Curbside Classic: 1976 Continental Mark IV Givenchy Edition – Aqua Couture

(first posted 8/31/2012)     Thirty-five years ago the Personal Luxury car was in its prime. Forget four-door Continentals, Sedan de Villes and Imperials: This was the Me Decade, after all, which meant that sumptuous, long-hooded, short-decked coupes were in. SUVs? What are those? Oh, you must mean off-road station wagons. Sure, forest rangers and ranchers might like them, but people simply are not seen in them, if you know what I mean. Perhaps the era’s ultimate personal luxury car was the Continental Mark IV: all hood, basically a two-seater and 10 miles per gallon–if you were lucky. But man, was it lush!

The Continental Mark IV was one of the last cars approved by soon-to-be-ex Ford President Bunkie Knudson. The original Mark IV proposal, created under Ford Design VP Gene Bordinat, was much more similar to the outgoing Mark III; however, Bunkie had the last word and so an alternate proposal, with curved sides, was chosen instead.

The original 1972 version was the purest iteration of the Mark IV. It was spared the big, federally mandated front and rear bumpers tacked on in 1973 and 1974, respectively. While the Mark IV retained the long-hood, short-deck proportions of the Mark III, the cars shared little else but a simulated spare tire hump on the deck lid.


My grandfather liked it well enough to order a new one from Bob Neal Lincoln-Mercury: Dark Green Metallic, with matching vinyl roof and leather interior. It replaced a triple dark green ’68 Mark III. The only story I have about the Mark IV is that one winter morning when he was getting ready to go to the office, the Mark wouldn’t start in the subzero temperature. Dad had to drive him to work in his beater ’54 VW!

At any rate, the Mark did very well, selling 48,591 units despite its stiff $8,640 sticker. It sold remarkably better than the ’71 Mark III, which found 27,091 buyers. Period ads proclaimed, “In all the 1970s, this will be the unique American car.” Although the Mark hadn’t exactly invented the personal luxury segment, the ad was correct as far as it went. The Mark IV and Eldorado were the top two luxury cars in America. That fact, and several memorable Motor Trend “King of the Hill” comparison tests, prompted many middle-class buyers who couldn’t afford the real thing to go for “mini-Mark” Cougars, Montego MX Broughams and Ford Elites. And that oval opera window (optional in ’72, but so popular it became standard in ’73) would be a prominent Lincoln cue through the end of the decade.

As the ’70s wore on, the Mark IV remained a popular choice among luxury coupes, with sales zooming to 69,437 in 1973. Even in 1974, with Gas Crisis I in full swing, sales totaled 57,316–more than in 1972, despite that it was basically the same car. What, then, could be done to keep consumer interest high? Special editions, of course!

First up was the Silver Luxury Group Mark IV for 1973. As you might expect, it featured metallic silver paint with a silver Cavalry Twill vinyl roof. The interior was cranberry velour, with leather optional.

The silver Mark continued for 1974, and was joined by (you guessed it) a Gold Luxury Group. Described in the ’74 L-M brochure shown above. these special Marks opened the door for even more “Boutique” Luxury Groups that further gilded an already well-equipped car. By 1975, there were Silver; Lipstick and White; Saddle and White; and Blue Diamond Luxury Groups.

Keep in mind that there was no “plain” Continental Mark IV. By 1975, these cars stickered for $11,082 ($47,192.02 adjusted). A Mark IV before options still came with a 460 V8 and Select-Shift transmission, power steering, power windows, power four-wheel disc brakes, whitewall radials and six-way Twin Comfort Lounge Seats. Yet apparently, wealthy buyers not yet infatuated with Mercedes and BMW thought that if much is good, then more is even better.

The Special Edition craze reached its head in 1976 with the Designer Series Marks, which went beyond the already quite nice Luxury Group versions. It was sheer, pure and simple snob appeal–and in the ’70s it worked perfectly.

Unlike the Luxury Group Marks, the Designer Editions wore the high-fashion labels of Givenchy, Pucci, Cartier, and Bill Blass. The above photo shows the interior/exterior color scheme unique to each Designer Edition.

Perhaps the classic, navy blue Bill Blass edition is the most remembered, but the other Designer Marks–the dove-gray Cartier; the Pucci, in red and silver, and our featured CC, the Givenchy, in aqua and white–were every bit as distinctive.

The Givenchy was, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. The aqua paint was quite distinctive in the ’70s (the decade of Brown Car Fever), and the white top contrasted nicely. As with all Designer Series Marks, its special features included chrome forged aluminum wheels, a landau (instead of full) vinyl roof treatment, and premium bodyside moldings.

As with all Mark IVs, a four-barrel, 460 cu in V8 lived under the hood. By the mid-1970s it was producing 220 net horsepower (1975 figure), a far cry from the 365 gross hp of the pre-smogged 460s of ’70-’71. Added weight, less power–no wonder muscle was out and luxury was in.

Inside, aqua velour covered the Twin Comfort Lounge Seats; aqua leather was optional. While technically a five passenger vehicle, its back seat riders might have felt a little cramped, not to mention claustrophobic. Only the oval opera window relieved the aqua cocoon that was the back seat. For all intents and purposes, this was a two- (maybe three, with the front bench seat) passenger vehicle.

Unique to the Givenchy were special light woodgrain appliques with black overlays on the doors and instrument panel. The light birch woodgrain combined with the aqua interior for a somewhat Mediterranean vibe, in a 1970s Brougham kind of way. It was cushy and comfy, but at the same time wallowy and ill-handling. Despite its 120.4″ wheelbase and mammoth 228.1″ overall length, four people going out to dinner would probably not be very comfortable (well, at least not those in the back seat). For better or worse, this was Detroit luxury at its finest.

At the annual Downtown East Moline car show, I spotted this big aqua beauty right off. I was smitten. I’d never seen a ’76 Designer Series before–let alone a Givenchy, my favorite! It looked to be in excellent original condition. I especially like those chrome wheels. My grandfather replaced his ’72 Mark IV with a triple midnight blue ’77 Mark V fitted with those same wheels. They remind me of good times in the past, to Christmases and Thanksgivings at their house.

Nice memories…nice car!