By TERRY PARKHURST
John C. Cashman with a 1961 Lincoln Continental in Seattle.
SEATTLE – “They didn’t think about service when they engineered these cars,” John C. Cashman said as he worked to troubleshoot the mechanism that was supposed to raise and lower the left rear window of a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible. The car’s owner, Conrad Topacio, assisted by holding the glass in place.
Mr. Cashman, who knows a thing or two about vintage Lincolns, added: “The 1961-62 Continentals are the worst windows to work on. If this was a ’64, I’d have been done in 20 minutes.” All told, the work on that window took well over an hour.
With an established reputation as an expert on the intricacies of 1960s Continentals, Mr. Cashman travels America, making house calls to cure ailing convertibles. His knowledge, gleaned from four decades of buying, salvaging and repairing the cars, is encyclopedic; his patience and skill seemingly without limits.
“Each rear window has six relays plus five micro-switches – an unbelievable nightmare.” he said.
Mr. Cashman with Pampa, his traveling companion since 2003.
Nonetheless, it’s probably a good thing for Mr. Cashman, 58, that engineers in the late 1950s, working on the radically different Conintental to come, left so many things for future technicians to set straight. He spends winters in a 42-foot motor home in Palm Springs, Calif., then hits the road in the spring and summer, making service calls to Lincoln collectors, especially on the West Coast.
He uses his motor home to pull a 1991 Chevrolet Suburban loaded with his tools and his longtime traveling companion, a dog named Pampa. Mr. Topacio’s car was one of several Lincolns that Mr. Cashman had come to Seattle to repair.
The 1961-67 Lincoln convertible – familiar to Americans as the car in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated – has a base of ardent fans who appreciate the tasteful design that established the car as a classic, almost from its inception.
But while the styling was simple and understated, the convertible mechanisms were quite the opposite. “It was probably one of the most complex automobiles ever built,” Mr. Cashman said. “There are 11 relays, about 13 limit switches depending upon the year and five reversing motors.”
The Lincoln roof doctor doesn’t perform surgery on the Continental’s cousins, like the retractable-hardtop Ford Skyliners of the late 1950s, or softtop Thunderbirds.
“The parts are different,” he said, “and I’ve got enough of these to work on.
The Continentals were built in a Wixom, Mich., plant that produced Lincolns for 50 years, until 2007. Mr. Cashman has learned how to improve on what the factory turned out. For example, as he explained while working on Mr. Topacio’s convertible, “When this car left Wixom, the hydraulics were filled with brake fluid. Do you know what brake fluid looks like after 50 years? It looks like Rio Grande mud.”
The hoses for the hydraulic systems of the early cars were also incompatible with petroleum-based products, so he uses automatic transmission fluid. “That’s what became standard in 1964,” he noted.
The complex wiring and relays for the Continental’s power top.
Mr. Cashman’s immersion began in the 1970s, when “parts cars” were affordable. “Lincolns were available, and I started buying them for $100 each.” He ended up with what he called “10 acres of Lincolns” in Lithia, Fla., where he then lived.
“I scrapped the cars out and sold old Lincoln parts,” Mr. Cashman said. “Not many people did old Lincolns. Once I discovered I had a niche, the rest is history.”
Some 10 years ago, he sold the Lithia salvage operation – and even the house where he lived – to Tim Nill, who had been a parts picker at Lincoln Land, a big parts supplier in Clearwater, Fla. Mr. Nill was someone he’d known for 30 years and felt he could trust with his legacy.
“I went mobile,” Mr. Cashman said. “My niche is now traveling and fixing Lincolns. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, retire.”
He found his companion, Pampa the dog, in 2003 at an auction in Pampa, Tex., of 388 Lincolns that had belonged to a Lincoln dealer and oilman, J. C. Daniels. Mr. Cashman bought about 80 of them, for $8,300.
There wasn’t a lot of bidding competition because an ice storm had struck Pampa that weekend. “I sent 20 cars back to Florida and parted the rest out,” he said.
In the course of that experience he came across the dog, then just an 8-week-old pup who had been separated from her pack. She has been with him ever since, traveling to 47 states.
A service call starts at $300, and he charges $200 an hour for labor. It can take up to four hours to upgrade the roof’s hydraulic system in the trunk – and then there’s the cost of parts.
“Welcome to the wonderful world of Lincolns,” Mr. Cashman said as continued to fiddle with the window mechanism. “This is a rich man’s toy.”