Who knew that one day I would be writing a love letter about a car brand I barely knew anything about growing up. But yep, that’s what happens when you become obsessed. In April 2016 I had just purchased a new 2016 Lincoln MKZ Reserve model on lease, and I realized during the first few months how many miles a person actually drives in a city like Chicago.
It didn’t help that I had a friend who was living with me and driving my car also. At almost five thousand miles, only 4½ months into a 3 year/30k mile lease, I knew I needed another car. Originally it was between a Cadillac Coupe Deville, Eldorado or Mark VIII. I liked all three but I couldn’t decide.
I’ve always had a fondness for American luxury cars. Foreign cars, while nice, just don’t have the emotional cache as an American marque. I ended up buying a ’96 Mark VIII LSC initially.
GM had been the go-to for all cars prior to 2009 for this kid, but by this time I was in love with Lincoln, and since 2009 had been in nothing but Lincolns save for an ’07 Cadillac CTS I had for two years. I had bought a ‘06 Zephyr, and a ‘09 MKS which I loved until I traded it on the MKZ. The Mark VIII was nice but it needed a lot of work to bring it up to par. After only two months I was overwhelmed. I loved it but I hated it. I had paid cash for it so it was mine outright.
One day I was on the internet looking at cars, which I always did as a hobby…sort of. I came across an ad for an ’03 Lincoln LS v8 sport in Pearl White for $5995. Holy Cow!!! I had never even thought of the LS and I had been in love with it since its debut in 1999 as a 2000 model. However I figured I would never be able to afford one and the ones I did see were beat up and needed a lot of work.
This was a 1 owner and only had 79K original miles. It looked well maintained and meticulously cared for. I originally tried to brush it off as I already had two cars, both Lincolns. Surely I couldn’t afford another car. Not to mention I had just bought the Mark VIII two months prior.
I tried to forget about it but fantasized about what it would be like to own an LS, much like I did when I was younger. I kept coming back to look at the ad online for several days. I looked at the online ad daily for over a week and decided to go look at it for the hell of it. I called my frat brother and talked him into going with me.
We went that Saturday and it was an unseasonably warm day for October. We got there just before dusk and they were getting ready to close soon. The salesman didn’t know I was coming however it was parked front and center on the driveway lot. Pictures didn’t do it justice!
It was a Pearlescent White Tri-Coat and it was beautiful. It had been washed that day most likely because the tires had that wet gloss look that I love. Maybe it had gotten detailed the same day! I talked to the sales guy and he just gave me the keys with a dealer plate after he took a copy of my license and said come back in half an hour. I inspected every inch of the car before I even turned her on. It drove like a dream and was extremely fast except the transmission would shift abruptly between 3rd and 4th gear. It also bucked when I shift from Park to Reverse.
I was concerned somewhat and at first I was going to pass when we returned. I really wanted it however, but I knew I couldn’t afford it. The salesman wanted to talk numbers and offered to take my Mark VIII on trade. I decided to use the transmission issue as a bargaining chip if I indeed got the car. I told him I needed to sleep on the deal and I would be back next week if it was still there.
I went home and looked up every review, known mechanical issues of the LS, watched YouTube videos and joined several Lincoln forums. Every person I asked told me to stay away from this car. No mechanic I called gave me news I wanted to hear and repair prices were expensive.
I went and looked at a few other LSs but they either were too expensive or needed more work than I wanted to tackle. The fact that I don’t wrench on my own cars made the decision much more difficult than I expected. After much thought and debate, I decided that a 2nd gen LS (2003-2006) was indeed the one I wanted and it would be the one I first laid eyes on. On the following Tuesday evening I went and was prepared to play hardball or walk away. To my surprise the salesman made me a fair offer as he knew about the transmission as well, and I told him it needed replacing although I was pretty sure it just needed a solenoid block. He came down almost two thousand and gave me twenty four hundred for the Mark VIII and I drove off in the LS.
The transaction was the fastest I’ve ever completed, and I was in awe. When I drove it home I was almost scared to touch anything. The interior was light tan and was immaculate. For the next few weeks I eyed my car like it was a Rolls Royce. I had found my true love as far as cars go. You would have thought this was the lease vehicle as I kept her in the garage and I would sit in the car daily for a few hours reading the owner’s manual while I fiddled around with all the tech features. The electronic parking brake was something that was all new for 2003 and I would just push the button on and off. I made up excuses just to drive the LS as I loved the way it rode and handled. It was smooth as silk despite the transmission issue.
I kept it washed every few days. That would soon end however. When they say once “one problem starts it’s a snowball effect” had to have the Lincoln LS in mind. Although maintained religiously per the available receipts and all service done timely per CarFax, all of the LS known problems happened almost at once. It needed engine coils and most importantly OEM Motorcraft coils. The LS is known to eat coils and they all must be changed at the same time or you will always be swapping coils. Lincoln did have a Goodwill fix on this in their system but it had been over 10 years so it was null and void.
Spark plugs, valve cover gaskets, mass airflow sensor, and the thermostat housing were next. Frustration was a understatement and being that I didn’t work on cars made the issues much more difficult than they probably were. I had to understand however that the cooling system parts are made of plastic and being that the system is pressurized and life expectancy is only about 10 years, most of the parts were dry rotted and are crumbling or full of cracks from the weather and hot and cold cycles within the system itself.
Most LS cars that are junked today or left on the side of the road are because of the cooling system. It’s a headache trying to figure out which hose or part is failing unless all are done at the same time. Many mechanics and do it yourselfers incorrectly diagnose the LS that overheats as a blown head gasket when it’s most likely just the cooling system parts have failed and need to be replaced with Motorcraft parts. Like a BMW, the LS is not the car to use cheap or inferior parts on.
A few months and over $2,000 later she was as good as new and had no other issues. I was in it wherever I went and I even joined a Lincoln LS car club. This club took the LS obsession seriously. We were in photo shoots and Instagram and Facebook mentions. I even won the monthly photo contest once.
I loved it. My car loved the attention. However my luck with the car continued to get worse. I let a friend drive her and he got in a fender bender only a few months after purchase. I couldn’t be more pissed as the paint alone was pretty expensive. I was in the process of saving up the money for the repair only for this same person to take my car once again without my knowledge after a bachelor party and total it while under the influence. I had to get it towed home and most body shops told me it would be three to five thousand to repair otherwise it was totaled.
My hands were tied as I only had liability insurance. Needless to say we’re no longer friends and I was with a broken heart. I had a totaled car and had owned her less than 9 months. I thought it was the end of my history with an LS as she was a high maintenance chick but gorgeous nonetheless. A good friend of mine who was handy offered to buy the car off me as a project for himself since he was on medical leave. I sold the LS to a friend this past winter for $700. He towed it away the day after New Year’s.
I immediately knew that I had to have another LS but this time I wanted a 2006. They looked the best of all the years in my opinion and most of the kinks were supposedly worked out by then.
I decided to take my time as I wanted either a Vivid Red, Dark Cherry or Charcoal Beige color and around these parts only black and shades of white seemed to come up. I figure the best time to get one where it wouldn’t cause a dent in my wallet was tax time. Go figure!
Go figure! I saw this one in Dark Cherry on Facebook Marketplace and it had color matched 22’’ wheels. I’m usually not a fan of big gaudy wheels but this owner had the car looking good and the wheels didn’t hurt the car’s overall profile. He was asking $6000. What a coincidence as my last LS was asking the same price initially. This one had every available option on the 2006 model including Navigation and THX, wood grain steering wheel, rear parking sensors, heated and cooled front seats, and Xenon headlamps.
It was a private owner so I hesitated to contact him but I did anyhow and he was adamant originally on his asking price. I offered $4000 without the wheels since I figured that played a big part in his asking price. He balked and seemed offended. The car had 107k miles on it. Not bad for a 10 year old car but I was more concerned about maintenance. As I know from prior experience and countless others that even with regular maintenance you will replace either cooling system parts or have transmission issues. He still declined my offer and I looked elsewhere.
A few days later the owner hit me back stating that he would let me have the LS at $4400 without the wheels as he had sold them separately for almost the full price he originally paid. I was kind of sad because I had grown to love the wheels and they complemented the paint color and car quite nicely. However the OEM chrome 5 spokes were just as nice. I negotiated the price to $4300 and he accepted.
I made my way up to Grand Rapids, Michigan the first weekend in March on a beautiful chilly Saturday morning. I got up at 5am and got there by 8am. We met in a Denny’s parking lot. I took the car which was kind of dirty on a 10 mile highway loop and it rode nicely. However, there was wear with a half dollar size hole in the driver’s seat lumbar bolstering and it had two very small pencil eraser size rust spots on the passenger rear wheel fender that I wasn’t told about when I asked and couldn’t see in the pictures. I was going to get the car regardless but I inquired about them, to which he replied “it’s a used car”. Go figure. He knocked off $200 and we were on our way back to Chicago. A good wax and shine once the weather got better and she was stunning in her Dark Cherry Metallic Paint. Her chrome wheels really set the paint off as well.
I have been driving it ever since but of course not without her needing her maintenance. In June the car overheated and it was the typical thermostat housing unit. The first of the overheating issues I would face. I decided to replace all the coils and plugs since I was doing the thermostat housing. The valve covers looked fine, amazingly, and I can see where other items have been replaced, albeit in typical piecemeal fashion like the mismatched coils which I saw upon closer inspection were cheap no-name coils. The transmission has also started bucking, which I expected at this year and age, and I will get to that very soon but now the radiator is leaking. Once I save up I will replace the rest of the cooling system parts and be done with it and have the transmission serviced as well.
Many people harp on the LS as a reliability nightmare but once you knew the quirks which aren’t all that bad. The engine got a bad rep due to being misdiagnosed the majority of the time. The trans was a headache but once sorted and replaced with Ford’s updated shift solenoid block, it ran like a top and had crisp shifts. Most journalists and other enthusiasts cite the LS’ lack of sales for its cancellation. To me that’s just not true. The LS sold considerably well considering it was only in production for 7 years from 1999-2006 or 6 model years. During that time Lincoln sold 245,522 LSs.
Consider my dearly departed flagship 2009 MKS which I traded on the MKZ. It was Lincoln’s flagship from 2009-2016, yet it only sold a total of 100,248 cars. The LS’s direct replacement, the midsize Zephyr/MKZ which has been the brand’s best seller, sold more cars over the long haul but it wasn’t until calendar year 2014 when the MKZ surpassed the LS in sales totaling 269,147 cars including the one year-only 2006 Zephyr. No matter where I go, I see a Lincoln LS everywhere, a testament to its durability and fun-to-drive factor. Those who have them at this point swear by them. There are several enthusiasts pages both online and in social media dedicated to the LS, Lincoln’s first and only sports sedan. Granted, it didn’t have the chassis or engine like Lincoln’s venerable 1993-1998 Mark VIII, which had Lincoln’s aluminum 4.6L 32v DOHC Intech V8 that the Cobra Mustang eventually used, but it had grunt and could move and give a Cadillac CTS or BMW 5-Series a run for its money.
Ford’s brass in Dearborn made a crucial mistake cancelling this car when it just needed continued refinement. It was a reason why Motor Trend named it Car of the Year in 2000.
I do think Lincoln tamed the exterior down just a little too much during its midcycle refresh and should have gone with the LSE exterior appearance package that was eventually the 2006 model as standard from 2003 and up. This gave the Lincoln a more grown up yet athletic stance that is lacking on non-LSE/2003-05 models. Over 500 parts were all new, most importantly the engine was now faster at 280hp compared to 252hp in the v8. Torque was now 286 and the LS could hit 0-60 in under 7 seconds which was pretty quick, even by today’s standards. All in all, this was a good attempt by Lincoln to follow on the Mark VIII and Mark VII that had come before it with their LSC models albeit in 2 door form.
Sales took off initially but lack of commitment from Lincoln and dealers not knowing how to sale a car that looked out of place in Lincoln showrooms next to an aging Panther platform Town Car, uninspiring yet tech laden Continental, and big brute Navigator brought the LS to its demise. A shame since a lot of people, especially me have been in love with the LS since I first saw it… and I’m in their target demographic, a young millennial with disposable income. Go figure!