- - Thursday, May 12, 2011

After raising six children, Lee and Mary Peterson decided to give themselves a couple of gifts.

Mrs. Peterson’s ancestors had come from Ireland and she wanted to go visit the old country.

Mr. Peterson wanted a new car, which his wife agreed would be nice but, in a nod to her Irish roots, she insisted that it be green.

They enjoyed their visit to Ireland and then went to the Carter Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Ocean City, N.J. where they purchased what Mrs. Peterson called “our last automobile.”

They selected a 1976 Lincoln Continental Town Sedan that came within 7.5 inches of stretching 20 feet long.

The enormous Lincoln was totally green. The official name of the green paint in Dark Jade Metallic. The roof is covered in a matching dark green vinyl.

Inside the spacious car, the headliner is dark green, as is the leather upholstery, carpeting and dashboard.

A total of 43,983 such models were manufactured and each one had a base price of $9,293. Of course, there is no evidence that any Lincoln left the factory as a base model.

“That 1976 Lincoln was the most expensive automobile they ever owned and a big jump from their old Chevrolet,” observes Lee Peterson, their eldest of the six children.

The lengthy Lincoln purchased by the Petersons was loaded with convenient features including:

*Power seats.

*Power brakes.

*Power antenna.

*Power steering.

*Power windows.

*Air conditioning.

*Power door locks.

*Remote control mirrors.

Not only were the four windows electrically operated, but the small vent windows in the front doors were similarly powered.

Mr. Peterson reports that his parents didn’t let any moss grow on their Lincoln. “Dad and Mom enjoyed driving their family and grandchildren to sporting events at their schools and other outings,” Mr. Peterson says. They even made a couple of trips to Florida with the big 460-cubic-inch V-8 propelling the 5,383-pound Lincoln up and down Interstate 95. With not nearly as much traffic as there is today, Mr. Peterson’s father would activate the cruise control on the two-spoke steering wheel and sit back as the 202-horsepower Lincoln gobbled up the miles while drinking gasoline from the 24-gallon tank.

On long trips, the 127.2-inch wheelbase smoothed out imperfections in the road to the extent the occupants of the car had no sensation of the road surface. The 120 mph linear speedometer has a colored bar that starts at zero and stretches across the speedometer as the speed increases. The roomy trunk has a capacity of 20 cubic feet.

Mr. Peterson’s parent’s thoroughly enjoyed their “last car” until age sneaked up on his father when he was 88. “Mom called me,” Mr. Peterson recalls and said, “Come over and have a little talk with Dad. The problem is he is running over curbs with the Lincoln, his parking is questionable and he refuses to stop driving.”

Mr. Peterson suggested to his father that he give the car to his brother who could use it but wanted him to keep his driver’s license. “This way,” Mr. Peterson explained, “you will still have your independence.” His father agreed, and the entire family was relieved.

When his father died two years later, Mr. Peterson’s brother asked if he wanted the 1976 Lincoln. “I said yes, because I wanted to keep it in the family,” Mr. Peterson says. He knew how much the big green car meant to his parents.

Mr. Peterson drove the big car to his Rose Haven, Md., home where he began planning a restoration.

His first task was to purchase three other junked Lincolns like his parents’ car. He disassembled them, salvaging every possible reusable part, especially the trim pieces.

The heavy-duty automatic transmission was rebuilt, a new dashpad was installed, the driver’s seat was reupholstered and a new headliner was put in place. Next came the effort to breathe new life into the exterior of the quarter-century-old car. It was repainted with paint that exactly matched the original and the green vinyl top was replaced at the same time. The opera lights between the front and rear doors remain functional.

When the project was as done as it ever will be, Mr. Peterson drove the Lincoln, with 120,000 miles recorded on the odometer, to Alexandria where his mother was living with his sister. He says his mother was virtually speechless when he took her out to see her “last car.” That singular sentimental experience made it all worthwhile.

“I fully realized the expense involved in the restoration,” Mr. Peterson says, “but after all, it was the family car.” He long ago realized that he was putting more money into the restoration than he could ever hope to recover. That was irrelevant, he says. Bringing the car back was done for the loving memories, he recalls, “of when my parents were dreaming of Ireland, while sitting behind our big green Lincoln.”

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