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OUT OF THE PAST: Reliving one’s youth in ‘49 Lincoln ragtop

Tony Fotos in 1953 purchased a used 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible for $400. Although the 152 horsepower V-8 engine delivered only 8 miles per gallon, gasoline was selling for 28 cents a gallon at the time. "With a dollar's worth of gas," he says, "I could pick up my girl, Anne Green, and take her to the movies."

After a few years, the Lincoln was sold, the young couple were married and life went on. In 2005, while attending a high school reunion, many of their former classmates at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., asked them about the old Lincoln. Those inquiries were the catalyst that sent Mr. Fotos on a quest to find a car like his long-ago Lincoln.

He soon discovered that not many Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertibles were manufactured in 1949 and very few survived. When new, the 4,419-pound car had a base price of $3,948. "I looked all over," Mr. Fotos recalls. He finally found one for sale in North Carolina. The owner was in Florida, and the broker handling the deal was in California. Regardless of the condition of the car, Mr. Fotos was confident he could handle any restoration work. "I bought it, sight unseen," he says.

The seller wanted the car to be in first-rate condition when he sold it, so he had the Lincoln trucked to a shop in Pennsylvania. When Mr. Fotos was informed that the work there was completed, he found other work for the shop to do — like a new brake system, new shock absorbers, new tires and a new top with a tiny glass rear window. He says he had to stall because he needed more time to complete the garage he was building in Riverdale Park, Md., to house the Lincoln.

Finally, the Chantilly Green convertible with the tan top arrived on the back of a truck. "I was astounded when I saw it," Mr. Fotos recalls.

The headlights and the taillights are recessed into the fenders, and the front wheel wells are crowned with chrome gravel deflectors. There is no record of how much gravel was ever deflected, but the strip of chrome has great eye appeal.

Under the expansive engine hood is a 336.7-cubic-inch V-8 that Mr. Fotos says was originally designed as a Ford truck engine. As befits a luxury car, the interior is primarily covered in green leather and tan carpet.

Mr. Fotos did add one item that was not on the Lincoln accessory list. He says he had a suicide knob on the steering wheel of his Lincoln in high school, and he has one on this Lincoln. He explains that one-handed steering is possible when his right arm is around his best girl.

In that post-World War II era, Ford Motor Co. was developing an automatic transmission for the big Lincoln, but it wasn't quite ready. Consequently, the Ford-produced Lincoln has a General Motors-produced Hydramatic transmission with a shift pattern from the left of Neutral-Drive-Low-Reverse. There is no parking gear.

Mr. Fotos has noticed that at a certain speed his transmission slips a little, but he is unconcerned because he remembers his first Lincoln exhibited the same slippage and never caused any problem.

While cruising comfortably on the 125-inch wheelbase, Mr. Fotos has an unobstructed view through the three-spoke steering wheel of the 120-mph speedometer. Just to see what the car would do, he says, "I've had it up to 95, and I still had pedal."

For a 1949 automobile, the Lincoln was luxuriously appointed with power windows, one-piece windshield, heater, turn signals and a radio.

The radio has a signal-seeking function.

On the back of each front-seat cushion is a built-in ashtray for the convenience of smoking passengers in the back seat.

Now that he once again has a 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible, he can relive his youth and take his wife to the movies. But now, it takes more than a dollar's worth of gas.

"America has been very good to me," Mr. Fotos says. "I've been blessed."

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