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Lincoln's most intriguing development for 1968 was the $6585 Continental Mark III. Not a revival of the leviathan '58 Mark III, this was the putative successor to the charismatic 1956-57 Mark II. It bore the personal stamp of company president Henry Ford II, just as his brother, William Clay, had influenced the Mark II and their father, Edsel, had hatched the original 1940 "Mark I" Continental. Why "Mark III" instead of the expected "Mark VI?" Because HF II didn't view the heavyweight 1958-60 Mark III/IV/V as true Continentals.

But this new one was true to its heritage, at least in spirit. The project had begun in late 1965 as a personal-luxury coupe with long-hood/short-deck proportions in the Continental tradition. Exterior styling was naturally supervised by corporate design chief Gene Bordinat. Hermann Brunn, scion of the great coachbuilding family and a member of Bordinat's staff, was chiefly responsible for the interior, endowing it with large, comfortable bucket seats and a dashboard with simulated woodgrain trim and easy-to-reach controls. Henry Ford II himself selected both the interior and exterior designs from numerous proposals submitted in early 1966.

The result was actually a structural cousin to the new-for-'67 Thunderbird sedan, set on the same 117.2-inch wheelbase (some nine inches shorter than the Mark II's). Overall length was identical with that of Cadillac's new 1967 front-wheel-drive Eldorado. Though slightly baroque, the Mark III was handsome, helped by America's longest hood -- more than six feet. It also offered a wide choice of luxury interiors and 26 exterior colors, including four special "Moondust" metallic paints. The 1969-71 models cost a fair bit more: ultimately over $8800. Standard equipment ran to Select-Shift Turbo-Drive automatic, power brakes (discs in front, drums in back), concealed headlamps, ventless door windows, power seats and windows, flow-through ventilation, and 150 pounds of sound insulation.

Beneath that long hood was a new 460 cid V-8 -- one of Detroit's largest -- with 10.5:1 compression and 365 bhp. Also adopted for standard '68 Continentals, it would remain Lincoln's mainstay powerplant for the next 10 years.

Because of a late introduction (in April), the Mark III saw only 7770 units for model-year '68. But there was no question that it was right for its market. As proof -- and despite no major change -- more than 23,000 were sold for '69, another 21,432 for 1970, and over 27,000 for '71. The front-drive Eldorado may have been more technically advanced, but the Mark III seemed to have more magic, for it nearly matched Eldorado sales each year through 1971 and never trailed by more than 2000. This was a great achievement considering Lincoln's annual volume had never come close to Cadillac's.

Aside from the larger engine, the '68 Continental sedan and hardtop updated their basic '66 look with a new horizontal grille texture and matching rear-panel applique, beefier bumpers, and large "star" ornaments on the nose and trunklid. A multifunction lamp at each corner imparted a cleaner look by combining turn signals, side-marker lamps (newly required by Washington), and parking lamps (front) or brake/taillamps. Also new were a government-required dual hydraulic brake system with warning light, a four-way emergency flasher, and an energy-absorbing steering column and instrument panel. Model-year volume for this line totaled more than 39,000.

Announcing the 1969 Continentals was a square, finely checked Vee'd grille more-distinct from the headlamps. A new Town Car interior option for the sedan provided "unique, super-puff leather-and-vinyl seats and door panels, luxury wood-tone front seat back and door trim inserts, extra plush carpeting and special napped nylon headlining." Series production eased once again, settling at about 38,300.

The Mark III was one of the first vehicles to have power-controlled features and anti-lock brakes.
Differences for the 1969 model year included eight new exterior colors and an optional white leather/vinyl interior, as well as new headrests, steering wheel styling, instrument panel knobs, and color-keyed vinyl boots on the front seat belt anchors varied. A Cartier clock was introduced in December 1968. The non-Cartier clocks of the early cars have exhibited fewer problems than the Cartier-branded units.

Few changes were made to the Mark III for 1970. Few were needed. The vinyl roof became standard, and the parking lights now illuminated with the headlamps. The interior upholstery received a facelift, eliminating the diamond-tufted look of the 1969 models. The simulated wood grain accents on the interior were upgraded to genuine Walnut veneer. The windshield wipers were hidden under the back edge of the hood, which also allowed heat in the engine compartment to dissipate better. Michelin steel belted radial ply tires were now provided as standard equipment, complete with a 40,000-mile tread wear guarantee. And the Three Spoke Rim-Blow Steering Wheel, which allowed the driver to operate the horns simply by squeezing the inner rim was a new feature, also standard. In addition to the new steering wheel, the ignition key was relocated to the steering column, and now featured a locking device that locked the steering wheel and the transmission selector lever when the key was removed. All GM products adopted this feature in 1969.

The 1970 model year cars included the formerly optional vinyl roof and Sure-Track braking system. The interior wood trim was upgraded to genuine walnut wood trim (all 1969 models featured either East India Rosewood or English Oak wood appliques depending on the interior color). The Continental lettering on the decklid was bolted on (instead of glued on for 1969). The seat and door trim pattern was changed to a simpler design (instead of the diamond-pattern, button-tufted design of 1969). Also new were a locking steering column, rim-blow steering wheel, map light off delay device, concealed electric windshield wipers with adjustable intermittent feature, and a three-point restraint system for front outboard occupants.

Advertising for the 1970 Mark III remained dignified and understated. Few words were used in ad copy, as well as the sales brochures. Apparently, Lincoln felt that the car could speak for itself. Lincoln was right. The Continental Mark III remains one of the most distinctive cars on the road. And the quality that was used to build the car is still very much evident in some of the high mileage examples that still exist. The 1970 Continental Mark III. A classic in its own time.

If you liked the 1970 Continental Mark III, you would also like the 1971 model, as very few changes were made between the two. Sales improved to 27,091 for the year, the third and final year of this body style, which had been marketed since the Spring of 1968. Automatic Temperature Control Air Conditioning, Tinted Glass, and Hi-Back Twin Comfort Lounge Seats with Dual 2-Way Power Controls were added to the standard equipment list, since most Mark IIIs left the factory with those extras anyway.

Not too long after the 1971 Mark III hit the dealer showrooms, potential customers started commenting on the new Hi-Back seats. It seems some people weren't very receptive to them, noting they were too tall, and blocked the view to the rear. In order to overcome these objections, the Lo-Back (as they were now called) seats from 1970 were also made available as a no cost option, so people could choose which seat they liked better. The Hi-Back seats had been introduced on other Ford Motor Company products a few years earlier, and were generally well received. 1971 was the first year that they were installed in a wide variety of Ford cars, including the Ford LTD, Mercury Marquis, etc. They had been available as part of an optional interior trim package on the Thunderbird since 1970, although the more conventional Lo-Back seats were still standard fare.

Over at the Cadillac dealer's place, a new Fleetwood Eldorado was announced. And it was a totally new car, now available in a choice of coupe or convertible. The Eldorado Coupe was the most popular of the two, with sales of 20,568 sold. The new model for the line, the Eldorado Convertible, was just the thing for 6,800 wealthy folks who still enjoyed the open air sensation that only a convertible can provide.
1971 was the year of the big General Motors/United Auto Workers (UAW) strike. It hit right about the time the new models were introduced, and lasted for 67 days, placing a serious crimp on new car availability in General Motors' dealer showrooms and car lots. Perhaps for this reason as much as any other, sales of the all new Eldorado weren't much better than those of the three year old Mark III.

Not that the 1971 Eldorado was perfect. It is generally noted that quality control slipped a bit during this time, and some of the materials used didn't seem to be up to par with what was expected in a Cadillac. The new styling also left some cold, with deeply beveled sides and rear deck, a fake scoop on the rear quarter panel, and stationary Coach windows in the roof quarters that replaced the rear side windows on Coupes.
Cadillac's 500 cubic inch V-8, introduced the previous year, was designed for 1971 to run on new low lead or no lead fuels, while the Mark III still required premium gas due to its high compression ratio. The Eldorado was the more flamboyant of the two cars, with the Mark III considered to look like and represent old money, and the Eldorado likely the choice of those who'd just come into the good life, and wanted to let everyone else know they had.
Big changes were in store for the Mark for 1972, with the introduction of a completely restyled Continental Mark IV, which would challenge rival Eldorado at a new level, and serve notice to Cadillac that its status of being the top luxury car in the land was now under challenge. After more than three years in production, the 1971 Continental Mark IIIs left the factory in top condition, with very few issues. Even today, they are generally dependable cars that are still strong and quiet, and you'd be hard pressed to find a more comfortable automobile for a long trip.

The Mark III's main competition was the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado. Sales of the Mark III were a stone's throw from those of the Caddy, which must have concerned the folks at GM just a little. The Eldorado received a modest facelift for 1970, and also got a new engine--the 8.2 Litre (500 cubic inch) V-8. Rated at 400 horsepower, this would be the largest engine to ever be installed in an American production car. The Eldorado utilized this engine through the 1976 model year.

With the numbers for the Mark III and Eldorado so close, this created a rivalry between the two cars.
Motor Trend Magazine even began the first of what would be an annual review of the two cars, calling the article 'King of the Hill', the magazine compared the two cars feature for feature. In the end, the Mark III won in areas of leather quality and seating configuration, as well as 'sheer plushness...from a luxury standpoint', but lost to Eldorado on general organization of the driving compartment, instrument legibility, and headroom. Overall, the Mark III was given the edge. The response to the article was huge! Motor Trend received a large number of responses, professionally typed on crisp business letterheads. No comment is noted as to which marque received the most mail in its favor.
© 2016 by Gerald Loidl