As many LCOC members know, my first car was a ’59 Mark IV convertible. After several requests to document the thrill of ownership here goes.
I started looking for a ’58 or ’59 convertible in the spring of 1966, armed with only a psychotic lust for a Mark II and a budget of $600. I found a maroon “58 at a used car lot, but the lot owner (Honest Johnny’s Used Cars) took one look at me and refused to see it. An honest used car salesman!
Next, it was a succession of junkers and worn out examples, or overpriced (all the way up to $1,400 for a Derham bodied ’58, with a top that aped the original ’41, but looked like a pickup truck on the ’58). Finally, my sister Vicki and I were returning from the Baltimore airport on Easter Sunday night after dropping my Dad off for a business trip. We decided to drive through the city. I spotted a ’59 convertible. It was dark. It looked good. I was desperate. I pulled up next to the driver, a large black man and motioned for him to pull over. Now, remember that it was 1966. He thought I was one of Baltimore’s finest. He was not happy. Imagine his surprise when he found that I only wanted to buy his car.
A week later I was the proud owner of a worn, Earl Sheib light blue, black leathered Mark IV. For the next three years, its insatiable need for repairs managed to keep me broke. But, it didn’t seem to matter. I loved the car.
First, it was fast. Like 0-60 in under 9 seconds, near 120 mile top speed. The sight of the Wurlitzer-like Lincoln leaping off the line with a little chirp from the tires and smoking an over-carburetted ’56 Chevy was priceless. Except to the driver of the Chevy.
Long distance drives were great, when I put 9.50/14 Atlas Plycron tires on (a budget killer at $32 each) and fitted extra heavy truck shocks. The car handled like some huge GTO on carefree jaunts through the countryside. Except for the brakes. They were non-existent after the first stop from speed. 5,200 pounds, 14” wheels, full wheel covers and drum brakes were not the best solution. I remember holding both feet on the pedal and pushing as hard as I could to stop it from creeping through a stop sign. There was a practical reason that those cars had two brake pedal supports, one would have snapped. Performance was also enhanced when the real mufflers reached their annual end of life and were replaced with…nothing. Using just the resonators gave the Mark a real Gold Cup speedboat sound.
The combination of an old Lincoln, a young owner, limited funds and a vast desire to drive led to many adventures, only some of which can be documented. Like the time that my then wife and I double dated with my best friend and his girl Sue Agnew, Maryland governor Spiro Agnew’s daughter. We went from Annapolis to Washington D.C. to see a concert. In 1966, the road between DC and Annapolis was pretty deserted. Of course, with the concert tickets, dinner and all, there was precious little money left for gas. Let’s see, 100 odd miles round trip, $2.00 should do it, about 5.5 gallons plus what’s in the tank. Almost. We ran out on the way home, at about 2:00 A.M. Unbeknownst to us, the governor’s security detail noted that we were way overdue and put out an all points bulletin for us. We were found an hour or so later by a state policeman who was none too happy to be looking for a carload of kids. He had a couple of gallons of gas in the trunk and proceeded to dump it into the hungry Lincoln, muttering all the way. I suggested that he leave a few drops for priming, remember that the fuel line was about 20 feet long. He suggested that I desist from making suggestions (or words to that effect). After a few tries to start without success, he removed the air cleaner to prime. Now, he was really mad. Again, I suggested that I prime and try to start (being an expert, since this happened about once a week). Again, he suggested that I shut my pie hole. This was not good. The 430 was a bit grumpy whenever it was reminded of its reduced station in life under its present owner and tended to spit out the carb when prodded. The trooper poured a good bit of gas down the carb and ordered ignition while still `leaning over the engine. OK, I tried. Turn the key, two or three revolutions and then, the mother of all backfires. Not just a backfire, a backFIRE. In the dark surroundings, it looked like Hiroshima, a brilliant flash highlighting the trooper and then nothing. I got out and we silently retrieved his hat as he stood stunned. Unfortunately, we couldn’t retrieve his eyebrows. I quickly started the car while the trio helped the trooper back to his car. We got back to the Governor’s Mansion, where Sue got us $5.00. We never saw the trooper again.
The ’59 convert was an endless source of non-cooperation on dates, maybe she didn’t like competition for my affections. Like the time the radio killed the battery while watching the Saturday night submarine races at the reservoir. Actually, county police helped to jump start the beast, saving all sorts of embarrassment. Or the time that I had a date about 50 miles away and had to get a full tank of gas. After spending the day cleaning the car, waxing the chrome and scrubbing the mildew off the carpets, I got spiffed up and went to the gas station. Announcing the fill up request, the incredulous attendant yelled out “Hey, Kramer’s fillin’ it up!”. Everyone came out to see the miracle. As the pump bells chimed and the gallons climbed, My highly developed sense of impending disaster started ringing, also. Maybe it was the growing pool of gas under the tank that set it off. It had been so long that the tank had seen more than $2.00 that it couldn’t take the strain. Cooly, I screamed “It’s leaking, it’s leaking…do something”. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and Mike ran out with a self tapping screw, a rubber washer and some Fels-Naptha soap. All I could see was the dollars reserved for the date going down the station drain. In a few minutes the leak was reduced to a drip. I drove down, picked up my date and she suggested the drive-in. Now, normally, this would top a testosterone laden 19 year old’s list of places to go on a date. This night, all I could think of was the little hill that you drove up for viewing the screen, the hill that would push the gas to the rear of the tank. So, while the movie played and we settled down for the evening, a steady drip kept running through my head. I went to get refreshments about three times, surprising my date with my unexpected largess. Of course, I managed to notice the spreading puddle behind the car each time. She was equally surprised when I wanted to call an early end to the evening. I sailed back home praying that I’d make it, since the extra fuel, extra refreshments and all had totally depleted my finances and I should mentioned that the gas gauge had long since given up the ghost. At about two in the morning, I pulled up to the house and gave a sigh of relief. Concurrent with the sigh, the Lincoln also sighed and ran out of gas. Perfect date.
After meeting my wife, I went through Navy boot camp. We decided that, upon my return, we’d take a long drive to celebrate. July, top down, a long drive, what could be better. Let’s see…how about some hair? I was freshly boot camp shorn and it didn’t take long for nature to discover henceforth undiscovered territory. I did what any 20 year old would do, I ignored the warning signs. Upon waking the next day, I had the headache of a lifetime and little perforated pieces of red skin littered my pillow. Now, I was bald and red. I looked like the light on the top of a state police car. It took weeks to recover.
In December, the Lincoln needed a water pump. I was, as always, broke. I got a rebuilt unit from an auto parts store and went to my friendly service station (remember those?), where they had recovered from the “full tank” repair described previously to allow me space to r&r the pump outside. Remember, it’s December in Baltimore. 28 degrees. Cold. Armed with only a Chiltons general repair manual, two wrenches, a screwdriver and determination, I started. First step, remove the hood. OK. Wait, read the small print…BEFORE removing the hood, mark its location on hinges. Oops. Never mind, keep going. To make a long story short, it took me two days and the hood never fit right again. I still have the scar from the petcock. Saved $15, though.
My first car finally succumbed to old age and incompetent maintenance in 1968. I was returning five other friends to Norfolk from Baltimore after a weekend leave. It was about midnight Sunday when our 75 M.P.H. trip came to a screeching halt with a seized wheel bearing. The car slammed to a halt. We abandoned it and hitchhiked back to Norfolk, arriving just in time for roll call. I immediately asked permission to retrieve the car. I left and hitchhiked back to where we left the Lincoln (about 180 miles) and found it gone! I walked two miles to the next exit, called the state police and found that it had been towed to a junkyard at the next exit, three miles away. I walked down and was greeted by a typical auto junk yard, but there was a lovely little cottage right in the middle, like something out of Disney, white with red shutters, garden, picket fence. I knocked and a grumpy man told me it was $20 towing and $2 per day storage. He tells me it looked like a bad bearing. By now, it’s about 5:00 and the auto store in town is closed. He points to a half buried ’53 Lincoln and snaps, “It uses the same bearing, here”. He hands me a shovel. I’m in my dress whites. I dig out one wheel and the bearing comes right off. I go over to my car and start to get the jack out. He reemerges and says, “I guess you’ll need a decent jack” and produces a big one. I jack the car, pull the wheel and find a fused mess. The bearing and spindle had melted and become one. He looks over my shoulder and growls “Now, you’ll need a grinder”. Which he gives me. It’s getting dark when I start to try to grind off enough metal to fit the new bearing on. After a half hour, it looked close, so I tried to tap the bearing on the mangled spindle. After two taps, the bearing cracked. Wordlessly, the old guy went back and reproduced the shovel. I dug the other wheel up and retrieved the second bearing. His wife, a lovely, grandmotherly woman brought me a sandwich and Coke. It sure tasted good. After further grinding, at about 11 o’clock, I finally got the bearing on, but it wouldn’t turn. I knocked and he said, well, what about the $22? I said that I only had $10. He wouldn’t even take that, but never broke character as I thanked him and started the drive back to Norfolk. Top down, vent adjusted to blow on my face, no sleep in three days, it took forever. I arrived filthy, just in time for roll call, caught hell from the chief, showered and did a day’s work.
Two weeks later, I stopped by to try to repay the folks for their kindness. Maybe I got confused, but I never could find the place again.
Since the ’59 would only go straight without horrible groaning, we babied it that week, only taking it out to Virginia Beach (mostly straight) before the last trip home. On the drive, I found the beautiful ’60 coupe that would become Lincoln #2, but that’s another story.