As of the published date of this article, the most expensive regular production car (sans options) one can buy in the U.S. from an American brand is the Tesla Model X P90D (performance all-wheel drive), which stickers for $115,500 USD. Back in 1978, Tesla was likely not even a vision of the then-7 year-old Elon Musk, and the most expensive American car was a Lincoln no less.
Today, the most expensive Lincoln you can buy is the Navigator, which starts at $74,095 for the Reserve 4×4 extended-length “L” model. Thirty-eight years ago, the most expensive Lincoln and the most expensive regular production American car was the Continental Mark V Diamond Jubilee Edition, which stickered for $20,099 before options. Adjusted for inflation, that comes out to $73,408, so right about on par with the most expensive Lincoln today.
Considering that the Navigator L’s prime competitor, the Cadillac Escalade ESV begins at $75,970 for a base rear-wheel drive with base prices climbing all the way to $94,950 for a Platinum 4×4 (excluding options), today’s most expensive Lincoln is actually somewhat of a bargain compared to its competitors. But I digress…
Replacing the 1972-1976 Mark IV (pictured above), the Continental Mark V was sold for the 1977-1979 model years. Growing slightly in length and wheelbase over its predecessor, the Mark V rang in at a gargantuan 230.3 inches long, on a 120.5 inch wheelbase, making it the largest vehicle ever part of Mark Series. Despite its larger footprint, the Mark V actually shed several hundred pounds over the Mark IV, though curb weights still fell in the hefty 4,500-5,000 pound range, depending on engine and equipment.
Versus the Mark IV, the Mark V’s design was evolutionary in approach, ensuring that no one would mistake it for anything other than a Continental Mark Series car. With that in mind, sheetmetal was completely new with straight body lines, sharp angles, and blade-like fenders for a sharper, more squared-off appearance.
Although just over two inches longer, and less than an inch lower, the Mark V’s sheetmetal gave it a leaner, longer, and lower look than its heavier predecessor. Defining Mark Series styling elements such as a large neoclassical radiator grille, oval opera windows, hidden headlights, half-vinyl roof, and Continental spare tire bulge were all carried over and integrated nicely into the new design. In your author’s opinion, this was the most beautiful Lincoln ever, and one of the most aesthetically balanced cars of all time.
The massive 460 cubic inch (7.5L) 385/Lima V8 was still available through 1978, making 210 horsepower and 357 pound-feet of torque for this featured car’s model year. The standard engine and only power plant for the final 1979 model year was the still quite large 402 cubic inch (6.6L) 400 Cleveland V8, producing 166 horsepower and 319 pound-feet of torque. Triple fender louvers on either side were not only one of the Mark V’s most distinctive styling elements, but were fully functional.
The only transmission available for both engines on the Mark V was Ford’s C6 3-speed automatic. Four-wheel disc brakes were also standard, with one of the earliest forms of anti-lock brakes in an American automobile a $280 option. Rather expectedly, fuel economy for this two-and-a-half ton personal luxury boat was abysmal, with EPA ratings for the 7.5L at 12 city/17 highway, and real world numbers often lower.
For comparison, thanks to more efficient modern engines and additional fuel saving technologies, the 6,300-pound Navigator L 4×4 achieves 15 city/19 highway. Funny how the most expensive American car in 1978 was among the least fuel efficient, while the most expensive American car in 2016 is a zero emission vehicle.
Despite its hefty weight, zero-to-sixty acceleration times for the Mark V weren’t necessarily embarrassing, with the 7.5L’s 11.2 seconds average for the day. In any event, cars of the Mark Series and both the Lincoln and Continental names always placed an emphasis on a plush ride and numerous comfort amenities over acceleration and handling. In these respects, the Mark V certainly delivered.
Now of course this isn’t just any old Continental Mark V, but the Diamond Jubilee Edition, which cost an $8,000 premium (or about 40% more) over a base Mark V. Introduced to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Ford Motor Company, the Continental Mark V Diamond Jubilee Edition was a very special edition, with just 5,159 examples produced. The only other vehicle receiving a Diamond Jubilee Edition was the Ford Thunderbird, though predictably, the Mark V was more luxurious.
Helping justify this price premium, the Diamond Jubilee Edition included normally extra-cost packages such as the appearance protection group, interior light group, headlamp convenience group, power lock convenience group, defroster group, and illuminated entry system. Other standard convinces included dual power mirrors, dual 6-way power front seats with power driver’s lumbar support, power vent windows, automatic climate control, universal garage door opener, cruise control, and an AM/FM stereo with Quadrasonic 8-track system. Among the few extra cost options was this car’s power glass moonroof, a $1,027 extra.
To set it apart from other Mark Vs, the Diamond Jubilee Edition came in the choice of one of two unique color schemes, appropriately “Diamond Blue” or “Jubilee Gold”. Whichever color scheme the buyer opted for, they’d be ensured that their Mark would be color-coordinated to the extreme. Exterior-wise, Diamond Jubilee Editions featured color-keyed vinyl bodyside moldings, padded half-vinyl roof, padded vinyl spare tire bulge, bumper guards and rub strips, and even color-matched grille and turbine-spoke aluminum wheel inserts!
Interiors were also color-keyed to the Diamond Blue or Jubilee Gold color schemes, with matching upholstery, carpet, dashboard, door panels, headliner, and seat belts. Virtually anything that wasn’t metal, wood, or electronic was color-keyed. Seats were upholstered in a unique cloth upholstery with broadlace trim inserts. Setting it apart from other Mark Vs, the Diamond Jubilee Edition boasted front bucket seats and a center console with padded leather armrest and wood trim.
Stitched leather covered the seat backs, center console, center console armrest, door armrests, and dashboard. Door panels featured matching cloth inserts and carpeting was 32-ounce Tiffany cut-pile. Distinctive ebony woodtone trim inserts adorned the dash, steering wheel, upper door panels, center console lid, and even the front seat backs and the keys!
Diamond Jubilee Editions also featured exclusive beveled oval opera windows with integral badging, as well as beveled instrument gauges emulating the cut glass look. Diamond Jubilee owners were each presented with a leather wrapped owners manual, matching umbrella which its own holder in the console, a special tool kit, and were even offered a copy of the Ford Diamond Jubilee Recipe Collection, a cookbook prepared by Nancy Kennedy, the food editor of FordMoCo’s own Ford Times and Continental Magazine.
Although production of the Diamond Jubilee Edition was very limited, as a whole the Lincoln Mark V was an immensely successful model. The Mark V saw sales of over 70,000 units per year, for a total sales output of 228,862 units – quite an impressive number considering it was sold for just three short years and considering its costly price tag (with the base Mark V’s price adjusted to just over $44,000 USD in 2016). Few luxury cars at and above that price point even come close to 70,000 units per year in modern times.
If it weren’t for CAFE, Lincoln probably could’ve sold the Mark V successfully for another decade based purely on its popularity with wealthy clientele. Unfortunately, CAFE fuel economy regulations took effect in 1978, with the standard for that year at 18 miles per gallon. Ford clearly could not continue making cars of this size and weight, powered by engines this big and thirsty. 1979 proved the final year of the truly “big” Lincolns, with the Collector’s Series Lincoln Continental and Continental Mark V (the latter identical to the Diamond Jubilee except for colors) released to commemorate the event. The resulting Mark VI, was a rather sad follow up to such a majestic predecessor, and never achieved any success close to the Mark V.
The new crop of downsized American luxury cars just didn’t resonate with younger, upwardly-mobile buyers, who began flocking to European luxury brands for their status symbols of success. The Mark V was truly the last of its kind in more ways than one, and this 1978 Diamond Jubilee Edition is one of the rarest examples of such a majestic automobile.