Restoration Tale: 1963 Lincoln Continental
The saga began in 1964. In the early ‘60s my dad worked for PHILCO (a division of Ford Motor Company) as a computer keypunch operator. Back then they gave executives new cars every year and when an executive turned in his car, they offered the old ones for sale to certain people in the office. In 1964 my dad got a ‘63 Lincoln Continental for my grandfather, and in 1965 he got a ‘64 Park Lane for my mom. In 1966, he got a ‘65 Thunderbird for my aunt. When my grandfather stopped driving, he gave the Lincoln to my mother. At that time, my parents sold the Park Lane.
As a kid, I remember driving around in the Lincoln; it was in this car that I learned how to drive. Weighing 5,124 pounds and being about 18½ feet long, the general consensus was that if you could drive this car, you could drive anything. Every time I went to my parents’ house, I’d see the car and vow to one day have it restored to its original beauty.
Fast forward to late 1999. The car had been sitting in my mom’s backyard, and the last registration on the car was 1985. Fifteen years of sitting outside in the snow, heat and rain took a toll on the car. I knew it was in bad shape, but I was ready to start a restoration. I finally had some savings and an income to support the project. I’m not mechanically inclined and have no desire to learn. I met a mechanic at a Chamber of Commerce event who told me he could handle the restoration, so in February 2000, I gave him a $4,000 deposit, and he towed the car to his garage.
The car was so heavy – or his truck was so light – that as he lifted the front end of the car, the front tires of the truck began to lift off the ground!
His shop was on the other side of town, and I often passed it and periodically stopped by. Every time I dropped in, he’d tell me he was going to start the car soon. Once in a while, he’d move the car to a different place on his lot. After a year and a half, I was fed up and went looking elsewhere. I met the guy who was the body shop manager at the local Honda dealership and paid him a visit. I was pleased with him and the way he handled the work on my Honda, and vaguely remembered him telling me that they do some restoration work. When I asked him about the Lincoln, he told me that he could take the car, but it wouldn’t be a priority, meaning he would use it for fill-in work when the guys were slow. I really appreciated his honesty, and asked him if he knew someone I could contact.
In July 2001, I went to see Charlie Mulholland and was very impressed with him. He had over 20 years experience restoring old cars, and when I asked around, I found out he had a good reputation. All he does is restorations. His personal car impressed Jay Leno at the Atlantic City Car Show, but Charlie wouldn’t sell. He told me that he would evaluate the car and let me know the cost to restore it. He also said he wouldn’t be able to start on it for at least three months. I was OK with that, and told him to make arrangements to have the car moved. So in August he had the car moved to his location.
Over the next few months, I was introduced to eBay. What a concept! You could find anything you wanted. My wife found a few Lincolns on the site, and one was close to us. There was a running ‘63 Sedan in Saugerties, New York. The auction had ended, but I was able to make a deal with the guy. So in November, I rented a truck and dolly and drove the five hours to pick it up. Charlie told me that the parts alone should be well worth the $2,500. By that time, he had a chance to look at the car and put together a plan of action.
In December, Charlie said he was moving to a larger garage on my side of town. As a result of the move, he wasn’t able to start the car until January 2002. He took the car apart and sandblasted the body. There was a ton of rust, so the “surgery” began. He painstakingly cut out all the rust and welded in newly formed parts. Basically the entire floor pan had to be rebuilt from the gas pedal to the rear seat. He re-made the bottom of the doors and welded in new sheet metal as needed on the body. The deck lid was trash, so I had to find one. All the while, I had been searching on eBay for parts. I’d print off a list of parts and ask Charlie if we could use any, and how much they were worth. If I got it at the price, I was happy. If it went for more than what Charlie though it was worth, I passed.
As time went by, Charlie worked on the car and I amassed parts. I found a deck lid at Lincoln Land in Florida and bought weather stripping and leather for the seats from Baker’s in Connecticut. Charlie finally had the body done to the point that he was ready to paint. After looking at manufacturer’s paint chips and the original color chips, we found a match. In the meantime, the car was gutted. The engine and transmission were out being rebuilt, the seats and dash were in his storage garage, and I spent the entire month of October working on two sets of trim. Then in November, he dropped a bombshell; he was having health problems and wouldn’t be able to finish the car. He would get the bodywork completely done, but someone else would have to put it back together.
I started calling friends who had cars, asking them if they knew someone who could complete the job. After talking to a few people, I got disgusted and decided to have it done right. I called Steve at Baker’s and asked for his help. I pled my case to Steve, who wanted to see some pictures of the car. I e-mailed photos to him, and after he looked at the mess he agreed to do the work. So I borrowed my friend’s truck and trailer and schlepped it the 5½ hours up to Baker’s. Unloading it was fun; the car came off the trailer easily. But when the guys asked where the rest of the car was, you should have seen their expression when I opened the truck!
Steve and his masters started to put the puzzle together. I left him some disposable cameras and he would periodically send them to me (with a bill) to show me the progress. Little by little, I could see the car coming together. A fellow Lincoln & Continental Owner’s Club member who lives near me took his Lincoln to Steve’s place just before the Ford Centennial in May 2003. He saw the car and snapped a few shots for me. Other LCOC members who stopped there left posts on the website letting me know the progress.
Steve would call me about once or twice a month to discuss how I wanted certain things done on the car. I wanted the best of both worlds; I wanted a 100-point car that I could drive every day.
Finally in late August 2003, I got the call.
I picked up my friend’s truck and trailer in September 2003. I drove up to Greenwich, Connecticut, just over the New York border. The next morning I was on the road to Baker’s. I got there at 9 a.m. and there she was. Unfortunately, the boys were still working on her, but she looked great! Finally, about an hour later, I was able to take her for my first ride in about 25 years.
For more photos and tidbits on this restoration project, visit www.classic63lincoln.com/index.html.