Curbside Comparison: How Does A 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Coupe Drive Compared To Newer Cars?

(Every so often, a comment will be left that really deserves to be turned into a post. And it shows how easy it is to write a CC post. We always welcome new Contributors…it’s easy; just pretend you’re writing a comment.  PN)

In terms of the old car to modern car comparisons, I have some notes to share on that subject. My hubby and I have a 1978 Continental Town Coupe and a ’77 Thunderbird Town Landau. Over the past several years we’ve had those, my husband’s daily drivers have been a 2005 Dodge Neon SXT, a 1997 Lincoln Town Car, a 2012 Ford Fusion SEL, a 2013 Ford Taurus SEL, and now a 2017 Ford Fusion Titanium.

Easiest comparo first: 1978 Continental versus 1997 Town Car.

Both had that beautiful long hood, that amazing smooth ride, and couch-like interior. The Continental could take a bump better than even the Town Car (on which we had completely rebuilt the suspension when we got it). On “typical” broken pavement the Conti had the edge on ride comfort. It’s only on massive potholes (which abound here in the salt-encrusted heavy-truck-traveled wastes we call Michigan) that the Conti’s side-to-side wobble upset the smooth ride, one thing the Town Car was less prone to doing. The Town Car communicated the slightest hint of road feel, a, frankly, unpleasant intrusion into what was otherwise a smooth experience and an intrusion the Continental *knows* is verboten. If I want road feel, I’ll choose a car accordingly. I don’t want it in my luxury car.

Driving them back to back, though, was surprising. The Town Car handled like a sports car compared to the Conti, no joke. It had a much sharper turning radius, a steering ratio that felt twice as quick, and noticeably sharper response to steering input. I will say, the Conti’s brakes, which are power-boosted via the power steering pump, have as good of pedal feel and response as the Fiesta ST I had. That’s not to say the car would stop as quickly, mind you, but the Conti’s brakes inspired WAY more confidence than the Town Car’s did.

Next closest: 1978 Continental and 2013 Taurus.

Driving the Taurus, I can pretty easily imagine what the MKS would feel like. I feel comfortable in saying the Taurus/MKS were crafted in the Lincoln tradition. The Taurus is probably the smoothest/nicest riding *modern* car I’ve been in (I’ve not ridden in a car that, overall, rides smoother than our Continental). It communicates way more road feel than does the Conti, but does not wobble or upset at all over big potholes or otherwise. The Taurus, honestly, rode as well as the ’97 Town Car, but was much more composed and stable over bumps. You’d not mistake the driving or ride of one for the other, but the Taurus felt like a modern interpretation of the intended ride of the old Lincoln. And, the Taurus was quieter inside than the Conti or the Town Car.

Handling between the two was no contest, despite the Taurus being quite big-boned itself. The Taurus would handle circles around either the Town Car or especially the Continental. It would out-accelerate either of them, out-brake them, and out-feature them. My complaint with the Taurus was the seat and control layout. The seat bottom was too shallow, and I could not bring the wheel close enough. This meant I could never get a position that was suitable for long distance, a problem I’ve never had with the Continental despite it having a fixed-back driver’s seat (with beautiful velour pillowtops!). As a passenger, the Taurus suffered from having a bump-up on the floor to allow for wiring or rear HVAC or something. That bump-up raised the floor about 1 or 1.5 inches at about 3 inches in front of the seat, so pulling my legs toward me to change position always felt like I was putting my legs on a short stool.

The seating positions in that Taurus, frankly, impaired what was otherwise a really good car.

2017 Fusion and 1978 Continental:

The current Fusion, in a lot of ways, has picked up where the (wait, they still make it!?) Taurus left off. Inch for inch it’s nearly as big inside as was the Taurus, and the interior design makes it feel roomier (even though it’s not). The ride is amazingly good, night and day difference from the 2012 Fusion and almost as good as the Taurus was. It handles much better, uses less gas, stops well-I honestly think the Fusion’s one of the best cars on the market right now, period.

And, I hate to say it, but as cool as the old Continental is, we usually opt for the Fusion over my X-Type or over the Continental for road trips. The Fusion rides, handles, and stops as well as my Jag and uses considerably less gas. Compared to the Conti, yes, we can afford the gas, but it is literally a $50-$100 decision to take that car out of state to visit friends or family.

And, something I haven’t touched on yet: The old cars are actually much more *work* to drive. We’ve taken the Continental and the Thunderbird across multiple states. Those old cars take noticeably more steering input to drive. I’m not even talking to keep in line-that vintage of Lincoln (and Thunderbird in the Lincoln image) are meant to be aimed, not steered. Even with overboosted steering and a floaty ride, those cars just take a lot more work to go around curves and keep aimed in the right direction. A simple freeway curve that is a slight movement and barely noticed in a modern car is a steering event in one of the old cars because of the sheer number of turns it takes to turn those things lock-to-lock for the terrible turning radius they can even do (my ’95 F-150 has a better turning radius than the ’78 Continental does).

That floatiness is great for an hour or two, but driving it for five hours will fatigue you in a way five hours in a modern car will not. It wasn’t until we took the Continental on our first road trip I understood why there used to be so many roadside motels and rest areas.

Speaking of visibility-The Continental has the best visibility of nearly anything I’ve driven. Those sharp bladed fenders and straight hood mean you always know where the car is, and the tall glass means you actually have a window through which to view it. I joke that I could run over a medium sized child and not know it in the Continental (wouldn’t see it over the hood and wouldn’t feel it under the wheels!), but-and I’m as serious as a heart attack when I say this-the Continental is easier to parallel park than my 2014 Fiesta ST was. I can see out of the Conti and I know where the ends are. AND, I can use the body to judge where my wheels are and not hit the curb because it doesn’t suffer from the wide track nonsense modern cars are cursed with.

In terms of ergonomics? Modern cars, hands down. The Lincoln’s wiper controls are a chrome knob on the dash, to the left of the steering wheel, all the way to the bottom. The Lincoln’s headlight controls are a chrome knob on the dash, to the left of the steering wheel, all the way to the bottom. The only way to tell them apart is, after having fumbled about to find them at all, to feel up the knobs to tell which one is shaped like an octagon and which one is round. They’re not easily spotted while driving, they’re right next to each other, and they’re not easy to reach unless you lean forward and reach down awkwardly.

(images not of the author’s actual cars)