Project Valentino: Breaking bad, now with Dad
Welcome to the latest installment of Project Valentino, a series dedicated to the decades-long story of senior editor Sajeev Mehta and the machine that got him into cars: the 1983 Lincoln Continental Valentino designer series. Join us as Sajeev restores this Ford enigma to its original glory and then some! —Ed.
I’m still junkyarding my way toward completion of this car. In our last installment, we visited an Albuquerque “breaker’s yard,” as the Brits say. The goal was to salvage any worthwhile remains from a bullet-riddled 1983 Lincoln Continental. In the weeks after, my restoration shop sent a pointed request: Project Valentino is missing more parts, this time around the hood latch.
So I hatched a plan, one that included pulling my dad away from his cloistered world of long bike rides and luncheons with fellow retirees.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Take a look at this core-support parts diagram. We needed the metal brackets that connect the front fascia to the radiator core support. Those brackets also provide a place for the secondary hood catch—the one that retains the hood if the primary latch fails—to clamp onto the car’s body. Except . . . when I took a quick peek at the factory shop manual, to see what I was up against, the brackets weren’t pictured. And the rest of the drawing was kind of wrong.
The hood lock support (16717 in the drawing) shown is a different design. The auxiliary hood catch (16892) pictured doesn’t even exist on Project Valentino. Given that diagram and my experience with 1970s Fords, I reckon the Fox-body Continental, my era of Continental, was originally intended to use carryover parts from older Ford models like the Torino and Fairmont.
The Fox Continental is indeed a weird transitional car, mixing flagship elements of the past with forward-looking, top-shelf engineering. No matter: The 1982 Continental junker that we discussed in December remains un-crushed at my local high-turnover junkyard. And when it comes to parts breakdowns, I have at my disposal something better than a Ford shop manual.
Another ’83 Continental.
Don’t you just hate it when your favorite TV show adds a new family member to boost ratings? Much like Andy Keaton (Family Ties, NBC, 1982–9) or Chrissy Seaver (Growing Pains, ABC, 1985–92), this second ’83 joined the Mehta fleet for specific purpose: It serves as something like a time capsule of my family’s automotive history.
This car has come in handy as a reference point for assembling Project Valentino. But its single-tone brown paint and dark brown velour interior give a different vibe. And since we already have a Fox Continental in Valentino, this Lincoln needed a nickname: Foxy Brown.
While I usually hate naming cars—every other antique we own is easily remembered by its factory name alone—motoring around in Foxy Brown has been fun. The car is mostly a time capsule to Detroit flagship design in the tail of the Malaise Era. Save a few upgrades for longevity (low-watt LED interior bulbs) and fun (a rear sway bar borrowed from my brother’s 5.0-liter Fox Mustang), it’s stock. But Foxy has truly been a burden on my sanity.
Foxy Brown’s existence is one of the (many) reasons why Project Valentino moves at a snail’s pace. Save those aforementioned touches, it’s all-original, with 60,000 miles and 40 years of maintenance-free operation under its belt. So when I fix or inspect something, I often get sidetracked by horrors like that miserable negative battery cable shown above. Who in their right mind thought that splice was a good idea?
We’re getting off-topic. I called Dad and made a request: Get Foxy Brown out of the garage and pick me up for a little fun at the junkyard. He’s been curious, all these years, as to what on earth I’ve been doing with our 1980s Fords, and he made a formal request a while back, asking to join me one day at the junkyard. That, as he so eloquently put it, is when he finally became my spanner boy.
Upon our arrival, I popped open Foxy Brown’s hood to verify the parts I needed. I showed them to Dad so he could understand my thought process.
We both knew what we were supposed to see, so I just about lost it when I saw the junker: Just as with that early-1982-build Tripminder computer with jeweled buttons, the junkyard hood latch was completely different from the one on Foxy. Still, the mounting points looked the same, and the design looked superior, so I decided to proceed.
In decades of junkyard foraging, this is the first time I’ve had my photo taken. I’m glad Dad made it happen. Photography has been his hobby since he immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, and that hobby really took off after he got his PhD, when he bought a Beseler RE Topcon Super. We still own that battleship of a camera, but as I whizzed off bolts and unclipped clippings, his smartphone was the weapon of choice.
I examined Ford’s engineering and the thoughtful touches present in that 1982 Continental assembly—notably how the latch cable used a wound wire ending in an elegant loop. (Many newer designs simply terminate the wire in a clumsy metal stud.) I was as enamored as any man can be for a hood latch: I clearly needed the entire assembly for Project Valentino, from the metal brackets up front to the release lever under the dash.
And then there’s Dad, who grabbed a vent register for Project Valentino’s refreshed dashboard. While I probably have a decent replacement kicking around in my attic, this was one of those get-it-while-you’re-here moments. Plus, it let my father enjoy his initial foray into junkyarding with a lightweight task before wandering around the yard.
Wander he did, then, and he soaked it all in. He especially got a kick out of seeing a retired Chrysler 300C like the one he owned in 2005. (Time comes for all of us.) I collected everything I needed, and then gave Dad a call to join me at the cashier.
The drive home was a delight, as the two of us got some quality time away from the house. Free from the pull of TV and the internet, Dad surprised me with an admission: He’s not the fan of classic cars he once was. His stress levels, he said, had spiked while driving Foxy Brown in manic interstate traffic. I don’t blame him. Houston’s I-10 is the free-for-all made famous in the one more lane bro meme, and a stock ’83 Continental can be a bit overwhelming in a sea of modern cars brodozers.
The Lincoln’s skinny whitewalls, I noted, are the biggest part of the Fox Continental’s unique performance experience. Dad agreed, and the conversation sent him down memory lane: His first car, a Canadian Vauxhall Viva, was terrifying on winter roads, as it wandered with the Chinook winds and was tossed around by big trucks. And he learned the hard lesson of oversteer one year when summertime hit, as he was forced to make an emergency maneuver at highway speed on bias-ply tires and drum brakes.
Dad and the car each survived that moment, but his next big purchase, a 1970 Mercury Montego, left him cold. It wasn’t terribly sure-footed at highway speeds in winter weather, either. When he began talking about his 1975 Mercury Montego MX, however, his tone went from retrospective scorn to pure delight.
At 5.8 liters, that Montego’s engine was the largest Dad had owned. The car possessed power front disc brakes and an interior trimmed far better than anything he’d experienced. With that car, he said, he had finally “made it.” I asserted that the Mercury’s body-on-frame design, its coil-sprung rear suspension, and its radial tires were why it shined on the highway.
All of which reminded me of Mercury’s advertisements of the era, and how Dad fit right into the marketing plan. Granted, he’s a pharmacologist, not the astro-whatever from the ad above, but he could have starred in that TV spot. He completely embodied the message behind the car, and he even enjoyed the vulgar Saturday Night Live parody the Montego inspired. My brother and I still talk about how, in the days before the Montego was sold to make room for an ’81 Monte Carlo, the three of us went for a final farewell ride.
When Dad mashed the Montego’s throttle, that low-compression 351 bellowed a righteous call to low-end torque. The transmission did a three-to-one downshift, the car’s nose lifted gently, and the Montego made majestic forward progress.
At that point, Dad turned to his young and highly impressionable children, announcing passionately, “See? This is why you get a V-8!”
Nice job, Dad—one singular adoration for a Ford small-block, and you “ruined” your children for life. But he wasn’t wrong. The oddly rough V-6 in that Monte Carlo gave depressing fuel economy, a consumption not unrelated to the car’s frequent need for full-throttle operation. Dad had buyer’s remorse, as the Chevrolet salesperson had lied to him over the phone to get him back in the dealership. The guy said the Monte Carlo had a V-8, and Dad was suckered sweet-talked into buying it. I don’t think he was ever the same.
Fast forward to 1986, as Dad’s sour memories made him insist on counting every plug wire on the distributor of a pre-owned Valentino before even considering a purchase. He wasn’t going to take the Lincoln-Mercury salesman’s word. My nine-year-old self counted the wires on the distributor cap after him and said, “No, it has nine cylinders, Daddy!”
Back to modern times: Leaving the junkyard in Foxy Brown, Dad dropped me off at the restoration shop holding Project Valentino, then made his way back home.
I began the process of fitting, cleaning, painting and installing the hood latch assembly. The test-fit was surprisingly confusing and stressful until I remembered that the witness marks on the hood latch—the telltale signs of its previous alignment—didn’t apply to the Valentino. After that, the restoration shop was kind enough to let me use their bench-mounted wire wheel for cleaning the rust off, and a lick of paint sealed the deal.
Cable installation was even easier than removal, as Project Valentino is currently missing the vast majority of its firewall grommets. (Sigh, one more thing to address.) But the 1982-only hood latch sure looks better, not least because of its bolt-on modesty panel, now finished in semi-gloss black.
If words don’t really explain the benefit, perhaps a video will:
The other car shown is my 1988 Mercury Cougar, another Fox-body Ford. The hood latches on most newer Fox Fords make a sloppy double-clunk sound, a noise worthy of a Dick Wolf TV drama. Project Valentino’s latch gives a solid, reassuring thud. There’s also a smoother, more linear action to the latch’s release.
I thought I knew everything about these cars, but here I am, admitting how there’s always more to learn. And while I had originally planned on simply giving Project Valentino a functional hood, this turned out to be another OEM-plus-style upgrade.
I can rest easy knowing the car’s pristine aluminum hood (yes, really) will never smack into that new-old-stock $600 windscreen. But Dad and I weren’t done yet, as he did a little foraging while I wrenched on that junker Continental.
Dad found one of Lincoln’s Signature Series C-pillar script emblems, so I now have a pair for my collection. The urge to up-badge Foxy Brown closer to its big-brother Valentino was strong. That urge became overwhelming when I noticed that these Continental badges earned their signature (sorry) gold hue through solid-brass construction. And brass responds remarkably well to a heavy clean and a light polish.
In other words, both Lincolns, our project car and Foxy Brown, got something from this junkyard experience. Project Valentino only grows sweeter as it nears completion. But the road I’m traveling is no longer paved with good intentions and a fat checkbook. I no longer need the help of a restoration shop, which is convenient, because that shop would absolutely like to move on to easier and more profitable projects.
At the moment, Project Valentino has no interior. The car is missing the model’s unique side tape stripe, and it sports an electrical system with more gremlins than a shopping-mall water feature. The closer we get to that light at the end of the tunnel, the more trains we have to dodge. But at least that hood assembly let Dad and I make a big dent in the list.
Or prevented a big dent, if you know what I mean.