The confusion is understandable. 1969 was not the first time an automobile
bore this name. Lincoln developed, built, and marketed a car of the same
name back in 1958, but almost as if it wanted to turn back the hands of
time, or perhaps forget the past, Lincoln debuted the new Continental Mark III in April of 1968. About the only thing the two cars
had in common was the name, and there was a two door, two. Oh, sorry...that's
The personal luxury car market was booming in the 1960s, with new models
from Buick (Riviera), Oldsmobile (Toronado), and Cadillac (a revamped Eldorado),
all introduced that were specifically intended to attract the coveted personal
luxury car buyer - and Lincoln had nothing available to compete with! When
the 1966 Lincoln Continental Coupe joined the line up in 1966, sales were
brisk for a car that Lincoln itself acknowledged would have a limited market,
but it wasn't a true personal luxury car, and it was now time for Lincoln
to expand its offerings from the two models it had offered since 1961 -
both four door cars, one a hardtop, and the other a convertible. Both had
served Lincoln well, but convertibles weren't selling in the late sixties
because people loved the hardtop look with sporty vinyl tops, and were
ordering factory air conditioning and stereo systems in record numbers.
Always mindful of the need to conserve the research and development budget,
the opportunity to build a true personal luxury car presented itself when
Ford Division's popular Thunderbird announced a new four door model for
1967. With a wheelbase slightly longer than the two door Thunderbird, this
platform would be ideal for a new premium personal luxury Lincoln.
And the 1969 Continental Mark III which resulted hit the market and was
every bit as sensational as the Continental Mark II of the late fifties,
and some even compared it to the original Lincoln Continental, which is
a true landmark in automotive design. The new car was very handsome, and
bore a distinct styling kinship with the other Lincolns, yet didn't look
like anything else on the road.
Up front, a new sparkling chrome grille was prominently featured, and it
can only be described as Rolls Royce-inspired. Its look was immediately
considered a classic, one that clearly said Lincoln, and one that would
become one of Lincoln's most distinctive styling elements for many years
to come. Concealed headlamps were vacuum controlled, and were pretty much
considered a required item on personal luxury cars of the time, as almost
all of them had the hidden light feature.
The lines of the car were clean and reminiscent of the rest of the line,
with minimal chrome and a discreet paint stripe that ran along the side
of the car. If paint stripes weren't your thing, you could delete it as
it was a no cost option on all Mark IIIs. Turbine-textured flared wheel
covers, an option on other Lincoln models, were provided as part of the
standard equipment assortment on the Mark III.
The deck lid featured a distinctive faux spare tire hump (Lincoln called
it a "kick up") that would make the rear of the car as distinctive
and memorable as the front. And from the rear especially, the hunched down
roof of the car was very obvious, giving it a sportier look than the other
more restrained Lincolns.
Inside, luxurious fabrics and leathers were designed with comfort wrinkles
to give the seats a cozy, comfortable, lived in look. The quality control
folks saw the wrinkles as poor workmanship, but once the point was made
that they were intentional, everything was fine. Two different shades of
simulated woodgrain were offered to accent the interior. East Indian Rosewood
or English Oak, depending on the interior trim color, were applied in just
the right proportions throughout the cabin. Touches like the rear seat
reading lights were straight out of the standard Lincoln parts bin. Front
seat passengers enjoyed individually adjustable full width seats with dual
center folding armrests, just the thing for a long trip.
The Mark III featured instrumentation for oil pressure, fuel level, and
engine temperature, as well as an ammeter. The Flow-Thru ventilation system
was a Thunderbird item that seemed gimmicky at first, until passengers
discovered it really did work. Dual vents below the rear window sucked
inside air out of the car, taking smoke and foul odors with it.
Under the hood, Lincoln's new 365 horsepower, 460 cubic inch V-8 engine
moved car, occupants, and all of their accoutrements with a great deal
of authority. Some believe that the horsepower figure quoted was a bit
modest, but nevertheless this was an important new power plant for Lincoln.
The first engine designed with emission control in mind, it didn't require
external pumps, tubing, and related fittings to clean up the exhaust. This
engine would be the only one available for a Mark for the next decade,
until it was replaced by the 400 in 1979, due to Corporate Average Fuel
Economy (CAFE) requirements. It would provide service in other Ford Motor
Company vehicles into the eighties, proof of its durability and design
Sales were very good for the 1969 Mark III, with a total of 30,858 sold
for the model year, compared to 23,333 1969 Cadillac Eldorados, which of
course was the Mark's main competitor. There is evidence that the new Lincoln
stole a few sales from its sister in the Ford Division, the Thunderbird,
which was in year three of its styling cycle. Officially introduced on
April 5, 1968 as a 1969 model, there are some interesting distinctions
between the 7,770 cars built during the 1968 production period and the
ones built during dates normally considered to be 1969 production. Our
1968 vs. 1969 Continental Mark III: Production Differences [link opens in new window] article provides details. All Continental Mark
IIIs built during this time are titled as 1969 models.
Among Lincoln devotees, there have been many discussions over the years
as to which of the Mark series cars is the best. Some base their opinions
on styling, others on performance, or sales figures, or interior comfort,
and others on that warm feeling they get inside when they see one. Regardless
of which Continental Mark is your favorite, there is no doubt that the
1969-1971 Mark III was the beginning of a period that would see Lincoln
consistently outsell rival Cadillac in the top market segment, which was
no small accomplishment.
There are those today who feel Lincoln has ventured a bit too far off the
path, now that there is no Mark series or Continental being built. The
current Lincoln Navigator, MKX, Mark LT, and MKZ all enjoy the benefits
of a prestigious pedigree established in large part by the popular Continental
Lincoln has surprised everyone before, by introducing a new car that redefined
its concept and set the automotive world on its ear. It just might do it
again, when you least expect it.