The Lincoln Continental is a shadow of its former self. The current-generation model has been supplanted by the Navigator as Lincoln’s flagship, but the Continental name once denoted some of the most-prestigious luxury cars America had to offer. One of those cars was recently featured on Jay Leno’s Garage.
This 1958 Continental Mark III was built during the last year of a three-year period when the nameplate was sold as a separate brand. A facelifted version of this car became a Lincoln in 1959. As a standalone brand, Continental sat above Lincoln in Ford’s hierarchy.
A 430-cubic-inch V-8 propels this land yacht, sending 375 horsepower to the rear wheels through a 3-speed automatic transmission. Leno reckons when new it would do 0-60 mph in the 8.0-second range, which was decently quick in the 1950s. Jay guesses the car weighs close to 6,000 pounds with two people on board, but the car actually only weighed 4,865 pounds. The owner’s manual promised a pitiful 10.3 mpg.
The design is the most off-putting aspect of this car. The heavily chromed front end with its dagmars and custom car-inspired canted headlights represents the worst of Continental design just a year after the Mark II, which wasn’t only a beautiful Continental but is also widely recognized as one of the most beautiful cars in history. Showing that designers in the 1950s had different priorities than today, the wheels of this model were actually downsized from 15 to 14 inches to give the car a lower profile. That meant fitting smaller-diameter brake drums, which were instead made wider to ensure adequate stopping power for such a monster.
1958 Continental Mark III on Jay Leno’s Garage
This car also has a primitive version of auto-dimming headlights, which relies on a sensor mounted in the front of the steering wheel.
Leno is the third owner of this car. It was parked in a garage in Anaheim, California, in 1990, and sat for roughly 30 years until Leno bought the car. It’s unrestored, and still wears its original strawberry paint, but Jay believes the interior was redone by the previous owner.
Watch the full video for a closer look at this 1950s time capsule and to see Jay take the car for a drive. Not everything about cars of this era was great—poor gas mileage and lack of safety features are rightfully unacceptable today—but they represent a time when the United States auto industry was at the height of its powers.