Project Valentino: Semi-Quixotic ambition and automotive Grand Designs
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: 1983 Lincoln Continental Valentino designer series. Join him as he works to restore the most complex of ’80s Ford products to its original glory—and then some.
I once considered myself allergic to reality television shows, but that was before I got hooked on two British mainstays of the genre: Wheeler Dealers and Grand Designs. The former restores fully-depreciated cars, but fails to resonate with my logic-free, budget-busting project taste. The latter puts a charismatic designer at the helm of a madcap journey documenting a custom home’s creation.
Even more relevant, the project’s budget regularly maxes out the would-be home builder’s savings, credit line, and often taxes their sanity. Truth be told, Grand Designs’ cast of characters are truly my people. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because we last saw Project Valentino in primer: The following photos show the car’s transition from boring gray to a factory-correct, two-tone jewel of the Malaise Era.
First up: door jambs, plus the A- and B-pillars. The bizarre cutoff between brown and gold must have been fun to take in when my 1983 Lincoln Continental Valentino was painted on the assembly line in Wixom, Michigan. I always enjoyed this Continental’s in-cabin visibility (true of all Fox-body Fords, for that matter) but looking at the naked A-pillar reminds me that there are multiple safety reasons for keeping the shiny side up.
While the trunk and hood were “regular” paint jobs that any shop could handle with ease, the doors required special considerations. Because while they start off in brown …
That’s right, the window frames are finished in semi-gloss black to help convince your eyes to focus on the thin A- and B-pillars. (That makes for a total of three colors on the doors!) The latter area is a good place to concentrate, because that slender B-pillar looks positively elegant when its brushed aluminum frame and LED-equipped coach lamp are reinstalled.
With the doors on, the following layers accounted for the Valentino’s signature style: a coat of metallic brown (Walnut Moondust), a gold (Golden Mist) lower section, several acres of clear coat, and, finally, a modest cut and buff for a brilliant shine.
I wasn’t expecting such perfection without going the route of a full paint correction; the bodywork is so close to perfect! Now, I truly feel like the would-be homeowners on Grand Designs, with their hearts set aflutter after the foundation is poured and the walls come up.
Of course, when bathroom fixtures are on back-order and the sub-contractor stops answering your calls, “the feels” fade away as the devil in Project Valentino’s details are made manifest. Case in point: I have yet to find a way to add the “Valentino” logo to the reproduction tape stripes (above). The current plan is to airbrush the logo using a very small stencil. Ugh …
On top of that, there’s the small matter of the $1000 I spent on NOS front and rear glass, both of which are still stuck in shipping limbo. Speaking of money, since the previous update in November, I’ve spent enough to genuinely scare me out of my singularly-focused restoration mindset. I have yet to tally everything up, but safe to say that it’d pay for a 2020 Mustang GT Premium. I’ve probably spent the monetary equivalent of two such Mustangs since 1999, and I likely need a base Ecoboost Mustang (so to speak) to make my Valentino 100 percent sorted.
The old saying is true: cheap labor ain’t good and good labor ain’t cheap. I didn’t become a nonconformist MBA in a regular-cab Ranger just to one day wake up and buy off the shelf muscle cars, lease M-series BMWs, or sign up for the latest Tesla every 1-2 years. My mortgage aside, I’ve been saving damn near every cent to embark on, as Hagerty reader Flashman wrote, a “semi-Quixotic project.”
That’s more than semi-generous, although I’ve gotta to take his word for it because I’ve never read Don Quixote in its entirety. I blew it off in 12th grade AP English class, so to get a passing grade I’d hustle the Valentino over to Half Price Books during lunch hour to buy the Cliff’s Notes version. This scene was repeated for damn near every book assigned during the semester. And I’d beat every other nerd/dork there, too: 240 lb-ft of centrally fuel injected V-8 torque was public-school-class-leading, leaving my classmates’ automotive hand-me-downs in a cloud of whitewall tire smoke.
Literary geek I ain’t, but perhaps the Valentino and I lived a fictional life of our own, with visions of endless decadence and delusions of grandeur forged in the promise of aftermarket Fox-body Mustang performance. This car’s journey was a hidden undercurrent in my life, and nobody knew this truly bizarre restomod was important enough for me to put such large amounts of money where my mouth is.
Then again, Project Valentino isn’t all about me. The Mehta family often recalls our New Year’s Day trip to Galveston in 1987 with delight, a celebratory voyage on the first full day of Valentino ownership. It cemented our love for this car, our first luxury car, far stronger than for any other vehicle before or after. However, Mom won’t care about my 331-cubic-inch stroker V-8, Dad won’t enjoy the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe limited-slip differential, and my brother doesn’t appreciate the SVO Mustang Koni dampers and SVT Cobra rear sway bar … wait, scratch that, he’d gladly hurt some track-day egos in the Valentino.
I know I should be excited, perhaps thrilled to undertake this project, but pleasure is often spiked with pain: Do I have the money, energy and sanity to finish the Valentino at the restoration shop’s now-impressive pace? Perhaps Kevin McCloud, the host of Grand Designs, and explorer James Cook said it best:
“Ambition can be a dangerous mistress on a project like this. It can shackle you, suck you dry, bleed your soul away even. But then … as explorer James Cook put it: ‘Ambition leads me not only further than any man has gone before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.'”
I hate to admit it, but quotes like these keep me going, yearning for the finish line, for when this beast of a Fox-body restomod project finally roams the streets. Plus, it never hurts to be reminded of how and why Project Valentino helped shape me into the person I am today: So I keep on rollin’, son. What the Mehtas do when Project Valentino is complete will be worth every sacrifice.