December 2, 2011
1958 Lincoln Continental MKIII. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Bill Vance
Following the Second World War, Cadillac was clearly the leading North American luxury car. Ownership was seen as the mark of success, and Ford Motor Company with its Lincoln Continental and Chrysler Corporation with its Chrysler Imperial wanted to not only share that prestige, they wanted to dislodge Cadillac from its throne.
Ford was determined to pit Lincoln head-to-head with Cadillac. Its 1940 to 1948 Lincoln Continental had been a modern classic, but it was still 1930s technology. It took Ford a few years to resurrect the Continental, and when it did, the 1956 Continental Mark II was a beautiful car. Ford spared no resources in creating an American luxury leader that had classically understated styling and a sumptuous interior. Unfortunately, its $10,000 price tag was a deterrent for most buyers. Ford lost money on every one and discontinued it in 1957.
But Ford was still determined, so with its 1958 Lincoln, and especially with the even more sumptuous Continental (not Lincoln) Mark III model, it decided to really challenge Cadillac by producing a gigantic car that was 5,817 mm (229 in., or over 19 ft) long.
While the ’58 Lincoln was huge, it had lost the classic touch of the ’56-’57 models. Its massive front bumper had canted guards at the ends. Extending the rear fenders with fins made the car look even larger, and the quad, slanted headlamps were an odd styling touch.
The Continental Mark III had an eggcrate grille much like the elegant ’56-’57, and there was another one at the rear along with the triple taillights. It also had reverse slanted rear window with a retracting middle section. A convertible was offered, which the Lincoln Premier and Capri didn’t, although its folding top ate up a lot of trunk space. All traces of the Continental tire hump of the ’56-’57 were gone.
In addition to the outre styling, there were significant differences underneath the ’58 Lincoln/Continental. The engineers replaced the traditional body-on-frame chassis with full unit construction, at the time a bold move for such a large car. But the amount of bracing and reinforcement required for structural integrity offset the unibody’s inherent weight saving.
The Lincoln’s rear leaf springs were replaced by coils in anticipation of air-bag suspension. But Lincoln engineers felt they couldn’t make air suspension reliable enough for production, a decision that was vindicated when General Motors offered it with disastrous results.