Top 10 Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited-Run Models: Lincoln-Mercury Edition, Part I

mercury grand monarch ghia 1975

It seems one could write dozens of these articles on special editions of the Lincoln Town Car alone. After all, Town Car special editions included the Touring, Pro Series, 25th Anniversary, Designer, Ultimate, Continental, Spinnaker, Regatta, Jack Nicklaus, Cypress Edition, Diamond Anniversary, Special Edition and Sail America. Yikes. Understandably, that’s an article perhaps best saved for a Town Car fan site more so than Curbside Classic, although there are plenty of Panther-platform fans who have this site bookmarked. Instead, let’s look at some other special edition and limited-run Lincolns as well as such cars from the defunct Mercury division with which Lincoln shared showrooms. Oh, and we’ll also take a look at one Town Car.

2000 lincoln ls

Lincoln LS 3.0 manual

Years produced: 2000-02

Total production: 2,331

Kudos to Lincoln for trying. The LS was a flawed sedan, with so-so reliability, an unexciting interior and fairly uninspiring exterior, and a weak base powertrain, but Lincoln tried. After all, it was their first rear-wheel-drive sports sedan and they fortunately had the sophisticated DEW98 platform to use, shared with the Jaguar S-Type, and featuring independent double wishbone suspensions front and rear. As the extensive advertising campaign declared, the LS had near 50/50 weight distribution, great handling and an available five-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. One feature they didn’t advertise as heavily was perhaps the most surprising feature of all: a manual transmission, Lincoln’s first since 1951.

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Sadly, the five-speed manual transmission was mated only to the Duratec 3.0 V6 and not the Jaguar-sourced 3.9 V8. While a 3.0 V6 was not an unusually small engine at the LS’ price point, Lincoln had priced its sports sedan similarly to the BMW 3-Series but sized it closer to the BMW 5-Series, much the same as Cadillac would do for its 2002 CTS. This meant the 210 hp and 205 ft-lb Duratec was tasked with moving 3572 lbs of Lincoln.

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To the LS’ credit, it was extremely capable dynamically but for that engine. The manual was sourced from Getrag and by all accounts was a slick-shifting unit. Handling and grip was at BMW 5-Series levels, without sacrificing ride quality. Dynamically, Lincoln had hit it out of the park on their first attempt.

2002 lincoln lse manual

Perhaps understandably, given Lincoln’s fledgling status in the segment, the take rate for the stick shift was low. Seldom advertised and arguably an undesirable order for Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, the manual LS 3.0 was dumped after 2002; plans to release a manual V8 never came to fruition. Lincoln still had its sophisticated if imperfect five-speed automatic to offer. To date, there has not been another manual transmission Lincoln, nor a Lincoln as exciting as the LS. Rather than build on the strengths of the LS and continue using its capable platform, Lincoln let the LS wither on the vine after a light refresh in 2003 and the model was retired after 2006. Ford had decided to take the easy-route and refocus Lincoln as more of a near-luxury, Acura-esque brand with front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models. The rear-wheel-drive American sport sedan mantle was left to Cadillac.

LS photos courtesy of Lincoln vs. Cadillac forums user Julian. This is actually a 2002 limited edition LSE, basically an LS with some sporty styling tweaks. Apparently only 63 LS manuals were the LSE package.

1975 mercury grand monarch ghia

Mercury Grand Monarch Ghia

Years Produced: 1975-76

Total production: 14006 (est.)

The Monarch Ghia was a highly-equipped version of Mercury’s rebadged Ford Granada, and was sold from 1975 until 1980. The Grand Monarch Ghia was an even posher version, offered only from 1975 until 1976 when the oft-maligned Lincoln Versailles took over as Lincoln-Mercury dealer’s most premium compact.

1976 mercury grand monarch ghia interior

“What made the Grand Monarch Ghia so much grander than a plebeian Monarch Ghia?”, you may ask. A quick glance of the specifications reveals the two are quite alike, with both featuring the 250 cubic-inch six and three-speed manual transmission as standard equipment (Ford’s 302 and 351 V8s were optional). So, was this a regular Detroit example of a posher trim level merely featuring nicer upholstery, maybe some thicker-pile carpet and loose-cushion seating? Not quite.

In fact, Mercury touted the Grand Monarch Ghia’s technical features in advertising material, chiefly its standard four-wheel disc brakes and a hydraulic power steering system. The former was a feature Ford was proud to advertise as being available on only one other American luxury car: their flagship Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

1976 mercury bobcat monarch

The Grand Monarch Ghia represented a very different approach to luxury for domestic automakers, offering luxury trappings in a smaller, more manoeuvrable and more fuel-efficient package. Even lesser Monarchs and Granadas featured plush trim and formal styling, and sales of the 1960 Falcon-based compacts shot through the roof. Perhaps cocky at their success, Ford axed the Grand Monarch Ghia (retaining the Monarch Ghia) and launched the ’77 Versailles; after all, they certainly didn’t want cheaper competition in the same showroom. Alas, Ford didn’t have the R&D budget to more comprehensively restyle the Granada/Monarch body, and the Versailles was a flop. Besides, the Monarch already looked so expensive, so much so that Granada advertising boasted of its resemblance with Mercedes-Benzes. The Grand Monarch Ghia may not have sold as well as lesser Monarchs, but it was another example of Ford offering the right product at the right time.

1990 mercury cougar ad

Mercury Cougar XR-7 3.8 V6 Supercharged

Years produced: 1989-90

Total production: 8592

The MN-12 Cougar and its Ford Thunderbird counterpart represented a $2 billion investment in a shrinking segment. The program ran over-budget, the cars weighed 300 lbs more than their predecessors and, despite critical acclaim, these factors very quickly ended program manager Tony Kuchta’s career at Ford. The money could have been spent on more relevant products, sure, but the MN-12 cars were impressive personal luxury coupes. Even the base models came with an independent rear suspension and bucket seats and console, but the real excitement was at the top of their ranges. Mercury’s most prestigious Cougar was again called XR-7, and was no longer V8 powered but instead packed a supercharged V6 and an available five-speed manual transmission.

1989 mercury cougar xr7

The new flagship engine had 210 horsepower, almost exactly the same as the 3.4 naturally-aspirated V6 GM would launch in its mid-size coupes for 1991. Where the XR-7 had a compelling edge – other than its sophisticated rear-wheel-drive platform, of course – was in torque. The blown V6 had 315 ft-lbs of twist, 70 ft-lbs more than the old Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

1990 mercury cougar xr7 interior

The stickshift was sourced from Mazda, and also went into the Ford Ranger, Bronco II and Aerostar. The MN-12 platform was the only passenger car application for the transmission, which was rather unusual. Unfortunately, it was not the slickest of sticks with heavy shift action required. The blown V6 also had a reputation for blown head gaskets, another thing shared with the rival GM mid-size coupes.

1989 mercury cougar xr7 ad 1

Despite being the sportiest Cougar since the muscle car era and in XR-7 form the most powerful, sales dropped slightly for 1989 and then fell further in the MN-12’s sophomore year. The new generation, for all its critical acclaim, didn’t seem to be what Mercury customers were after, especially with its lack of a V8 engine. Only 5% of ’89 and ’90 Cougars were XR-7s; in contrast, 14% of ’88 models were XR-7s. There were echoes of the previous-generation Cougar XR-7; it had launched in 1983 with a standard turbocharged inline four, but by 1987 was back to offering the 302 cubic-inch V8 (a V8 had remained available in the lesser Cougar LS, though). A hefty price hike had also affected XR-7 sales for 1989.

1990 Mercury Cougar-15

For 1991, the Cougar XR-7 lost its supercharged V6 and manual transmission, although they remained until 1995 in the Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe. In their place were a four-speed automatic with overdrive and a 5.0 V8 with 200 hp and 275 ft-lbs, now available in the base LS model as well. You’ll notice that is 10 hp and 40 ft-lbs less than the supercharged V6. While smoother, the new top cat was declawed; 0-60 was a whole second slower at 9.5 seconds.

Cougar sales continued to decline, but by 1994 they had rebounded quite considerably, if not to 1980s levels. The segment was dying and the MN-12 Cougar was axed three years later with no direct replacement. While so many examples of this generation are quite softly-sprung, V6 and V8-powered models with no sporting aspirations, there was most definitely an enthusiast offering at one point and it belongs in the Hall of Fame of High Performance Cougars.

mercury marquis lts

Marquis LTS

Years produced: 1985

Total production: 135

Around 3,260 Ford LTD LXs were produced between 1984 and 1985, earning it a spot in this series in its own right. The 165 hp, High Output 5.0 V8-powered sedan was released after Bob Bondurant requested some performance-tuned sedans for his police driving certification program and Ford executives were impressed with what their engineers had cooked up. A slow seller – perhaps due to its four-speed automatic and sleeper styling – the LTD LX disappeared after 1985. What many don’t realize, though, is there was an even rarer version available only in Canada: the Mercury Marquis LTS.

mercury marquis lts 2

photos courtesy of Four Eyed Pride forums

The sporty Marquis offered all of the improvements of the LTD LX but, as with the regular Marquis, differed in grille, taillights and badging. This meant the LTS featured a center console with floor-shifter, bucket seats, tachometer, blackout trim and, more importantly, beefed-up mechanicals. These included front and rear anti-sway bars, gas shocks, larger rear drum brakes and quicker ratio rack-and-pinion steering. Handling was much improved over the regular Marquis, and straight-line performance also benefited from the modifications with a sub-10 second 0-60.

The LTD LX was the closest thing to a four-door Mustang ever made, while the Marquis LTS was a more compelling offering than any Cougar sedan had ever been. Released right at the end of the LTD/Marquis’ run, production of the LX and LTS wrapped up in 1985 (regular LTD/Marquis production continued into 1986). The even shorter production run, Canadian-only availability and lack of published media means the Marquis LTS is one of the rarest and obscure cars featured in this series.

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MKS EcoBoost Appearance Package

Years produced: 2010-12

Total production: ?

Lincoln’s brief foray into sport sedan manufacturing in the early 2000s had resulted in just one model, the aforementioned LS, and by 2007 it had disappeared from Lincoln showrooms. Ford invested in a whole line of new Lincolns to replace the rather threadbare lineup. The Zephyr (renamed MKZ for 2007) was the new entry-level Lincoln, and was based on the class-competitive Ford Fusion. At Lincoln price points, though, it was less compelling despite an all-new interior, revised exterior, and a larger V6 engine. The MKX was a handsome entry into the booming crossover segment, but despite an all-new interior and attractive new front and rear styling, its Ford Edge roots were far too obvious. The next of the new generation of Lincolns was the 2009 MKS, sharing the Volvo S80-derived Ford D3 platform with the Ford Taurus. Unlike the MKZ and MKX, there was an attempt to offer a dash of sportiness.

lincoln-mks-with-ecoboost-09

Initially launched with the 270 hp, 270 ft-lb 3.7 Cyclone V6 with either front- or all-wheel-drive, the MKS would receive Ford’s all-new 3.5 EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 for 2010. Packing 355 hp and 350 ft-lbs, this new option was available only with all-wheel-drive. Performance was impressive, with a 0-60 of under 6 seconds (AWD 3.7 managed a 0-60 of 7.5 seconds) without sacrificing fuel economy. In fact, the EcoBoost actually received greater EPA gas mileage estimates than the 3.7 (17/25 mpg versus 17/24 in the FWD 3.7). Both engines were available only with a six-speed automatic transmission.

2010 lincoln mks ecoboost appearance package

EcoBoost models were distinguished visually by EcoBoost badges and larger wheels, but otherwise looked much the same. That is, unless a MKS buyer opted for the $2,995 “EcoBoost Appearance Package”. This package included different badging, 20’’ 10-spoke polished aluminum wheels, darkened accent bars on the waterfall grille, decklid lip spoiler, and darkened headlamp treatment. Front and rear lower fascias were body color, as were the rocker panels. Exterior colors were limited to burgundy, bright red, silver, pearl white, and black.

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Inside, the leather seats were available in either black or Sienna brown, both with a tuxedo stripe. The wood trim of regular MKS models was replaced with striped metallic appliqué.

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The package made the Lincoln look meaner, but the hard points of the MKS’ platform meant this rather tall and long sedan with lengthy overhangs was never going to look terribly athletic. Even with the impressively gutsy EcoBoost engine and competent handling, the MKS was analogous to the 1988-94 and 1995-2002 Continentals: a comfort-oriented, well-equipped, premium sedan based on humble family sedan underpinnings. Despite the dash of sportiness, the MKS was much of an Acura RL and Volvo S80 rival than a sport sedan to battle the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class. For 2013, the MKS was heavily revised inside and out but, although the EcoBoost engine remained, the sporty-looking EcoBoost Appearance Package was discontinued. To date, there has not been a “sport trim” Lincoln.


Tune in again on Sunday for the final five of the Top 10 Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited-Run Lincoln-Mercury cars!