Changing With the Times:


 It was just not feasible anymore.  Two Arab oil embargoes in the ‘70’s had caused the price of gas to triple, roughly.  The federal government’s CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard would be ever-increasing.  And its exhaust emission standards would allow less and less noxious fumes into the air.   Lincoln had made a half-hearted attempt with the Versailles in 1977 to produce a smaller, more fuel-efficient car.  But this fancy Ford Granada fooled no one, and sales of it were not encouraging.  No longer could Lincoln build a car the size it had in all its previous history, and the Versailles was not the answer.  Enter the 1980 Continental and Continental MKVI.

1980 Town Coupe

 Two primary changes would accomplish the goals of better fuel mileage and lower emissions.  The first of these was a car that simply, was smaller.  The Continental of 1979 had ridden on a wheelbase of 127in; in 1980 it was reduced to 117.  Curb weight for the ’79 Continental had been 4,846 lbs (which was down from 5,400 in 1975); the 1980 diet resulted in a car weighing only 4,061 lbs.

 The second change would be to propel the car with an engine that was smaller and more fuel-efficient.  Lincoln did not have to start from scratch.  The 302 cubic inch V8 (5.0 to Mustang fans) would work fine but NOT with the Variable Venturi carburetor they had used on this engine with the Versailles in 1977-79.  It had proved very troublesome as a means for metering fuel, and Lincoln wisely chose to adopt throttle body electronic fuel injection for the 1980 Continental and MKVI.  A fuel injector was placed over each of the two holes in the intake manifold.  Each injector was signaled by the engine’s computer just when and how much gas to squirt into the intake manifold.  The amount of fuel was determined by the computer, based on information from sensors that monitored oxygen in the exhaust system, throttle position, intake manifold absolute pressure, vehicle speed, and coolant temperature, along with information from the distributor about the engine speed.  Regulated also by the computer was the amount of timing advance.  This enabled the fuel mixture and timing to be controlled much more precisely than a carbureted system and allowed the engine to run more efficiently.

 With 129 horsepower the power-to-weight ratio was not quite as good as the ‘79’s. But the new car had a 3.08 rear axle whereas the old one had a 2.47, so acceleration was not much different.  And Lincoln now had the first automatic overdrive transmission ever in a domestic car.  This would also help improve the highway mileage.

 The result was a car that could go about 30% farther on a gallon of gas.   And pollute less.  For those still wanting an engine of more size and power, Lincoln would offer in 1980 only the 351ci V8.  Equipped with the Motorcraft 2150 2-barrell carb (used on the 400 engine from 1977-79, and on the 302 Versailles in 1980) it generated 140 horsepower.

 Styling as well would get a complete makeover.  Lincoln had learned over 20 years earlier that their cars needed to have certain styling cues that aided people in recognizing these as Lincolns year after year.  Thus, the angular style of the ‘79’s was retained, along with the tall narrow grille.  For the MKVI, Lincoln repeated virtually everything about the styling of the car it replaced, the MKV.  The ‘77-’79 Mark had been extremely popular and there was no need yet to alter it greatly.

 New equipment this year included the keyless entry system and the digital dash with message center.  The former allowed the doors and trunk to be locked or unlocked from buttons on the outside of the door.  The message center included the following information:

     Check Out of the following functions:
        Brake pressure
        Washer fluid level
        Trunk ajar
        Door ajar
        Headlamp out
        Tail lamp out
        Brake lamp out
        Alternator condition
        Oil pressure
        Engine temperature
        Low fuel

     Distance to empty
     Instantaneous MPG (added in ’81)
     Average MPG
     Distance traveled (trip odometer)
     Elapsed time
     Average speed
     Distance to destination
     Estimated time of arrival

 Some changes were made in the model lineup.  From 1968-79 the Mark had been a different car from the Continental.  But for 1980-83 the MKVI was based on the Continental/Town Car.  Some exterior sheet metal was different and the Mark had hidden headlights, but otherwise it was the same vehicle as the Continental.  Opera windows on the Continental were now a vertical rectangle rather than an oval.  The MKVI retained the traditional oval style.

 The Continental came in two body styles, coupe and 4-door.  “Town Car/Coupe” was still an option package available for the Continental.  The Mark included the 2-door as always in addition to the new 4-door.

1980 Mark VI Designer Series

The MKVI continued on with the designer series cars.   These included the same Pucci, Cartier, Bill Blass, and Givenchy, each available only as a 2-door.  And to replace the Collector’ Series car of 1979, Lincoln introduced an option package that would become so popular its name is still used today: Signature Series.  Available in only silver or burgandy (and 1981 was well) the name referred specifically to the dash plaque the owner could order on which Lincoln would engrave his or her signature.  But this was only one of a host of extras contained in the Signature Series package.  Virtually every electronic device was standard, along with thicker carpeting, fancier seats, on and on.  Opulence inside was probably at a degree never before or ever after reached on a Lincoln.  And each Signature Series trunk was equipped with a tool kit that included, among other things, a pair of coveralls and a swiss army knife.  (The tool kit would be deleted after 1981.)   In a comparison test of a Chrysler 5th Avenue, a Cadillac Seville, and a MKVI 4-door, Motor Trend magazine stated about the Lincoln that, …”it remains the quitestof the three cars” (June, 1980).

 The Versailles was continued for one more year.  The only substantive change was to the Motorcraft 2150 2-barrell carb.  Base price was $14,674.

 Base price for a Continental 4-door was $12,884, up from $11,200 in 1979.  The Town Car package added $1,089.  Base MKVI 4-door was $15,824; Designer Series cars added $1,825-2,809.  The Signature Series added a whopping $5,500.  Production totaled 31,233 for the Continental, 38,891 for the MKVI, and 4,784 for the Versailles.  Total 1980 Lincoln sales of 74,908 represented a drop of 42% from 1979.   But by decade’s end Lincoln would achieve sales feats previously unthinkable.

 No great changes for 1981, though the Versailles was gone.   The Continental name was deleted in favor of calling the base Lincoln the Town Car, a name which would become a hallmark for Lincoln.  The upgrade package for the Town Car now became know as a “Signature Series”.  As the base car was now known as a Town Car, the 2-door version was not called a Town Coupe, as previously, but was identified as a Town Car.  The vertical opera window on the 2-door even had “Town Car” laminated in it.  Sales of Lincoln’s 2-door versions of the Continental had been dropping steadily since the mid-‘70’s and this would be the last year for this body style.  From 1982-on the Town Car would only be available as a 4-door.  Remote control mirrors were now power operated.  Horsepower and torque changed ever so slightly to 130 and 232, respectively.  EPA mpg rating was 16/24.  The same four designer series cars were available this year on the MKVI.

1982 Continental

 For 1982 the Continental name was revived and placed on an entirely new car, the smallest ever in Lincoln’s history to this point. Applying contemporary slantback styling, the new Continental came on a 108 inch wheelbase and weighed 3,600 lbs.  Available engines included either the 3.8 V6 with 112 hp, or the 302V8 with a 2-barell variable venturi carburetor producing 131 hp.  This was the first time in Lincoln’s history that they offered an engine of less than 8 cylinders.  EPA fuel mileage for the V6 was 18/28.  The Continental was available in base, Signature Series, and Givenchy edition.

 Leaving the MKVI lineup in 1982 but joining the Town Car series was the Cartier edition, which was now the top-of-the line Town Car.  Dropping to mid-level for the Town Car was the Signature Series.  Least expensive was the standard Town Car.  How times change.  From 1969-1978 the “Town Car” was the top Continental.  Horsepower was up slightly to 134, and torque to 232.  EPA mileage increased to 17/26.

 Changes to the MKVI for 1982 were minimal. The Signature Series was now available in several colors, but the tool kit was gone and many items previously standard with the SS were now optional.  The Mark lost the Cartier edition to the Town Car and gained no new designer models, offering only the Bill Blass, Pucci, and Givenchy.

 No purpose in altering success, thus little was modified for 1983.  The Continental was now powered by the same fuel injected 302 as in the other Lincolns.  Oddly, horsepower was down to 130 but torque was up to 240.  Optional dual exhaust on the MKVI added 15 horse and 15 lb/ft of torque.  The same selections of model level for the Town Car and MKVI were again available.  Supplementing the Givenchy and Signature Series packages, the Continental added a Valentino edition.  Base Prices were now up to $17,136 for a Town Car, $20,933 for a MKVI, and $21,201 for a Continental.  Production of all Lincolns rose to 105,326, a considerable improvement over the 1980 sales of  74,908.

1984 Mark VII

 In 1984 Lincoln would take a foray into a hitherto unexplored niche, introducing its first luxury sports coupe, the MKVII.  While the Marks had primarily been 2-door personal luxury cars, they never could have been considered high-performance or “grand touring” cars.  There was no doubt this car was.  Formed around an aerodynamic shape with a co-efficient of drag of a mere .38, the MKVII was powered by the 302ci V8 making 140 horsepower.  With optional dual exhausts it produced 155.  Available later in the year was an inline 6-cylinder turbo-diesel from BMW.  At 2.4 liters it put out 115 horsepower.  Sitting on a wheelbase of 108.5 inches, it employed the Thunderbird/Cougar platform (as did the
Continental).  Available in 4 styles the customer could have a standard Mark VII, a Versace edition, a Bill Blass designer series, or the performance-oriented LSC.  The latter included stiffened suspension,
quicker steering, performance axle, special tires, fog lamps, and leather covered console, steering wheel, and gearshift knob.  Having a Christmas-tree appearance, the dash was digital and featured the now
well-accepted electronic message center.   Driver and front seat passenger were further given a performance-car feel as each sat on his own bucket seat, with a full-length console separating them.

 With the introduction of an all-new car, Lincoln did little to alter its existing models (and didn’t really need to, as it were).  The Continental now had electronic air suspension and a restyled front end.  The Town Car now rode on gas-pressurized shocks and offered a deck-lid pulldown feature as a new option.  Trim levels were again set at the standard Town Car, the Signature Series, and the Cartier edition for the Town Car, and the Continental could be had as a standard model, a Valentino, or a Givenchy.  Production for the entire line was 157,434.

 The beauty of the 1980 re-style was evidenced by its existence for 5 model years, but it would not be acceptable forever.  Rounded-off corners at each end of the car greeted customers when they viewed the new 1985 Town Car.  (The easiest way to tell an ‘85-’89 from an ‘80-’84.)  Mechanical improvements consisted of an optional load-leveling rear suspension, an item Cadillac had offered since the mid-‘60’s.  Available trim levels, as well as engine sizes and power ratings, remained unchanged.

 Mechanical tweaking was performed on the Mark VII and Continental.  Both received anti-lock brakes (standard on some, optional on others) and the Mark VII LSC had a second optional engine, a high-output version of the 302.  It produced 165 horsepower versus the standard 140.  Without anyone’s regret, this was the second and last year for the turbo-diesel.  While not inherently a bad engine, it was nonetheless underpowered in relation to the other engines, and not really in keeping with the traditional image associated with Lincoln.  Only a few thousand were sold each of the two years.

 Total Lincoln production for Lincoln in 1985 was 166,486, the highest in years.  Equally high were the prices, but that seemed to deter no one who at least had that much money.  In top-of-the line trim the Town Car base price (Cartier edition) was $23,637, the Continental (Valentino) was $26,078, and the MK VII (Bill Blass) was $26,659.  For a whopping $3000 a Lincoln could be equipped with a mobile phone.  Or, for $3000, one could buy a nice 1975 Town Car.

 Mechanical modernization was the big news for 1986.  Fuel introduction had previously been accomplished by throttle body injection.  This consisted of two injectors placed over holes in the center of the intake manifold.  In 1986 it was revised to port injection.  This incorporated an injector for each cylinder, screwed into the intake runner (the passageway in the intake manifold leading to the cylinder).  Fuel delivery could be much more precisely controlled and this resulted in horsepower rising from 140 to 150, and torque from 250 to 270.  With optional dual exhaust horsepower increased to 160 and torque to 280.  In the LSC the 302 produced 200 horse and 285 torque.  Anti-lock brakes were now standard on all Continentals and Mark VII’s.  Ford’s world-class JBL audio system debuted this year.  The Valentino (Continental) and Versace (Mark VII) editions were eliminated.  So was the mobile phone option.  Now you could spend your $3000 on a nice ’76 Town Car.

 So little was changed for 1987 that the biggest event was the mid-year “Sail America” edition Town Car.  Consisting of a navy blue full carriage roof with white body (ahoy, matey!) this celebrated Ford’s sponsorship of the Sail America team competing in the America’s Cup.  White leather with navy blue carpet and dash filled out the interior.  A CD player was now available in the Town Car.  Car and Driver (April ’87) said that it sold so well, …”not because it offers a lot of room and drives fairly well, but because it’s the classic American luxury cruiser.  Its status is conferred not by any hidden technical excellence or particularly elaborate construction but by its high price tag and the sheer lavishness of its design.  It’s big and conspicuously fancy.  It’s a rolling symbol of its owner’s financial success and high station in life.”      No meaningful changes were made in the Continental or Mark VII.  The next generation Lincoln was just around the corner.

1988 Continental

 The small Continental had been around since 1982 and by now needed a refreshing.  All that would remain the same for 1988 was the name.  Based on the highly successful Taurus/Sable platform, this was the first Lincoln ever with front-wheel drive.  Powered by a 3.8 liter V6, it was equally as popular as the Taurus and Sable.  For most of the model year dealers could not get enough of them.  Horsepower was adequate at best at 140, but torque was on the meager side at only 215.  However, with anti-lock brakes, rack and pinion steering, and 4-wheel independent air suspension, it did ride and handle much more like the imports against which it was competing.  Car and Driver (December, 1987) said, “The Continental still doesn’t have the athletic ability or the finesse to rank with the German big guns, but it’s far and away the best Continental we’ve ever driven.”  With a co-efficient of drag of .36 it was actually more aerodynamic than the Mark VII (cd .38).  Two trim levels were offered, the standard Continental and the upscale Signature Series.

 Selling as well as they were, the Town Car and Mark VII required no great changes in 1988.    Model availability for the Mark VII was either the LSC or the Bill Blass edition.  Horsepower increased to 225 for the Mark VII and all Mark VII’s were equipped with this engine.

 Ending the decade, Lincoln continued with its slate of successful models for 1989.  The Town Car now offered an additional designer series car, the Gucci, and the Mark VII remained virtually the same as the previous year.  Minor changes were made to the Continental in response to customer feedback from the new edition the year before.  The base price of the top-of-the line editions were, for the Town Car (Cartier) $29,352; for the Continental (Signature Series) $29,334; and for both editions of the Mark VII, $27,218.

 Lincoln began the decade of the ‘80’s selling 74, 908 cars, while Cadillac sold 231,028.  Thus, Lincoln’s sales represented 32% of Cadillac’s.  By 1989 Cadillac’s sales had risen only to 266,899, while Lincoln produced 215,966, or 81% of Cadillac’s sales.  Put another way, while Lincoln’s sales during the decade of the ‘80’s rose 188%, Cadillac’s increased only 15%.  Or put another way, Lincoln was clearly showing that it was “What a luxury car should be”.