*The Continental Mark III was introduced in April, 1968 as a production 1969 model. Approximately 7,770 were manufactured before the "official" start of the 1969 model year. These early production cars were titled as 1969 models, and therefore are included with 1969 production figures.
When people walked into the showroom at their local Lincoln dealer in the Spring of 1968, they might have been a bit confused at what they saw. A Continental Mark III? Weren't those built 10 years ago? A 1969 model? It's only April, 1968! And they would be correct on both counts. Introducing new cars in April was a Ford tradition by this time. After all, they'd done it before with the Falcon and the Mustang, both incredibly successful debuts. Next years model available 6 months ahead of everyone else...why fool with a proven concept? And once again, it worked. The 1969 Continental Mark III was an instant success.
Built on the four door Thunderbird platform, the T-Bird and the Mark III shared many of the same components, including windshields and cowls, which allowed Ford Motor Company to spread the development costs across more than one car line, improving their profit margins. Since the four door Thunderbird platform was already in its second year in 1968, it would have to be carried over for a longer period to allow a three year styling cycle for the Mark III, which impacted the T-Bird's sales somewhat, but was necessary to control costs.
No one knows for sure why Lincoln reused the Mark III name again, some speculate it was because Ford was so unhappy with the slow sales of the 1958 Mark III, and they wanted to somehow pretend it never existed, and by reusing the name they were somehow changing history. For whatever reason, all of the Marks from 1958-1960 had their names reused again from 1969-1979. And while the 1958 Mark III might not have thrilled the public, the new Mark III certainly did. What wasn't to love? Up front, Lincoln took a hard look at the Rolls Royce grille, modified it, and made it their own. Concealed headlamps flanked the new grille, with side marker and front turn signals built-in to the leading edges of the front fenders. At the rear, a deck lid hump reminiscent of the 1956-1957 Continental Mark II appeared, with tail lamps integrated into the trailing edges of the rear quarter panels so they could serve as both running/brake lights and side markers.
Lincoln stylists built up the area under the rear window to give the roof of the car a "hunched down" look. Open, flared wheel wells and restrained use of chrome trim gave the Mark III a powerful look, but also let everyone know it was a luxury car. Inside, split bench front seats were standard, along with traditional Lincoln amenities like rear seat reading lamps, power windows, and fold down center armrests front and rear. Lincoln borrowed the overhead roof console concept from the Thunderbird, which placed warning lights above the windshield in the area between the sun visors. In fact, the Mark III instrument panel was a revised version of the T-bird's panel, utilizing the same basic layout with redesigned safety pad, gauges and trim panels. The Mark III used squared off gauge openings instead of the T-bird's traditional round ones, but most controls were placed in the same location, and were indeed the exact same controls with a few exceptions.
There are numerous differences between the Mark IIIs built in the 1968 model year, and the Mark IIIs built during the 1969 model year. Notably, the Cartier Clock didn't appear on the early production cars. A standard timepiece appeared in its place instead. Interestingly, the standard clocks have held up better over the years, and have exhibited fewer problems than the Cartier timepieces. All of the changes between the two production periods are noted on our 1968 vs. 1969 Continental Mark III: The Differences page.
The 1970 Mark III was almost identical in appearance to the 1969 model, except it was updated with the new transmission/steering wheel/ignition key locking system that all Ford cars got for 1970. The vinyl roof and Sure-Track braking system became standard equipment, along with concealed windshield wipers, new wheel covers, a new pattern on the seats and interior side trim panels. A few other changes completed the picture, but at any rate it's difficult to identify the particular year of the various Mark IIIs from a distance.
For 1971, it was more of the same. Automatic Climate Control was added to the list of standard equipment, and the front seats were available with a high back design, which eliminated the necessity of a separate head rest. Sales of the Mark III each year outpaced those of the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado, which was the Mark's main competitor, but no doubt also impacted the sales of its sister, the Thunderbird, to some degree. The attention to detail was incredible during these years, even going as far as having interior designers demand that seat upholstery be sewn so that wrinkles would appear in the material, giving the car a relaxed, comfortable look inside.
Under the hood, Lincoln's powerful new 365-horsepower 460 V-8 served admirably. These big, heavy cars really had a lot of torque at the rear wheels, a big surprise to many when the light turned green! The styling of the Mark III has held up very well over the years, standing the test of time in a dignified fashion. They don't look like older cars, they seem very contemporary even today, and can easily and safely be operated in today's congested traffic conditions, something that can't always be said about other classic cars. The most authoritatively styled, decisively individual motor car of its generation is still highly regarded decades later. And that is the true test of a classic.
A notable event occurred in Lincoln's history in 1971: Lincoln celebrated its Golden Anniversary. To commemorate its 50th year, a special 1971 Lincoln Continental Golden Anniversary Town Car [link opens in new window] was built. This car came with many special touches, which are detailed on the page linked in the last sentence. Lincoln's past up to this point had both good and bad times, but things were in place to ensure mostly good times for Lincoln in the decade to come, a fitting way for the make to begin the second half of its century.
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