Mr. Lido A. Iacocca is a polarizing figure. For some, he took all the glory, imposed his will at his own peril, and took credit for the work of others. Alternately, he was a super salesman, made his career from nothing, created some new market segments no one else had ever thought of, and saved a car company at the brink of being toast. Few are neutral about the man. But I fall a bit more into the latter camp, and the subject of today’s daily dose of Lincoln is why: The magnificent Continental Mark III.
That’s right folks, “Klockau” is in the byline and the subject is Ford Motor Company’s finest. You just know there’s going to be a positive push for plush Lincolns! And so it is. Well, what can I say. My Grandpa Bob and Grandma Ruby were Ford people, with several Lincolns and Thunderbirds through the years.
And in 1968, my grandfather traded his green over green 1966 Lincoln Continental sedan for a triple dark green Mark III. So classy! So comfy! He loved that car. One interesting thing my father recently told me. That Mark was the first one Bob Neal Lincoln-Mercury got in. My grandfather saw it sitting there and bought it on the spot.
Indeed, he loved it so much that he traded it for a triple dark green 1972 Mark IV, and that one was traded for a triple navy blue 1977 Mark V. Lee Iacocca was certainly on to something, and the value of the renewed Mark III (there was a previous Mark III in 1958, but Ford decided to rewrite history) definitely exceeded the sum of its Thunderbird-derived parts. The inaugural 1969 model sold 30,858 units at $6585 initially, later bumped to $6741. The Mark III was introduced in April of 1968 but all cars were officially 1969 models, much like all first-year Mustangs were 1965s, “1964 1/2” designations notwithstanding.
Despite the admittedly long model year, Mark III sales were quite substantial, considering 1969 Continental sedan and coupe sales came to 29,351 and 9,032, respectively. Lincoln was clearly on to something. The 460 CID V8 produced 365 horsepower through its four-barrel Autolite carburetor and had a curb weight of 4,866 pounds. 1970 models received redesigned door panels and upholstery sew style, new wheel covers and other small details, plus a price increase to $7281. With a standard production interval for this year, production went down to 21,432.
Ninety six percent of 1970 Continental Mark IIIs had air conditioning and tinted glass, and eighty-eight percent had a tilt steering wheel. I suspect the 4% of non-A/C Marks were sold in Minnesota and Anchorage, ha ha! A myriad of color choices–including optional Moondust colors, such as the Red Moondust seen on our lovely example here, were available, plus a cornucopia of interior color choices. In fact, more than anything else, I have always associated luxury cars with a vast amount of both interior and exterior color choices.
See, back then, most people bought their Lincolns, Cadillacs, and Imperials with cash, not a lease. They could afford it! And when you’re spending over seven grand-a substantial sum in the Year Of Our Lord 1970-one was not going to buy a car off the lot. Heck no. You’d want to order exactly the car you desired: color, trim, options, sunroof, the whole nine yards. And most did. It was a different time.
Personally, the colors on this 1970 were just about perfect to me. I loved the Red Moondust paint, and the dark red leather interior too! The easiest way to tell a 1970 from a 1971 is that most ’71s received high-back seats, though the sew style remained the same as the previous year. I prefer the separate headrests; the high-back seats always make me think Mustang. And even that is not conclusive. When the high back seats appeared on early ’71s, many people didn’t like them, so Lincoln made the low-back seats with adjustable headrests a no-cost option shortly thereafter.
1970 and 1971 Continental Mark IIIs also received genuine walnut trim on the instrument panel. About twenty years ago, a friend of my father’s was performing some cosmetic restoration on a 1971 Mark III, and I got to sit behind the wheel. I was smitten with the interior: those instrument binnacles framed by real wood, and the Cartier clock with the second hand seamlessly sweeping across its face. This is the life! Imagine the pleasure of driving one on a regular basis!
The Continental Mark III not only stole the hearts of FoMoCo faithful, they also attracted admirers from “the other luxury car make.” And eventually, the Mark would trounce Cadillac’s Eldorado in sales–though Cadillac would still outsell Lincoln as a whole until the early Navigator years.
The last year for the Mark III was 1971, when 27,091 sold at $8421 a pop. Clearly Lincoln–and by association, Lee Iacocca, had a hit. Who could blame him for using past successes to create new ones, when he helmed Chrysler in the early ’80s. And the LeBarons sure sold fine–I remember many of them when I was a kid. Times were changing though, and by about 1990, the “Mark III formula” really didn’t have the sparkle and attraction it once held. The retro-Brougham 1990-93 Chrysler Imperial, while a car I personally like, just couldn’t stand up to the new-for-1992 Cadillac Seville, a tasteful modern take on American luxury. But I will give Mr. Iacocca a pass on that, for he gave us some truly wonderful Lincolns. It all started with the timeless Continental Mark III.