By Carola Vyhnak for the Toronto Star
CAMPBELLFORD, ONT.—She’s still got it all: gorgeous body, sultry purr, star quality that turns heads wherever she goes.
But the 1958 Lincoln Continental Mark III convertible that graced the streets of Hollywood more than half a century ago has traded the glamourous life for a very private existence in Sherwin Stapley’s garage about 3,600 km away.
And her first owner, legendary sex symbol Mamie Van Doren, is delighted.
“I drove the car to the (MGM) studio every day and many celebrities … rode in it,” she wrote in an email when Stapley contacted her about his purchase two years ago. “I’m glad to hear it has found a happy home in Canada.”
It was the car’s uniqueness and celebrity status that drove Stapley to buy it from the family of a Peterborough collector who had died. An auto aficionado who’s been buying and selling vehicles of all vintages for 60 years, Stapley recognized a rare gem in the already restored curio.
“It’s a gorgeous car. It’s a special one,” he says, buffing the chrome that dazzles in the sun at his Campbellford home two hours northeast of Toronto.
At almost 6 metres long and 2,600 kg, the Continental Mark III was the largest North American convertible ever built, Stapley says.
Van Doren’s specially ordered, milk-coloured cabriolet was the cream of Ford’s crop, with luxurious white and red leather interior and two radios, because California was the only state where FM was available. Domes added for a tonneau cover helped identify it as hers.
The movie star of the 1950s and ’60s — she made more than 40 films, including High School Confidential and 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt — bought the car in the fall of 1957 after seeing a commercial on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“Oh my gosh, I felt so important because I had this really beautiful Continental,” she recalled in a phone interview from Newport Beach, Calif. “I was so proud. It was like, ‘Move over, here I come!’ ”
She chose white because Katherine Hepburn told her, “Mamie, you’ve got to have a white car because people can see you coming.” (She’s now driving a white Lexus convertible.)
Despite the Lincoln’s size, it “handled so beautifully,” says Van Doren, cherishing “many fond memories” of the car, whose crimson upholstery cushioned the tushes of some of the biggest stars of the day — Clark Gable and Cary Grant among them.
She drove Gable to the studio every day when they were making the romantic comedy, Teacher’s Pet.
“I made love in that car, in the front seat,” Van Doren reveals. “It was so big, it was like a bed.”
She remembers one day rushing to the studio late and parking in a spot close to the building because hers was taken.
“I was sitting in the makeup room and some guy comes in saying, ‘You parked in Maurice Chevalier’s parking spot and he’s having a fit’.”
Then Chevalier himself stormed in, berating her in French. But he quickly softened.
“He was sweet,” she says of the 70-year-old actor, who was filming Gigi at the time. “And that was my first meeting with Maurice Chevalier.”
Three years after she bought the Continental, Gable convinced her to trade it in for a Mercedes coupe, says the only surviving member of that era’s blond and buxom “Three M’s,” which included Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
These days she’s an active businesswoman, blogger (mamievandoren.com) and author, writing a book on staying young. Her 1987 memoir Playing the Field: Sex, Stardom, Love, and Life in Hollywood was reprinted this year in a special collector’s edition.
But for Stapley, Van Doren’s kiss-and-tells take a back seat to her car.
He allows extra time for gawkers on the rare occasions he fires up the 430-cubic-inch V8 engine to go for a spin.
“It’s awful big but I can handle it,” he says. “That car will run 100 miles an hour, easy. It couldn’t get up there fast but it’ll keep it there.”
However, with an estimated $120,000 worth of car mostly sitting idle, practicality is starting to kick in.
“It don’t make good eatin’,” smiles Stapley, who may be ready to part with Mamie’s fabled lovemobile.
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