Continental Mark III
Chariot of the Gods


Most people call it a "Lincoln", but you won't find that name anywhere on a Mark III. It is more accurately called a Continental. Built from 1968 through 1971, the Mark III was the last of a breed... 1971 Mark III by the 1970's, automakers had to design their products around safety bumpers, emissions equipment, and wind tunnel tests. The Mark III was built for style, comfort, and power first and foremost... when production ceased after the 1971 model year, the Mark IV was introduced as its replacement, a fine automobile in its own right, but lacking the distinctiveness, character, and quality of its predecessor.

Background and Development

In the middle 1960's, seeing the success of GM's Cadillac Eldorado, Oldsmobile Toronado, and Buick Riviera, the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford Motor Company did not want to be left out of this rapidly growing market segment. The decision was made to introduce a new model which would be heavily based on underpinnings of the Ford Thunderbird, in order to maintain profitability at a competitive price, and thus avoiding the pitfalls that had sealed the fate of the 1956-57 Continental Mark II.

Originally, this new model was not intended to be any sort of reincarnation of the Mark II... it was initially named "Lancelot" by its chief stylist L. David Ash. Lee Iacocca, who was in fact the father of this project, felt that the first rendition of the body style lacked sufficient distinctiveness, and contributed the ideas which virtually defined the new model: the Mark II-style trunk treatment, the classic radiator shell / grill, and the new model's name, which would be Continental Mark III.

front end view rear window view

The final result incorporated a number of influences. Iacocca's suggested radiator shell grille was likely inspired by that of the Rolls-Royce, but rather than being flat, it incorporated a number of angles and bevels. (This grille was reported to have been the costliest in the U.S. auto industry to produce, at about $200 each!) The kicked-up rear fender idea to provide a "hunched" look came from a 1961 Chrysler product. The trunk lid treatment was of course borrowed from the mid 50's Mark II, whose long hood / short deck may have also been influential. The bladed front fenders had been a Lincoln trademark since 1961.

Mark III side view Rear quarter view

There was no shortage of brightwork but it was applied tastefully around windows, openings, and edges. Exterior trim was either chrome-plated or stainless steel. The side windows, well recessed from the edge of the roof, provided a place to use chrome to good effect. An angle view over the deck lid or across the roof emphasizes that the Mark III body has few straight lines or flat surfaces. Thankfully, there were no tacky opera windows or landau roof -type styling gimmicks to mar the basic shape.

The original body design of the Mark III (the 'Lancelot') lacked the Mark II - style trunklid treatment. What would this have looked like? Perhaps like this... here are two pictures - one with the "treatment", and one without.

Mark III with trunklid treatment Mark III without trunklid treatment

Some automotive pundits of the day said the Mark III looked "like a Thunderbird designed by seven guys named Vinnie". But a year after its introduction, there were still waiting lists for them at the dealers. A total of 79,381 were built during its production run, and they were so well constructed that a high percentage of them survive today.

Continental Mark III
Base price (1969) $6,758
Wheelbase 117.2"
Overall length 216.1"
Curb weight (1969) 4,762 lbs
Fuel capacity 25.5 gal
Engine 460cid 4v, 365 hp, 500 lb/ft torque

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