Friday, March 25, 2016

1997 Lincoln Continental - Frank Sinatra In a Beetles World

Since the "Continental" nameplate first appeared on Edsel Ford's custom built, one off, "Lincoln-Continental" in 1939, Lincoln has, on again - off again, placed the "Continental" nameplate on a number of automobiles. Save for the 1956-1957 Continental Mark II, which, again, technically was not a "Lincoln", and the 1961-1969 models, most of them were not nearly as compelling as the original. And while some of them were awful automobiles, some of them, like our 1997 Lincoln Continental subject car, were actually quite good. Unfortunately, like all Continentals, it didn't sell well but this car, unlike, for example, the over stuffed, glitzy Continentals of the late '50's and the '70's, was a victim of circumstance more than anything else.

We can't begin to look at this car without first revisiting the car it replaced, the 1986 Ford Taurus based Continental of 1988-1994. While the 1986 Ford Taurus has gone down in history as one of the most important automobiles of all time, sadly, the Lincoln version of it is but a mere foot note in automobile history. So benign, so inert, so utterly forgettable was that car that looking at one now you almost find it hard to believe that Lincoln attempted to pass it off as a premium luxury car. However, at the time of introduction, albeit for a very short period of time, that car was generally lauded as marvel of engineering and product planning. This 1995 update was an attempt at appealing to luxury car buyers in market that changed seismically within a year of the 1988 Continental's debut. Try as they may, it too failed to generate the type of response Lincoln has long sought after.

Had Lincoln come with this car in 1988 would things have been different? Perhaps, but doubtful. In 1988, Cadillac still dominated the domestic luxury car market despite the fact their product was less than exemplary. To status symbol seekers, image is everything and Lincoln has never had anywhere near the cache of Cadillac. The 1988 Continental was also a victim of bad timing; Toyota and Nissan launching luxury car market changing Lexus and Infiniti in 1989. Just like that, Lincoln's Continental seemed like Frank Sinatra in a world that was clamoring for the Beetles.

Aside from dramatically different sheet metal and interior design, in 1995, the big upgrade to the 1988 Continental was V-8 power. Whether or not Lincoln was copying Cadillac with a transverse mounted V-8 driving the front wheels or not, the truth of the matter was that the V-6 powered Continental was seriously outgunned by just about everything in it's price range. Lincoln had to do something. Short of designing and engineering a new model designed to compete directly with Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Audi and Mercedes, Lincoln made do.

In the late '80's and throughout the '90's Lincoln, like Cadillac, was left to scrounge whatever sales were left by hawking their wares to "Blue Hairs" who would never buy foreign and vice versa; Young Urban Professionals wouldn't be caught dead in something like this. It's taken almost a quarter century to stem that tide/turn that ship and while Cadillac has done nothing less than a most spectacular job of developing world class automobiles and being appealing to younger buyers, Lincoln, as is seemingly always the case, despite what Herculean efforts, continues to dawdle far behind. Not that Cadillac is setting any sales records these days but when it comes to image, Cadillac is clearly out in front of Lincoln. 

Why Lincoln thinks their 2017 Continental will fare any better than Continentals of the past is beyond me. Especially at what they're rumored to charging for them. Seriously. And it's not like they have a cadre of vehicles that will benefit from the presence of a halo vehicle in their showrooms anyway. What Ford should do is mothball the entire Lincoln division and re-introduce the marque in ten or fifteen years. That way, all preconceived notions will have been forgotten about and the new Lincoln Motor Company, or whatever they would call it, would be unencumbered by the past. By the way, with slumping sales and a new rear wheel drive flag ship already in showrooms by 2000, a car that seemingly did everything right, Lincoln pulled the plug on this car after the 2002 model year.

These big, flashy old Lincolns with very low mileage can be had for next to nothing these days. I'd be weary of them because of their aging air suspensions and myriad 1990's vintage electronics. They can be very expensive to repair.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

1972 Ford LTD - A Ford Even A Chevy Guy Could Love

During the summer of 1977 my parents did what was literally unthinkably wonderful to 13 year old, car crazy me; they decided to trade in the Ranch Wagon despite the fact it was still in very good condition. Save for a tear or two in the cheap vinyl upholstery and the $39 Earl Sheib paint job flaking away, that big old wagon, which I was none too fond of, was still as solid as a rock and reliable too. Still, my parents, it was more my mother who wanted it gone more than my automotively ambivalent father did, set out on a seemingly endless process of getting a new car. I should say, "newer" car or "less old"; my parents never bought new. After weeks of exhaustive searching and test driving a bevy of everything,  the very short list of finalists came down to the 1970 Buick Electra they eventually bought, a 1970 Cadillac Eldorado and as unlikely as it would seem, given the first two finalists on the list, a 1972 Ford LTD coupe.

Of the three, I was most fond of the Buick Electra despite it's four doors. Luscious, opulent and cheap even by 1977 standards, my mother scoffed at it because of its age and the fact it wasn't a Cadillac. Much as I attempted to tell her that it all but was and arguably was superior to any Cadillac. My father piped up and rejected the Eldorado because the Pontiac dealership it was at wanted $600 more for it than the Buick and he thought it weird looking too, I agreed on both counts; as if my opinion mattered, so that left "The LTD".

The LTD was as plush as the Buick if not plusher and was a coupe like the Eldorado. Seemed like we were going to have back to back Fords as far as I was concerned and that  disappointed me since, and I've never been able to understand why, then as now, I was a GM man (or boy) at heart.

That's not to say I didn't find plenty about the LTD to appreciate. Ford's 1971 update of their 1969 reboot of their full size line was quite handsome. The LTD was the top of the line Ford in 1972 and morphed out of a trim level of the Galaxie series much like the Chevrolet Caprice started out as a top of the line trim level of the Impala.

Big for the sake of being big without any benefit to passenger comfort, ergonomics or certainly driving dynamics, the LTD was very similar to most anything offered by Chevrolet at the time. Some things never change; drive a Taurus back to back with an Impala today and you'll be amazed how similar they are in size and scope. For the record I think they're both ugly and where born in rental car hell. Given a choice between a 1972 Impala or LTD and I'd have a hard time choosing; GM loyalist me says Chevy but I have to admit this LTD is a Ford even a Chevy guy could love.

In the back of my mind I knew my fuddy duddy parents would never go for a stylish coupe and not for the reason that it was impractical, ultimately, as a family car. It was just too "sporty" for them. Sigh. Didn't matter to me really since I was doing my best to convince my parents that the Electra was the way to go but I really liked the LTD.

After weeks of searching and test driving who knows what all over Long Island, my mother finally acquiesced and decided we should get the Electra with the idea that we'd keep it for a year and search again the next summer for a Cadillac. Lovely, more car shopping; the process wore even a car wonk like me out. While I was delighted and I knew the Electra would be short lived and it was since momma had to have her Caddy, that big LTD coupe remains stuck in my mind as another example of what could have been.

Our fabulous subject car is for sale down in Okeechobee, Florida with an asking price of $17,000. While that asking price is extremely ambitious, according to Hemmings Motor News, it is in line with a concours quality car of this vintage - which this one most certainly appears to be in.  Doesn't mean I'd pay that much for it and I'd find it hard to believe that anyone would pay anywhere near even half for it. Here's the listing.

Monday, March 14, 2016

1985 Buick Regal - Moth To a Flame

Here's a 1985 Buick Regal for sale down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that is in remarkably good, very original condition.

If this car wasn't in the pristine shape it appears to be in I'd be hard pressed to believe that was really 14,097 miles and not 114,097 on the odometer if not 214,097 considering the age of this car. These analog odometers were ripe for tampering but seeing the overall shape of this car I tend to believe that mileage is correct. Low mileage on a car this old will help sell the car but I hope the buyer doesn't buy it solely on that low number. Hoses, belts, gaskets, tires, brake pads, brake lines and more all need to be gone over just in case. 

Years ago buyers could custom order cars to their liking to, "Make Them Your Own". While by 1985 that practice was being phased out in favor of option packages that simplified assembly, this is an odd combination of tilt steering, crank windows. buckets and a sport console.  

And, the 231 V-6? To each his own. At least it's not the Oldsmobile 4.3 liter diesel V-6. An Oldsmobile gas 307 V-8 was optional as well but offered a minimal increase in overall drivability. The V-8 was good for resale value, though. The engine you really wanted was the turbocharged V-6 but that was only available on the Grand National.

I can't help but imagine how good a set of 15 inch Buick sport rims would look on this car. Perhaps some massaging of the V-6 too. 

The value in this car isn't so much that it's a 1985 Buick Regal in showroom condition as much as it is a neat old car in showroom condition. Extra points for it being down in south Florida and garaged all of it's very stress free life but I'm still leery of it knowing how poorly built and unreliable these cars are. Bids on ebay, as I write this, are at $12,000! That is a lot of money for this. I'm not crazy about the color and it has the V-6 but still, I can't not look at a rear wheel drive GM coupe. Despite it's flaws. It's like I'm a "moth to a flame". Happy bidding!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

1969 Ford 250 Good Humor Ice Cream Truck - More Than Just An Ice Cream Truck

The rhythmic tinkling of the bells of Good Humor Ice Cream Trucks were as much a part of my growing up on Long Island as the quacking of ducks in the park next to my house were. Growing up in Nassau County, just a stones throw from Kennedy Airport, when those trucks turned onto Overlook Place it was as Norman Rockwellian as my life got. The ice cream was pretty good too.


In my minds eye, the Good Humor Trucks that would pull onto my block looked exactly like this one. Everything from the dashboard forward and underneath being a 1969 Ford F250, it was, of course, that massive freezer out back, with it's mini vault like doors that opened and closed with wonderful solidity, that made a Good Humor Truck a Good Humor Truck.


Good Humor, also known as "ice cream on a stick", was created by candy-maker Harry Burt in Youngstown, Ohio in 1920. Mr. Burt's first invention was the "Jolly Boy Sucker" which was a lollipop on a stick. While working in his ice cream parlor he created his own recipe for a smooth chocolate coating that would stick to ice cream. His daughter, Ruth, thought it tasted it good but was messy to eat. It was his son, Harry, who suggested that he insert the wooden sticks from the Jolly Boy Sucker into the ice cream as handles. Burt named his new creation "The Good Humor Bar" after the belief that a person's outlook on life was related to the "humor of the palate".

In the beginning, Good Humor bars were peddled in white wagons by door to door salesmen in white uniforms. The white uniforms meant to denote an impression of cleanliness and safety in the community. 

With the advent of refrigerated trucks, Burt switched to the porcelain white trucks most associated with Good Humor Ice Cream. In 1930, Burt sold the majority of shares in the company to M.J. Meehan who quickly expanded the company. By the mid 1930's, Good Humor bars were sold throughout most of the country. 

Most of the Good Humor trucks I remember were heavy duty Ford or Chevrolet pickup trucks modified by Hackney Body of Washington, North Carolina.

Refrigeration units were "220 plug in", Hackney cold plate freezers that over night could chill ice cream down to approximately twenty degrees below zero. There was a compressor mounted where the passenger seat would normally be; nothing under the hood of the truck had anything to do with the freezer. The deep freeze would last for about 3-4 days or until the temperature inside the freezer got to around five below. As a safety precaution, there was no door on the driver's side. By the way, I do not recall Good Humor drivers dressed in uniform like this; Good Humor drivers when I was a kid were young men with long hair, t-shirts and cut offs. While a far cry from the picture of the middle America of the 1940's and 1950's I wanted it to be, it sufficed.  

In 1961, the Meehan family sold the  company to Unilver's U.S. subsidiary, the Thomas J. Lipton Company. In 1976, Lipton discontinued what was referred to as "direct selling" and began selling  Good Humor Ice Cream in grocery stores instead. Local fleets of Good Humor trucks were sold off to other ice cream distributors who changed the signage on the sides of the trucks.


That explains why in the late '70's I'd still see trucks that looked like Good Humor trucks perusing neighborhoods selling what could best be described as generic ice cream. And while buying Good Humor Ice Cream at the super market was infinitely more convenient than waiting for the truck to come down the block, I know I speak for many that in 1976, Lipton phased out a lot more than just ice cream trucks. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

1956 Continental Mark II - The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

If I had the means to indulge in my automotive fancy above and beyond owning just one old car at a time, I would make room for a 1956-57 Continental Mark II. Maybe more than one, too. Hardtop and a convertible perhaps? I think these cars gorgeous and as timeless as Marilyn Monroe.

I first saw one at a classic car show back on Long Island sometime in the mid 1980's and it knocked me sideways. I didn't know what it was at the time nor had I any idea how influential a design these cars were at the time either. The only thing I did know at the time was that these cars were very special and moved to the top of my list of cars to have in my fantasy garage.

When people ask me what my favorite car is, car guys don't have a single favorite, but when I tell them I'm a fan of the 1956-57 Continental Mark II they often times will correct me by saying, "oh, don't you mean a Lincoln Continental Mark II?" This isn't a Lincoln Continental but rather a "Continental Mark II"; semantics really seeing that underneath this car is literally all Lincoln and these cars were sold through Lincoln dealerships. In 1956 and 1957, "Continental" was supposed to be a stand alone luxury division that the Ford Motor Company positioned above Lincoln to compete with Cadillac and Packard. Designed to emulate the Lincoln Continental of 1939-1948, the first one of which was a customized Lincoln Zephyr that was Edsel Ford's personal car, the 1956 Continental was dubbed "Mark II"; as if the first Continentals were Mark I's.

Considering the ostentatious chrome and tail fin fest of the mid to late 1950's, the Continental Mark II was a remarkably clean design. Save for the hump on the trunk, the Mark II was delicate compared to a Cadillac of the same vintage. Lincolns as well.

Same can be said for the spacious, tastefully appointed interior; save for the color contrasts of this car's upholstery. All Mark II's had interiors that were hand stitched; this unusual color scheme not out of the realm of possibility - we are talking about the 1950's.
The dashboard looks as though it would look not out of place in a BMW of the same vintage. It's European in it's clean, functional design. Simply beautiful. This many gauges on the dash board of a 1950's American made automobile particularly rare.  

You'd think that such a beautiful car would be remarkable underneath as well. The Mark II, however, was fairly ordinary mechanically. Mark II's were powered by a 368 cubic inch, overhead valve, 285 horsepower "Lincoln V-8" which was an offshoot of the Ford Y-Block. The very large and very heavy engine was backed by a three speed Lincoln automatic transmission dubbed "Turbo Drive".  Independent front suspension used unequal-length A-arms, coil springs, ball-joint spindles, a link stabilizer bar and advanced-for-their-day tubular hydraulic automatic speed-compensating front shocks. The solid rear axle was suspended by longitudinally mounted semi-elliptical leaf springs and tubular hydraulic shocks. Saginaw power steering had a 22.1:1 ratio with four turns lock-to-lock and a 45.3-foot turning circle and was noted as predictably light with a slightly mushy feel and good tracking. Brakes were dual-servo hydraulic, internally expanding four-wheel drums.

Before we scoff at the whipped cream ride the suspension on the Mark II provided, the fact that 285 horsepower was woefully inadequate to move a car that weighed almost two and half tons and the car had literally no brakes, understand that this type of automobile was state of the art in the 1950's. Consider what else was available to the buying public in 1955 - the Mark II was the stuff of dreams. The dreams of a country that was just ten years removed the end of World War II and just twenty five years removed from the start of the Great Depression.

Sadly, just over 3,000 Mark II's were ever produced between 1956 and 1957. Sales were very slow because the car was over priced at almost $10,000 each, sales for high end luxury cars were minimal to begin with, it only came as a coupe, the country was about to dip into a deep albeit brief recession let alone that Cadillac was about to drop the bomb on Ford in 1957 with the spectacular four door Eldorado Brougham. The Continental division and the Mark II had a tough putt. Very tough. Lights out on the whole Continental division after the 1957 model year.

Remarkably, despite their rarity, today, Mark II's are relatively affordable classics and there is a parts network available  to owners as well. Important since having access to parts is extremely important for any old car let alone one as old and rare as a Mark II. Having had several old cars over the years, I can tell you first hand that owning an old car is not for the weary no matter what kind of condition the car appears to be in. Often times it's best just to dream no matter how hard it knocks you sideways.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

1982 Lincoln Continental - Baby Got Bustle Back

Of the three inexplicable "Bustle Backs" that debuted in consecutive models years 1980-1982, I've always been of the opinion that Lincoln, if you divorce yourself from attempting to legitimize the design, was the one that got it sort of right. Imagine that, Lincoln doing something right or less wrong during the "Malaise Period". Amazing. Doesn't mean I'd be caught dead in one but between the 1980 Cadillac Seville, quite possibly the ugliest American made car of the last forty years, the 1981 Imperial by Chrysler, which was saved from being even worse off than the Seville only because it was a coupe, the Lincoln was the least homely of a lot of very homely automobiles. Credit that to that little spare tire hump on the back. More on that below.

Built on Ford's Fox platform, which also underpinned the 1979 Ford Mustang and 1978 Ford Fairmont amongst other very humble Ford offerings, the 1982 Lincoln Continental was everything luxury car buyers sought after in the early 1980's. Debate-ably glamorous styling inside and out, a prestige brand and the stupefying sticker price that went along with that brand. After all, what's the point of buying a luxury car if you're not going to pay through the nose for it? Let's not even begin to address the fact that there were far better ways to spend $25,000 on a luxury car in 1982 than on a Lincoln.

Not unlike the 1968 Lincoln Continental Mark III and the 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the "Bustle Backs" were meant to emulate classic car designs of the 1930's. The designs were original enough that it mattered little if you got the gist or not. Subsequently, you could dislike the designs for what they were rather than connect the dots as to what they were trying to be. I for one find it hard to believe that most of the buying public at the time would put two and two together that the Big Three were cribbing from car designs from thirty to forty years prior. Little less caring. Not unlike today; you really think people admire the current Camaro, Mustang and Challenger because they ape lines of their "classic" late '60's to early '70's forebears?

Of the three "Bustle Backs", the Lincoln was also the most conventional top to bottom. It was a rear wheel drive sedan powered by the salt of the earth, iron block and head Ford 302 V-8, albeit with a piddling 129 horsepower. Buyers could also delete the V-8 and order a 232 cubic inch V-6, remember the era that we're in - the end of the second gas crisis. In 1984 buyers could also choose a BMW sourced turbo diesel six as well; one of those would be interesting to find. I mention "conventional" since the Cadillac was front wheel drive and after 1980 was later saddled with a series of horrendous Cadillac engines. The Imperial was an over the top wedding cake on wheels that vaporized the minute it drove over the dealership curb. Chrysler sank that ship after 1983 incidentally. The Seville moped on until 1985. Our Continental lasted until 1987.

Public reaction to the 1982 Continental's "Bustle Back + Hump" was mixed -  and although I believe the design has aged well, it's still a polarizing one. Same was true of the humpback 1968 Mark III's which were the first post-1956 vintage Continental Mark II Lincolns to feature what could only be described as a far flung styling detail. With regards to the '68 Mark, if it didn't have the hump, it would've just been a Thunderbird - in other words, just another car. Same was true for the '82 Continental; if baby didn't have "Bustle Back", it would've just been another car.

Which brings us all the way back to the introduction of Lincoln's new for 2017 Continental which curiously, not only doesn't have a Bustle Back, it doesn't even have a vestigial spare tire hump or bump. Personally, I think that a mistake since as polarizing as the hump (or bump) was on the 1982 Continental, it was a unique styling element that made the car a most memorable one. While Lincoln's new for 2017 Continental faces many obstacles above and beyond whether or not it has a hump on the trunk, the lack of that styling detail leaves this car looking like just another car. Albeit one that is very, very expensive.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lincoln LS - The Path To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

When I first became a program director years ago, naively, myself and number of staff members were certain that all that ailed the little radio station we were at was the lack of snappy, fun, upbeat music and a brighter, more contemporary presentation. Much like the 2000 Lincoln LS,  which was a complete departure from the Lincoln Continental that it replaced, I transformed the radio station into something radically different from what it was. In doing so I learned quickly that doing what you believe to be right, hard work and the best of intentions ultimately mean nothing if the results of your efforts fall short of expectations.

The rear wheel drive Lincoln LS was introduced in late 1999 as a new for 2000 model and was as radically different from the Lincoln Continental it ultimately replaced as that Continental was a departure from the car it replaced, the Fox bodied Continental of 1982-1987. Borrowing literally every clichéd luxury car design cue of the time while utilizing the famed Ford DEW98 platform that also underpinned the Jaguar S-Type, at the time Ford owned Jaguar, the Lincoln LS appeared primed for great success. What's more, the car was lauded in the automotive press; Motor Trend even named it "Car of the Year" for model year 2000. The Lincoln LS, much like my work when I first became a program director, was heralded a savior since it appeared to be everything that everyone wanted in a contemporary luxury car. Heralded a savior by well meaning supporters without anything truly tangible to back up that salvation.

Radio station program directors are judged by their radio station's ratings performance so you can imagine my horror when the ratings on the station went down instead of up after I made a myriad of seismic changes. Changes I, again, were certain would garner high ratings. Ratings were so bad that they went down to a level lower than what they had been when the station was under the guise of the person I replaced. At the stern request of my boss, I (reluctantly) sought consultation with programming experts and "righted the ship". At first, ratings returned to a level somewhat higher than they were before I made changes but under my stewardship, save for the occasional ratings wobble up, the station was never able to consistently achieve the ratings success that I was certain it was going to have once I was in charge.

To us "car people", the Lincoln LS certainly appeared to do everything right when it was first introduced. While the styling was clichéd, it was far more contemporary looking than the Continental and, as if this was the most important thing in the world - it featured rear wheel drive. Performance dynamics were splendid and while the sticker price was high, it was somewhat below rival makes and models from Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes and Audi. What could go wrong?

Right from the start, the LS had two major problems. First, Lincoln had never had any where near the cache that even Cadillac once had and for them to market any automobile at luxury car buyers and not offer anything supremely different or better than what Lexus and BMW offered, for example, was tantamount to planning to fail. That's why the Lincoln Navigator was so successful, Asia and Europe didn't offer anything like it. Second, as good as the car was, it just wasn't as good as the offerings it was allegedly targeted to compete with. To make matters worse, the car had numerous quality issues. Three strikes, you're out, Lincoln. Despite the best of intentions, Ford pulled the plug on the car after the 2006 model year with just over 250,000 sold. Decent numbers but not nearly what Ford had projected sales to be.

I realized years later that I faced many problems programming that little radio station that were  completely beyond my control. The largest one being that due to the size of the station relative to the market it competed directly against, there was and remains no way to ultimately succeed. One night the person who promoted me into the position, who had long left the station, took me to dinner and over a bottle of wine let me vent my frustrations. My biggest frustration being that no matter what I did nothing seemed to work despite what I believed, and honestly still believe to this day, to be the right thing to do. That old boss, supportive, lovably acerbic and candid as always purred at me between sips of Merlot, "you know what they say...the road to hell is paved with good intentions".