Lee Iacocca told the design team to “put a Rolls Royce grille on a Thunderbird.”
The Continental MK III was manufactured by the Lincoln Motor Division of the Ford Motor Company. This is the second model in the illustrious “Continental Mark” series. It was made from 1969 until 1971. The Continental MK III is a lesson in economics. Lee Iacocca President of Ford Motor Company at the time had a plan that netted a near $1 Billion profit. He targeted GM’s front wheel drive Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado as a long-term goal. To his surprise, the 1969 model year for the Continental MK III sold 30,858 vehicles to Cadillac’s 23,333 Eldorados. The 1969-1971 MK III was a beautiful continuation in the Continental tradition.
Lee Iacocca instructed the Company’s Design Vice President Gene Bordinat to “put a Rolls Royce grille on a Thunderbird.” The marketing and engineering strategy was a win/win here. Take the underpinnings of a dying brand (Thunderbird), alter the tooling/dies and sell the end product at a premium price. So the MK III was built on the T-Bird platform. It was a commercial success because it combined the high unit revenue of a luxury model with the low development costs and fixed cost amortizing utility of platform sharing in a car that was selling many units.
The MK III went after the Cadillac Eldorado with gusto. The Continental MK III outsold the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado all three years of its production. Because Ford used existing dies and platform from the T-Bird….the Company netted an almost $1 Billion dollar profit! They took ideas from the Thunderbird and made the Continental MK III, that’s a success story! According to Lee Iacocca, “we did the whole thing for $30 Million, a bargain basement price because we were able to use existing parts and design.” The Continental MK III is tomorrow’s classic today.
The Continental MK III was introduced April 5, 1968 as a 1969 model. It used many design cues from the Thunderbird. The Continental MK III had a prominent grille that became one of the signature features for the subsequent “Mark” series. The long hood, hide-away headlamps, and ersatz Continental spare tire hump in the deck lid continued the grace starting with the Continental MK II. The Cavalry Twill vinyl roof became standard equipment because; the MK III had a roof construction requiring two panels. The vinyl roof concealed the seams.
The power was derived from a 7.5 litre 460 CID Ford 385 series 16-valve V8 engine. It had an Autolite 4300 4-bbl carburetor, 3-speed automatic transmission, and a dual exhaust system. The engine produced 365 hp @ 4,600 rpm, with 678 Nm of peak torque @ 2,800 rpm. It went from 0-60 mph in 8.2 seconds, 0-100 mph in 23.5 seconds, with a top speed of 129 mph. It could do the ¼ mile @ 87 mph in 16.6 seconds. That isn’t bad for an automobile of this size. It rode on a 117.2” wheelbase; it was 79.4” wide, and 216.1” in luxury length. Power front discs and rear drums made up its braking system.
The interior of the Continental MK III was understated yet elegant and luxurious. Genuine wood trim was applied to the dash and door trim panels. For the 1969 model year, the Continental MK III included eight new exterior colors and an optional white leather interior with richly textured white vinyl trim. New head restraints, steering wheel, instrument panel knobs, and a Cartier Timepiece introduced in December 1968, were last-minute updates.
The 1971 model year got Ford’s famous high-back twin-comfort lounge seats, radial tires, tinted windows, an automatic climate control system, and the “Sure-Track” braking system. This model year also included a wood trim upgrade to genuine walnut, a locking steering column, rim blow steering wheel, concealed electric windscreen wipers with intermittent feature, and a three-point restraint system for front outboard passengers.
The 1969-1971 Continental MK III was a successful demonstration of the wise use of man and materials creating an economic windfall. By utilizing a ready-made platform and specifications, the start-up costs for a luxury brand were extremely low netting a near $1 Billion profit. The MK III sales beat the Fleetwood Eldorado all three years of its production. There was a slogan back in the late 1960s & 1970s: “Ford has a better idea”….and they did too! The Continental MK III is proof.
First, there was the original Continental of the 1940s, then came the fabulous Continental MK II of the mid 1950s, and then for the 1969-1971 model years, the contemporary Continental MK III. Ford should have taken a hiatus from the “Mark” series to maintain its exclusivity. Instead, the series evolved into mediocrity through repetition. The Mark series was a big money-maker for Ford. Had they slowed the evolution of the Mark, I believe that would have continued the high demand. If one had a Continental MK III in their driveway, they “had it goin’ on” too tough!
Photos courtesy of Daniel Schmitt & Company
The 1969-1971 Continental MK III
The 1956-1957 Continental MK II
The Continentals MK II & III were sadly the last of the hand-crafted breed……..