(first posted 9/1/2014) Today, Lincoln automobiles are vastly different from the ones of my youth. For most of my childhood and early adulthood, there were three Lincoln models: The Continental, the Town Car, and the Mark. All were clearly defined in the lineup, and had a specific clientele. The Town Car was for die-hard traditionalists who wanted full-size luxury, silence from the outside world and a cosseting ride. The Continental was for folks who wanted American luxury in a bit more manageable size, but still with all the gadgets and gizmos they could get. Then there was the Mark–a personal luxury coupe for those who wanted distinctive styling, ample comfort and two doors. That was the Mark’s mission from 1940 through 1998, though the all-new 1984 Continental Mark VII was quite reimagined from its immediate baroque predecessors.
By the early 1980s the market was much different from those which existed when the 1968 Continental Mark III came on the scene. Pricy European makes were rapidly overtaking the luxury domestics’ market, save the staunch Greatest Generation, who generally preferred their Lincolns, Cadillacs and Chrysler New Yorkers to any BMW, Mercedes or Audi.
The thing was, people who usually bought American luxury cars like my grandparents were rapidly passing the baton to their Boomer children, and it was having a drastic effect on the market. If that wasn’t enough, the Mini-Me Mark V that was the 1980-83 Continental Mark VI (which your author has a decided soft spot for, regardless) tanked compared to the super sales the 1977-79 Mark V had during the no-compromise yes-I’m-freakin’-fullsize-and-proud-of-it! era just before CAFE and Gas Crisis II.
But thanks to Ford’s rapid recovery and modernization in the early ’80s led to some very appealing designs. Fresh, modern styling began with the totally restyled 1983 Thunderbird, which was a breath of fresh air compared to the boxes-stacked-on-more-boxes 1980-82 T-Bird. It set the pace for FoMoCo’s future designs, and one year later, the Mark got its makeover.
And it was a beaut. Gone was the late ’70s tufted velour, Luxury Groups, oval opera windows and coach lamps. In its place was a trim, stylish coupe for the ’80s, but still with plenty of luxury and style!
Oh, some traits of past Marks were retained, such as the hood ornament, plenty of chrome trim, plush cloth or leather trim, and other Lincoln goodies, but all those things were banished to the edge of one’s vision upon seeing one of these cars for the first time.
I remember being at my grandparents’ one day in about 1985. They had been thinking of finally trading in Grandpa Bob’s mint navy blue ’77 Mark V, but the new VII’s beauty and freshness was not to my grandfather’s liking. It had nothing to do with the price, it was just the new coupe was a bit too low-slung and swoopy for his sense of style. In fact, the Mark VI was not to his taste either; it was just like his V, only smaller and more expensive. So why buy?
However, even as a tot I thought these were pretty groovy! They were cool to my five-year-old eyes, but their grandson’s opinion meant nothing to Bob and Ruby, and they went with a 1987 Continental sedan. The more razor-edge styling and “CONTINENTAL” spelled out on the edge of the spare tire hump were more to their liking. And I loved that car too!
But when the 1984 Continental Mark VII debuted, the scene-stealer was the Luxury Sport Coupe, or LSC. With blacked-out trim, blackwall tires (gasp!) analog instruments and up-rated suspension, it was highly recommended by most road testers, and well loved all the way through the VII’s run, which lasted through the 1992 model year.
Today, it seems that all that is remembered is the LSC, however. I imagine that there are some people of a certain age that may think the LSC was the ONLY Mark VII. Ya know, like kids who think all A-bodies were GTOs, SS396s, 442s and GSs? “Wow, they made a GTO wagon???? Um, no. That is a Tempest! But I digress…
My point is there was a full lineup of Mark VIIs, which included the standard Mark VII, the Bill Blass and Versace Designer Editions (the Cartier had moved to the Town Car starting in ’82) and, of course, the LSC.
So what was the rarest? As far as survivors are concerned, I believe it is the standard Mark VII, which our burgundy-on-burgundy ’86 CC is an example of.
Nope, no fashion designer nameplate in gold on the quarter windows, no matte black interior trim, though they still had a center console and bucket seats. With floating-pillow style, no less. No sport seats here!
As a Lincoln, the VII naturally had more trim and gadgets than the comparable Thunderbird. But as both cars had a similar shape, if not the exact sheetmetal, it is hard to not see the T-Bird in the Mark’s shape and amenities. And of course, the Thunderbird came first.
Standard VIIs and Designer Editions, in addition to all the simulated wood trim seen here, received a digital instrument cluster in lieu of the LSC’s full gauges.
One other nod to the Mark’s illustrious past was seen in the spare tire hump, which was now a shadow of its former self. But really, would a tire hump straight off of a Mark IV or V have looked right on such a modern design? I think not.
The “standard” Mark VII seemed to get passed over by most folks in Lincoln showrooms, who seemed to want the Bill Blass or LSC instead. I mean, if you’re getting a Mark, why not get one of the fancier models, right?
The Versace Mark VII might be the rarest of all Mark VIIs, however, as they were only offered in 1984-85. Seems the Bill Blass had more name recognition–at least among folks who wanted a designer name on their Mark. Only the Blass and the LSC were available every year from 1984-92.
As for the standard Mark VII, it was only offered from 1984-87, after which only the aforementioned Blass and LSC models were available. Later on, the Blass received the same alloy wheels, blackwall tires and suspension as the LSC, with only the poofy seats, pinstriping and stand-up hood ornament to differentiate them.
I would rather like a final 1991-92 Blass with the lacy-spoke alloys, fog lights and Broughamy seats. I have never seen one, despite getting the ’92 VII brochure at a dealer visit with my grandmother when they were new. They always had tons of Town Cars and a Continental or two, though.
It seemed that Marks were not often seen at South Park Lincoln-Mercury–later Classic L-M, and today Courtesy Kia. It was a sad day back in 2013 when I visited, wanting to see a new MKZ and discovering they no longer sold Lincolns. Philistines!
The building still looks the same as it did in my childhood though!
This car has been sitting in this very spot for quite some time; at least a year. I hadn’t photographed it because it was usually sitting on a flat air suspension. One sunny evening this past May, however, she was sitting pretty. Maybe it helped that I was driving the Town Car that day…
I took far too many pictures of this car, but Mark VIIs of all types are not exactly common any more. Hey, they were not super common even when new! It seemed there was always a certain number of people who would purchase a Mark VII, and no more. During the car’s whole nine-year run, sales never exactly spiked, but never really went down either. Clearly a niche vehicle, but not a problem for most L-M dealers who sold tons of Town Cars every year!
This was also the first car sold in the U.S. with flush headlamps. European cars had them for years, but the sealed-beam laws here kept them from our shores. I have heard the Mark came first, and the T-Bird was designed off of the Mark’s key points, but as Lincoln didn’t want to sell the new Mark with sealed beams, the T-Bird got to debut first, pending approval on the headlights.
The fact that Lincoln held out results in a car that still looks modern today. There is nothing like a nice set of headlights, I always say! The T-Bird itself did not receive flush units until the 1987 model year.
This car was in very nice shape, with no clearcoat issues, no major dents and dings, clean alloy wheels (the very same wheels as the LSC, but with different center caps), and only the nickel-sized rust spot seen on the leading edge of the driver’s door to mar its finish.
I think these are modern classics. They have an elegance that transcends its 1980s origin. While I love Continental Mark Vs too, they are clearly from the ’70s. With one of these VIIs, the vintage is not so apparent. I feel the same way about the 1983-88 T-Bird and 1986-91 Taurus/Sable, too. Clean and fresh, even in 2014.
I really hope someone rescues this Mark, because it has lasted twenty-eight years with only minor wear and tear, it is in an excellent color combination, and I am of the opinion that one day, these will be seriously collectible. Beauty, comfort and timelessness–a most excellent combination, whether in 1940, 1986 or today!