It's been two years, two months, and twenty four days since this subject was last updated. For many of those 815 days my 1964 Lincoln Continental's been sitting around, collecting dust. No more.
When I bought my Continental in October of 2008, I had big plans for it. I'd rescue the car from the neglectful hands of a previous owner and triumphantly parade it down Woodward Avenue the following August. Well, things went fine for the first winter, and I did get it running better. I put the car back together from the bits and pieces, rewired the engine bay, fixed the dent in the roof and the rear fender, changed out all the fluids, and actually ran it down Woodward once, two weeks before the Dream Cruise.
But the reality was sobering: At 18 feet stem to stern and a shade under 7 feet at the beam, it was way too big for the leaky garage it was in. I had to drive 20 minutes to work on it, and when I went from working as an engineer to a full time employee at Jalopnik, the car was pushed to the back burner. It pained me to leave it sit, but I just didn't have the time. If this sounds familiar, that's because its the same story every person in Project Car Hell has.
Then the bottom fell out of the housing market. I was renting at the time and thought, "Hmmm? Perhaps an opportunity to make the best of a bad situation." So I began searching for a two-car-plus garage that happened to have a house thrown in the deal. When Uncle Sam sweetened the pot with tax incentives, I really put some effort into it, and as of April 9th, became the owner of a 21' x 19' two-car garage with a power door and upstairs storage. There's a house too, but that's just where you sleep.
After ten years living in Detroit garageless I was barely moved in before I had all my other vehicles cycled through the garage and the little nagging problems which needed more than a few hours to fix were finally addressed. But the real project was still ahead. In anticipation, I rewired the garage, installed eight power outlets, put in lights, built a work bench, and cleaned as much space as possible. Then it was time to move the Lincoln. It's only a few blocks from where she had been living to the new digs, and it had been well over a year since the last time it ran, but with a battery fully charged and a little 87 octane down the carb, the 430-cubic-inch, 385-hp Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln V8 roared to life.
Getting it out was another story: The car's shifter linkage isn't terribly accurate, so it doesn't like to go into gear, there's an awful vacuum leak you can hear hissing in the dash which causes the car to stall at anything above idle, the power steering doesn't work, and more. I managed to feather peddle it the four city blocks to its new home and put it to bed, still unsure what to do.
And then, I looked at it with fresh eyes. I put it up on stands and crawled under, around, and over every square inch. I shined a shop light into dark corners that haven't been seen in over 50 years. I took stock of what I had. And what I had was a reality check. This car will never be showroom stock ever again. It'll never get nods of approval from vintage restorers, never win an award for its flawless paint, its aftermarket Holly has a mechanical choke and no mechanical line (making starting a pain in the behind), its old vacuum-based systems are half gone, what isn't covered in rust below the skin is covered in grease, every bushing and linkage is suspect, and there are holes in the floor and in the fenders and plenty of other places. Its parts are hard to procure, few people know how to work on them, and the unibody design makes them a pain in the ass to do body work on, but everybody absolutely loves them — the perfect basis for a hot rod.
I've made a choice: This will be my Hot Rod Lincoln. I don't know what the final product will be yet, but it's at least a direction. With the problem of preservation and restoration versus modification settled, it was much easier to get to work with a purpose. The first thing to get out of the way was the seats: The front power seats will need a new mechanical drive screw, some new stuffing and possibly a reupholstering. The center arm rest might make from a great hidden switch box. (It's now acting as the garage couch.) Next, the exhaust. It was a "custom" welded-in aluminized job with enough bad kinks and crappy welds to make you laugh. Less than a foot from the driver's side header the pipe is pinched enough to be restricted. Gone (for the moment). Next up, I tackled that vacuum leak.
The car has two different vacuum systems. The primary accumulator sits just behind the drivers headlight and services the brake booster, the secondary vacuum system has an identical accumulator behind the passenger headlight and services some of the "luxury" tchotchkes sprinkled around the car. Vacuum trunk release and vacuum operated HVAC system, thankfully the windows are electric, as is the antenna mast, and the windshield wipers are actually powered by the hydraulic system (Ford had good drugs at the time). The primary vacuum circuit is sound (save for some redneck using fuel line in place of vacuum line directly off the manifold tap), which means fixing the leaky secondary line is easy, just take it out of the circuit, so I capped it.
Next was the problem of the mechanical choke. I didn't want to keep starting the car by taking off the air cleaner and manually setting the choke and starting it and revving it up then jumping out to take the choke off and trying to keep it from dying by manually finessing the throttle linkage — that's dumb. So instead I decided I'd install a manual choke pull in the cabin, but where. I didn't want it obvious, and would prefer it out of the way. When I opened the smoking drawer I'd found the perfect place, I'd replace the lighter with a choke and hide it away in the drawer. After picking up a cable, I removed the drawer and carefully pulled the lighter mechanism out (anyone need/want a vintage Lincoln lighter in good condition?) and test fit the choke line. There was some binding so I used a cut-off wheel to give the line some breathing room. I also noticed the plain, el-cheapo finish on the choke pull stuck out like a sore thumb, so I machine-turned the knob and the one-inch washers I used to mount it. After screwing it all down, I now needed a hole in the firewall to run the line.
Hmm. For those who don't know, the engine bay on a '60's Lincoln is ten pounds of crap packed in a five-pound bag. It's a big engine in a narrow space with a huge heater core and a squirrel-cage fan hogging all the real estate on the firewall.
"Well," I said to myself, "I won't be driving it in winter and there are aftermarket systems half this size that combine both heater and A/C, and I could buy and stuff under the dash." So I took out the heater core and blower motor, along with about eight pounds of critter debris stored in the vents and behind the inner fender. With the heater core and the myriad vacuum lines from hell removed (anyone want/need an uncracked heater core housing and various sundries?), there were plenty of holes to route the line, so I picked one and snaked it through. When trimming a choke line to fit, make sure to pull the cable way out before you cut it to make sure you aren't short changing yourself. It's better to edge toward the final product.
After fitting the cable to the carb and reinstalling the smoking drawer (I'm thinking the ash tray might one day make a great place for a satellite radio receiver) I thought to myself, "With all these modifications, might it be a good idea to fire it up and check the effectiveness?" "Brilliant idea," I said, "But what of the flaming exhaust gases — you wouldn't want the various brake lines and cables to get melty, would you?" "Good thought old chap, let's make some shorty pipes from the discarded remains of the old exhaust." (I get a bit loopy when working 'till two or three in the morning). It was a simple matter of a cut-off wheel and a minute or two, but after reinstalling the pipes and making sure they exhaust would toast the floor and not the body, I decided that 1:00 AM in a suburban neighborhood wasn't the best time to test out an open-header exhaust.
So, at what I deemed a reasonable hour for my entire neighborhood to be up, I opened the garage door, set up the camera, and fired the Lincoln up. Now, courtesy of a montage, a little work on the Lincoln and a very loud engine start:
She's a mad pig, I can tell you that right now. It fires up much easier than it ever has, all that extra vacuum pulling fuel down really helps, and sweet Sally in the alley it sounds like it's ready to make a run down the drag strip. Guess that's what 430 cubic inches and no muffler will do. Of course, I didn't let it warm up before trying to rev it with the choke off so it died in the video, but man, talk about power!
As a happy result of these shenanigans, the engine bay is now far more organized. Without all those vacuum lines and heater bits junking up the place it's much more easy to work around the back of the engine. Speaking of the back of the engine, it seems without all that hoopla back, the bay's now big enough for something with two extra cylinders. Something to consider.
So now I'm making a promise. The next update to this personal project car series will not be 815 days from now. You'll be seeing much more regular updates, and I'd like to keep the pace I've managed so far. If I can do that, taking a walk down Woodward in August isn't out the question, and the car will most certainly be ready for next year's Billetproof. There's a lot of work left — a lot — but if you ask me, spending the evening and the wee hours of the morning in the garage, building something you can call your own, working with your hands, and seeing progress is far more rewarding than sitting on the couch and watching TV. I'd rather have filthy fingernails and bloody knuckles than know what happened on last night's episode of Desperate Housewives. Call me crazy.
Next up? Rust repair. I've already cut the passenger side floor out and I'm eyeballing the rear footwell. Those are easy to fix, it's the body cancer that I'll go into with no idea how to come out the other side that I'm not particularly looking forward to it, but it has to be done. Time to find some old-timers I suppose. If you have ideas for the car, tips, tricks, or spare parts lying around (or need the parts I'm chucking), leave a comment below or shoot me an email.