The Continental Pt. 1: The Cream Dream
(This article is part of the 15-part series, The Continental, written by Christie Grotheim with photography by Niklas Andersson as the couple takes a six-week road trip across and around the United States in their 1979 Lincoln Continental. Click here to catch up on the full series.)
“Good Lord, it’s a monster,” I heard myself say the first time I caught sight of it. We rounded a bend to see—from quite some distance—an oversized sedan stretched out on a winding driveway, its camel color popping off the Kentucky bluegrass hills. “It’s magnificent,” my husband added, totally mesmerized, with a hypnotic look in his eyes. David, the current owner, had been kind enough to pick us up at the airport and drive us to his home, and as we approached the glorious beast of yesteryear, he squeezed in beside it on what was left of the driveway. His mid-sized car was instantly miniaturized and then overshadowed entirely. Just as we stepped out, the sun came out and turned its creamy hue into a glittering gold. We knew it had to be ours.
How did a couple of Manhattanites find themselves standing next to a car of this magnitude in the middle of nowhere near Louisville?
My husband Niklas’ obsession with this particular model had begun months before. It was my idea to buy a car in order to avoid the high cost of a rental car, but the make was of no importance to me—all that mattered was that it was cheap—a clunker just dependable enough to get us around the country for a six-week-long road trip we’d been planning. I intended to sell the car right after the trip.
Niklas liked the idea but on one condition: it had to be an American car. From Sweden, he had only been living in the States for a short time; after getting married we had spent a lovely year together settling into New York City. The reason I tell you that is to tell you this: Europeans may deny it, but deep down they love gargantuan gas-guzzlers. His excitement grew along with the size of the cars he researched. I became concerned as the price was also extending beyond what we had originally discussed, until he began to convince me that we were not buying a car, but an experience.
So it had to be American. It had to be big. In the end it had to be a 4-door Lincoln Continental Town Car from 1979—the year Cadillac downsized while the Lincoln lengthened.
Niklas called me to his computer one night to show me an eBay listing. In one animated breath, he started spewing out stats: the length of 5,918 mm long, which is 233 inches, which is almost 20 feet—he had done the math. He mentioned 159 horsepower and a 14-second rate of acceleration, three-speed automatic transmission, double barrel carburetors and recirculating ball power steering, a 6.6 liter V8 engine and 315 pounds per feet of torque at 1800 RPMs.
This, from someone who had never owned a car in his life!
When he mentioned leather seats and a sunroof, he started speaking my language. We made a low-ball bid that very night, expecting the price to double and not to have a fighting chance. Shockingly, five days later, we had won the car at our original bid of $4,250. According to Niklas’s comprehensive research, the same models similarly equipped were going for twice that. We were thrilled that we got an incredible deal but also anxious, wondering if other bidders knew something we didn’t. Hoping for the best, we booked a flight to Kentucky.
As we walked around the robust circumference of the car, we inspected every detail. From the wide span of the fins in front, to the art-deco design of the taillights, each corner came to an aerodynamic point, exaggerating the already over-extended overhang.
We had seen pictures online, but to see this mass of metal up close was impressive. This was built when a car was allowed to be a car. This automobile earned the name automobile. This vehicle deserved to be called, as David put it in his friendly Southern lilt, a vey-hi-kal, with every syllable given equal time and stress, not rushing it, not rushing us.
I sank into the leather seat on the passenger side. Lush upholstery surrounded me, tufted cushions and folds everywhere. Dwarfed by their scale, suddenly I was eight years old again, a skinny kid swallowed up in the soft velour seats of my parents’ big Buick. It had sported a similar dark mock-wood paneled dash. It also had an 8-track tape player.
This car was fully-loaded, and Niklas had informed me (repeatedly) that this model was the lap of luxury in 1979. And I was sitting in that lap!
The attention to detail was of another era, everything outlined with leather piping. Intricate tone-on-tone stitching formed big X’s across the bottom of the seats for all four passengers, as if anyone could miss the target. Kicking my shoes off, I rubbed my bare feet on the deep shag carpeting that lined the floor.
When David lifted the hood, we pretended to look intently, but all we really saw was shiny chrome shapes and winding tubes connected to one another. After staring at it for the appropriate amount of time, Niklas gave what he felt was a knowing nod of approval.
“Did you see those coffee-can-looking things attached to either side of the engine? Is that normal?” I whispered when safely inside the car.
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said, as he turned the key in the ignition.
On the third try, she revved up, letting out a majestic roar. As she idled, the engine emitted a low-pitched rythmic chugging sound, almost like a souped up motorcycle…or a racecar! When he pressed the gas, she lurched forward, but once she hit her stride, driving on the winding roads through the countryside felt like floating on a cloud.
During the test drive we discovered other delights: a CB radio, an electric antennae, a foot-activated radio scan switch, which was in close enough proximity to the emergency brake to keep things interesting. But the ultimate in convenience and excessiveness might have been the mini-ashtrays in the back seat door panels, each with its own lighter and tiny interior lights. With the power-windows rolled down you could hear her purring loudly along, but with the windows up it was soundless, like a time capsule in a boat-sized bubble.
After our quick test drive we paid for the Lincoln with a thick wad of Franklins. We signed some papers, and just like that, she was ours.
Our golden girl.
Our pristine machine. Our cream dream. With her nose pointed toward New York City, we accelerated until we reached the ultimate cruising speed, and let our minds wander in silence as we headed toward home.
Niklas Andersson is a lighting designer and photographer from Gothenburg, Sweden, who has recently set his sights—and lights—on New York City. With a passion for ’79 Lincoln Continentals and a love of the open road, he offers a unique perspective, from both behind the wheel and behind the lens.
Christie Grotheim is a New York-based writer whose personal essays can be found at Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Ducts, and Smith Magazine. Though her workspace is in the West Village, she prefers writing longhand from the passenger seat with the world whizzing by and the wind in her hair.