Well-Versed in Classics

DSO oboe player tools around town in a rare pair of turquoise 1962 Lincoln Continentals
Photographs by Josh Scott

As Assistant Principal Oboe with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Brian Ventura plays the classics. On the road, he drives them — namely, a Velvet Turquoise 1962 V-8 convertible and its virtual twin, a ’62 sedan in the same color.

What makes the pair so rare and alluring is not just their sleek beauty, complete with signature suicide (opposite opening) doors. Ventura says 1962 was the only year Lincoln Continentals were offered in turquoise. And only about 10 percent of the models made that year were droptops.

Far from being loud, the turquoise hue is soft and muted. “I drove the convertible down to Florida, and I thought, ‘This is the color of Tampa Bay, that beautiful blue-green tint that matched the ocean color,’ ” Ventura says. The interior color matches the exterior. His sedan is cloth and leather turquoise, while the convertible is all leather. “That leather is probably three times as thick as the leather you get in today’s cars,” Ventura says. Both have interior walnut trim.

The 1961-63 Lincoln Continentals are notable because the brand underwent a major makeover from its 1958-60 predecessor, an overstyled, poor-selling, somewhat clunky automobile. The fourth generation of Lincoln Continentals covers 1961-69, but the earliest ones underscore the brand’s fresh and radical change. Design whiz Elwood Engel (who would soon depart for Chrysler) and his team revamped the fourth generation into a dazzler. Even though the newer autos were almost 15 inches shorter than the previous generation, they exuded cool refinement, both in design and engineering.

“There was something about the way they were put together that was so classy and elegant, says Ventura, of Farmington Hills. “They had a minimum of chrome, the grille had a matching pattern in the rear, and those suicide doors made it such an iconic design.”

The quality control was also persnickety, and Ford was confident in its product, assembled in Wixom. The original window sticker for Ventura’s sedan boasts it was “the only American car backed by a dealer two-year warranty or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.”

Sales spiked with the redesign. “It really saved Lincoln as a brand,” Ventura says.

Ventura bought his ragtop in 2003 after learning that a DSO cellist’s mother-in-law wanted to sell it. But it needed major work.“It was virtually a ground-up restoration,” he says. It was repainted, the top was replaced, the hydraulics updated, and the transmission overhauled.

The sedan, which Ventura bought at an Indiana auction a year later, needed far less work, although the transmission was rebuilt.

Ventura also had both cars’ generators converted to more efficient alternators. Generators discharge when a car idles, which Ventura experienced firsthand. “When I was driving back from Indianapolis, I got caught in an awful traffic jam. The car’s lights started dimming, and I knew I had to switch to an alternator.”

Ventura, a Kingston, Mass., native who has played in the DSO since 1988, traces his love for Lincoln Continentals to his youth. He remembers being entranced by ads in National Geographic — “they were so Space Age and glamorous” — and being bowled over by an early ’60s version at the Boston Auto Show. “The hood was up, and with the air conditioning and other features, there was no room for anything else,” he recalls. When he was in college, Ventura bought his first used Lincoln Continental: a 1962 silver sedan with deep-red interior.

Most young men gravitate to performance cars, but Ventura was attracted to luxury wheels. “I was always interested in the luxury car, the comfort and the smoothness of it,” he says. But that’s not to say he doesn’t like muscle cars; he also owns two Mustangs: a 1987 Scarlet Red GT convertible and a 2012 V-6 coupe in Grabber Blue.

Ventura’s dedication to preservation goes beyond automobiles. He had been helping raise funds to restore a 73-rank Casavant-Frères organ that was originally in Orchestra Hall and later moved to a church. However, he says the DSO has now decided to sell the organ. Instead, there are plans to renovate and reinstall a different organ that had initially been in Ford Auditorium.

Ventura’s showroom-quality cars turn heads when he’s tooling around town, but Lincoln Continental buffs slaver over them when he brings them to meets sponsored by the Lincoln & Continental Owners Club, a global organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of those brands.

Dennis Garrett, director of the Michigan Region, which also includes northern Ohio and eastern Ontario, gushes over the early ’60s models.

“They’re absolutely timeless in styling,” he says. “That car will never get old-looking. It was cutting-edge design at the time.”

The first Lincoln Continental was unveiled in 1939 and the last rolled off the line in 2002. The Lincoln nameplate is still alive, but Garrett and others hope the Lincoln Continental will be revived.

“Ford is looking to hang a fresh face on the Lincoln franchise, so possibly the name could return,” Garrett says. “I heard through the rumor mill that there’s supposedly a study on that.”

Garrett knows his Lincolns; he’s sold them for 43 years. He’s currently at Hines Park Lincoln in Plymouth. Graying gearheads may account for the majority of Lincoln Continental enthusiasts, but a new crop of car buffs are falling for them.

“We’re seeing 30-somethings showing interest because the cars have such classic styling,” Garrett says. “Hopefully, they’ll covet these cars the way earlier generations did.”