Back Row Classic: 1980 Lincoln Versailles – Mixed Messages

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Pity the poor Lincoln Versailles. Built to a price by the powers-that-be in Dearborn, the resulting Seville-fighter (not really) was a well-made car, the first car with factory clearcoat, the first car with halogen headlamps. It even had four-wheel disc brakes–a rarity on Detroit cars at that time. It was a fine car. Comfortable. Right-sized. But it was still a Granada, and very overpriced. And there lies the rub.

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The Lincoln Versailles owes a debt of gratitude to its arch-rival Cadillac, for introducing the 1982 Cimarron. That made the Versailles look good and become less of a joke, though it had been out of production for a year when the “Cadvalier” appeared. I mean, the Versailles at least looked like a Lincoln. A Granada-based, rather cynical Lincoln perhaps, but still a Lincoln.

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Despite all of it, I still like the Versailles. Part of it may have been due to a friend of my dad’s who had a boat on the same dock as ours back in the ’80s. He had a pristine white ’77 Versailles with dark red leather and the polished chrome wheels. I thought it looked great. He still has the car, to this day, though it is a nice day cruiser now. Now, I wouldn’t have bought one new–these things cost more than a Town Car or a Continental Mark V, can you believe it?!–but I bet they would have made a plush daily driver after depreciation had their way with them in, let’s say, 1983 or so?

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One thing that helped was the more formal, Lincoln-like roof added for 1979. The original 1977-78 version had the exact same C-pillar as its more plebeian Granada/Monarch siblings, which of course didn’t help. I can imagine local Cadillac dealers pulling up to the local L-M dealer in a brand-new Seville, pointing at the Versailles out front, laughing, and driving off.

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But the ’79 changes made the car look better. It probably should have gotten that roof from the beginning. Compare the Wedgewood Blue ’77 above with the Black and Silver two-tone ’80 below–the 1980 clearly looks more luxurious. Especially to folks who would shop Cadillacs and Lincolns.

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However you personally feel about these cars, they certainly must have made money for Ford, with the Granada origins and inflated price tag! I haven’t seen one on the road for years, but spotted this one out in back of a little car lot downtown. A rather solid, if somewhat neglected example. I could do without the tacky wire wheels, but the oddest thing was the Mercedes-Benz hood ornament. Was the owner being ironic, or just misguided?

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This one also appeared to have aftermarket upholstery. I have never seen this floating-pillow seating in a Versailles, and while the style may be debatable, it appears to have been professionally done. This car has the optional bucket seats, which added a console, but the Select-Shift gear lever remained on the column.

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All 1977-80 Versailles sedans had this classic style of vertical pleating, either in Luxury cloth or leather. I find them much more appealing than the thrones installed in our CC!

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While looking pretty sound, it did have a common malady for ’70s luxury cars: a receding hairline vinyl roof. I rather like the black and silver two-tone paint, however. Although those taillights are different from those found on Granadas and Monarchs, I always thought they still looked too “Granada-ey.” In the 1977-80 period, all the other Lincolns had vertical taillights. I’ve often wondered how the Versailles would have looked with vertical taillights and a more vertical rear quarter panel. Along with the 1979-80 roof, I think it would have helped hide the Granada origins.

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Note the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The instrument panel was also leather-wrapped on these cars. That upholstery material reminds me of couches I sat on back in the ’80s. Probably about the same time this car got the custom interior. And if it’s not immediately apparent in the pictures, there were CURTAINS, in the same material, for the rear windows. Perfect for when you “vant to be alone!”

Yes, the Versailles was not one of Lincoln’s best efforts, but the replacement for it, the 1982 Continental, was a lot more convincing, and with its Fox-based goodness beneath, a pretty nice car. And it didn’t look like its kid brother Fairmont!

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Related: 1977 Lincoln Versailles  1986 Lincoln Continental  1978 Cadillac Seville