September 23, 2019

A Johnny-come-lately fan says so long, Connie

Our first date was completely unplanned, on the fly, a deep autumn night in Bangor. Meet in the parking lot of the Japanese restaurant, we had agreed on the phone. I got there first but the restaurant was closed. So I waited. Within minutes, a silver Lincoln Continental pulled up alongside me. Alongside me, I should clarify, in my Subaru.

Was I sorry he was late? No. Was I sorry the restaurant was closed? No. I was sorry that he was driving a Lincoln Continental. This, I thought, will never work. That car is so big, so large, so grand, so elderly. This will never work.

I had dated men with trucks, with old Mercedes, with motorcycles. But a Lincoln Continental? This was entirely outside the range of acceptability. It rang the bells of too many isms in my life: class, age, environmental and style. One date, I thought. Then he can get in his indulgently luxurious, gas-guzzling boat and be gone forever.

That was four years and two Connies ago. I fell in love – with the man that night, and the car shortly after. It was irrational, and I am not proud of how easily I compromised my values. But, hey, at least it wasn’t the Town Car.

Earlier this month, when Ford Motor Co. dropped four models from the production line – including the Cougar, Villager, Escort and the much beloved Continental – I felt a wave of nostalgia. I am, after all, indebted to the car. True, it was fat and pretentious. True, it was a gas guzzler. True, it was more ostentatiously American than any car I had ever driven.

But now that the Continental is motoring into the sunset, I can shamelessly confess that it was the most comfortable, roomy and hospitable car I’ve ridden in. It was a Barca Lounger on wheels with shock absorbers so considerate that not even the potholes in Maine could shake a sleeper from a reverie in the passenger seat. And here’s the most unexpected detail of all: That car made me want to listen to Tony Bennett.

Isn’t it ironic, however, that the Lincoln is being discontinued because of the economy when its creation dates back to another monetarily pinched time, the very end of the Depression? Henry Ford had the car designed for his only son, Edsel (who would later have a lemon of a car named after him). It was one of a kind, handmade and modeled on European elegance, but distinctly American in its showiness.

Edsel drove the car to Florida for the winter and reportedly was greeted with such envy and fanfare that it was put into production the next year. Fewer than 500 were handmade. Within a year, production quadrupled. The Lincoln Continental drove straight into success.

Picasso had one. Elvis had one. Frank Lloyd Wright called it the most beautiful car in the world. It is the car of a handful of presidents, including John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in the convertible limousine model.

The Lincoln C. wasn’t as chic as James Bond’s Aston Martin. It was less champagne, more single-malt scotch.

Granted, I was a latecomer to the Continental. I missed the wheel on the back, the so-called “suicide doors,” the cigar humidor and the briefcase holder. It’s fair to say I missed nearly the entire grand phase of the car’s history because it was in the midline division by the time I hedonistically joined the ranks of admirers. Unlike the relationship with its driver, my relationship with the Continental was short and sweet.

Except for the loss of 35,000 jobs at Ford and the absence of one more hoggish road and gas vehicle, I can honestly say I am not sorry to see cars such as the Lincoln becoming less ubiquitous on American highways. Now my once-committed Continental driver has a much smaller car. It’s smarter-looking. It’s hip and fast and young. And frankly, I hate it.

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