December 2, 2011
The ’58 Lincoln/Continental was powered by the industry’s biggest engine, a 7.0-litre (430 cu in.) overhead valve V8 rated at 375 horsepower driving through a three-speed automatic transmission. Cadillac had to get by with just 6.0 litres (365 cu in.) and 310 horsepower.
In spite of the Continental’s mass, that big V8 gave it good performance. Road & Track (8/’58) reported zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 8.7 seconds, zero to 161 (100) in 31.0 and a top speed of 187 km/h (116 mph). But in spite of a high 2.87:1 rear axle ratio which kept engine revs down to 2,070 per mile, it still drank gasoline at the rate of 12 to 15 mpg.
The Continental, now as the Mark IV, was carried over into 1959 with few changes. The headlamps were integrated into the grille, and the front fender sculpturing was extended back into the doors.
For 1960, there were again minor changes in styling, and Lincoln returned to leaf springs in the rear. It detuned the engine to 315 horsepower (it had already dropped from 375 to 350 in ’59) in an attempt to improve fuel economy. The Continental was now called the Mark V.
Lincoln had tried to out-do Cadillac with a bigger car, but it didn’t work; Cadillac outsold it by about five to one during that three-year period. Major reasons had to be the huge size, the unusual styling, and an economic recession in 1958 that didn’t help car sales.
For 1961, Lincoln came back to reality with its beautifully styled, smaller, Thunderbird-derived Lincolns, including the Lincoln Continental (not a Mark).
For years there had been some confusion about whether the Continental was a Lincoln or a Lincoln Continental. For example in 1969 the Continental went back to being a Continental Mark again, this time – surprise – the Continental Mark III, followed by Marks IV and V. It was as if the Ford Motor Co. wanted to expunge those huge, ornate ’58 to ’60 Marks III, IV and V from its past. The later Marks III, IV and V were a return to the long hood, short deck, two-door beauties exemplified by the 1956-’57 Mark II, and the continental spare tire hump was back.
There shouldn’t be any more confusion at Ford regarding the Continental’s name; Ford eliminated the Continental in 2002.