Mark III, IV and V (1958–1960)
Following the cancellation of the Continental Mark II coupe at the end of the 1957 model year, Ford Motor Company sought for ways to improve the profitability of its flagship model line. The Continental name was used as Ford’s top level division, sharing bodystyles with Lincoln-branded vehicles. For marketing purposes, the new Mark III was not called a Lincoln, and wore “Continental III”badging on the vehicle. This was done to position “Continental”-branded vehicles against top-level Cadillacs and Imperials.
In a major move to cut production costs, the hand assembly seen on the Mark II coupe was replaced as the Mark III was assembled in the same factory alongside the Lincoln Capri and Lincoln Premiere. In order to distinguish the Continental from Lincolns, stylists gave the vehicle its own roofline. Featuring a reverse-slanted retractable rear window, called “Breezeway”, it was featured in all Continental-branded models (including convertibles). Although released in the middle of the 1958 recession (that would add to the problems with the Edsel), the Mark III would prove far more successful than its predecessor due to a $4000 (nearly 40%) reduction in price; while still expensive, the number of potential buyers was far higher. Due to the production costs of developing the unibody platform, Lincoln would lose over $60 million in total over 1958-1960 production.
While far easier to produce, the Mark III was still advanced for the time. Continentals were still available with air conditioning, this time with dashboard-mounted vents. For the first time, FM radio joined AM radio as an option. Another feature was “Auto Lube”; as long as the owner kept the oil reservoir full, the car automatically lubricated itself.
For 1959, the Mark III became the Mark IV, with two new bodystyles. Intended to compete against formal sedans from Cadillac and Imperial, Lincoln introduced a Continental Town Car and Limousine. To increase rear-seat room, the retractable rear window was replaced by a standard-slant window. Limousine models were distinguished by the use of a rear-seat partition. Other features included dual air-conditioning units and a padded vinyl top. Both models were only available painted in black. The Town Car cost over $9,200 with a total of 214 sold over both years, and the Limousine cost $10,200 with only a total of 83 sold, making it more expensive and perhaps even more exclusive than the Mark II.
For 1960, the Mark V was given a minor styling update, with a larger grille and new “dagmar bumpers”.
In terms of standard production sedans without an extended wheelbase, the 1958-1960 Lincolns are some of the largest automobiles ever made. The Continental Mark III/IV/V are the longest cars produced by the Ford Motor Company without federally mandated 5-mph bumpers. The 1959 Mark IV and 1960 Mark V Limousines and Town Cars are the heaviest American standard-wheelbase sedans built since World War II.The reputation for “excessive styling” is perhaps ironic given the enormous amount of styling talent that was connected with the development and modification of Marks of this vintage (as well as given the elaborate marketing efforts at eliminating all memory of these Marks). George W. Walker, known for his contribution to the development of the original Ford Thunderbird, was Vice-President in charge of Styling at Ford during this time. Elwood Engel, famous for being lead designer of generation four of the Lincoln Continental and for his work as chief designer at Chrysler in the 1960s, was Staff Stylist (and consequently roamed all of the design studios) at Ford during this period and worked very closely with John Najjar in developing not only the 1958, but also the 1959 update. After John Najjar was relieved of his responsibilities as Chief Stylist of Lincoln in 1957 he became Engel’s executive assistant, and the two worked closely together in the “stiletto studio” in developing the fourth generation Lincoln Continental, which of course won an award for its superlative styling. After Engel left Ford in 1961, Najjar became the lead designer of the Ford Mustang I concept car, which later gave birth to the Ford Mustang. Don Delarossa, who succeeded Najjar as Chief Stylist of Lincoln, was responsible for the 1960 update, and went on to become chief designer at Chrysler in the 1980s. Alex Tremulis, who was Chief Stylist at Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg in the mid to late 1930s and famous for his work on the 1948 Tucker Sedan, was head of Ford’s Advanced Styling Studio during this period, and it was his Ford La Tosca concept car, with its oval overlaid with an “X” theme, that gave birth to the “slant eyed monster” nickname to the 1958 Mark III front end. And, perhaps most ironic of all, L. David Ash was Lincoln’s Executive Exterior Stylist when Najjar was in charge of Lincoln styling, the same L. David Ash who would later play such a prominent role as Chief Stylist of Ford in designing the 1969–1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, which helped cause Marks of this vintage (together with a marketing decision by then Ford Executive Vice-President Lee Iacocca) to be called the “forgotten Marks”.