For us Curbside Classic photographing individuals, we all have one or several cars that for various reasons we just can’t seem to find the opportunity to get on camera. Most of the time this is due to the fact that the car in question has become quite rare, as is the case with the 1988-1994 Lincoln Continental.
In my quest to find one of these Continentals that has now been going on for about three years, I have seen just three of these in the metal: a white one passed me in the opposite direction on a road in upstate New York in fall of 2015, a green one passed me in the opposite direction on I-93 just outside Boston a few days ago from writing this, and then there’s this Crystal Blue one I spotted out in Los Angeles while on business about a month ago.
Riding with my sales manager, Alex, in our BMW 430i convertible rental as we were hurrying back to LAX to catch our red eye back to Boston, I caught sight of this Continental (not sure of exact year; 1990-1993 styling). Just as we were about to pass it, I told Alex to slow down so I could get a quick shot. I actually handed my phone to him to take it, as he was on the closer side of the car.
Unfortunately, this is the only image I was able to capture as due to the gridlock L.A. traffic that required us to take this route in the first place. The darkness of night wouldn’t have made for good-quality images anyway. So while I did find my white whale, I guess my quest to find and photograph a 1988-1994 Continental in full isn’t entirely over yet.
Photographed: Grand View Blvd, Los Angeles, California – February 2017
This generation of Lincoln continental is just rare, and only very few of them are well kept. Still, they are still around if you travel a lot and look for them.
This black one was spotted in the service area in a Ford-Lincoln dealership. Even though the car is very dirty with a dent on the trunk, it was almost never driven in the winter, because the rims don’t have corrosion, not even around the weight.
Maybe they’re rare because so many of them went up in flames like an exotic Italian might. My mother had a pristine ’91 Continental (might be off on the model year) that caught fire while parked at her ophthalmologist’s office. It burned so fiercely that the car next to it burned too. There was a Ford recall for this issue, but they told her that her Continental was one year out of the recall range – or in the parlance of our times, they told her to go pound sand.
The only saving grace to this sad conflagration: my mom never, ever leaves her house. 99.99% of the time her car is parked in the garage – where it would certainly have burned her house down. My mom took her insurance pay out and did what any upset consumer would’ve done: she bought another Continental.
My next door neighbor bought one brand new back in ’88. I loved it because I thought it looked so much cleaner and more professional than the bustleback-like Continental sedan that it replaced which I never liked. On the other hand, I did really like the Mk VII coupe.
For me my white whale would be any Sterling Sedan or ’85-86 four door Pontiac Grand Am (the ones with the four sealed beam headlamps). The ’86 sedan that I owned was the last one that I’ve seen in the flesh.
Just spotted one yesterday!
Amazing!! Have not seen one since the 90’s! Thanks!
Not as nice as this ’89 827SLi Hatch currently for sale…my number one variant of the first generation Legend, and IIRC the electronics were better sorted in these later Rovers to boot.
The hatchbacks have such great lines. SD1-esque around the tail. Never seen one in the metal, only the sedans and one of those not for a long time.
I remember these selling quite well when they were new. However, they aged very poorly. Think of every expensive problem the Taurus had with head gaskets in the 3.8 and weak transmissions and then add air suspension.
Old luxury cars are owned 1) by elderly original owners who keep their meticulously maintained cars forever, 2) by enthusiasts who love and appreciate them and 3) by people of limited financial means who are looking for a little luxury in a cheap beater.
Category 1 owners were able to afford a new car when one of the big 3 expenses hit. Category 2 owners are practically nonexistent on these (unlike with Town Cars and Mk VII LSCs). Category 3 owners cannot deal with expensive repairs and junk/abandon the cars when something big goes bad. These cars simply have no constituency anymore.
In retrospect, Ford should have restyled and refined the Fox-body Continental (similar to what it did with the 1994 Mustang), instead of introducing this car.
I liked the styling of these cars when they were new, and still do. But they don’t even show up in the car corrals at various Carlisle events, unlike late 1980s and early 1990s Cadillac De Villes. The problematic transmission, engine and electronics sent most of these to an early grave.
This particular Continental was supposed to compete with upscale Electra and DeVille, a market too large to ignore in snowbelt areas. ( and thus why they didn’t retain the rear wheel drive )
There’s a reasonably well-kept green one that I see in what seems like daily service near me. It’s an older African-American gentleman that drives it, and it, despite Michigan’s love of road salt, shows no rust. Aside from that one and the occasional oddball, though, these are pretty few and far between.
I actually got some butt time in a 1991 Continental back in the late 1990s. My boss at the time had totaled his ’93 Sedan DeVille, and he picked up a used Continental to replace it. At the time, I preferred the Sedan DeVille. The seats were more comfortable in the Caddy. The Caddy felt way more spritely (my boss bitched about how slow the Continental was, too). But aside from the seats, the Lincoln was nicer inside, as I recall. His Sedan DeVille had just the horizontal speedometer that read to 85; the Conti had more complete digital instrumentation. I remember finding the Lincoln more visually appealing inside. I don’t recall the build quality of either-it’s been nearly 20 years since I was in either of them.
I do remember he ruined the air suspension by filling the entire trunk and backseat with cases of wine because he didn’t want to take one of the delivery vans. I recall it being in the shop a couple other times, but I have no idea for what (comparatively, his Caddy was never in the shop).
Funny thing-he actually tried to sell me that Continental after he bought a new Deville in 1998 or so. I knew how he drove and how he treated vehicles, so there wasn’t any way I was buying a car from him.
One of my coworkers had one of these back in 2005. I remember changing the alternator in my driveway once. I was shocked to see a transverse mounted 3.8L V6 under the hood! I always thought these were V8 RWD up until that point.
Did these share a platform with the Taurus at all? I seem to recall a common running gear theme between the two models.
Yes. A Taurus in Lincoln drag. Not very effective, either.
As opposed to a Crown Vic in Lincoln drag? I don’t care enough about these Continentals to defend them beyond this, but in terms of differentiation from the Taurus, they are pretty effective.
i would suggest enrolling into a college in the field of automotive and learn a little bit more about transportation design, and automotive engineering and see how a product goes from sketches to mass-production, and think about it
Good idea. Can you recommend a particular school? Will I have to get a GED first? I never finished high school, obviously. And since thinking was never one of my strong suits, will they teach me how to do that too?
I would say Wayne State would be a good start, or Kettering, or any surrounding universities for mechanical engineering or industrial design. If you get into just few courses, you can’t ignore the product development process and I’m sure you won’t think it’s a Taurus in Lincoln drag. It doesn’t need thinking, you just can’t help noticing how the product takes shape.
Wayne State and Kettering? Aren’t those in that shithole state they call Michigan? I’m a Wolvurine fan.
Geez Paul, you obviously know nothing about drag!
It’s a Taurus in a rented tuxedo from Men’s Wearhouse.
Exactly right Paul-
I briefly worked in a Lincoln-Mercury shop in the early nineties, and the only notable under hood differences were a larger wiring harness to support customer convenience features, and the suspension air pump.
Beyond that, the engine, transmission, steering rack and struts used Taurus components, and suffered from the same failures: an unreliable transmission, leak prone PS hoses, and short lived hydraulic engine mounts.
Finally, since the Continental came standard with the 3.8 V-6, buyers also faced a head gasket failure sometime in the future.
Ahhh, the days when every Ford product looked just like the Tempo.
+1. Ford was just aping GM for a (bad) change, with that infernal vertical rear window.
Or after a shot or two of less than premium vodka, A stretched Plymouth Acclaim!
It has been quite a while since I have seen one of these. This is one case of much preferring the Cadillac Deville during the 80’s, especially if it has the 4.5/4.9 engine.
I liked these at the time, and preferred the styling of the Lincoln when compared to the styling of the Cadillac. But from a reliability standpoint, the Cadillac was the much better choice. It was no contest.
The 4.9 was a great engine, an absolute runner. My aforementioned boss had a ’93 Sedan DeVille with the 4.9. That thing always felt like it had power to spare, and thanks to the infamous GM throttle tip-in you only needed to vaguely have your foot in the vicinity of the gas pedal to get the car moving.
Yup – that throttle tip-in was because the throttle plates were the same size as the secondaries on a Rochester quadrajet! The Holley Projection two-barrel that I put on my 1971 Ford was very similar – you got massive throttle response just off-idle, and then it flattened out after that.
These seemed like Fords answer to the GM H body even though Ford made fun of the H bodys at their debut.
This was essentially a “Lincoln Lesabre”
Could there have been any less of a Lincoln than one of these ? Even the Versaille was more interesting, although for all the wrong reasons.
About as distinctive as a Corsica sedan.
I don’t know if it’s ever been brought up before, but I’ve always had the suspicion that this was meant to be the next Town Car, had gas prices decided to take a sharp swing up again in the late-1980s.
I think that you are right on target Brendan. The Continental name was transfered to the Fox platform and then to the Taurus platform because the school of thought was that gas would go up and kill off the Town Car, leaving the legacy name of Continental to go on. The Town Car name wasn’t around long enough to be legendary when this was dreamed up. Cheap gas ruined all of their efforts.
Yes, the Panthers were all but scheduled to be euthanized and replaced by the D186 platform cars. Then, 1983 happened and the Panthers were suddenly cash cows. The Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis spent the latter part of the ’80s as the sales leaders of their brands, and, as I understand it, this was much to the consternation of most of Ford’s senior leadership. They wanted to move forward with a thorough modernization of the fleet and were not crazy about having something that looked like it escaped from a Chrysler showroom in their dealerships.
Apparently there was quite a battle inside Ford regarding development of the 1990 Town Car.
Yep Continental, LTD and Marquis all were downsized to the Fox platform in 82/83. The Panthers got the all got the formerly top trimline names when that happened and likely were to be phased out shortly after. I recall reading an article citing 85, presumably with the Taurus and siblings replacing them all.
I dunno, these were very well reviewed and awarded when they first came out. I still think they’re good looking cars, and like I said earlier my memory of the interior was pretty positive. Given the design ethos of the time, it was right on target.
Shame they stuck the 3.8 in ’em, though. Too weak for a luxury car when new, and too trouble-prone to recommend to a friend back then. I wish I could remember if my boss’s had major engine or trans work or how many miles it had on it back in 1998 when he went back to Cadillac.
I liked these cars… if I recall they appeared a year before (and somewhat previewed) the aero Town Car. That black interior looks yummy… they used to be more commonplace in L.A but are gone for the same reason you don’t see early Windstars either…namely the Essex V6 and AXOD.
I rented one just after they came out. The adjustable steering/suspension transitions were very abrupt. Floaty when straight, the car would firm up the steering and suspension when hitting an exit ramp. Very schizoid! The next iteration, with the FWD V8 allowed driver mods for the degree of change and seemed to be much better.
I couldn’t believe this car when it first came out. 140hp V6 straight out of the Taurus, for a “Continental”, Lincoln’s premium offering? In 1988?? This was as much of a Deadly Sin as the ’86 Seville. Very cynical, and it backfired badly.
These were always very rare on the West Coast; Town Cars had a certain old-school quality that still sold (albeit modestly except for livery service and in areas of high retiree populations), but these were seen to be the classic Emperor without clothes car. I haven’t seen one in ages. But then they were designed to self destruct withing 5 years, right? or was it 6?
As I recall, Ford at least added balance shafts to the Lincoln version of the engine. It is a shame that they couldn’t do anything about those head gaskets (or horsepower) while they were making modifications, though. The first Lincoln with fewer than 8 cylinders from the very beginning. As you can imagine, I was not a fan at the time.
Bear in mind the Taurus didn’t get the 3.8 as an option until 1988 when these came out, so there’s a bit of a chicken and the egg thing going on when it comes to where that engine came straight out of. They should have kept that engine Lincoln exclusive, or at least for a few years, just like the Topaz doppelganger styling. Power was weak, but the predecessor and the concurrent Town Car only had 150 out of the 5.0, and they were both heavier cars.
That’s a pretty sad comparison, eh? This was supposed to be some kind of hi-tech alternative to the antediluvian Town Car, no? And they stick a 140hp pushrod V6 in it? Seriously, for 1988, that was totally lame. if it had been 1983, it might have been a bit less egregious.
You realize that the basic Buick 3.8 was rated at 165hp in 1988?
If Lincoln had any hope that this car was going to compete against the imports, and for the younger buyer, that was instantly shattered. Like I said, it was every bit as much of a flop in that regard as the ’86 Seville. Instant impotent old-man-mobile.
I guess the budget of powertrain ran out after making 3.8 SC for the Super Coupe, and regular 3.8 Essex was the most powerful engine they could put in this car. And I won’t be surprised if they didn’t have much budget left in powertrain after some straight 8 Tempo.
To your point, though, they had the supercharged 3.8 already around for 1989 (they stuffed into Thunderbirds and Cougars). Why didn’t they stuff it into the Continental? The packaging of the supercharger can’t have been such a dramatic difference to prevent it being stuffed into the Continental, so why not do it? A 210-hp car that rode and handled well and looked good would have done a hell of a lot better than a 140-hp slug.
Maybe because the FWD transaxle would have blown itself up within 15,000 miles? 🙂 I think once they decided to base the Continental on the Taurus platform instead of the Fox or MN-12 (or even a SWB Panther), they got locked into a whole bunch of engineering compromises that could not be resolved without spending way more money than was prudent.
I can think of a few reasons:
Cooling. These engines run hot in thunderbirds, they used a smaller radiator(!!!) in order to fit an air to air intercooler along side. I can’t imagine the trouble in a tight transverse engine compartment
Packaging. Both the belt drive and intercooler piping likely would need bespoke componentry to fit. These were very cumbersome supercharger setups, nothing like GM’s tidy 3800 supercharged applications in the 90s.
Reliability/durability. The 3.8s propensity for head gasket consumption may be occasionally overstated. It is not overstated in Thunderbird SCs. I will confidently say they have probably popped on every. Single. One. Made. The cooling issues and cylinder pressures are just recipe for disaster. The 3.8 SC also has ample low end torque, something Ford’s transaxles of the era just wouldn’t tolerate long.
I think Ford had a bad habit during the 80s by engineering all their new engines to match but not exceed the output of the outgoing engines. The 3.8 effectively replaced the standard 5.0s with the same power, the 4.6 effectively replaced the 5.0 H.O. with the same power with complete blinders on as to what the competition was doing.
I agree with you for the most part, but I think the rest of the car was significantly better executed than the Seville and Deville, the Continental looked much more complete and substantial out of the gate, just leaving a lot to be desired under the hood
They debuted with 140hp, but later Continentals got the better heads and faux daul exhaust from the Taurus police package, and were good for 160hp. That wasn’t too far behind the 3800 Series I.
My drafting teacher in high school had one of these.
I never found these particularly appalling like some here seem to. For me, despite the 4.6 DOHC, the 1995 anaphorus blob restyle is where the Continental went off the rails. This generation was just sort of “meh” at worst, and not bad at best. Honestly the minute I saw the current new Continental, these were what popped in my mind. The big sin about these Continentals wasn’t actually the Continental – it was L-M product planners giving the bottom feeder Topaz mini me styling the same year they debuted it. Only Roger Smith era GM was making boneheaded moves like that, and it completely watered down the car, especially as Topazs (quickly)reached teen first car beater status.
If it weren’t for the notoriously terrible powertrain and air suspension I wouldn’t mind finding one as a daily driver, but as said they are RARE. They were very common in the Chicago area at a time but once they hit their depreciation nadir, the headgaskets or the transmissions sent them to the junkyards the second they became an issue – even though air suspension is problematic, no one around here seemed to crush a Lincoln solely because of it. Lincolns dragging their asses before the compressor starts pumping, trying to level out the leaky bags, was a common sight. –
Those were good cars when new at least, because it’s traditional enough with very good interior ( the best in the late ’80s among all luxury cars maybe except few of those limited-volume models ) and international enough for appealing to a wider range of customers. The difference between this and Town Car is mostly from the different architecture. However the engineering part couldn’t hold the car at all.
Later ’95 restyle was inspired by Mark VIII but it didn’t wear right. ’98 revision was much an improvement. The concept of using an affordable vehicle as a starting point with unique powertrain and absolutely outstanding ride quality/NVH is always right in the luxury car market. It’s always easier to engineer from an existing product and refine it further, than starting from scratch, or it would either be corner-cutting like Infiniti, or ridiculously expensive like Mercedes.
Current Continental lives on with the similar design goals just like ’98-’02 Continental, with more emphasis on transmission reliability in terms of engineering, and more unique user experience in terms of design.
The 1998 Continental had some of the largest, ugliest tail-lights of any car in the history of automobiles. In fact, the only other car I can think of with such ugly, large plastic red tail-lights is the Ford Fairmont Futura/Mercury Zephyr Z7.
Did the 3.8 always have those reliability issues or did Ford make some improvements to it over time? I’ve been a Ford man for all my life and somehow I never knew that the 3.8 was so problematic. The only car I ever had any real seat time with that had one was my sisters 89 Tbird she got when she was 16. Dad traded in my grandmothers 89 LTD for it in 1992 because she quit driving around that time and gave him her car. I would have been happy to have the LTD, but everyone thought it was to big for my sister. She beat the snot out of that Tbird (she continues to this day to be really hard on cars) and it only ever had one problem. A piece of carbon fouled out a spark plug and made it a 5 cylinder. I remember fondly the feeling of success and accomplishment I had when I figured out the problem and fixed the car for under $5.00. I was 14 at the time didn’t know much about working on cars. Anyway, due to the abuse that car took and how well it stood up to it, I had always thought the 3.8 was a decent engine, just a bit low in reguards to power.
To hear the commentariat about a particular vehicle re: reliability, you’d think every single example was going to fail catastrophically, regardless of who made it or what the problem was. The vast majority of the GM cars with the notorious ignitions were not going to cut off and kill you. The vast majority of all Volkwagens or Benzes from the late ’90s/early 2000s were not going to die from electrical issues. The vast majority of Ford 3.8s were not going to eat a head gasket.
Were they more prone to failure than the average car? Yes.
But let’s be clear-the real reason there aren’t that many of these left on the road is because the newest example of them is now 23 years old, they didn’t sell a kajillion of them from brand new, and they have not attained any sort of status that would compel enthusiasts to hold onto them for collectability or investment reasons. I mean, there aren’t that many H-Body GMs left on the roads either, and those sold better than these Continentals and had one of the most reliable powertrain combos devised by modern automotive engineers.
Hell, the only reason there are still so many old F-150s on the road is because they sold 700,000-900,000 of them per year through most of the 1990s. And every time I go to the boneyard, there are at least 10 different trucks from which I can pick bits I need. At some point, time gets these things.
I mean, even here in Southeast Michigan, it’s now reasonably rare to see a 1980s Town Car on the roads at all, and the 1990s versions are getting few and far between. These were practically ubiquitous just a few years ago, and now they’re gone. Their last owners have squeezed whatever life was left before an expensive part or rust did ’em in.
And Honda/Toyota/Nissan? You will not see one from before 2000 here. They didn’t sell in enough numbers in this part of the world, and they’ve all succumbed to some fatal malady. The last 2000ish Accord I saw was a couple years ago, and it had an engine knock that I could hear from half a block away. I haven’t seen a Honda CR-X since the mid-1990s anywhere in Michigan. Yet I saw a Oldsmobile Ciera wagon yesterday on my way home from work (remarkably-haven’t seen an A wagon in quite awhile either).
The acid test is whether a car shows up for sale at the Carlisle events car corrals. There are dealers who look for original low-mileage, mint American luxury cars that are about 25-30 years old, buy them (generally from the estate – the heirs of the original owner are happy to get rid of it) and bring them to Carlisle to sell.
A low mileage, mint example is much less likely to have experienced serious trouble. Which is one reason why the original owner kept it.
I’ve NEVER seen one of these for sale at any Carlisle event. But I have seen mint Mark VIIs for sale, and they sold in fewer numbers than this generation of Continental.
Hell, the only reason there are still so many old F-150s on the road is because they sold 700,000-900,000
Oh right; these Contis are every bit as reliable,long-lived, and easy to keep running as F-150s; there just weren’t as many to start with. Thank you for that highly astute and objective insight!
BTW, did you see Roger’s comment at/near the bottom? He was a parts man at a L-M dealership. Oddly, all the ones that came into his shop weren’t quite so reliable, long-lived and easy to keep running. I’m sure it was just a statistical fluke. More likely, he’s just lying.
Do you deliberately misread comments, or is just something you luck into? I don’t know how you missed this, since I made it its own paragraph so it would be more visible, but I’ll say it again:
Were they more prone to failure than the average car? Yes.
Of course the cars that go into a shop are going to have problems! That’s why they go into the shop. As I have now said twice outright, alluded to in my original comment in which I remarked my boss’s Continental was less reliable than was his Cadillac, and remarked on elsewhere about what a shame it was Ford gave these such a trouble-prone engine, these Continentals went into the shop with more frequency than did the average car.
But, what was the failure rate and in what timeframe? Obviously it was more than the 5 percent over 150,000 miles rate. 5 percent in 100,000 miles? 5 percent in 25,000 miles? 25 percent in 25,000 miles? My point before was that we’re far enough out now that using the “I never see these anymore” thing is not really a data point, and geography plays a part in how many of them there were to start with (hence my comments about pre-2000 foreign cars). Yeah, the head gaskets got a disproportionate share of them earlier. But at some point time and math will catch up to even the best of ’em. You talk like they were all gone within minutes of leaving the dealership.
You’re the one who wrote these words: Hell, the only reason there are still so many old F-150s on the road is because they sold 700,000-900,000
In their context, it was obvious that you brought the F150 into it to make the point that the only reason there are so few Contis left is because so few were sold in comparison to the trucks. Why else bring them into this discussion?
But if I misinterpreted that inference, your comment about the F-150 is still way off base. The reason there’s so many old pickups still around is simple and obvious: they’re relatively more durable and easier to fix than one of these Continentals (and most domestic cars), and they have a greater utility value. There are numerous (dozens) 40+ year old F Series trucks in my town being used as genuine work trucks. I’ve been documenting them for years, and I have one myself. One of these days I’ll write up my ’66 F100 truck and share with you how little work it’s needed in the 30 years it’s been my work truck.
These trucks are eminently rugged ,and easy and cheap to keep running. In other words, the polar opposite of the Continental. That’s the real reason there’s so many old F-Series on the road still.
Older pickups in real world use: Yesterday, I saw a 197x International “D” series being used at a construction site!
I have to echo Paul for a change, I go to the boneyards too, have been for 10 years and can confidently say the steady supply of 88-94 Continentals I used to see tons of when I started going in high school pretty much dried completely up by 2009, even before C4C took effect. Conversely, I have always looked for MN12s when I go, cars made in much more modest numbers unlike the F150, and they were made in roughly the same model years as this Continental, were used equally as cheap transportation, and weren’t even the paragons of reliability themselves(and bad if not worse rusters), yet only in the last year have they become more difficult for me to find. Still not to the level I no longer see Continentals at all with though.
So Continentals clearly had an abnormally short lifecycle, and they were in good company with transaxle 3.8 Taurii and Windstars, which also went extinct early.
Again, Paul, you seem to miss what I was saying. H-Body GMs are getting hard to come by even here in Michigan, as I mentioned before. H-Body GMs were some of the best cars they ever built. ’80s Town Cars are now rare to see here in Michigan, and they were exceedingly reliable cars.
So using the “don’t see ’em anymore” metric is foolish-it’s a meaningless metric. It’s useful at maybe the 10 year mark, but after 20-plus years it’s lost its meaning.
And yes, I did mention the sales numbers for the F-150, and yes I did compare it to the Continental. You’re right to point out that F-150s have a different “clientele” than do Continentals.
What you seem to miss, though, is the thing I was driving at, which is that there are all sorts of confounding factors as to why some vehicles disappear and others don’t. Some certainly did, but the ’88-’94 Continentals did not all disappear because of head gasket issues, as much as it seems you’d like us to believe otherwise. I mean, well done! You got your dig in at domestic cars. Virtue signaled.
Many lived out the sort of lives the luxury cars of the petty bourgeoisie live-they go through a couple of owners before the luxury items start to break. Then they filter down as “nice” transportation specials for those of otherwise little means until an expensive repair spells their doom. That’s a much different life cycle and much different clientele than a truck typically has. You know it and I know it.
Here’s a question-how many 9th generation F-150s are still on the road? They sold a few million of them. I’d guess less than 1/3 of them are still in service. My own truck has probably three years before the rust will render it unfit to drive (even if the engine and transmission are still good).
You yourself pointed out that trucks are more durable and have greater utility value. So, I guess I don’t get why you’re arguing with me about this. We’re far enough in that there won’t be many of these Continentals left, whether they were good, bad, or indifferent from Day 1. If we were having this conversation in 2004 (10 years after the newest examples were made), that’d be one thing. As it is, though, you’re arguing against points I never made.
Again with the Michigan-centric comments. Even with the “rebirth” of Detroit, the state just seems like a terrible place to live. I guess it’s less miserable than say Ohio or Iowa.
What, I live in Michigan. Not much different than Paul commenting on Eugene or Southern California, since those are places he’s lived. All have the common theme of presenting an unbalanced view of the U.S. auto market, for different reasons.
Everyone I ever met with a early 90s 3.8 powered Ford had a headgasket service done to their car at some point, it may not happen to all but it is the most likely failure of them. It is to some extent owner neglect and age but it’s not something a great many used abused cars from the same era have happen so widespread. To answer your question, yes it was mostly remedied by 1996, but by then the 3.8 was only used in Mustangs, Thunderbirds and 97+ F150s. The Duratec DOHC 3.0 basically replaced them in the Taurus, and obviously the Continental used the Modular V8, taking it away from transverse FWD platforms, which anecdotally seemed to be more failure prone applications for whatever reason anyway. The 96 updates included better gasket design and a thicker deck surface on the heads, similar to those used on the Thunderbird SC in fact. By the 00s they got split port heads and intake manifolds and had nearly 200 horsepower, those are pretty robust, if only they made them a decade earlier.
Lincoln had a golden opportunity with this car and blew it. The Continental sedan could have cemented Lincoln’s new reputation as a desirable, contemporary American choice–after all, they had started that momentum with the ’84 Mark VII.
But this was the best they could do?
For the luxury segment, this car probably should have been RWD. I wish Lincoln had launched a 4-door version of the MN12 platform that underpinned the ’89 Thunderbird/Cougar. It was a sophisticated (and expensive and heavy) platform that would have been well suited to a luxury sedan. Lincoln would have earned extra kudos with a V8 underwood–and imagine if they had pulled forward the 4.6 L OHC modular V8 to launch in the Lincoln? Now, that’s what a luxury car should be!
Alternately, they could have extensively re-skinned the RWD Ford Scorpio platform from Europe. While the 2.9 V6 wasn’t that impressive, but at least it offered an OHC design and could have offered a 24-valve cylinder head.
Either of these RWD directions could have yielded a Lincoln sedan with excellent handling credentials.
As for the Continental that did emerge, I guess the pressure to go with FWD was strong, both due to GM’s actions and the cost savings associated with sharing the Taurus/Sable platform. But couldn’t Lincoln have offered standard all-wheel-drive to differentiate it? The Tempo got that for 1987… And the engine was subpar for a luxury car–it wasn’t great in the Taurus, never mind for a heavier Lincoln.
Such as shame, as this Continental done right could have signaled a real rebirth for Lincoln as a legitimate luxury contender. Instead, the old Town Car remained the best choice for a 4-door Lincoln, and that was lethal to the brand’s image with younger, more fashion conscious buyers.
They did that. It was called the Mark VIII. That happened a few years after the Continental came out, but in 1989 they already had the Mark VII with a 225-hp V8 and better handling-basically the car you described if I read it right.
Now, I will agree they hung onto the Mark VII too long, and I think a 1989 or 1990 Mark VIII (instead of 1993) would have been very good for Lincoln.
The Continental they released, though, was very well reviewed and very well awarded when they came out. “Car and Driver” named it one of the 10 best for 1989, and said “With the Continental, Ford’s engineers have accomplished something we never quite believed we’d see in a full-size American luxury car: they have combined a pillowy ride with surprisingly capable handling.” They went on to ding it for being down on power compared to BMW and Benz, but they did call the 3.8 smooth.
You are absolutely right, though, that Lincoln was so close, but they missed a huge opportunity. Had they had a better reliability reputation from the start, they would have been ok. I mean, Ford went on to revise the 3.8 after another year or two to bump up the power, thus addressing (although not nearly well enough IMO) the big complaint from reviewers.
Actually, it’s kinda remarkable how unremarkable Ford’s V6 lineup was during the 1980s. The 3.0 was durable but a slug. The 2.9 was meh. The 4.0 (in the 1990s IIRC) was meh and a gas pig. It took ’em until what, ’96 to get a V6 that made 200-hp?
Still, they should have at least thrown some money at the 3.8 and spun off a 3.9 that wasn’t so trouble-prone.
Well there was the SHO V6, 220 horsepower in 89, but unfortunately it was a wee bit fragile for mass consumption.
I know the MN12 Mark VIII, but that was a large coupe at a time when sales for that body style were dropping like a stone. I was envisioning a Continental 4-door sedan based on the platform, and it should have come out in ’88 (a year before T-Bird/Cougar) as a Lincoln “halo” product. Frankly, the Mark VIII should have been introduced then as well. And while I am reimagining Lincoln, I would pull forward the “aero” Town Car from 1990–that should have hit around ’86, so that Lincoln would have a “modern formal” sedan when the Taurus arrived.
I think you’re being a bit optimistic on the product design cycle there. Mark VIII in ’88?? The VII was only in its fourth year, and really just hitting its stride. It had passed its expiration date by ’92, sure (though they still sold okay and I’d love a ’92 SE personally) but there’s no way it could have come out before ’90 and that’s a stretch with how much work they had to do to turn the MN12 into the FN10. Plus the DOHC 4.6 debuted in the VIII, so who knows if they could have had that motor ready earlier than they did.
The ’90 TC also wouldn’t have been feasible in ’86, I don’t think. What they perhaps could have done would have been to take the knife edges off the TC for ’87 like they did with the Vic and Marquis. Done right, it would have seemed fresher against the Brougham, which was still wearing its 1980 styling until the mild composite-lamp refresh of ’89.
I have a 94 Lincoln continental it is a rare find to see one on the street I love my car I’m still fixing it up its still a nice car to look at and drive
Glad you’re keeping one alive! Must turn some heads now with the rarity and with the work you’ve done to it so far.
Thank you what a lot of continental owners did not realize is that there was a recall on there cars the radiator cooling fan would easy get block by snow and it would thing caught in the fan so the fan could not move so the engine would over heat and a lot of problems even locking the engine up its a car that you have to pay close attention to just about everything but its a nice American car to have
When new, I really liked the look of the Continentals in the early 1990s. To me, they resembled the 450 SELs of the 1970s and early 1980s.
As much as I generally disliked the second round of downsizing during the 1980s, with FWD as a near universal result, I actually had a begrudging liking for this Continental. At face value, it was better than what GM was doing to its cars.
It was initially good enough to attract a few younger buyers to Lincoln, including the early 40 something owner of the company where my wife worked. Given the owner’s Teutonic surname, it is not surprising that he had already danced with the Germans a few times, and for American car with the crusty old Lincoln name to attract someone like that, it was kind of a big deal. The goodwill of the Taurus and Thunderbird seemed to be translating to some fresh life for Lincoln.
Too bad the car was one of Ford’s worst for quality in the late ’80s. The Topaz doppelganger was also a weird decision.
Behold the all-new 1988-’89 Plyncoln Concclaim. Don’t just squint at the thumbnail, click to embiggen and really see it.
Glad you posted those! Saves me the digging!??
Well, Brendan, if you lived around here you would probably see around one a week on the roads in varying condition of either beater or well kept by the original owner. A mid-90’s one parks in front of my office now and then in the handicap spaces. Owned by an elderly man driving his wife to an upstairs hair appointment. Gorgeous green with tan interior. Love it and once went to talk to the owner about the car. However, for my very first time he wasn’t all that friendly nor interested in my admiration of his car.
In a way I miss these cars… I’ve been in Ford parts for 25 years, mostly at L/M dealers. Back in the day whenever I saw an ’88-’94 Connie roll into the shop all I saw was $$$. There wasn’t much that DIDN’T go wrong with these sh*tboxes… they ate head gaskets, AXOD forward clutch pistons, air ride compressors, ride height sensors, and air struts, EATC control heads, power window regulators, power trunk pull-down motors, lighting control modules, etc, etc, etc. I think the most reliable part on an ’88-’94 Connie is the front license plate bracket…
Thank you for sharing your real-world experience with these. Too many commenters here are living in make-believe land. Or wearing rose-colored glasses.
Ah yes, “make believe land”, aka not-the-west-coast 😉 Seriously, few are saying these were a homerun for Lincoln but to act as if this is Versailles part duex is a bit excessive, I mean shit tinted glasses isn’t much better, eh?
Most of these parts mentioned were shared across the entire Ford product range, from the 3.8 to the climate control head, and yeah they were all problematic in those applications too. These Continentals just had the lot, but without any particularly redemptive traits one may live with and overlook like in a SHO, Supercoupe or LSC with the same systems.
I was going to say this.
Climate control head is quite good ( except the less durable surface buttons not addressed until 1995 ) but it found its way into too many other cars later.
My parents had the same unique opportunities with a 90 Sable and a 94 Taurus (company car).
The 12 Explorer just had a new longblock installed (luckily covered under extended warranty), hey free engine!
However, the 89 SHO was excellent, as is the 12 Mustang GT.
My divisional group at work rented a new light blue (on light blue upholstery) 88 Continental to drive from LA to Irvine for a business meeting. I was excited to ride in it because it was an all new model. My Dad owned a used 71 Lincoln Continental sedan and a 78 Mark V Cartier that he bought new as his aspirational car.
This car did not seem worthy of the name. My colleague who was driving said it was very underpowered; with five of us onboard, it could barely get out of its own way. We must have had a base model because the interior seemed pretty bland and not very luxurious compared to Continentals I’d known, going back to 1960. It was a rental car but new with low miles and interior bits were already coming apart. Above all I thought it was a really homely, ungainly looking car. The Taurus seemed a much more attractive, integrated design. Paul is right, you saw very few of these cars in SoCal – except as rentals.
My grandmother bought one of these new, in Currant Red with red leather, back in ’89, as her 7th Lincoln. We were all wowed by how it rode and handled (loved the computer controlled steering!), the quality of the interior and the space in the backseat. But…as others mentioned, it succumbed to air suspension woes when it was barely two years old. Her solution: call up the dealer to come and get it. They did, without haste. We ordered her a very nice Sable LS, which served her perfectly for the remainder of her driving years. I loved driving the Continental and was sorry to see it go, but it was just not meant for her. Or me. And these days, I never see a nice one here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ever.
I feel bad for anyone in the late 80s/early 90s who picked up one of these after getting burned on something like a downsized Cadillac.
I will admit, I do like the body style of this Continental, its a bit non-descript and generic, but I think on the surface, it hides its relationship to the Taurus well and it certainly doesn’t look that bad. The trouble is, these cars had so much going wrong for them. It seems like Lincoln took an “everything but the kitchen sink approach.” and just crammed as much stuff in there to make it seem upscale and lure people into buying it. I feel like there’s a parallel to draw between this car and the later LS, both were high tech, both were sort of new steps for the company, both underwhelmed, and both aged worse than a dead cow in the Sahara desert.
As much as the Taurus was praised and hailed as a step in the right direction, it’s long-term reputation has been miserable, that’s why you almost never see them anymore. When you make an upscale Taurus with all of the same problems, plus add on more stuff that might go wrong, (hello air suspension, I see you’re leaking yet again) and it’s no wonder these things are close to extinction.
IMHO, these devolved into a pretty good value as a clunker.
Once early owners took the hit for depreciation and maybe the engine and/or trans fix, they seemed to live on just fine.
Once the sister cars with spring suspension started going over the hill in quantity It didn’t take CC type DIYers long to figure out the cheap conventional spring swap fix for the air suspension problem, and soon there were more good used 3.8s and transmissions than strong demand for ’em; so the cost of even the major repairs tumbled.
I never figured ’em as a total loser, unlike the rival luxury job with major engine problems for which there was just no practical fix available to keep one rolling.
I bought a mint condition 1988 in 94 was the absolute worst car ever. Transmission went out first then all 4 air suspension plus air pump. Next the AC then the electrical dash system. Once everything was fixed at Jerry Porter Lincoln was called to pick up my car after leaving 10 minutes later it caught on fire lucky I happened to be very near a fire station. After that Contental burned I switched to the Lincoln Towncar and Mercedes been smooth sailing ever since.
While I totally believe the horror stories about these, there was an elderly retired couple at my mom’s condo who had a succession of Town Cars in the period I knew them.
When he mentioned that he owned one of these in the past, I mentioned how bad a rep they had. He swore up and down his never gave him trouble, so there’s always an outlier, I guess.
It is interesting to compare this car to the Australian Ford Fairlane/LTD. In 1990 the cars were fairly similar in dimensions, except the Fairlane/LTD has a 115″ wheelbase, and it had a 3.9L sohc inline six with 139kW. There are a lot of similar styling themes, even the 10-years-later has echoes of the Continental. Note this was not necessarily a good thing!
Speaking of White Whales, mine is a Town Car with the Touring package. According to wikipedia Town Cars with the Touring package had body colored trim, like the Mk VIII LSC. I have yet to see one all the Town Cars I see have chrome trim.