Project Valentino: Breaking bad, now with Dad

Sajeev Mehta

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.

Sajeev Mehta

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.

Sajeev Mehta

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.




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    Although Lincolns and Continentals (of any decade) are not really my cuppa tea, I have enjoyed following along with Project Valentino. Things like differing styles of hood latches – and upgrading with parts from junkyards – are stories that many of us have experienced. And as I’ve said before, I almost always learn something even in articles that would seem to have no appeal to me. In this one, I learned that I will NEVER travel I-10 through Houston, no matter how long I may live… 😮

    I-10 is kinda terrifying sometimes. I am not a huge fan of anti-car movements, but the sooner Houston gets mass transit options that don’t treat Houstonians like second class citizens, the better. The stuff they do downtown is okay, we need something like that everywhere.

    Thanks for reading, I am glad you enjoyed it @DUB6

    You and me both! It’s such a pain right now, so many details are either missing, wrong, or not working!

    The other day, I was with my Dad, and I had a panic stop in my Mercedes to avoid a cat running out in the road. I had the top down so you could hear the tires lock and release while stopping straight. My Dad looked over at me and said, “I would have killed to have these brakes on my 76 Mercury Monarch.”

    That car was known for being able to lock up the rear drums and make back-in slide out if you were committed to really stopping to 180 degrees. When it came time to do the brakes, he discovered the factory had apparently leftover LTD rear drums they put on his car, which were stronger than the front disc and caused it to be so tail happy.

    One day coming up to an unmarked railroad crossing, he got surprised by a train coming through. Going into full panic stop mode, we ended up in the opposing lane, now facing the opposite direction, but we were stopped. He looked at me and said, “DO NOT TELL YOUR MOTHER ABOUT THIS!”

    That was the last straw, and the next day, a 1987 Ford Taurus was ordered, which turned out to be one of the best cars he would own for the next 15 years or so.

    If we all had a nickel for every time our fathers said, “DO NOT TELL YOUR MOTHER ABOUT THIS!”, we’d all be top bidders at Barrett-Jackson… 😁

    The first gen Taurus, while not immune to bad powertrain issues, was one of the first American cars to really “get” the fact that a modern car needs to behave a certain way to appeal to a more diverse array of needs and wants. It was as radical as the styling suggested, inside and out.

    Of course I say this as the owner of a 1989 Continental, one of the best cars ever made if you want decent handling and a pillowy ride at the same time. If only modern luxury cars rode like this.

    Amen! From a 76 Monarch with the 351 Cleveland to an 87 Taurus with the 3.0 V6 Vulcan. It didn’t slow my Dad down that much. Although it didn’t have the torque that the Monarch did, it handled much better and did everything better. My Dad occasionally drove it like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation trying to pass the log truck.

    Being an engineer, he knew how to time the stop lights down to the minute so that he’d be to work on time. As he drilled into us kids, ” 5 minutes late leaving the house can cost me 45 minutes later in traffic.”

    I can still remember looking down at the floor and watching him floor accelerator on morning runs to school when he passed on a two-lane road what turned out to be my algebra teacher in her 85 Mazda RX-7 to drop me off at school.

    I can still her voice when I walked into the room, “I sure hope your Dad got to where he needed to be on time. Next time, he won’t pass me.”

    He passed her the next morning and a few after that until he figured out that we had to leave the house at 6:47 am to be ahead of her.

    My ‘don’t tell your mother about this moment’ was the Saturday afternoon after delivery of a new CTS-V taking 10 year old son and three buddies for a three figure ride they-and I- have never forgotten!

    Hopefully you spoiled your son the same way my Dad did with the Montego. And the more I think about it, the Montego might as well have been a CTS-V for us…when compared to the 1981 Monte Carlo that replaced it.

    Man, that Monte was so, soooooo slow even by Malaise Era standards.

    I have enjoyed reading the continuing story of Project Valentino. I have a 1985 Continental that has 76,000 miles on it now. It was reserved for LCOC shows for many years, but divorce put it to daily use. I mostly wish mine was a 1986 or 1987 model with the improved engine. My TBI 302 c.i. V-8 is slow in a way most people cannot understand. Let’s get this thing done, Sajeev!

    Hi Robert, thank you for your kind words and motivation! Right now I would kill for the engine-to-body wiring interchangability of your EEC-IV Continental. My Mustang engine swap is causing several issues, but one day I will get them resolved!

    Love watching the build come along. This might not be the ultimate I-10 missile but it will smoothly float away once finished. Public transportation in Texas is a joke but to be honest I have no interest in getting mugged at a Bus/Train stop in Houston so I’ll continue to drive everywhere even if it means being stuck in traffic. At least I get to choose my tunes.

    Good quality time with Dad – can’t beat that. I took mine along with me to the yonke a few years ago and I think he enjoyed it.

    My image in my mind of you is shattered now. I always pictured you with short hair and a coat and tie like your profile photo 😀.

    LOL I do apologize about that Todd…the professional shot was pre-pandemic me, before my auto-immune issues ensured I wasn’t getting a haircut until after the vaccine came out. No regrets, I love the long hair (for now)!

    I have a 1992 Lincoln Mark 7 special edition black with blacked out trim. It’s the last year of the fox body Lincoln. There’s just nothing like the ride of that car. That’s why I keep it around.

    Please post pics of the interior of your car. I LOVE me some Lincolns, and these are really fun as well. And thank you for not only doing what you are doing with the car, but sharing your story. Would love to see the interior.

    Sajeev, I don’t envy you of your upcoming, uphill electrical repair journey. Ford wiring harnesses are the epitome of committee construction, and it seems that nobody thought that redundant grounds were a good idea (and Ford still doesn’t) and fuses are for sissies. Hopefully you have a factory wiring diagram and fresh batteries in your DVOM, because you’re gonna need ’em. Strong drink also helps. As you probably have discovered, Ford uses black wires for positive power, and any color for ground. Those grounds are where the majority of wiring issues stem from and will require careful examination, along with those incredibly fragile and stupid plastic connectors they used. Lord help you if someone else has tried to fix it before you got the car
    because too many knuckleheads with a pair of wire cutters and a roll of duct tape think that they can “fix” things which will cause you to regret not becoming a brain surgeon…

    You have distilled my issues shockingly well, Anthony. I am actually gonna take some online automotive electrics classes during the summer to get more comfortable with the theory, I already have the EVTM, and I just bought a power probe and oscilloscope for the really gnarly stuff. Soon it will be time to get serious about electronics. Ugh!

    10 years ago, I took my 16 year old son with me to the local pick-a-part yard to get a hood for my 1982 Lincoln. I figured it would be a struggle carrying it back to the truck. The hood we found there was an aluminum hood that was very light

    Just looked through these photos and noticed that your Project Valentino car has a 3G alternator in it. Bonus!

    I was going through some old boxes yesterday in the garage and I found a mailer with some very fancy brochures about the ’88 Lincoln Continental in it (addressed to me at my University’s Student Union PO Box – little did they know)…..if you’re interested, they’re yours.

    Oh yeah, that alternator came from my parts car that I wrote about last year. The previous owner did all the work for the conversion, so that was great.

    I have those 88 Conti brochures but if you’re just gonna throw them away I will take them off your hands:

    Sajeev, your project car adventures are the only ones I relate to on the Hagerty forums. Keep up the good work.

    Its good to have people who understand your pain, needs, wants, or dreams. Or maybe all of those. No matter, thank you for reading.

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