Lincoln Continental Mark III, 1969-1971
Confusingly, there have actually been two cars named the Lincoln Continental Mark III - the first, and largely written out of the history books, was launched in 1958, was a total flop, and for that one, see 1958 Lincoln Continental Mark III.
The second car to bear that name was launched in April, 1968 as a 1969 model, a little earlier in the year than new models are normally introduced. This is common when the model is a new vehicle that doesn't replace an existing one, to gain it extra attention and sales figures.
Intended to compete with Cadillac's new front-wheel-drive Eldorado, which was launched as a 1967 model, the new Lincoln slotted in at the top end of the personal luxury car market alongside its Cadillac competitor, priced higher and better-appointed than such cars as the Ford Thunderbird, Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado. The Mark III shared another feature with the Eldorado; both were based on the underpinnings of another car in the same parent company's range. In the Eldorado's case it was the Toronado; Lincoln, similarly, took the underpinnings of the 1968 Ford Thunderbird, built alongside Lincolns at Ford's Wixom, Michigan plant. The side-rail frame was identical to the Thunderbird's, and the engine was like the Thunderbird's Ford 429 but bored out to 460 cubic inches (7.54 litres). All the mechanicals under the hood were identical, but the Mark III bore more massive, taller and heavier (by almost 300 pounds) bodywork, requiring the larger engine.
Styling-wise, the car definitely looked like a Lincoln; squarer and more upright-looking than the sleek Thunderbird, with a typical Lincoln grille, very Rolls-Royce-esque, smooth doors to cover the headlights, and the typical Continental fake spare-tire bulge on the rear deck. The rear quarters had that typical late-60s, early-70s coke-bottle upward bulge, but otherwise the looks were rounded-off rectangular.
As befitted a luxury car, and in order to justify the $1500 price jump from the equivalent Thunderbird (a substantial amount of money then, given that the Thunderbird cost only $5000), the Mark III was sumptuously equipped. Everything was power, of course; steering, brakes, windows, headlamps, both front seats. The instrument panel, and trim panels on the doors, featured real wood veneer; either oak or rosewood, depending on the interior color chosen. A Cartier-branded clock took pride of place among the instruments. The upholstery was expertly done, either the standard vinyl with cloth inserts, or the optional leather.
A vinyl roof in cavalry twill pattern was technically an option, but they were so popular that a plain-roofed car is the rarity. Other options included the aforementioned leather interior, air conditioning, further power adjustments for the front seats, a variety of radios and 8-track tape players, tinted glass, power locks and all the rest. An limited slip differential could be ordered, as could anti-lock brakes. Cruise control was also an option. Finally, an automatic headlamp dimmer that dimmed the headlights for oncoming cars without driver intervention was available.
Despite some bad reviews by the automotive press, the public took to the car, and 30,858 cars were built in the first year, a respectable showing; Lincoln had always trailed Cadillac in production numbers, but the Mark III was almost up to the Eldorado. This was the start of a long, successful run for the Lincoln Continental Mark Series.
Little changed for 1970; Lincoln saw no need to break a clearly winning formula. 21,432 were sold; little down on the previous year's, considering 1969's model actually sold from halfway through the 1968 model year. The vinyl roof was made standard, since nobody seemed to want to order a car without it; the windshield wipers were made recessed. Radial tires became standard, and a locking steering column was introduced.
1970's Motor Trend Magazine head-to-head review of the Eldorado vs. Mark III gave the nod, barely, to the Mark III, which must have pleased Ford executives hugely. They'd produced a winner.
1971 saw the Golden Anniversary for the Lincoln marque, and the third and final year of Mark III production. Sales were better than ever, at 27,091, very good for a car that's not a new face in town. Production was almost equal to the Eldorado's this year, a harbinger of the way things would be going for Lincoln and Cadillac in this new decade.
Little changed, again; tinted glass became standard, as did automatic climate-controlled air conditioning and the SureTrak anti-lock brakes.
1972 would see a new, even larger car, the Mark IV, replace the Mark III, and Lincoln's star in the ascendant.
Today, a Mark III goes for practically the same money as they cost new, about $7000 for an example in quite good condition, a little more if perfect, a little less if it needs work; sometimes you can find bargains. Luxury cars from this period are not highly valued, and a Mark III in good condition is quite a bargain. They're not that common, but the good news is that unlike more performance-oriented automobiles, a surviving Lincoln is likely to have been treated well. You'll have little trouble with the mechanicals; the Ford 460 was used until the late Seventies, and parts availability is not a problem. The plethora of electrical and vacuum accessories may prove a little trickier.
I've seen a few at car shows and cruise nights, and they're quite impressive cars indeed, and silent and luxurious; at idle, you can hardly even hear that the engine's running. If you want a classic American luxury car that's a bit more classy than the later 70s cars, has a bit less of that pimpin' look, you could do much worse than a Mark III.