When Shannon Goff was five years old, her grandfather bought a brand-new car: a 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V. “Rakish, decadent, and wildly inefficient,” Goff still remembers every detail of that car, including its color (Medium Metallic Turquoise), its “white padded vinyl carriage roof, turquoise leather interior, and Cartier clock.” A native Detroiter, now Goff has recreated her grandfather’s 1979 Lincoln Continental in cardboard, right down to its Cartier clock. The only thing that’s missing is the turquoise.
In a very real way, points out Goff, the 1979 Lincoln Continental was an utterly absurd car. “My grandfather paid $21,000–just shy of $70,000 in today’s money–for his two-door leather-draped luxury cruiser, which was in fact an underpowered gas guzzler,” she says. It averaged 10 to 12 miles per gallon during the oil crisis of the Carter administration. Meanwhile, the same year, Honda released the CVCC, a vehicle that retailed for $3,999 and got 40 miles per gallon. “Lincoln’s advertising copy essentially ceded the future to other cars,” Goff points out. “The company didn’t claim to have made the best car; it just asserted it had made something no one would see again.”
Quintessentially, then, the Lincoln Continental was a car that could only come out of the insanity of precrash Detroit. By translating the Continental into cardboard, Goff says she strives to reconnect with Detroit’s great history of car manufacturing, not as someone working an assembly line, but as an artisan and maker: the sort of people who originally made Detroit great. It’s also a tribute to her grandfather. “I always loved my grandfather’s Lincoln, and had thought about making it but shied away due to its overwhelming scale,” she says. “But a few years ago, after he passed away, this idea rose to the surface.”
To build her cardboard Continental, Goff spent two years in her garage putting it together piece by piece. She researched the design of the original at the Benson Ford Research Center and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where she was able to leaf through spec drawings, advertisements, and so on. She also worked off a 1/64th scale model of the car, which she turned into a 3-D scan, then sliced this apart into “umpteen layers,” which she cut out of cardboard with a jigsaw, then pieced together into the finished product after countless months.
One thing Goff says her cardboard Continental is not is a replica of her grandfather’s car. The dimensions of this paper-craft automobile aren’t exact to the original, and it’s still missing many critical pieces, like a floor. It’s also not turquoise . . . a conscious decision, says Goff. “I considered making it the color of my grandfather’s car, but in the end, I decided white was perfect. It’s forlorn and forgotten, a ghost rider of sorts.”
Calling the finished product Miles to Empty, Goff sees her cardboard Lincoln Continental as a project about memory and loss, and, ultimately, a memorial to her grandfather and the once great city of automakers in which she grew up. If you’d like to see it for yourself, it’s currently on display at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan, until November 21.