Friday, November 30, 2001

“I was living at 3305 South West 16th Street in Fort Lauderdale,” Jack Sweet recalls of his teen-age years.

The neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Mutter, he remembers, drove a nondescript 1949 Plymouth until one day Mrs. Mutter about knocked the young Mr. Sweet’s socks off when she drove into her driveway in a sparkling new banana yellow 1953 Lincoln Capri convertible.

From that fateful day to this Mr. Sweet has harbored a fondness for that car and those like it. A total of 2,372 of the 1953 Lincoln Capri convertibles were manufactured, each one with a base price of $3,699.

Forty years had passed when Mr. Sweet began looking for a car like Mrs. Mutter’s. The search took him hither and yon to disappointments as far flung as Idaho, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania.

In early 1996 he went to Long Island, N.Y., to investigate car number 12. He might as well have walked into a buzz saw. Instead, he walked into the middle of an unpleasant divorce.

The wife was in New York with the car and the husband was in Georgia. His name was on the title, but she had possession of the title.

The spectacular Lincoln was the car Mr. Sweet wanted; however, he was facing a monthlong business trip to Australia. The 17-foot, 10-inch-long car was put in to storage for a month, and when Mr. Sweet returned he was required to send separate checks to the wife and husband.

Next, he had to send postage to the wife in New York so she could send the title and registration to her husband in Georgia without the added expense of postage. The husband then completed the paperwork and returned it to Mr. Sweet.

In February 1996 the 4,310-pound 1953 Lincoln Capri convertible became his. After the Lincoln was trucked home, Mr. Sweet began to check out what he had purchased.

The handsome 1953 Lincoln is equipped with power steering, power windows with hand crank wing vent windows, power four-way seats and antenna.

Surprisingly, the car does not have power brakes.

Optional fog lamps are incorporated in the front bumper/grille assembly. Stainless steel door guards wrap around the door handles to protect the paint.

Mr. Sweet, pleased with the total package, decided to replace the fabric top and four 8.20x15-inch white sidewall tires.

That’s not exactly how the project turned out.

“Instead of a new top and new shoes we did the whole car,” Mr. Sweet says. From the winter of 1997 to the spring of 1998 the car was refurbished.

Red and black leather was located to reupholster the interior and the black carpeting was replaced.

The black steering wheel with a full horn ring stands in contrast to the red and silver painted dashboard beneath the one-piece curved windshield.

Lincoln stylists in 1953 were fond of gold trim. They used it on the Capri emblem on each quarter panel, the big “V” in the grille, the front part of the hood ornament and the knight emblem on the trunk lid.

The national Lincoln meet in the summer of 2000 was in St. Louis. Mr. Sweet joined eight other Washington area owners of antique Lincolns in a caravan to Missouri.

“The odometer read 85,000 miles, but I think it was 185,000 miles,” Mr. Sweet says. The car was running great, but Mr. Sweet was relegated to the “Tailend Charlie” position because of the thin film of oil his Lincoln was spraying.

Coming home from the St. Louis show Mr. Sweet’s wife, Monica, reluctantly took the wheel to give her husband a respite. After a few miles she exclaimed, “This is a real car.”

From 1952 through 1954 Ford-O-Matic transmissions were installed in Fords while Mercury automobiles had Merc-O-Matic transmissions. The heavier and more powerful Lincolns were too much for the Ford transmissions to handle.

The 317-cubic-inch, 205-horsepower overhead-valve V-8 engine has a crankshaft with eight counterweights compared with six counterweights in the engines of the competitors.

Consequently, Lincolns of that era had Hydra-Matic transmissions like those used in Cadillacs purchased from General Motors.

The shift pattern from the left is: Neutral-4 Drive-3 Drive-Low-Reverse. The reverse gear doubles as a parking gear.

In 1955 Turbo-Matic was developed by Ford to handle the heavy Lincoln and to end the embarassment of buying transmissions from General Motors.

The worn out engine in Mr. Sweet’s Lincoln eventually was replaced with a healthy version of the original engine.

Since then the 1953 Lincoln has been trouble-free. Its powerful engine now drinks gasoline from the 20-gallon fuel tank at the rate of about 14 mpg in town and 18-plus mpg on the highway. An oil bath air cleaner sets on a four-barrel carburetor atop the big V-8 engine.

The ball-joint front suspension, in conjunction with the 123-inch wheelbase provides a comfortable ride for passengers in the 6 1/2-foot-wide convertible.

There’s nothing about his Lincoln that Mr. Sweet doesn’t like, even the plastic window in the black top. From end-to-end this car is perfection down to L-I-N-C-O-L-N stamped in the rear bumper.

When anyone questions his commitment to the 1953 Lincoln Capri convertible, Mr. Sweet simply shifts responsibility by saying, “It’s Mrs. Mutter’s fault.”

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