1958 Lincoln Restoration Story with a Happy Ending
by Tim Howley
Originally published in the May/June 1999 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 228)
Our cover car is a (Matador?) Red 1958 Lincoln Continental Mark III Convertible which won a Ford Motor Company Trophy at the 1998 Eastern National Meet in Fort Myers, Florida. It is owned by John Hofmann, Tampa, Florida, and was restored by Herb Scheffer of Mainly Convertibles in Tampa, Florida.
Since 1958 Lincoln Continentals were extensively covered in Continental Comments #193, Third Quarter, 1993 we will only dwell briefly on their history here while going into a detailed account of this car’s restoration.
1958 is the most unique of all 1950s Lincoln Continentals. It is a highly controversial car from a styling and body engineering standpoint. It had extensive problems as a new car, making it difficult to restore. It is much misunderstood by the public at large, and even Lincoln collectors tend to either love it or hate it.
In 1955 there was a belief in Detroit that unitized construction was the wave of the future. Therefore, when Lincoln broke ground for its new Wixom plant, 15 miles northwest of Dearborn that year, they decided to design the plant to build unitized automobiles, both the Lincoln and the forthcoming four-passenger 1958 Thunderbird. While Thunderbird, due to its smaller size, was not a problem to build the Lincoln was because nobody had ever built a unitized car this large before.
The new Lincoln, because of all the strengthening required for its unitized construction, turned out to be the heaviest and longest car built to date since World War II, a 131-inch wheelbase, 229 inches overall, and 4,927 pounds in the convertible.
The stylist in charge of the 1958 Lincoln project was John Najjar who was told explicitly by Division head Ben Mills that the objective was to beat Cadillac. The new unitized construction dictated a new direction in big car styling. The overall height, well below five feet, still permitted more interior room than the 1956- 57 Lincoln. The new Lincoln in no way made styling concessions to the round and roily polly 1958 Cadillac with its infamous fins or the wedge shaped Chrysler. It was as square as a 1958 house and nearly as large.
In the beginning, John Reinhart designed a 1958 Continental, which while large, had softer lines. But when the decision was made to scrap the Continental program and disband the Continental Division the Reinhart design went out along with it. The final design became a very different car with the Continental name and roofline tacked onto the 1958 Capri and Premiere body.
Like the car, the engine was all new, a 430 cid V-8 which was so much more successful than the car that it was continued through 1965. In the original 1958 version, this engine had 10.5:1 compression ratio, Holley four-barrel carburetor and developed 375 horsepower. With a Mercury Marauder three two-barrel carburetor option, horsepower was raised to 400. After the first model year, Lincoln chickened out on the horsepower, dropped the Marauder option and lowered the horsepower rating to 350 in 1959 and 315 in 1960.
Initial reaction to the 1958 Lincoln and Continental was encouraging. Buyers were pleased to see a Continental at half the list price of the 1956-57 models and with a choice of body styles. But 1958 soon turned out to be a year of poor sales for nearly all U.S. makes. It was a combination of a sharp and unexpected recession and a sudden public turn to smaller, more economical cars. In 1958, American Motors and Studebaker actually enjoyed an increase in sales, and Volkswagen made a tremendous sales leap forward. The Lincoln, standing as the largest of American cars, was hit hard. After 41,123 Lincolns had been produced for the 1957 model year, only 29,684 Lincolns and Continentals were produced for 1958.
The 1958-60 Lincolns and Continentals quickly developed a reputation as inferior automobiles. Herb Scheffer, who restored our cover car, does not go along with the factory and car hobbyists at large who for years have been very critical of these cars. He says, “These are wonderful cars, beautiful in their strangeness, an attempt to be creative and innovative, an attempt by the auto industry to move forward and try different things. Yes, they have their flaws and problems, but their virtues outweigh their faults.”
When you talk to Herb you will find that he really loves and cares about all 1958-60 Lincolns. When almost everyone was down on these cars, when you could barely find parts for them, when nobody was willing to help you with them, he went to work on restoring them and supplying parts for them.
Herb points out that the the second two years seem to be more refined in the assembly process but they still inherited many of the 1958’s basic flaws. Herb further comments that while the three years look very similar they are vastly different. However, Herb says that while 1958-60 Lincolns are tough cars to restore, a 1963 Lincoln Continental, for example, is a far more intricate car and in many respects is far more difficult to restore.
Herb also notes that the 1958 cars have an inherent vibration problem, and this is not simply due to the large unitized bodies. The way the headlights are designed, they grab the wind.
Our feature car was not completely restored by Mainly Convertibles. Herb Scheffer bought the car from a California owner who had done much of the restoration groundwork. He had done a lot of small piece repairs and detailing. He had gotten a lot of the parts for the interior trim, dash and instruments. He had done the undercarriage overhaul and detailing His efforts made completing the restoration a lot easier for Herb.
This was probably a California car most of its life, meaning no rust. The owner, either himself or through Mainly Convertibles had put in much effort and had purchased a lot of parts, and is to be commended said Herb, but the owner finally concluded he did not have the twenty some thousand dollars needed to complete the car with paint, upholstery, chrome, etc. So he sold the car and all the parts to
Herb in partially disassembled condition. Herb was not sure what he was going to do with the car so he put it aside for a year. Then he pulled the motor out, media blasted all of the body, and proceeded to complete the car. Knowing the problems with 1958-60 models, and expecting to experience the worst in the restoration, Herb was in for several pleasant surprises. Herb says he has never seen floor pans in such good condition, no rust, which is unusual for any convertible, especially a 1958 Lincoln. Herb discovered that the car had been in a collision many years ago and they had done a very poor repair job. The car had been hit in the left rear quarter, but there was no rear “frame” or structural damage. The front of the car was never touched and barely had a parking lot ding on it.
Herb believes that this was a low mileage car. He thinks that after it was damaged it was poorly repaired and then not used very much. He concluded that the car had been used as a pickup truck at one point because they had taken all of the top mechanism out.
There are two morals to this story. Some of the best old car buys come in baskets, and while 1958-60 Lincolns as a general rule are difficult to restore, there can be exceptions.
But this owner had spent lots of money on the car. For example, he had the dash padding redone by Just Dashes which is a $750 expenditure, and the car came with no end of small trim parts. There was even all new vinyl with the heat sealing in it. The owner had upgraded parts, and the motor was wonderful. Still, Herb took the motor down to be sure. The bearings were perfect. And this was an original motor. Herb did have to go through the transmission and all of the engine subcomponents and accessories.
Herb also redid the body repairs properly, did the prep and paint, the reassembly, installed new tires, brakes, the metal lines, and the exhaust system. He put in all new leather, a trunk kit and did a great amount of detailing. The list was endless.
A lot of the electrics were still in good shape but Herb went through them anyway. All of the top mechanism hydraulics were replaced. Stainless steel lines were installed for brakes, fuel lines and transmission. The stainless trim was polished. Some of the chrome was redone, but not all of it. The front suspension was in very poor condition and had never been properly rebuilt until Herb went through it. Fortunately, many new suspension parts came with the car.
Since the accident caused no structural damage, the body lined up perfectly. Herb took all the windows out and when he put them back in they lined up perfectly. “Everything on this car just worked when restoring it,” Herb comments. “This car was friendly, it pretty much did what it was supposed to do, and it’s rare that they do that. A lot of times they just fight you all the way. But the owner had done things like rebuilding the carburetor, redoing the instruments, had put the cloth lining in the glove box, he had done just a lot of the little detail work. He had filled little bags with parts that were all painted and ready to be put in”.
While Herb was putting the car back together with really no plan for its disposal, John Hofmann called. Hofmann had known Scheffer for seven years and his brother has a 1959 convertible. When Herb told him that he was working on a 1958 convertible Hofmann expressed an interest in seeing the car. When he saw the parts of the car freshly painted, he bought the car at an agreed upon completion price. The car won a Ford Trophy at its first LCOC National Meet.