An Interview with Gordy Jensen on ’60s Lincoln Continentals
by Tim Howley and Doug Mattix
Originally published in the May-June 2001 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 240).
In June, 2000 Tim Howley and Doug Mattix visited Gordy Jensen at his home in Bloomington, Minnesota. Gordy has won 18 major awards in LCOC with his ‘60s Lincoln Continentals. In 2000 his 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible won the L. Dale Schaeffer Trophy and his 1961 Lincoln Continental sedan won an Emeritus Award at the Western National Meet in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then his 1961 convertible went on to win the Elliston H. Bell Founder’s Trophy at the Millennium Meet in St. Louis, Missouri. That car is pictured on this issue’s front cover parading through Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Here is the interview, Gordy’s story as he told it to Tim and Doug.
Question: When and how did you get into Lincolns?
Jensen: I remember my father driving up in a red 1962 sedan that he owned new. I thought that was a great car. At that time I was about seven years old, old enough to start appreciating these kinds of things. He drove that car all over the Western Canadian provinces, seeing customers. He drove it as fast as it would go. He needed a car that could suck up the bumps and still go at 110 miles an hour because it was a long distance between stops. We also rode up and back in that car to our lake cabin, which was about 210 miles away. He pretty much wore that car out, and then he traded it off in 1967 for a green 1967 sedan which I still have. I recently restored it, and we received a Ford Trophy for it in 1999 in Ellenville, New York. Years ago, I took my driver’s test in that car.
Question: So when did you start collecting and restoring?
Jensen: Well, I started when my dad sold me that car in the early ‘80s. I think he sold it to me for something like $200. It was my car to drive around. And I didn’t have any money to collect cars at that time. In fact, I never even thought much about other people who were into this kind of car. But in the early ‘80s I went to New York. I started making a few bucks. I started buying copies of Hemmings Motor News. I could look at the Lincoln section and say wow, all these cars for sale. Then I found out about the Lincoln & Continental Owners Club, and I joined in the mid ‘80s. I then I started buying cars because of the job I had. I put on finance seminars all around the country, especially in California, Texas and Seattle. Each time I would go to one of these areas, where the cars weren’t rusty, I would often find a car I wanted and often times buy it. When I bought a car I would get a weekend or a few days off, and I would fly there and drive it home. I drove many cars home from all over the country.
This is the way I bought this yellow ‘61 convertible that I restored. I probably shouldn’t have bought that car because I paid too much for it, $4,500, and it was really rough, but not rusty. It hadn’t been driven in five years. It was in the Spokane, Washington area, and somebody had painted it orange with a paint brush and used it as a goofy car in a Halloween parade. The tires were flat. I flew out there and the owner put on some tires that held air, and I gassed it up to leave late one night in January. Can you believe that? I noticed as I was filling up at Spokane, Washington that the gas was running out of the tank. This was at about 10 p.m. that night in the winter, and I was going to drive this car back to Minnesota, which is quite a drive. I hoped that the leak was at the top of the gas tank or in the neck. I decided to watch the gauge, and if the gauge stopped dropping quickly after 50 miles or so then I would know that the leak was in the top; this turned out to be the case. So I ended up driving it back. On my way back I got into a parking lot in eastern Montana late the first night. I got onto a sheet of ice and I could not stop the car and I hit a pickup truck in the parking lot.
I was probably going a half a mile an hour. It was a sheet of glare ice in a dead end parking lot and every space was full. I could not stop that car. It just slid in and hit a pickup, just a tiny little mark. It was about 12:15 a.m. I didn’t want to wake the owner, so I went to the motel and told them to give a note to the owner asking him to call me when he came to pay for his room in the morning. Anyway, he called me and came out and looked at the dent and said, “Ah, don’t worry about it, it’s a company car, it’s a tiny dent, thanks for telling me,” and he drove away. So I drove the car home. On the way, most of the exhaust fell off and I would check the gas and fill the oil. The oil would be off the stick every time I stopped, and the car wouldn’t go more than 55 miles an hour. It didn’t have the guts to go any faster. In addition, the car’s heater didn’t work so I had to wear my hat and gloves. Finally I did get it back to the Twin Cities, and it took me about 10 years to get to restoring this car. We just got it done a couple of years ago.
Question, what was your first LCOC show and car?
Jensen: 1990 in Indianapolis. It was a green 1967 convertible. It was a great car and everything worked on it, except when I went to the judging the thing just threw up on me. The top wouldn’t go down, the trunk lid wouldn’t go back. Ron Baker was there to tweak it and talk it down, and it still wouldn’t do it. But the next show we went to in that car we won the Elliston Bell Trophy. That was the Eastern National Meet at Shawnee on the Delaware, Pennsylvania in 1990. We had never won a major award before and we got the Bell Trophy. I couldn’t believe that. That was a shock.
Question. What have you learned over the years about restoring these cars, especially the convertibles?
Jensen: Well, you don’t want to start with a rusty car. I think I have done my last rusty car. Actually, I do have one that has some rust in it that I might attempt. But it would be a car that I would totally strip and totally dip the whole shell in a tank. I’ve never done that before. You have to be careful when you do that because you can strip some of the protective coatings on the metal in places that you don’t realize will be problems later. Down the road you may open that area to corrosion. The rust on this car (also a ‘61 convertible) is from age and exposure to the elements. It’s not rust from road salt. Rust from road salt is just terrible.
Especially in these rusty unibody cars, you just don’t want to get into them. I suppose in 50 to 100 years when people are desperate to find a shell to begin with they’ll figure out a way to bring those cars back, but today to go after and start with a rusty car, I think is a mistake.
Question: Do you believe in sedans as donor cars?
Jensen: I don’t like to tell people that because I love the sedans. But money wise it is efficient to buy a reasonably good sedan, good trim, options, especially the little pot metal pieces that you don’t have to replate, and use it as a donor car for a convertible. It’s too bad but that’s the way it is. A lot of the parts that everybody out there is buying, they don’t realize it but they are off a donor sedan.
Question: In addition to your house, where do you keep all of your cars.
Jensen: I have them at the cabin at the lake, at the office, anyplace that I can find to stash them There are probably 16 of them at Baker’s Auto, now Steve Ouellette’s place. Some I bought out east and never brought them back here, they are stripped out for me at Steve’s. Also, if you’re going to store cars you must have good dehumidified, temperature controlled space. Up here in the north country, with the weather changes, you have to worry about stored cars’ temperatures getting below the dew point inside the building because it will coat both the inside and the outside of the metal with condensation. Of particular concern are the rib areas of the hood and the trunk lid, especially in the convertible trunk lid. Example: the ‘64-65 trunk lid. It is very difficult to switch over a sedan trunk lid into a convertible trunk lid for ‘64-65. That’s a big, big job. So the ‘64-65 convertible trunk lids are probably the most rare and valuable ones, and you don’t want them to get condensation in the ribs. I think when they made them they didn’t put any protective coating on the metal on the inside of the ribs. All of them will eventually rust out if you don’t dip them inside of the ribs. We pour a metal etching primer in the ribs and then we slosh the trunk lid and the hood so that the primer seals all the nooks and crannies in the ribs. When we are done the trunk lid is better than new.
We have our cars up at our lake in northwestern Minnesota. We have a 50 by 56 foot garage for the nice cars that are finished. It’s temperature controlled, dehumidified, and has a security system. I have another area that’s about the same size that’s not temperature controlled. It’s pretty nice storage for rougher cars and parts. Across the lake I bought a farm with a great big tin shed. It was 45 by 80 feet and I made it into 60 by 80 feet. It has a dirt floor. That’s where I store the parts cars and some restorable cars. The farm has a barn that is full of cars. In addition, some cars are sitting outside which I don’t want to do but I have yet to find a place for them.
Question: How do you feel about storing cars in barns?
Jensen: A barn is not that good for storage. I wouldn’t store a good car in a barn. If you need to, make sure that the building is well ventilated. What you don’t want is a closed in space that’s damp all the time. As the temperature goes up and down it remains damp and there’s constant condensation on the cars. But if it dries out quickly it’s not quite so bad for storage. I’ve found that cars that I’ve stored in the tin garage that has the dirt floor have been fairly well preserved because the building has fairly good ventilation The cars do get wet but they dry quickly. The sun is another killer of cars. Being out in the sun is not good either. The sun heats up the sheet metal and it wrecks the wiring by making the wires brittle.
Another problem that’s coming on with these ‘60s convertibles is that all the wiring is getting old and brittle. The moving wires are the biggest potential problem, like the wiring assemblies on trunk lids and tops. If you start breaking old wires you may have to dig them out of a restored car. It’s a big job to go retrace a broken wire. This ‘61 convertible is the first car where we took the entire master wiring harness out and had it rewired front to back. It was about $5,000 to do all of the wiring, but it needed to be done. The car had spent a lot of time outside and the wiring became brittle. I probably could have bought a better car for less money. The way I restore a car is I take it all apart, down to nothing. I figure if I buy a nice $20,000 car I will take it all the way down to the same point as I would a solid $3,000 car. So why not save $17,000 and start with the solid $3,000 car? You must replace the interior and redo the mechanical anyway. I believe that in the way WE restore cars, the metal will last longer than the metal of an extremely low mileage original car.
Question: Why do you limit yourself to the ‘60s unibody cars?
Jensen: It’s a learning curve. The more cars you do of the same type the easier it is. I really like the cars of the ‘50s, particularly the 1958-59 and ‘60. I really would like to get one of these someday, but I don’t know if I want to restore one because that would be a new learning curve, a new game. I’m getting too old; I’m 45 now.
Question: How come you haven’t bought an early car, like a ‘20s or ‘30s Classic, or a Lincoln-Zephyr or an early Lincoln Continental V-12?
Jensen: Again to me it’s a learning curve. The problems with restoring those cars are a lot different. I understand it’s more of a search for parts, but I would guess that the electrical systems are a lot easier because they’re simpler, and there’s not a lot of options. I like the ‘60s for their their classic lines, especially the earlier cars, 1961 to 1965. I think they’re going to be worth a lot of money someday when people find out that the complicated top systems are very reliable when the entire system is rebuilt from front to back. Most people fix only the part of the system that fails when that part fails. Then they use the car until the next part of the top ; then fix that part…and so on. The result is that buyers at auctions have heard horror stories about top systems and won’t pay a high price for these cars. My restored cars very rarely have top failures, and when they do the failure is minor.
In addition, I believe a real classic car is one where people in 100 years will like the car. The ‘60s Lincolns are that type of car. Kids 15 years old putting groceries in my ‘63 convertible at the grocery store say, “WOW, your car is cool.” They are not that interested in the ‘50s Chevy s. The people who like ‘50s Chevys are people who admired those cars when they were young.
Question: How many people do you have working for you directly?
Jensen: There isn’t anybody that’s full time for me. That’s one of my projects within the next year or two, I’d like to get my own shop. I have some guys who want to do it, I just have to come up with the money. I used to have Byron Bodie and Gary Arneson do all of my work, but Byron doesn’t do it anymore. He used to be a Vietnam helicopter pilot, and now he flies helicopters down in the Grand Canyon. Gary Arneson is probably the main guy here in Minneapolis now. He is an electrical and mechanical wizard, and he and Byron really know these cars. I would like to do something with Gary, get a garage and have four or five cars up on the rack. Of course, Steve at Baker’s Auto is always restoring one for me.
I bought eight cars from Hans Norberg, one of which was a ‘61 convertible that happened to be about five or six days ahead in production of the yellow ‘61 convertible. Remember I told you that I also have a ‘61 convertible that is just one serial number ahead of my yellow convertible. I looked in the LCOC Directory in the VIN numbers and I happened to see that Don Pepper in California had a ‘61 convertible that was one serial number ahead of mine. I called him, went to California and ended up buying the car and 12 others. He said I may not want this ‘61, it’s been hit pretty hard, but I said I had to have it if it is at all restorable. It is white with a red and white interior. The problem was that it was hit really hard in the left rear comer. I took it to the rack to straighten it, and the left rear was four inches to the right, four inches high, and three inches forward. I called it the accordion car. I sent it out to Richard Liana, and apparently he and the guy with the rack have straightened it. Richard is one of the best welders I have ever seen. He can fix just about any twisted wreck.
Editor’s Note: Gordy has some strange stories to tell. While hauling home a rose beige 1963 convertible the car caught fire. Gordy didn’t know how it happened since the hood was locked shut. The the interior burned out. He billed the insurance company more than he paid for the car, collected the money and he still has the car. (He convinced the insurance company he would have insured it for more than he paid for it.) Once he bought a car upside down from Don Pepper because the car had fallen off a fork lift. On another occasion he went up to one of his cars that was stored in a parking ramp only to find objects flying out the window of the 1966 sedan. Upon looking inside he found a street person living in the car, and he had been living in there for months.