GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My "French Connection" Lincoln Mk III

The other day, I was asked how many cars I've owned and the answer was 'too many to count'. Best known for my adventures with Ferraris, my first car was a series 1 Jaguar E-Type coupe and I've enjoyed other Jaguars over the years as well including a Mk IX sedan I acquired from my friend Gary Wales and a few XJ6 sedans that I thoroughly enjoyed. The Mercedes 450SEL I drove impressed me as being bullet-proof and very comfortable for the long, high-speed rides into the desert where I was shooting one film or another and the air conditioning kept me ice cold regardless of the 100+ temperatures the desert was inflicting upon us.

I bought a lot of cars overseas beginning when I was 16 or 17 buying older Bentleys in London and Maseratis in Milano. Traveling to places like Bromley, Surrey or Southampton and one especially memorable drive to Parma in Italy with Tom Meade to purchase a couple of Maserati Mistrals made the acquiring of these cars as exciting to me as owning them. It seemed that each transaction had a story to go with it that gave pleasure long after the car had passed to another. Also part of the package was driving these cars before they were picked up by the shippers--the Bentleys taking me around London in the 'Swinging 60s' and the Maseratis guiding me through what remained of Italian Neorealism in Milano.

I sold a few cars that required a particular sort of buyer or, to quote my father, "What you need for this one is a sap!" he would say without treading too heavily on the fact that I was the sap who bought it for resale. One of these was a terrible Chevrolet Corvair that, if memory serves, still had a bit of compression in one of its cylinders. In the morning when the engine was cold, you could hear gusts of wind escaping from the chambers as the engine cranked over and it was futile to think that the spark plugs would generate enough heat to cause the metal to expand sufficiently to seal the heads and the block. I was able to find a happy buyer for this amazing machine when I experienced a confluence of good luck.

The first bit of luck was that I discovered an aerosol spray at the auto parts store that was so explosive you couldn't use it within miles of a house that had central heating. This product one would spray into the carburetors standing as far back as my arm length would allow while my father would crank the engine over from the relative safety of the driver's seat. If you have ever seen the jumbo size of Aqua Net hairspray (available in gas station mini-marts everywhere) you have an idea about the size of the can I was using. Early morning starts usually required three of these. The gentleman who showed up at eight o'clock one morning as I was attempting to fire up the engine from cold was as impeccably dressed as any I had ever seen in Los Angeles and had uncommonly fine manners in addition. Also, he was drunk, which I count as my second bit of luck. He sat good-naturedly on a nearby fire hydrant as my father and I continued to crank our way through the second and third aerosol bottles of Ka-Boom or whatever it was called wondering if we would run out of the spray or battery power before the engine started.

I had parked the car at the top of a hill to facilitate the car's first morning steps, so to speak, believing as I did that the car would have to journey a ways before level ground should be attempted and especially eschewing anything that could be seen as an incline. My new found gentleman friend was delighted by the car and was soon pressing cash into my hand. I counted it and gave him back his change as he had overpaid in his excitement. It was then that he said he was buying the car for his ex-girlfriend; an astonishing admission that brought the proceedings to a halt. This really isn't the sort of car one buys for an ex-girlfriend, I told him. It was one thing for him to buy the car for himself after witnessing the morning start-up ritual but to pawn it of on a woman for whom he had cared was quite another. The more I tried to dissuade him, the more insistent he became about buying the car and, in the end, we concluded the transaction, which brings us to the third bit of luck. I don't think he was ever able to remember where he had purchased the car.

As a buyer, however, the most interesting purchase for me was when I bought a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mk III. I had wanted one ever since seeing William Friedkin's film The French Connection in which one is featured. By 1989, I finally decided to see if I could find one knowing that the odds were against me locating one that was in 'as new' condition and I wasn't wanting a car that needed a restoration or that had been poorly restored. When I found an ad for an example that sounded like what I wanted, I called and received the strangest phone interview I've ever received or given during a car purchase. "Why do you want a Mk III?" "What kinds of cars have you owned?" "How will you be using the car?" "Do you hand wash your cars?" I had the feeling that I was adopting a child rather than buying a car but I began to have an understanding of the seller. I asked him if I could come look at the car. He told me he would think about it and call me back. The next day, he did and I was given directions to his home.

I arrived to discover that this man kept his Mk III in a carpeted garage; the other family cars were relegated to the outdoors. There was nary a scratch on any of the paint or bright-work and the black leather interior was flawless. This car looked as though it had just been driven home from the Lincoln dealership! The mileage on the car was negligible given its eighteen years. He offered me the service history worksheets and receipts for inspection. I knew I would never find such a Mk III anywhere else. I had absolutely no leverage on this transaction whatsoever. What are you asking, was all I could say. I wanted this car. He looked at me and said, "I don't know." He promised to call me after he had thought it over and I left more than a little perplexed.

Later that day, the man called me and quoted a price that was about a third of what I had been expecting. I was flabbergasted. "I wasn't really going to sell the car," he told me "but I'll sell it to you because you are the right person for this car." I didn't question him on his reasoning or motives but I got over to his house in Woodland Hills just as fast as I could with cash. It was an unusual transaction, to say the least, and I realized how lucky I was to experience another transcending confluence of luck in an extraordinary automotive experience.

I believe I was the right person for that Mk III but I must admit that I'm glad the seller never saw his car on the poster of my film Dead Right in which the car was featured. Seen, as it is, on the dusty dry lake bed of El Mirage, the poor man would no doubt have suffered a heart attack.


Barb Katz said...

A wonderful story, your "French Connection", thank you for sharing, it certainly put a smile on my face more than once, great writing !!!

Stephen Mitchell said...

Thank you, Barb!