Curbside Classic: 1984 Lincoln Town Car – What A Luxury Car Should Be?

Long ago I wrote a CC for a 1982 Lincoln Town Car.  It was written specifically for a theme week and, perhaps due to having a certain affinity for the 1980s era Town Car, tried to be somewhat enthusiastic about the car.

I do find myself liking this Lincoln and these were very well sorted mechanically.  However, after seeing it daily for about three weeks, I’ve realized my take on this generation of Town Car has certainly evolved over time.

There is an old adage in my part of the world about how one cannot make chicken salad out of chicken shit.  Harsh, yes, but applicable so let’s put this delicately …… some less than premium chicken products appear to have been used in the exterior design of this Lincoln salad.

As one who has used the phrase “design language” exactly twice previously in nearly 500 articles here, all I can ask is what in the wide world of sports were they thinking?

The design language of this poor Lincoln is a muddled conglomeration of assorted thoughts as the front and rear profile mimic each other entirely too much.  The amount of front and rear overhang are almost equidistant.  Remove the too tall greenhouse and you have a rectangle regardless of viewpoint; look at it in side view, plan view, or straight on from either end.  It’s all the same basic shape.

The only rounded anything on the body is the wheel arches on either end of its too short wheelbase.  Even the door handles are rectangles.

Remember, we are cussing and discussing Lincoln.  They are the ones who once upon a time made this Continental.  Perhaps Continentals of this vintage aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it was tremendously more sophisticated and visually interesting than any old ordinary, plain-jane, strippo Ford – or 1984 Town Car.

To be fair, the 1940s Continental gave a sneak preview into 1980s Cadillac – the engines weren’t what a luxury car should have.

Some years later Lincoln also made this.  Let’s face it; this Continental is the inspiration for all the slab-sided Lincolns to come, including our featured Town Car.  The proportions ultimately work quite well here and this era of Continental is that extraordinary and exceptional car that is able to embody a specific time period.  Few cars can make such a claim so all the rectangular-ness gets a pass.

As a bonus the wheel arches aren’t mirror images between front and back plus the wheelbase and overhangs are visually appropriate, unlike some other cars we’ve seen here.

So where in the tar pits of hell did Lincoln lose the plot over the next two decades?

Jumping ahead to 1971, Lincoln was still playing the right tune, but in a key and bass line tailer made for the groovy 1970s.  The Continental was the antithesis of petite and it looked good, boldly wearing its presence and ambiance.  Just gaze at that delicate yet intentional kick-up behind the door.  The Continental, particularly in this color, is a looker.

It also had a drivetrain that reinforced the presence of the car – 365 gross horsepower and 500 ft-lbs of buttery smooth torque from 460 delightful cubic inches (7.5 liters) of cast iron V8, all working to pull this Lincoln with authority.  It was like a low-revving turbine in its power delivery.

They were so on track, the 1970s would prove to be a great time for Lincoln.

When Queen sang Fat Bottomed Girls, they could have been talking about any Lincoln from the 1970s (except the Versailles, but that’s another sordid tale).

While some may think I’m gleefully harpooning the designers of this Lincoln, I’m really not; it’s disappointment more than anything.  However, an idle observation provides suspicion about what Lincoln designers were trying to accomplish.

The four-door Continental sold quite well during the 1970s.  It had presence, it could be formidable looking in dark colors, and (surprise!) it also had a rectangular-ness to it.  That element, like the Continental of the 1960s, worked to create a distinct form that was appealing to many people.

How so?  Annual sales from 1977 to 1979 were in the 90,000 range.

Also during the late 1970s, Ford had their most successful Thunderbird ever.  Selling nearly one million examples in those same three years of 1977 to 1979, this generation of Thunderbird obviously struck a chord with plenty of people.

When Ford downsized the Thunderbird for 1980, to maintain the lineage it retained many physical attributes from the prior generation, but draped them on a smaller body.  A success it was not.

Sales fell out of the nest and landed with a splat that sounded like fresh cow shit landing on a flat rock.  From 284,000 Thunderbirds in 1979 sales dove nearly 50% for 1980 – and continued the swirling motion down to 45,000 by 1982 when Ford would wring this Bird’s neck.

Granted, the early 1980s saw a distinct drop in automobile production for many, but few examples were this dramatic.

The Panther platform Lincoln we are examining was also introduced to the world in 1980, accompanying the molting Thunderbird.  Inclusion of the Thunderbird was for illustrative purposes to show how Ford Motor Company had mucho gusto in maintaining certain design elements.  In theory it makes a decent amount of sense as it would help keep the kinship alive among the generations.

But like I told a university professor a while back, theories may sound great but there can be a world of difference between theory and reality.  That Thunderbird was a prime example.

Some things don’t translate from one language to another.  English language words that don’t translate, yet seem applicable here, include cheesy and serendipity.

Serendipity struck twice to make these cheesy Lincolns as successful as they were.

As mentioned earlier, Cadillac did themselves no favors whatsoever during the 1980s.  While they provided enough fodder in self-mutilation to write a doctoral dissertation, it can be boiled down to three fundamental things:  V8-6-4, HT4100, and downsizing.

So when a person in 1984 wanted a domestic luxury car, they had the choice of a Cadillac that might partake of mechanical self-immolation;

Or, a Chrysler Fifth Avenue whose compact Plymouth Volare roots were showing.  It also shared bumpers, tail lights, trunk lids, front fenders, door handles, windshields, hoods, and front doors with all those Dodge Diplomats down at the police station.  Some of these also had issues with their transverse torsion bars and K-frames.

Or, one could choose…

Our ill-proportioned Lincoln Town Car.  Lincoln Town Car sales grew every year, except one, from 1981 (when that name replaced “Continental Town Car”) until 1988 when sales for this generation of Town Car peaked at 201,113.  During this same time period Cadillac Sedan de Ville sales peaked at just under 130,000 with the Chrysler Fifth Avenue hitting 110,000.

It’s obvious why the Town Car was so successful.  Perhaps the Town Car was the opposite of the plucked Thunderbird as being an example of when a theory that should not work does.

Unlike the Cadillac, Lincoln buyers got a solid and nearly invincible V8 in the form of Ford’s corporate 302.  Unlike the Chrysler, this engine was bolted to a four-speed automatic.  While possessing 140 reluctant horsepower in a 4,100 pound Lincoln doesn’t make for any sort of high performance machine, the Lincoln was the definite hot-rod of these three as it cranked out 5 more ponies than the Cadillac and 10 more than the 318 powered Chrysler in 1984.

There was a second factor in the success of the Town Car, but it was a short-term gain and long-term loss of sorts.

From Sports Illustrated

For $39.99, or less per day on weekends, anybody with a pulse and a credit card could now drive a Lincoln.  In turn, after oodles of people ponied up 8 Abrahams to drive a Lincoln, Hertz would then dump these on the used car market.  A nearly new, low mileage Lincoln Town Car was now within easy reach of the unwashed masses who had never considered one before.

So much for brand exclusivity.  It certainly helped boost sales volumes but whoring yourself for $40 is something from which it’s hard to recover.

Lincoln’s fading luster has been a long-term endeavor.

Lincoln’s habit of keeping wire wheel covers and vinyl roofs, those most enduring of 1970s styling elements, around for another couple of decades certainly didn’t help keep a shiny luster, either.

As an aside, I’ve long been indifferent about vinyl roofs.  This particular Lincoln should challenge any fan of vinyl roofs as it looks like it’s a few sunny days away from transitioning from quite tanned to melanoma.

As stated earlier, I do like this Town Car and have fond memories of Lincolns from this era.  However, that was based upon childhood experiences.  Looking at these from the vantage point of a profoundly larger world and base of experience, along with being a realist, I struggle to wrap my brain around why Ford Motor Company produced a Town Car that was so oddly proportioned and a poster child for styling cues racing toward obsolescence.

The demerits are inescapable.  In addition to the wheelbase being many inches too short, the track is too narrow, and the overall proportions just seem off as the car’s body appears to be overwhelming the chassis.  Taking styling cues from the prior Continental, such as the slab sides, vertical tail lights, and huge chrome grille, simply don’t work as well on this smaller car.

Looking inside, this steering wheel and column are the exact same ones found in a 1980 LTD and 1985 Crown Victoria my parents owned, as well as a 1986 Town Car my brother-in-law had.  For that matter the door panel is nearly the same as in the ’85 Crown Victoria.

GM gets shoveled a lot of crap for parts-bin sharing.  Folks, they aren’t unique in doing so.

In the big scheme of things, I’m happy to have found this Lincoln.  In fact my happiness was such I chose to write about an ordinary Lincoln instead of a DeLorean I found parked curbside a few days prior.  Seeing it prompted a reassessment of my thoughts, a process we all need to undergo periodically.

This Town Car is not unlike prior Continentals in being a reflection of its time.  Whether that is a good thing or not is a determination I’ll leave up to you.

Found December 20, 2018

Jefferson City, Missouri