Project Valentino: Breaking bad in Albu-Quirky

Conner DeKnikker

Welcome to the latest installment of Project Valentino, a series dedicated to the decades-long story of senior editor Sajeev Mehta and the car that got him interested in cars: the 1983 Lincoln Continental Valentino designer series. Join him as he works to restore this enigma of an ’80s Ford to its original glory—and then some. 

For most Americans, Albuquerque is that city in the desert where people throw pizzas onto roofs. Nobody really does that, of course, but it’s an iconic scene from an iconic TV show, Breaking Bad, which thrust New Mexico’s largest city into late-2000s popular culture. Even though I usually lack the attention span for the “slow burn” genre, I’ve watched every episode (with modest usage of the fast forward button). Some part of me wanted to visit the city. Getting knee-deep in downtown Albu-Quirky seemed interesting, even more so after I discovered a bullet-riddled jewel laid up there in a junkyard.

Sajeev Mehta

The magnificent two-tone green Continental specimen revealed itself to me in a timely, nationwide search on junkyard aggregator Row 52. The bullet holes across its bow got my attention. Did I not see it being used for target practice in a scene from Breaking Bad? Hard to say. Regardless, I hoped the interior wasn’t so shot up. I needed those unique-to-1983 interior wood trims! (They are a unique fake burled walnut finish, you were surely dying to know.)

A mere 16,831 such Continental examples were made that model year, which increased my sense of urgency. Who knows how much longer this one would stick around the yard before getting crushed? These interior wood trims no longer exist in parts databases, so it became to me that a trip to Albu-Quirky was in the cards.

Let’s backtrack for the Project Valentino novices among us: My car needed a few bits of fake burl because of what happened when I cleaned and disassembled its moldy, musty interior a few years ago. Turns out that the decals wiped off their metal backing with the touch of a wet cloth. And, over time, these metal-backed bits are happy to relieve themselves of their painted coatings—a phenomenon apparently unique to American luxury cars of the 1970s and 1980s. (Perhaps some things are better left in the past.)

Could I have wiped off all of the “wood” and go with aluminum trim? Sure. But that’s not my philosophical approach to Project Valentino. Maybe that tack would work if this were “Project Givenchy” instead, as those cars sported a charcoal gray interior, and aluminum trim would look pretty sharp inside a 1983 Continental Givenchy.

Burning time to go to New Mexico for uncertain return was one thing, but what if I could make use of some local talent? As a judge in the 24 Hours of Lemons, I hoped to leverage that community of wrenching enthusiasts to find someone, anyone, in Albuquerque to visit that junkyard on my behalf. I also reached out to a private Facebook group of Rad-era Ford dorks experts, which brought the great Conner DeKnikker once more into my orbit. Fortunately, Albuquerque could fit into his travel plans with only modest adjustments. Long live Project Valentino!

Conner DeKnikker

As his previous cameos here at Hagerty suggest, Conner is a passionate Ford employee who cares deeply for his friends and family. Just look at this photo of him  (above) leaving the junkyard with dirty knuckles and a smile; is he not one of the most valuable assets in Ford Motor Company’s current portfolio? He represents the brand as his day job, yes, but my man Conner lives the brand on a 24/7 basis:

“As a Parts Specialist for Ford Motor Company, I’m always happy to help dealers, and vehicle owners find parts they need. I have been known to personally obtain and transport parts for customers, occasionally making use of my Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon for deliveries. As an enthusiast, it is especially rewarding to assist when parts are difficult to find, and I am able to help keep an older vehicle on the road. It’s even better when I have the opportunity to aid in restoring a vehicle to its former glory.

“When Sajeev asked if I would visit Albuquerque in search of some parts, I was in!”

My initial chat with Conner confirmed that we were on the same page with regard to the ’83 in the junkyard. He knew to run far away from that car if it looked as bullet-riddled as it did in the single photo listed on the U-Pull & Pay website.

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I didn’t want a friend wasting any more time than necessary, but I framed it as a joke in our chat room. This 1983 Continental reminded me of that quote from Nelson Muntz about the 1970 Camaro on his Dad’s property: “That’s my dad’s shootin’ car. Just three more payments and it’s ours.”

Well, I wasn’t wrong. Someone shot the hell outta this poor car.

But Conner wasn’t fazed, and he dug inside to see if it contained any salvageable faux burl walnut trim. He had some words of wisdom:

“The American Southwest is a place where people travel back in time. Cars and trucks that have long disappeared in other locales are only recently finding their way into the U-Pull-&-Pay in Albuquerque. The number of 1960s–1990s vehicles in inventory reminds me of visiting junkyards in other states 10 or 20 years ago. Many of these older vehicles are surprisingly well preserved … and generally devoid of bullet holes, too.”

Conner DeKnikker

While most of the target practice happened on the Continental’s signature slant back posterior, many bullets penetrated the interior of our dear flagship Ford. Dropping the glovebox shows just how close those speeding projectiles came to the wood trim just inches away. It’s truly a fine line between salvageable parts and mutilated trim. Talk about dodging a bullet! 

Conner sent me a photo of the driver’s side wood trim to illustrate they both existed and were in usable condition. No such luck with the unique trim on the door panels, as their footprint was large enough to ensure their destruction. But hey, two down is a great feeling.

So the end result of “breaking” a bad 1983 Continental from an Albuquerque breaker’s yard: two pieces of fake burl walnut dashboard trim that look close enough to new for Project Valentino. They bolted up as expected, and rather quickly given that my Valentino’s dashboard is still mostly unassembled.

Speaking of unfinished, I am still trying to get the early 1980s dashboard electronics to interface with the early 1990s fuel injection system (robbed from a Fox Mustang). Making those two talk shall be a challenge, but perhaps far less so knowing that the wood trim bookends were successfully sourced against all odds. And against countless rounds of ammunition, too!

In the slideshow above you’ll notice that a modified glovebox is also in my future, to clear the CompuShift transmission controller for my 4R70-W transmission. That’s another laborious task to complete the seemingly simple task of glove box reinstallation. It’s frustrating, but I have the luxury of time, money, and patience. While Project Valentino isn’t nearly as perfect as I’d initially hoped, it proves you gotta shoot some eggs full of holes to make an omelette.

Sajeev Mehta

Speaking of not-so-perfect eggs, I wasn’t exactly truthful when I suggested these parts emerged unscathed from their Albuquerquean firefight. The passenger side trim was grazed by a passing bullet, and above it might reside the mark of a ricochet. The metal has a deep gouge in it, but unlike my cleaning efforts of years past, the dry southwestern faux wood didn’t fly off in the process. So it’s still a huge victory in my book.

Sajeev Mehta

Aren’t the most hard-earned victories more satisfying than the easy ones? To say I am enamored with that bullet graze is an understatement. I still can’t believe these didn’t get destroyed by gunfire! These trims add even more character to a car that’s made of unique, valuable, and sentimental components. Or as Conner put it:

“Turns out Albuquerque should be known for more than green chiles and blue meth; it’s a treasure trove for rare and desirable auto parts.”

Keep that secret to yourself. Lest Sajeevenberg getcha.

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it.

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    One of your very best, Sajeev! As I read along, I found myself mentally cheering for all of the fake burl parts to be fully intact. No to be, I guess, but what you got is certainly leaps ahead of where you were. I hope you send Conner a real nice card on February 14 (you know, for St. Valentino’s Day). 🤪

    Close enough to fully intact, that’s for sure. I compensated Conner appropriately, with upgraded parts for his station wagon to make his next road trip far safer and comfortable. And thank you for that St. Valentino’s joke…would ya believe I never thought of that, even after all these decades of ownership???

    Not sure if hydro-dipping would accurately duplicate that burlwood, but it would seem a lot easier to get done. But man, somebody had NO regard for that car ! Some of the wounds look like an impressive caliber was used.

    I looked into hydro-dipping, and I couldn’t be sure the level of gloss could be replicated. Better of to stick with the factory parts, even with bullet grazing!

    Love it! If you ever need a contact for the Phoenix yards (similar to Albuquerque but bigger), just let me know. I occasionally still find some sweet ’80s Lincolns in them.

    Had you considered having your parts woodgrained by an expert? That’s what folks do for their 1930’s-1940’s dashboards all the time. They can match the woodgrain-style without a big problem.

    I did indeed! The problem is the door panel trims are kinda complex in their shapes and collection of materials (metal, gloss black, fake wood, chrome plating) that I am better off finding OEM replacements.

    Lots of bullets on that car. Somebody had a lot of fun or meth or both. Albuquerque was an “interesting” city to pass through this past year for me.

    OK, seems obvious but nobody has mentioned mentioned it, so here goes: What about a vinyl wrap? You should be able to find a close match, plus it’s cheap and easy for a diyer to do with a little practice.

    I couldn’t find a vinyl burl that had a close enough sheen. Since I am in no mood to rush things, I was hoping at some point I’d find a usable set at a junkyard. Only took a few years, but it happened.

    A friend owns one of these, bought in California for $2400.00 and then the trouble
    started. Esoteric brakes apparently, I’m not sure what that means but parts not easily available,
    running/driving issues and so on. All after the car was moved to the Midwest with the Owner and family.
    I called after reading about your car. His is not a Valentino, just a standard Lincoln Versailles of the era.

    Continental, not Versailles! 🙂

    Luckily for me, the 82-83 models don’t have ABS brakes, so the unobtainum accumulator that always goes bad over time (nobody flushed them like they do today!) isn’t one of my problems. Ditto the air suspension. These flagship Fords are complex and loaded with unique parts, its no wonder Ford gave up on the genre. (multiple times)

    Hi Spencer, thanks for looking out for me! I was getting excited but sadly I don’t think I can use much from those. The durability/condition of the chrome trim on those vertical panels is always a little suspect, I am gonna fork over the money to get mine re-chromed (its not a traditional process, only a few places in the country can do it) because the wood tone survived (because its on plastic, not metal).

    Now if I could secure close-to-perfect horizontal wood trim for the doors? Sadly those are missing on both panels. But I sincerely thank you again for your time, and for reading!

    Hey Sajeev, your story made me think of the faded burlwood elm on the top of the floor console of my 1st gen Monte. I replaced that years ago with a reproduction from OPG (others might sell it too). The actual wood pattern seems to be similar. I don’t know for sure but I believe the pattern is on something like a thin piece of vinyl that is then stuck to the metal part. Since OPG still sell this, this would mean that someone is still making a vinyl burlwood elm material that you might be able to source and use to stick onto your faded parts, as someone else has suggested. Here is the link, maybe if you call up OPG they can give you a bit more on who their supplier is if you think the pattern is close enough. Either way, good luck with your rather unique project.

    Wow, this is fantastic to hear. I will give that a shot, might be easier than hydrodipping in terms of matching the semi-flat sheen. Thank you!

    For the flat parts of “burl wood”, you might consider real wood. Rockler, and other woodworking suppliers carry veneer of many woods that can be finished however you wish, and then just “glued” onto the surface you want covered. No worries about the wood disappearing when cleaned. With this car, you have certainly learned the fine art of patience, along with the ability to defuse frustration and anger. Best wishes for you and your beautiful car.

    Thank you for your kind words! You’ve reminded me of the flat, real wood used on some of the 84-87 Continentals. I wish I had one of those right now, as getting veneers for those would be awesome. Too many bends on these, especially around the door pulls.

    Sajeev, for not too radical bends, try steaming the veneer, and then forming it around the base, clamping it to stay in its new configuration. Wood is a very special material, and sometimes surprises at what can be done with it.

    Makes me wish there had been cell phones back in the day when we all drove the cool cars.
    We’d have more pictures! …but then everyone would have knowledge of our shenanigans too! LOL
    I look forward to my daily emails from Hagarty to see the latest Jewels of Sajeev!

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