Automotive

The four-door Lincoln Continental is an iconic convertible

Updated: 2013-11-08T21:29:26Z

By TOM STRONGMAN

Mike Roberts, 73, of Leawood has “always been an old-car guy” who likes cars from the 1950s and 1960s.

He particularly likes Chryslers, having owned several collectible models including a 1951 Imperial, a two Town and Country wood-trimmed models, a 1949 convertible and a 1950 coupe.

But old cars with six-volt electrical systems were not always easy to start, he said, and that led him to seek out a newer car with a 12-volt system. He always had a soft spot for four-door convertibles, and his 1963 Lincoln Continental is noteworthy for its clean and elegant styling.

The Continental has long been symbolic of something special, dating to the first one designed by Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie for Edsel Ford to take on a vacation to Florida in 1939. That car was so well received by Ford’s Florida friends that he decided to put it into production. It had a V-12 flathead engine, no running boards and a low hood. Continental production was on hiatus during World War II, resumed in 1946 and ended in 1948.

The Continental Mark II was built from 1955 to 1957.

Production for the third generation began in 1961 with the car you see here, an Elwood Engel design whose styling was a bold change from the overwrought tail fins and yards of chrome from the late 1950s. Engel’s design was understated and elegant, with long flat sides and rear-opening “suicide” doors that made it easy to get into the back seat. Engel left Ford and moved to Chrysler where his design of the 1964-1966 Chrysler Imperial showed some thematic similarities to the Lincoln.

It’s hard to look at a four-door Lincoln convertible and not remember that John F. Kennedy was riding in a custom limousine version, built by the Ohio firm of Hess & Eisenhardt, when he was assassinated. After the assassination, that car was rebuilt and fitted with full armor and a fixed roof. It is now at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.

Roberts bought his Continental in Wisconsin in 1990. Even though it had just 77,000 miles, its condition was not quite what he expected. It had been used extensively in parades, and the owner had painted the sides dark blue and adorned it with several patriotic symbols. Roberts took the car to a shop in Stanberry, Mo., and it took about 15 years for the paint-and-body work.

He retrieved it and had it finished about six years ago so that his son Erik and his bride could be driven away from their wedding in the Lincoln. “It was a top-up drive to the reception,” Erik said, “but the car performed beautifully.”

The car now has 79,000 miles, and Roberts has all of the original service records. The engine has not been overhauled, although he did remove and clean the oil pan.

Roberts has displayed his Continental at the Kansas City Art Institute’s Art of the Car Concours for the last three years.

Tom Strongman’s email address is tom@tomstrongman.com

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