Today, let’s take a closer look at the Wixom-produced example of the road-going Chris-Craft…the 1958 Continental Mark III. Some love them. Some hate them. But there’s no doubt the 1958-60 Continental Mark III, IV and V were substantial luxocruisers.
The 1958 Lincolns and Continentals were Ford Motor Company’s no expense spared bid to out-Cadillac Cadillac. Their 131-inch wheelbase was longer than the Cadillac Series 62 and de Ville sedans, and only two inches shorter than the 1958 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special.
Overall length of Continental Mark IIIs was 229 inches, longer than all Cadillac models, with the exception of the Fleetwood Series 75 limousines. The expected assortment of coupes, sedans and hardtops were all shown in the annual roster, but if you wanted a convertible, there was only one way to go.
The dreamboat of the line was clearly the Continental Mark III convertible. No Lincoln Premiere or Capri drop-tops were offered, so if open-air motoring was a must, this was the one for you. As the flagship of the Ford Motor Company line, you would have paid a princely $6223 for one of these yachts.
While that was somewhat less than cross-town rival Cadillac’s Eldorado Biarritz convertible ($7500 MSRP, when a new ’58 Impala convertible based at $2724), that was still substantially more than the Cadillac Series 62 convertible at $5454.
As you would expect, plenty of options were available on the already well-equipped Continental ‘vert, which boasted not only a top styled after the steel-roofed hardtop coupe, hardtop sedan and pillared sedan, but even had the very same power retractable backlight!
Yes, the Model 68A Continental Mark III convertible was a marvel of luxury and comfort by 1958 standards. It even had air suspension as an available option. Good luck finding one though, as only 2% of production had it.
All Continentals got the four barrel, 430 CID V8 under the hood, with 375 horsepower. And if you wanted more power, you could have it, for a 400-hp version was available with triple two-barrel carbs. It was good for 400 hp at 4600 rpm.
Here’s the interior, which was as sleek inside as it was bulky outside. As you’d expect, power accessories and stretch-out room abounded, and convertible passengers sat upon finely tanned Bridge of Weir leather upholstery. The instrument panel is particularly attractive to me, with the “TV screen” enclosing all the gauges and primary controls.
Although even a zero option Continental Mark III was well equipped, it was the era of add-on factory accessories, so many more items were available. Selected options included factory air conditioning ($610.70), power vent windows ($66), tinted glass ($48.40). and an automatic headlamp dimmer ($49.50). Also available was air suspension, but it was the rarest 1958 Lincoln and Continental option, with only two percent of production being so equipped.
When all was said and done, total production of the 1958 Continental Mark III came to 1,283 pillared sedans, 4,891 hardtop sedans, 2,328 hardtop coupes and 3,048 convertibles. Sales of the less-pricey Capris and Premieres was not much better, with approximately 17,000 sold. The challenge to Cadillac failed.
Heck, even the 1958 Cadillac Sixty Special, available only as a four-door hardtop, sold 12,900 units. Well, the 1958 Lincoln/Continental styling was, perhaps, an acquired taste. Described by some as ‘pagoda’ from all the odd angles and overhangs and setbacks, it was not to everyone’s taste. And Cadillac was still the gold standard in American luxury in the late ’50s.
And they were big! Compared to the restrained and relatively svelte 1956-57 Lincolns, these were bechromed aircraft carriers. And some of the styling fillips, like the coves surrounding the front wheel wells, weren’t positively received. But FoMoCo had spent tons on the all-new cars, so only slight changes could be made for the next couple of model years.
So for 1959, only minor changes were made. All of the styling differences aimed at toning down the most wild and crazy of the 1958’s styling details. The biggest differences were up front, where the fender pontoons and headlamp pods were eliminated, with only a ridged character line on the front fenders to mark their departure. All in all, it was much cleaner.
The sides were largely unchanged otherwise, but with only modest fins and a couple of front-to-back character lines, it was pretty smooth even in 1958.
The triple round taillamps of 1958 were replaced with oblong, chrome-hooded units, accentuating the width of the whole car’s tail. They are one of my favorite Lincoln taillights.
The expected annual upholstery and door panel changes were evident, albeit still much the same as the prior year.
Mark IVs came with standard six-way power seats, tinted glass, and power vent windows. Leather was standard trim in the convertible. Sales dropped further, however, to the tune of 11,126 Mark IVs in all body styles. The Mark IV convertible? 2,195 produced, almost a thousand below 1958 Continental Mark III convertible sales.
People just weren’t warming to the Lincoln and Continental’s new styling. And for folks who wanted the latest, wild and crazy finned excess, the all-new and uber-flamboyant 1959 Cadillac fit the bill for many, though many groused about their new hugeness as well at the time.
And while it isn’t exactly hard to find 1959 Cadillacs if you go to enough car shows (like me), you don’t see a whole lot of 1958-60 Lincolns and Continentals. So I was pretty happy to find both the 1958 Mark III and the 1959 Mark IV convertibles at the same event, an LCOC Club meet in Rockford, IL back in September 2014. I’ve always found these luxocruisers compelling, and it was great to see two excellent examples up close. Maybe someday I’ll get to drive one of these cars. A yaching cap a la Judge Smails would not be out of place in that situation! Just don’t ask me to parallel park it.