Curbside Classic: 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Coupe – CAFE is Coming

(first published 3/1/2012)   This type of car doesn’t exist any more. The last vestige of this type of traditional American luxury car ended when the last Town Cars rolled off the line in St. Thomas, Ontario in August of 2011. The coupe version had been discontinued thirty years earlier, but in the mid to late 1970s, a twenty foot long, 460 CID V8 powered luxury cruiser really meant something.

The Lincoln Continental coupe returned to the lineup in 1966, five years after the classic 1961 Continental was introduced. The Lincoln name just barely avoided being eliminated from the Ford Motor Company lineup after the disastrous 1958-60 model. Robert McNamara wanted Lincoln gone and only saved it due to his admiration of a particular Thunderbird styling study. The T-Bird coupe proposal was modified into a four door Lincoln by the design staff and subsequently approved for production.

As a result of these drastic changes, there was initially a very limited lineup, consisting of a sedan and four door convertible sporting suicide doors, a Continental feature that would be retained for the rest of the decade. The coupe was an attempt to broaden the lineup, and was possibly added due to the future cancellation of the slow-selling convertible. A more formal roofline was added to the coupe in 1968, but the mild restyling was most likely overshadowed by the new Continental Mark III personal luxury car (photo above). It soon outsold the Continental coupe many times over.

In 1970 a redesigned Continental appeared, minus the suicide doors. Hidden headlamps were a new feature. It continued to be available in sedan and two door hardtop models. As before, the Mark III blew the Continental coupe out of the water sales-wise. Power came from a 460 CID, 365 hp four-barrel V8.

First introduced in 1969 as an interior option, the Town Car became a full production model in 1972 on the sedan, although the package was the basis for a 50th Anniversary package in 1971. The 50th Anniversary Town Car included special gold paint (although other colors were available), Town Car interior and a commemorative plaque on the instrument panel. The 1972 package included Town Car script on the sail panels, special upholstery in velour or optional leather, Cavalry twill vinyl roof, special keys and the owner’s initials on the front doors. In 1973 this option was extended to the coupe, and the Town Coupe was born.

There was a mild restyle for 1974, mostly due to a new 5 mph bumper being added to the rear, matching the heavier front bumper  federally mandated the year before. While Lincoln simply extended and reinforced the ’72 front bumper in 1973, the 1974 had a new design to match the back. A new grille, parking lamps moved from the bumper to the front fenders and revised tail lamps rounded out the changes. Both the Town Car and Town Coupe continued as premium versions of the Continental, along with the Mark IV, which had replaced the Mark III in 1972.

In 1975, the standard Continentals received a mild freshening. The biggest change were more formal roof lines on both the sedan and the coupe. While the sedan received an optional oval opera window taken from the Mark IV, the Continental coupe and Town Coupe received a square opera window in the rear pillar with a gold Continental star inset into it. Town Coupes added an opera light set into the B-pillar, along with the usual added power and comfort upgrades. Seats in the Town Car/Coupe were in a new loose-pillow style that was rapidly being added to every Brougham, Regency and Limited luxury package in the industry. I find these interiors extremely luxurious and appealing, especially with the optional leather seating surfaces.

In 1977, the Continentals received a Mark-style vertical grille and new hood, but were otherwise little-changed. I should mention that in 1977 Cadillac introduced its downsized C-body de Villes and Fleetwoods. Although drastically reduced in both size and weight, these cars actually had more passenger room and trunk room compared to the ’76s.

They were the cars of the future, but at the time, many Cadillac owners were probably wondering what happened to their car. I wouldn’t be surprised if many former Cadillac owners went to Lincoln in 1977-79. But it couldn’t last. Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations were coming, and Lincoln was going to have to do the same thing, and soon.

But not quite yet. In 1978, the Continentals got more open rear wheel wells, thanks to reduced-size fender skirts. It also got a new instrument panel, which looked suspiciously like the one found in the Mercury Marquis. The 400 V8 was standard by this time, but you could still get the 460 as an option.

The party was just about over for the truly full-size Continental, and 1979 was the last year. There were only minor cosmetic changes. The silver trim on the instrument panel was changed to woodgrain and there were a few new colors.

A Collector’s Series special edition was introduced in 1979 to celebrate the last of the traditional Continentals. Colors were limited to white or midnight blue metallic. Inside, a unique Kasmin II luxury cloth interior with special 36 oz. carpeting was available in midnight blue only, though leather was an option. Other special features included leather-wrapped tool kit, owner’s manual and an umbrella.

Unfortunately, this package was only available on the sedans; the Continental coupe and Town Coupe were left out. Fortunately, all the usual gadgets and power options were available, as usual. If you wanted a truly large Continental, this was your last chance. New, trimmer Continentals were introduced for 1980, based on the Panther platform Mercury Marquis and Ford LTD that had debuted in 1979.

The 1980 Continentals and Marks were now on the same platform, with the main difference being different front and rear styling and a shorter wheelbase on the two-door Mark VIs. There was also a new four-door Mark VI. The Town Coupe continued on the sedan’s wheelbase, but only for one model year.

In 1981, all Continentals were renamed Town Cars. The trim level had now become the model name. What had been the 1980 Town Coupe was still available, but it was now called a Town Car Signature Series two door. The coupes never sold like the sedans did during the Seventies, as most two-door buyers went for the Mark, but 1980-81 coupe sales were miniscule even by the previous standard, and they were eliminated for the 1982 model year.

I have driven past this 1978 Town Coupe almost every day since November or so. About a month ago I finally stopped to check it out. At first glance it appears to be the standard Continental, as it is missing the Town Coupe script on the sail panel, but it has the opera lamps and loose pillow interior in tan velour. It is also equipped with a gold-tinted moonroof.

My guess is the Town Coupe emblems were left off when the vinyl top was replaced. It has the wide-band whitewalls, forged aluminum wheels and premium bodyside molding as well. I think the Firestone tires are original, or near original, as they were severely cracked.

This survivor reminds the passing traffic of the time when Lincolns were really Lincolns, and when owning a full-size, six passenger luxury coupe meant you had arrived.