(first posted 10/11/2015) Just a few days ago, we looked at 5 rare Lincoln-Mercury models. Who would have thought that a luxury division that has generally had a small lineup and a mid-priced brand that often sold simple rebadges of Fords could have proved to be treasure troves of obscure special editions and forgotten limited-run models? Today, here are five more.
Production years: 2009
Total production: ?
An interesting demographic trend that was occurring with Ford’s defunct Mercury brand was an increase in Latino and female buyers, as well as buyers new to the brand. The Fusion-based Milan, for example, was seeing sales to Hispanic buyers grow twice as fast as the overall segment. Mariner and Milan sales were both achieving conquest sales of over 40%. Mercury was throwing events at night clubs and shopping malls and even sponsored Miami Fashion Week in 2006. It was at this event that Mercury previewed its Voga trim line (Spanish for “vogue”), auctioning off for charity a fully-loaded, one-off Milan Voga. The name would appear in earnest in 2009, as Mercury introduced Voga editions of the Milan, Mariner and Sable. The latter appeared just as its donor vehicle was axed from the Mercury lineup, presaging the fate that awaited the Mercury brand for 2011.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally had famously chided his new employer for allowing the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable nameplates to be discontinued after years of neglect. For 2008, Ford would re-apply the nameplates after a brief absence on heavily revised versions of the disappointing Ford Five Hundred and Freestyle and Mercury Montego. Revisions included a more powerful 3.5 V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission and freshened front and rear styling, among other tweaks. The rechristened Sable featured an attractive waterfall grille and Milan-esque headlights; the overall effect was more modern and youthful.
Sable Voga interior
The Sable Voga was even more stylish with some chrome accents, 18’’ 7-spoke chrome-clad aluminum wheels and a charcoal black interior with cashmere-colored leather trim and black accents. Exterior colors were limited to White Suede and Tuxedo Black. Alas, the availability of this option package didn’t reverse the slide of Sable sales; in fact, there seems to be some confusion as to whether the Sable Voga was even released, despite being featured in brochures and press releases (hence why there are only two pictures featured). As the Mercury brand re-centered around the relatively successful and stable-selling Milan, the Montego had seen sales volumes dwindle from its Sable predecessor and even its Sable successor couldn’t stem the tide (the Milan also overtook the Grand Marquis in sales in 2008).
It’s interesting that Mercury had finally started to establish a distinctive sense of style for the first time in decades but was shut down anyway. Their cars were not dramatically different from their respective Ford counterparts, but there was still some degree of unique interior and exterior treatment involved as with the latest GMC trucks. However, with Lincoln reaching downmarket and Ford offering increasingly more expensive models (eg Taurus SHO, Flex Limited, Focus Titanium), there was no room for Mercury. It didn’t help that the brand had been mismanaged, being deprived of crucial crossover models. However, the more youthful and diverse demographic it was attracting evidently found something desirable about the brand. One wonders if they stayed in the Ford fold or if they left for other companies, as with former Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Saturn buyers.
Aviator Kitty Hawk
Years produced: 2003
Total production: 865
The Aviator Kitty Hawk edition commemorated the centennial of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight, and served as the official vehicle of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Countdown to Kitty Hawk of which Ford was a sponsor. Based on the impressive, new-for-2003 Aviator, the $2,295 Kitty Hawk Edition was available only in black with a rear spoiler, chrome-and-argent grille, mink zebrano wood trim and premium black leather seats with an image of the Wright Brothers’ plane embossed on the seats.
As far as limited editions go, the Kitty Hawk was very tastefully done. The truck itself was already extremely handsome inside and out, and despite its humble Explorer origins it managed to hold its own against rival luxury SUVs. The interior was first-rate, handling surprisingly good for a conventional SUV and the 4.6 DOHC V8 offered plenty of power if not fuel economy. These were expensive trucks and quite close to the Navigator in price at $45,000, but offered superior dynamics and manoeuvrability without sacrificing feature content: standard fitment included heated/cooled seats, HID headlamps and rear park assist. Unlike most Lincolns up to this point in time, the Aviator only received one special edition as it was axed after just three years on the market.
Capri Black Cat/Le Cat Black S
Years produced: 1976-77
Total production: ?
For 1975, Ford’s popular Capri (sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships) was heavily revised; North America received this Capri II for model year 1976. Gone were the rather busy side creases and non-functional side vents, and a cleaner Capri emerged. The Capri II was also more spacious and practical than ever before thanks to a newly-added hatchback: cargo space more than doubled to 22.6 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. Power steering was available as an option, there was a 2 inch wider track for better handling and revised rear springs for a smoother ride, although the revised car was heavier overall. With fresh styling and numerous improvements, the Capri II looked set to storm the sales charts in a post-OPEC oil crisis world. The availability of a Black Cat special edition, with a very in vogue black-and-gold color scheme, seemed to be the cherry on this delightful little European parfait.
The Capri was once the second best-selling import in the US, but sales were down for the Capri II. Its sophomore year saw it become simply “Capri” once more. The “Black Cat” was also renamed, mystifyingly, to “Le Cat Black S”. It was distinguished still by gold-painted steel wheels, black/gold cloth seats and heavy-duty suspension. There was also a “Rally Cat” special edition with dual racing stripes and a rear decklid spoiler. Capri buyers had a choice of two engines: the 2.3 Lima four, with 88 hp and 116 ft-lbs, or the imported 2.8 Cologne V6 with 109 hp and 146 ft-lbs. Alas, the latter featured a new carburettor that proved to be unreliable.
Sadly, 1977 would be the last year for North American sales of the sporty European compact; it would live on elsewhere until 1986. There were some leftover ’77 examples registered as 1978 models, but no ‘78s were officially imported. Why was the Capri cancelled? Some cite unfavorable exchange rates – a major concern for a subcompact or compact offering, given the price-sensitivity of those segments’ shoppers – but Ford would introduce the imported Fiesta for 1978, also sourced from Germany. Given the Capri’s more overtly sporty role in the lineup, one would think it could justify more of a premium, and there was indeed a premium: the Capri range was priced around the $4500-5000 mark, while the similarly-sized Mustang II hatchback started at $3900. A sporty European compact wouldn’t return to Lincoln-Mercury dealers until the 1999 Cougar, and it was very much the spiritual successor to the Capri: both were based on humble European Ford family sedans and both featured a raft of special editions. Perhaps it should have been called Capri, but in the intervening years the name had been used on both an American pony car and an Australian roadster. And unfortunately, there was no black-and-gold edition for the ’99 Cougar.
Town Car Continental
Years produced: 2010-11
Total production: ?
The Town Car name originated as an option on the Continental, before becoming its own line. The Continental name continued on a separate model, but things came full circle as the Continental was axed for 2002 and once again the two names were mated together in 2010: this time, on the Town Car Continental edition.
While Lincoln has had many eye-catching and luxurious special editions before, the Town Car Continental was a half-assed effort on a car that had experienced years of decontenting and neglect. The Continental package consisted of 18-spoke polished wheels wheels already available on the Signature Limited and Signature L, a couple of badges, and “Continental” stitched on the seats. The Continental edition was a poor use of a 71 year-old nameplate, a forgettable footnote in a line of distinctive special editions, and a lousy send-off for the Town Car. Fortunately, Lincoln is introducing a striking new flagship that will proudly wear the Continental name once again and feature the kind of modern technology and performance the Town Car was deprived of.
Grand Marquis LSE
Years produced: 2001-03, 2005
Total production: ?
The 2001 LSE model was Mercury’s first performance-trimmed full-size car in 30 years but it was so subtle and so rare, it has been almost completely forgotten. It boasted various mechanical improvements, but nothing that hadn’t already been available in the Performance & Handling option package. After two years, the LSE was axed before being brought back briefly in 2005 and axed again. It seems performance and handling were low priorities for the Grand Marquis’ core demographics, retirees and rental car companies, as even the Performance & Handling option package would be dumped a few years later.
“LSE” was one of those nebulous sport edition nameplates that Mercury would occasionally dust off, like LTS. The name was so close to other Mercury trim levels that a quick search through any automotive classified site will yield a bunch of mislabelled LS models. The LSE was noticeably different to drive than a Grand Marquis LS or GS, but cosmetic changes were limited to different wheels and a buckets-and-console interior set-up.
The mechanical improvements included a dual exhaust, heavy-duty suspension with revised shocks, springs and stabilizer bars, and a more powerful version of the 4.6 V8 with 235 hp and 276 ft-lbs of torque (15 and 9 more than the regular 4.6, respectively). The rear axle ratio was also 3.27:1; lesser Grand Marquis models had a 2.73:1 ratio.
The LSE trim would continue to be offered in offered in 2003, the year the Panther platform was heavily modified with a new frame, new shocks, rack-and-pinion steering and overhauled front and rear suspensions. During this year, Mercury introduced the Marauder; it was priced around $5,000 higher but had 67 more horsepower and 42 more pound-feet of torque, and it also looked meaner inside and out. The LSE’s modifications over the lesser Grand Marquis models were similar to those that would have featured in a Trailer Towing package back in the day. Although the Marauder was a commercial disappointment, the LSE’s sales were surely much lower and the latter would disappear for 2004 before reappearing in 2005. After a year, Mercury gave up on its sport trim: the heavy-duty suspension and higher output V8 went back to only being offered in the Performance and Handling package. The modified suspension and slightly more powerful engine represented worthwhile changes, but the LSE was scarcely advertised, barely changed visually and never very popular with buyers. By this point, the Grand Marquis looked more like a Crown Victoria than ever before and the neglect became tangible: the chassis revisions for 2003 would be the last major revisions to an increasingly dated car, and the Grand Marquis would die with the Mercury brand in 2011. The last Mercury ever made would be a Grand Marquis.