I realised the problem. I saw the word Delco on the alternator. A General Motors part! Ye gods! They´ve never made anything that works for long… and certainly not on a Ford! The correct alternator and regulator were bought and fitted, and the problem solved.

By now, we were in the middle of a Swedish winter. So not much more work was carried out. It was ready to be tested, and I thought that the best thing would be to get it on the road, treating it as a rolling restoration. Driving it in Summer, and doing more work in Winter. The only other thing that I had planned was to give it a good service before starting to use it. When April came, I booked it in for a test, and gave it a service. The big problem here was changing the antifreeze. Opening the radiator drain tap didn´t release any coolant. Thinking the tap was not open enough, I hamfistedly removed not only the tap, but the boss on the radiator as well. But still nothing came out! And yes, the radiator was full, and yes, the cap was removed! I suppose that it was blocked due to the accumulation of sediment, as a result of the car standing for so long. As it is cheaper here to buy new radiators, one was bought and fitted.

Test day came, and she passed with flying colours. The fun thing about the test being that she was too big and heavy to go on the car lift, and therefore had to go through the lorry bay!

Driving her is a nice experience. She has proved to be very reliable, and over the last 5 years of ownership never let me down. There is plenty of power from the Big Block, and plenty of performance as well. A 1970 road test showed that in spite of weighing 2,5 tons, the 0-60 time is the same as a 3,8 litre E-type! In fact, the California specification one is two tenths faster. So keeping up with modern traffic is no big problem. Fuel consumption, after an unleaded conversion, keeping to the speed limits is about 15mpg, which I dont think is too bad at all. Our equivalent of A roads is where she shines, and it's a real pleasure driving at 55-60 mph through sweeping bends.

This year, she is taking a time out. I´m finally going to get round to respraying and reupholstering her to my liking, and also doing a few other jobs. I dont intend to get her into perfect condition, because I dont want a “Trailer Queen.” Old cars were built to be used, not looked at!

Obviously, I like US cars. Up until a few weeks ago, I had three. Then I sold one. But if someone asked me if they should buy one, I would say to them “think carefully.” The big problem is not the size of the car, because thats something that you get used to. Its not even petrol consumption, because thats something that you learn to live with as well. The big problem for me really is the size of the components. For example, in the workshop manual it states. “In order to avoid personal injury, it is recommended that a hoist is used to remove the inlet manifold.” Even something as simple as opening the doors can be a problem. The Lincoln is 6´ 10” wide. The doors are 5´ long. That means to open them wide, almost 17´ is needed. How wide is your garage?

Thanks for the fab story!!!

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