Curbside Classic: 1987 Lincoln Town Car Sail America Edition – Truth In Advertising

I love Lincolns.  I hate Lincolns.  Which Lincolns fall into which category is the stuff for which a website like CC was made.  In which of those two barrels may this particular Lincoln be found?  I am on record as being one of the most vitriolic haters of the 1980 Lincoln lineup of anyone who lives on this Earth.  Yet here I am writing about one of the later versions of this car.  One of us (the car or me) is going to take a beating here, and I am not yet sure which one it will be.  So keep reading and we will all find out together.

It is hard to believe that CC has featured but a single late-’80s Lincoln Town Car in all these years.  Hundreds (if not thousands) of early morning Curbside Classics have come and gone and a car like this has had its turn precisely once.

Why did I hate the 1980 Lincoln?  Not dislike, but hate.  Full-blown, car-hate as only the most passionate among us can accomplish.  Paul Niedermeyer has his 1971 Ford LTDs and JPC has his 1980 Lincolns.  We recently re-ran my take on the Mark VI so I am not going to re-ignite that controversy.

Neither car belonged to the author’s family, but both were essentially the same in color and trim. 1978 Town Coupe top and 1980 Town Coupe below.


In brief, I hated the 1980 Lincoln because I loved (just as deeply and passionately) the 1978 Town Coupe that my father got new and drove for two years.  It was beautiful, stately, smooth, quiet and reeked of presence.  A drive in that car was just what it was supposed to be – a wide, soft seat, oodles of torque from the big understressed 460 and a serenity that came from an isolation from the ugly world.  Just as an ice cream sundae is topped with a cherry, the big Lincoln was highlighted by the chrome plated star waaaaaaaaaay out at the goal line of that gridiron-length hood.

1978-79 Continental Town Coupe interior in cordovan, the color also chosen by my father for his car.


The Chryslers handled better and the Cadillacs (being smaller) were faster, but the Lincolns were the absolute best way to smoothly and stylishly arrive.  Any time, anywhere – it just didn’t matter.

Then, in the fall of 1979 Dad turned in the 2 year old Town Coupe for a new one.  A brand spanking new 1980 Town Coupe in a nearly identical white with dark red velour color scheme.  Did you ever awaken from a dream in which everything was perfect only to discover that you were back into your own not-nearly-so-perfect life?  That was the transition I experienced going from the beloved ’78 to the ’80.  That I got to experience panic on a warm early fall day as the ’80 spiked its temp gauge all the way to hot on my very first time behind the wheel was just the beginning.

The doors felt cheap.  The body structure jiggled.  The steering wheel tilted oddly.  I believe the horn was on a separate stalk.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  And it was just plain ugly.  This was not a Lincoln.  It was like Renault trying to do an impersonation of a Lincoln.  The gearing was bad so that the engine bogged down early and often behind the horrid AOD transmission, clearly tasked with the mission to jump as early as possible into the highest possible gear and then remain there.  Can I let you in on a secret?  Dad’s ’76 Mercury Monarch Ghia with its 351 V8 and leather seats was more of a Lincoln than this thing was.  This was not a luxury car.  This was the compromise a luxury car buyer was forced to make in a fast-deteriorating world that many believed was five years away from a Mad Max-style dystopia.

Although he never admitted it, my father must have agreed with me because after he dumped that pretend Lincoln, he would never for the rest of his life choose another vehicle on a Panther chassis (and I am counting at least five subsequent FoMoCo cars, with two of them being Lincolns).

But the boys at Lincoln-Mercury did something that the folks in charge of the 1979-81 Chrysler New Yorker (as an example) would not do – they went back to work and eventually turned a turd into a decent car.

By 1987 FoMoCo had fixed much of what was wrong with the 1980 version.  The 5.0 V8 was massaged and tuned until it put out a semi-respectible 150 bhp (compared with the 1980’s 129).  The AOD was still there but the additional torque from the stronger engine made its weaknesses a little less glaring.

The styling was updated a bit, with some of the sharp corners rounded off and the interior got some significant upgrades.  By the time this car was built Cadillac had attempted to rule the world in a way that turned out to be more of a suicide attempt.  So maybe part of the Town Car’s growing appeal was in simply standing still as Cadillac became a cartoon and Chrysler had nothing but Volare Broughams to offer.  It was in this era of newfound strength that Lincoln determined to build a car in commemoration of Team America’s winning of the America’s Cup sailing race.

There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,800-2,000 Sail America Edition Town Cars built (out of 76,483 Town Cars of all sorts), and boy were they loaded.

Every one was painted Arctic White and equipped with a navy blue fabric carriage roof.  We laugh at the carriage roof treatment today, but in 1987 it was a fresh (if not universally loved) treatment.  I liked it because it covered the awful opera windows that had carried over from 1980 like a bad disco song.

Genuine wire wheels and Sail America logos completed the look outside.  But it was inside where the magic happened.

White leather seating.  With navy piping.  Lots and lots of piping.  Show of hands, who here likes piping?  OK, at least some of you.  This is your car.

At $2,456 (over $5,500 in 2019 dollars), the Sail America package was not cheap, at roughly 10% of the base price of the car.  These extra dollars were not, however, hidden where your neighbors and passengers would fail to notice them, so there was at least that.

The Americas Cup sailing race was a big deal in 1987.  An Australian boat had won the previous contest in 1983 and a U.S. entrant was, for the first time, forced to run the race as a challenger for rather than as a defender of the cup.  The Sail America Foundation was the body that backed Dennis Connor and his crew in the boat christened Stars and Stripes, an effort that was ultimately successful.  Unless, of course, you are one of our valued Aussie readers, in which case, um, sorry.

It was a good thing for Lincoln that Connor won, or the company would have been stuck selling something that reminded everyone of a tragic sailing defeat.  Or perhaps Lincoln had a second name-option ready to go in the event of another Australian win?  That the race was not determined until February of 1987 probably dictated that Sail America Town Cars were so-identified by decals and not by plastichrome badges.  I wonder what Lincoln’s Plan B looked like?  Would Bill Blass have agreed to stand in?  Or maybe this could have been the Detroit Yacht Club Edition.  We will never know, thanks to Mr. Connor’s efforts.

And one more thing, although many call these the “Stars & Stripes Edition”, this was not actually the correct name (although those folks can be forgiven, considering the big “Stars & Stripes” decals on the craft’s forward hull.)  The scant advertising given to this late introduction called it the “Sail America Edition”.  So good, we have cleared this up.

I might not have made the effort to photograph this car but for the fact that a friend brought it directly to my driveway at dusk on a late winter Sunday.  His son was on the verge of getting a driver’s license and a car search was underway.  A friend of a friend of my friend had owned this one for quite a few years, treating it as more hobby than transportation.

The car is in exceptional condition for a midwestern car and had me momentarily imagining my own personal self at the tiller wheel.

I have, however, reached a kind of fatigue on these cars.  I owned an ’85 Crown Vic and my eldest son owned an ’89 Grand Marquis.  Those two pretty much sated me on a car I found challenging to love in the first place.  As for my friend, his son concluded that this sloop was too big for him and they decided to move on.  (“Too big?  Listen you young whippersnapper, lemmie tell ya about big cars in MY day . . . . “)

I must say, however, that never was there a car so aptly described by its maker.  If it was possible to make something more nautical than the Lincoln Town Car of the 1980s, I would be hard pressed to name it.  That this one would include canvas up topside and piped white leather in the cabin to augment the white hull as it bounded over waves in the asphalt, well what better car to go Sailing America in?  All that is missing is a little teak trim and some chrome fittings for tying up at the dock.  Great sail, everyone.  I would be pleased if you would join me at the yacht club for a cocktail.