Curbside Classic: 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V – Old School’s Last Graduate

We all have our guilty pleasures.  This car is mine.  There are lots of reasons why I should hate this car, because there was a lot wrong with FoMoCo cars of the late 70s.  They weighed too much, the Malaise-era engines were toothless, and they handled like a pontoon boat.  These were clearly not the cars that Lincolns had been fifteen, or even ten, years earlier.  But still, there was something about the last of the big Marks that called my name.

I was not the demographic for these cars.  But then, I have always suffered from some generational confusion.  In the late 70s my contemporaries liked Bob Seger and Aerosmith.  I liked Count Basie.  My friends liked Saturday Night Fever, I liked the Maltese Falcon.  The other teenaged guys liked Z-28s and Trans-Ams, but I liked Lincolns.  I don’t know, but maybe Lincoln’s advertising from the early 60s got to me.  In any event, this car was for scotch-on-the-rocks people, not the Boone’s Farm crowd.

My Dad was self-employed and had his best decade in the 70s.  Although it was often a bit of a stretch for him, for most of the decade he drove a Lincoln.  He believed that in order to be a success, you have to look like one.  And always a lease to make it deductible.  His first was a yellow 70 Mark III.  It was a beautiful car, but had some problems and was traded for a brown 72 Mark IV.  The IV was a much more reliable car that provided about 80K mostly trouble-free miles over the next 4 years, but it was my least favorite of all of his 70s Lincolns.

My love of the Mark V was mostly formed out of my dislike for the IV.  I was enough into cars to know by the mid 70s that there was something “off” about the IV (CC here).  But what did I know?  The Continental Mark IV was the top dog of expensive cars in the 1970s.  But I just didn’t like the way the car looked.  Dad’s 72 was at least the last year out the door before Ford hung chromed I-beams on either end to meet federal bumper requirements.  And the car seemed to hang around forever.  A 5 year styling cycle does not seem out of line now, but it was an eternity in 1976 (or maybe it was that I was 17 and impatient).  Every year, the car became more baroque than the year before, and I was just ready for it to be gone.  The Mark IV was the greatest in all of brougham-land.

But in the fall of 1976, the ’77 Mark V hit the market.  For reasons that I cannot describe, I was smitten.  Understand, I had always preferred the BIG Lincolns to the Mark series.  Every time my father started to think cars, I tried to sell him on the regular Continental..  I thought the Mark was for flashy guys with white belts and shoes while the big Continental sedans were for men of SUBSTANCE.  But in the early 70s, my arguments had never carried the day.  Dad was in his late 30s, and I don’t think he was completely averse to a little bling.  Then, in 1978, he was ready for a new Lincoln, and I was ready to embrace that new Mark V.  But, my father did something completely unexpected and brought home a new ’78 Town Coupe.   Although I was ecstatic over the big 2 door Continental (it was my favorite of all the cars he ever had), the Mark V was the only 70s Mark that I never got to experience.  Maybe my thing for this car is like a torch for the one that got away.

The story of the development of these cars is covered well at Ate Up With Motor (See it Here) and there is no reason to repeat it here.  The lead stylist on the car was Don DeLaRossa.  DeLaRossa had been at Ford since at least the 1950s and was among the first wave of Ford people who followed Lee Iacocca to Chrysler.   DeLaRossa went on to do the restyled 1980 Cordoba that looked a lot like a slightly scaled down version of this car (and a LOT better than anything Lincoln had to offer in 1980).  What DeLaRossa managed to do in moving from the Mark IV to the Mark V was to take a flabby, out of shape car and whip it into a taut and sharply dressed package that sold a lot of cars for  Lincoln through the rest of the 70s.

Often forgotten is that the Continental Marks of the 1970s were the among the first to offer “Designer Editions” with colors and trim chosen by well known high-end tastemakers like Bill Blass and Cartier.  The Mark V continued that tradition.  It is also appropriate that today’s subject sports the imitation convertible top.  If the Mark IV started the Opera Window craze in 1972, the Mark V was the car that started the fake convertible top trend that continued through the 80s and 90s among the more (ahem) traditional cars.  Say what you will about the questionable taste of this look, the Mark V was one of the few cars that made the fauxvertible look good.  And it covered that cursed opera window that, by 1977,  had become a bad cliché.

Since I started contributing to CC, my local supermarket has been a treasure trove of cool cars to photograph.  One beautiful day I came across this attractive Mark V that made the day even better.  I only had a moment to speak to the owner, but he confirmed that it is a 1978 model that he enjoys fairly regularly.  This car seems out of place at the grocery store.  Doesn’t it belong at a yacht club instead?

1979 was a sad year for me when we lost not just the big Town Car/Town Coupe but the Mark V as well.   It had been easier for me when Cadillac downsized in 1977, because the smaller ones were so much improved over the big models that they replaced.  Not so with Lincolns.  Maybe another reason I love these cars is the 1980 Lincolns.   The 1980 models (both the Town Car and Mark VI) were just embarrassing.  Lincoln lost me completely that year, giving me a final harsh shove into the open arms of the bipolar Miss. Mopar.   In honesty (and with apologies to Mr. Tactful), there has not been a Lincoln made since that I have really, really wanted.  It took me most of the 80s to come to terms with the awkward little Town Car.  You know, the blocky one with the detuned Maverick engine.  These cars may have had their charms, but they were NOT proper Lincolns.  And don’t get me started on the Mark VI.

The 1970s has rightly been described as the era of Malaise.  But in one respect, Lincoln managed to get through the entire decade by offering cars that made people WANT them.  Unlike in most other showrooms, the Lincolns seemed to get more appealing each year as the 70s progressed.  All big U.S. cars suffered from cost cuts and quality lapses in that decade, but Lincoln seemed to suffer from these problems less than most.  Although these big Marks weren’t for everyone , we can all appreciate that these cars represent well an era that disappeared with the Shah of Iran.  The Mark V combined classic American attributes like gobs of near silent torque and acres of leather, and put them into a neatly pressed and creased suit.   This car puts me in the mood for a scotch on the rocks.  If anybody cares to join me, I can put on some Basie.