It is a picture-perfect day in Westport, Connecticut, and we’re floating as if on a cloud, down sun-dappled lanes past one impressive white colonial manse after another. From the passenger’s seat, local realtor Jonathan Deak points out the ones owned by boldface names while we pilot his 1974 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. Among the Mercedes-Benz and Audi SUVs, most of them either gray or black, that today ply these shady streets, our red moondust Lincoln seems a little out of place. That wasn’t always the case.
This Lincoln Continental Mark IV was originally purchased in nearby Greenwich. As the story goes, Adele and Rolf Hasner bought a pair of new luxury coupes off the showroom floor—not unusual in this part of Connecticut—a red Mark IV for Adele and a green one for Rolf. However, Adele never liked the car’s huge and heavy doors (she’s got a point there), so she switched to a new four-door Cadillac Seville in 1976. Her Mark IV remained garaged, driven only occasionally, for the next twenty years until Deak, a family friend, acquired it from her son in 1996.
Lincoln might be running away from these cars now, but the Mark IV was a real success story at the time. The company had brought out its predecessor, the Mark III, in 1968, in response to the Cadillac Eldorado. The Mark’s Rolls-Royce grille and fake-spare-tire hump stood in stark contrast to Bill Mitchell’s creased and classy Caddy. By the early 1970s, however, the Eldorado had taken a turn, following Lincoln down the boulevard of baroque. Lincoln, meanwhile, turned up the wattage with the Mark IV for 1972, and sales jumped by nearly 80 percent over the previous year. The Mark IV sailed past the Eldorado and outsold it every year after.
The 1974 brochure humbly states: “The Continental Mark IV is one of the most desirable and most wanted personal American luxury cars of this decade.” It is indeed very much a car of its decade. The 1970s Continental Marks are arguably the zenith of the personal-luxury era, in all its long-hood, short-deck, vinyl-top, opera-window glory, in the same way that a ’59 Cadillac epitomizes the finned ’50s. As Deak says, “It’s the pinnacle of mid-’70s fabulousness.”
And there is fabulousness. Ford threw everything it had at the Mark—some of it serious, some of it less so. On the serious side, one can’t help but marvel at the smooth and silent operation of the massive, 460-cubic-inch V-8 engine. The Lincoln Continental Mark IV also offered rear antilock brakes and an electric windshield defroster, both of which are on this example. Less serious perhaps is the Cartier clock (with genuine Roman numerals!) that is as prominent as the speedometer and sits proudly near it in the instrument panel.
Elsewhere, the cabin boasts acres of tufted white leather (velour—in five different colors—was also available). The low roof and small windows make for a cozy interior, almost absurdly so, given the hugeness of the exterior.
For the 1970s’ masters of the universe, the watchword, evidently, was “soft.” Soft seats, soft armrests, soft carpets. A soft ride makes the Lincoln Continental Mark IV a very comfortable highway cruiser, but it’s best appreciated with the wheel pointed straight. Cornering is really not its thing. Surprisingly, the extreme body-roll angles are not the wildest aspect of steering this car through turns; what’s really remarkable is the time delay between when the faraway prow starts to turn and when you do. The Mark IV’s hood is more than six feet long, making for a unique perspective from behind the wheel.
The long hood is also the car’s signature design element. The Mark IV’s styling changed very little during its five-year run (and wasn’t too far removed from the preceding Mark III and the succeeding Mark V), although the ’72 has the benefit of smaller bumpers. The Mark IV was also well-known for its designer editions. Four designer series—Bill Blass, Cartier, Givenchy, and Emilio Pucci—arrived with the 1976 cars. They were presaged by various color-specific luxury groups.
Among Lincoln fans, the designer-series cars command a bit of a premium, but really, these cars are still dirt cheap. Excellent examples can be had for less than five figures and nice drivers sell for used-car money. Glenn Kramer, past president of the Lincoln & Continental Owners Club, says, “There are more of these cars in very good shape with very low miles than there is a market for.” Palm Springs Automobilist blogger Jeff Stork, who has owned multiple Continentals including national show winners, adds, “The only cars that have much value are the exceptional ones.” The appreciation of ’70s automobiles, it would seem, is still in its infancy. But we predict that this bit of rolling Americana will come to be prized again, and it will cruise proudly down even the finest streets in Connecticut, its stand-up hood ornament glinting in the sun.
|Engine||7.5L (460 cu in) OHV V-8, 194-220 hp, 338-355 lb-ft|
|Front suspension||Control arms, coil springs|
|Rear suspension:||Live axle, leaf springs|
|Original price:||$9719/ $11,030 (1974 base price/ as tested)|
|Value today||$9000-14,000. Add 15% for 1972 models or one of the designer editions or special editions (Lipstick, Gold Luxury, Blue Diamond, etc.)|