Mark of Success: The Lincoln Continental Mark Series

This car, another of Lee Iacocca’s many product planning brainstorms, was one of Ford’s greatest successes in the late sixties and early seventies. A gaudy, overstuffed personal luxury car that critics aptly described as an overgrown Thunderbird, it was nonetheless a hugely profitable exercise and one of the most stylistically influential cars of its era. This week, we look at the origins and history of the 1969-1979 Lincoln Continental Mark III, Mark IV, and Mark V.

1970 Lincoln Mark III badge


The first Lincoln Continental was a customized version of the Lincoln Zephyr convertible, designed by Ford design chief Eugene T. (Bob) Gregorie and built in 1939 for the personal use of Ford president Edsel Ford, becoming a limited-production model in 1940. Although the Continental was mechanically undistinguished, its styling was widely acclaimed and is now considered a classic. (We remain unmoved by the Continental and consider the facelifted post-1942 models rather grotesque, but we recognize that we’re in the minority on both points.)

There were plans for an all-new postwar Lincoln Continental, but they fell victim to the Ford Motor Company’s financial predicament, so the Continental disappeared after 1948. However, in the early 1950s, Ford decided to try again, launching a new Continental division to produce a single high-end, ultra-luxury model. It was called simply Continental Mark II, suggesting a spiritual continuity with Edsel Ford’s original “Mark I” Continental.

The Mark II was extremely well made and quite tasteful for its era, but it was a commercial failure: Only about 3,000 cars were produced in two model years and the division lost about $1,000 on each of them. The Continental division was shuttered in July 1956 and the Continental again fell under the auspices of Lincoln-Mercury.

The Mark II vanished at the end of the 1957 model year, but Lincoln applied the Continental name to the top series of the gargantuan 1958-1960 Lincolns. Unlike the Mark II, the new Continentals were much the same as lesser Lincoln models, distinguished mostly by trim and a unique reverse-slant roofline with a retractable rear window (later recycled by Mercury for its 1960s Breezeway sedans ). To create a sense of continuity with the entirely unrelated Mark II, Lincoln called the 1958 Continentals “Mark III,” the 1959s “Mark IV,” and the 1960s “Mark V.”

These big Continentals sold better than the Mark II (mostly because they were almost 40% cheaper), but they still didn’t sell very well and were not particularly special. In a 1985 interview with Dave Crippen of the Benson Ford Research Center, stylist L. David Ash summed up the view of many when he dubbed them “phony Marks.”

In 1961, Lincoln applied the Continental name — but not the “Mark” designation — to all its cars. The new Continentals‘ crisp styling earned them great critical acclaim, if not runaway sales success, and helped save the venerable Lincoln marque from cancellation.

1963 Lincoln Continental front 3q
The basic styling of the 1961 Lincoln Continental lasted through 1969 with only modest changes. The final sixties Continentals were somewhat bigger than the ’61, but shared the same body shell.


While the post-1969 Lincoln Continentals were not the money-losers their predecessors were, they were still not as profitable as Lincoln-Mercury would have liked. Despite sharing some structural commonality with the Ford Thunderbird, which helped to reduce engineering costs, the Continental did not sell in large enough numbers to be a big money-maker; even in Lincoln’s best years, Cadillac outsold it by at least six to one.

Why? The Continental was a match for a contemporary Cadillac in most objective categories except trunk space and acceleration (neither a major priority for contemporary luxury car buyers) and the Lincoln’s styling was cleaner and arguably more tasteful. Cadillac had backed off from the excesses of 1959, but still had a space-age jukebox flair, where the Continental was understated and largely free of gimmicks.

If the goal of the Continental was to appeal to wealthy aesthetes, it succeeded, but its lack of ostentation did not necessarily appeal to the masses. As we noted in our article on the 1967-1970 Cadillac Eldorado, the success of Cadillac hinged on its popularity with working-class and middle-class customers, quite a few of whom would eagerly beg, borrow, or steal to get their hands on one. A buyer prepared to scrimp and scrounge for three or more years to put a symbol of prosperity and achievement in the driveway was not interested in understatement. The whole point of purchasing such a car was to win the approval and the envy of friends, neighbors, and coworkers — what good was it if nobody noticed? Chrysler had gone too far in the other direction with its early-sixties Imperials, which moved well past ostentatious into the realm of the grotesque, but we suspect that many Cadillac buyers simply found the Continental too bland.

Lincoln-Mercury did not help their case by offering a limited selection of models and body styles. The four-door Continental convertible was a novelty in which few buyers were interested. While Cadillac offered an assortment of pillared or pillarless coupes and sedans, sometimes with a choice of different roof styles, Lincoln had only the four-door pillared sedan. It took Lincoln until 1966 to even add a two-door hardtop, consistently the era’s most popular body style. Lincoln seemed out of touch with the tastes of the actual luxury car market.


In the mid-sixties, Ford, like GM, maintained styling studios for each division, including both production studios and “preproduction” studios developing concepts for future models and a separate Advanced studio. For some projects, Ford would stage competitions between multiple studios, commissioning several alternative designs from which senior management could select — the Ford Mustang was designed in this way in the summer of 1962. Lee Iacocca described this strategy as the chocolate and vanilla approach; it gave management more options and encouraged a healthy sense of competition among the stylists.

In 1965, styling vice president Eugene Bordinat put stylist Dave Ash in charge of a new Special Development Studio, with Ken Spencer and Don Kopka as his executive stylists. If the regular and advanced studios were chocolate and vanilla, Ash’s group was what Lee Iacocca dubbed the “strawberry studio,” offering a third alternative that would compete with the existing groups.

By that time Iacocca, riding high on the success of the Ford Mustang, had been promoted from vice president and general manager of Ford Division to group vice president in charge of the Car and Truck Group, responsible for all of Ford’s automotive divisions, including Lincoln-Mercury. Iacocca had an excellent sense of his buyers’ tastes and priorities and his insights in this era were usually astute. He also had a strong grasp of the bottom line.

One of Iacocca’s early ideas was to give Lincoln-Mercury its own Thunderbird-style personal luxury model. There were several compelling rationales for doing so: For one, the four-seat Ford Thunderbird was already positioned firmly in Lincoln-Mercury territory in price and image, about halfway between the most expensive Mercury and the cheapest Continental. For another, Ford wanted to utilize more of the capacity of the Wixom, Michigan factory where the Thunderbird was built.

The task of designing such a model was assigned to Ash’s team in the summer of 1965, although Iacocca took a keen personal interest in the car’s development. Initially, the new car, which reached the full-size clay model stage by December 1965, was a cautious agglomeration of Lincoln and Mercury design cues applied to the Thunderbird ‘package.’ That was appropriate, given its intended market position, but the general consensus was that the design lacked the sort of pizzazz that had made the four-seat Thunderbird such a success.

While Iacocca was on a business trip to Canada later that year, he found himself unable to sleep, which sparked a late-night brainstorm. He picked up the phone and tried calling Gene Bordinat back in Dearborn, but Bordinat was traveling in Europe, so Iacocca finally ended up on the phone with Dave Ash. Iacocca suggested that Ash add the spare tire bulge theme of the Continental Mark II and an upright, formal grille reminscent of Rolls-Royce’s. Ash told him they would try it.

Iacocca’s idea ran contrary to the conventional wisdom of stylists of the time. Stand-up radiator shells were considered archaic, an antiquated throwback to the days of hand cranks and wooden artillery wheels. Ash said later that if he had suggested such a thing without Iacocca’s imprimatur, Bordinat would have flatly refused. Nonetheless, Ash liked the concept and he and his team got to work on it. Bordinat was not fond of the project, but recognized that Iacocca was and reluctantly acquiesced.

1970 Lincoln Mark III grilleNaturally, Lincoln-Mercury could not and did not simply copy the famous Rolls-Royce grille, but the Lincoln Continental Mark III’s mammoth grille, an elaborate and complex die-casting plated with copper, zinc, and chrome, is imposing in its own right. Note that there is no hood ornament; Dave Ash says one was designed, but concerns about safety legislation kept it from the production model. Lincoln dealers sold the ornament as a paperweight, and some owners probably had it installed on their cars.


Since the new model was originally intended to fill the price gap between Mercury and Lincoln, Dave Ash suggested calling the car Merlin, a contraction of Mercury and Lincoln that would refer to both the figure of Arthurian legend and the highly successful Rolls-Royce aircraft engine of World War 2. Lincoln-Mercury executives didn’t like that name, so by the time the first clay model was ready in mid-October, it was dubbed Lancelot instead.

By January, the Continental hump and stand-up grille had been added to the clay model. Iacocca loved the results, but Gene Bordinat remained lukewarm, as did Lincoln-Mercury general manager Paul Lorenz, particularly after a marketing clinic found that prospective buyers preferred the original design.

Any reluctance Lincoln-Mercury management may have had was overridden by the enthusiastic endorsement of company chairman Henry Ford II. Ash told Dave Crippen that when Henry saw the clay model on March 24, 1966, he declared that he wished he could take it home with him. The car was approved for production.

1970 Lincoln Mark III front
The Lincoln Continental Mark III and its Mark IV and Mark V successors had concealed headlamps with “Continental” lettering on the left cover. As with other cars of this era, the covers were not very reliable, and were often disabled by owners. (The covers also snap open if the mechanism fails.) Note the bladed fenders of the Mark III, which gave a sense of styling continuity with the Continental sedans.


The engineering budget for the Lancelot was set at about $30 million, a very modest figure; the Mustang had cost around $65 million. For cost reasons, the Lancelot would be mechanically based on the Ford Thunderbird, which was all-new for 1967. The two cars shared cowls, windshields, roof panels, and door glass. The Lancelot was originally intended to use the Thunderbird’s doors, as well, but Ash and Bordinat eventually convinced Iacocca to authorize the cost of new exterior door shells.

Although the Lancelot was conceived only as a two-door coupe, product planner Hal Siegel suggested basing it on the longer wheelbase of the new Thunderbird four-door, which allowed both more interior space and a heroically long hood. (Regular readers might recall that Pontiac later used the same strategy to create the long-nosed 1969 Grand Prix.)

1970 Lincoln Mark III front 3q
The Lincoln Continental Mark III’s mammoth 460 cu. in. (7,536 cc) engine was powerful, but it had to contend with 4,900 lb (2,226 kg) of curb weight. It was a little slow off the line, but had strong mid-range power; 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took around 9 seconds, but top speed was at least 125 mph (200 km/h). Fuel economy was predictably dire, averaging around 10 mpg (23.5 L/100 km).

From 1958 to 1966, both the Thunderbird and the big Lincoln Continental used unitary construction, but for 1967, the Thunderbird reverted to body-on-frame. As with contemporary big GM cars, the body shell was a stiff, welded semi-unitized structure, but it was mounted on a separate perimeter frame, isolated from the body with thick rubber mounts. The Lancelot shared the four-door Thunderbird’s frame; the only substantive chassis differences were in suspension tuning.

The use of the long-wheelbase frame allowed the designers to give the Lancelot exaggerated long-hood, short-deck proportions, in the mode of the old Continental Mark II. Passenger room was unimpressive for the huge exterior dimensions, but its appointments — supervised by Damon Wood and Hermann Brunn, son of the famous coachbuilder — were suitably lavish. Occupants were insulated from the outside world by over 150 lb (68 kg) of sound deadener. The standard upholstery was a very slick tricot knit that Ford designers called “panty cloth” (also used by the Ford LTD) with real leather optional. To create a posh English men’s club feel, the cabin made heavy use of wood trim, although in typical American fashion, it was plastic. (For a truly baroque touch, customers had the choice of two different fake wood grains: “English Oak” or “East Indian Rosewood.”) Shortly after introduction, there was also an ostentatious Cartier dashboard clock, marked with Roman numerals.

1970 Lincoln Mark III interior
While the 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III offered an array of fake woodgrain, 1970 and 1971 models like this one substituted genuine walnut veneer. Hermann Brunn specified the wrinkles in the leather to give the upholstery a plusher look, which nearly gave Ford’s quality control teams — more accustomed to flat, seamless vinyl — a fit of apoplexy. The Mark III’s interior does look notably richer than that of the contemporary Eldorado, which feels comparatively Spartan.

As Iacocca had directed, the Lancelot had a Mark II-style fake spare tire bulge in its decklid, a styling feature Chrysler design chief Elwood Engel (a former Lincoln designer) had recently cribbed for the 1964 Imperial. The pièce de résistance, however, was the upright grille, a daunting piece of automotive architecture that cost Lincoln-Mercury around $200 per car, 10 times the cost of an ordinary grille.

Behind that grille and beneath the prodigious hood was Ford’s largest engine, the “385-series” V8 introduced on the Thunderbird in 1968, expanded from the T-Bird’s 429 cubic inches (7,027 cc) to 460 (7,536 cc). This was actually fractionally smaller than the 462 cu. in. (7,565 cc) M-E-L engine used by the big Lincoln Continental, but the 460 was a much more modern design better suited to the emissions controls that U.S. law would shortly require. It was rated at 365 gross horsepower (272 kW).

The sheer size of the car caused considerable strife with Lincoln-Mercury engineers. Lincoln-Mercury chief engineer Burt Andren was particularly unhappy about its pronounced front overhang, which had unpleasant effects on weight distribution. Andren went to Ash and demanded he reduce the front overhang by four inches (102 mm), which Ash steadfastly refused to do. Eventually, Gene Bordinat went over Andren’s head and had him overruled, allowing the design to go forward unmolested.

1970 Lincoln Mark III hump
Like the old Mark II, the Lincoln Continental Mark III featured a simulated Continental spare wheel, intended to evoke the “Continental kit” of the original 1939-1948 cars. Also like the Mark II, the Mark III’s spare-wheel bulge is purely cosmetic; the spare is laid flat toward the back of the trunk.


As the new car’s development proceeded, its name became a pressing issue. Everyone accepted that “Lancelot” was a placeholder, but no one had yet offered an acceptable alternative. Since the car showed a clear design kinship with the Mark II, someone — most probably Iacocca, although some sources say Henry Ford II — suggested reviving the Continental Mark designation. Logically, this would have made the new car the Mark VI, but no one had been especially fond of the 1958-60 Marks, which had had little connection with their glamorous predecessors. The new model was therefore dubbed Lincoln Continental Mark III.

Resuscitating the Mark name was an interesting decision. It’s a sign of the Mark II’s commercial failure that barely a decade after its demise, it was apparently acceptable for Ford executives to publicly criticize it. On the other hand, the commercial failure of the contemporary Cadillac Eldorado Brougham had not moved Cadillac to abandon the Eldorado name or dissuaded them from applying it to their new personal luxury coupe, launched in late 1966 as a 1967 model.

News of the new Cadillac Eldorado had a definite impact on Lincoln-Mercury’s plans for the Continental Mark III. Late in its development, the division (possibly prompted by Iacocca) decided that instead of being a Thunderbird rival positioned between Mercury and Lincoln, the new Mark would be a top-of-the-line model, Lincoln’s most expensive and prestigious offering and a direct rival to the front-wheel-drive Eldorado.

The battle between the Eldorado Brougham and Mark II 10 years earlier had been inconclusive, so the imminent clash between the Mark III and the new FWD Eldo represented something of a rematch — a new front in the ongoing war of corporate egos.

1970 Lincoln Mark III side
The Lincoln Continental Mark III is 216.1 inches (5,489 mm) long on a 117.2-inch (2,977mm) wheelbase, about 9 inches (229 mm) longer overall than a Thunderbird four-door, but some 5 inches (127 mm) shorter than a regular Lincoln Continental sedan. The prominent flares around the wheelhouses help to stiffen the body, which was more rigid than the Thunderbird’s, despite the larger dimensions. Note the rear quarter windows; as with the contemporary Thunderbird, the rear panes side backward into the sail panels, rather than retracting downward or swinging out.


Iacocca was fond of mid-year introductions, which, as the Mustang’s launch demonstrated, were an effective way for new models to stand out from the herd. Therefore, the Lincoln Continental Mark III bowed on April 5, 1968 as an early 1969 model. It arrived about 18 months after the Eldorado, which had already found an eager market.

The Continental Mark III’s starting price was $6,585, $20 less than the Eldorado. That price tag included many standard amenities, including power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmission, but not air conditioning or a radio. With a full load of options — as most Marks were equipped — the price rose to around $9,500, enough to buy two well-equipped Mercury Cougars. The Mark III was still somewhat cheaper than the old Mark II and on an inflation-adjusted basis was about 30% less expensive.

With its extravagant styling and unexceptional engineering, the Continental Mark III was not the sort of car to appeal to enthusiasts. No one at Ford was concerned. In March 1968, Gene Bordinat told Motor Trend‘s Robert Irvin, “The buffs may not like it, but people with money will.” Even before the car’s release, Dave Ash and designer Art Querfeld noted that Ford assembly workers loved the Mark III and were very taken with its styling. The Mark had the same sort of appeal as the Eldorado: it was in no way subtle, but it looked like money.

Buyers responded enthusiastically, despite the high prices. The late introduction limited first-season sales to 7,770 (compared to 24,528 1968 Eldorados), but for the Mark’s first full-year, the tally rose to 23,088.

1970 Lincoln Mark III rear 3q
The Lincoln Continental Mark III is low, but with an overall height of 52.9 inches (1,344 mm), it’s not as low as it looks. Dave Ash’s team raised the rear deck — the “upper back panel,” in Ford parlance (sometimes called the “Dutchman”) — by about 2 inches (51 mm) compared to the Thunderbird, giving the top the cut-down look of a fifties Carson padded top. The vinyl top was a $136.85 option on 1969 models, but fewer than 100 cars were built without it, and it became standard in 1970.

While the Eldorado had done little to increase Cadillac’s total sales, the Continental Mark III boosted Lincoln’s business significantly. Lincoln sold only 39,134 Continentals in 1968 and 38,290 in 1969, so the Mark III accounted for more than half of Lincoln’s total volume. More importantly, it was an exceedingly profitable car. The Mark III’s 1968-69 sales grossed around $275 million, which enabled Lincoln to recoup the modest tooling and development costs very quickly. The Mark III was also far less costly to build than the Eldorado; Lincoln’s profit margin on each car was reportedly around $2,000.

1970 Lincoln Mark III rear
Unlike the 1961-1969 Continental sedans, which used leaf springs in back, the Lincoln Continental Mark III (and the Thunderbird on which it was based) had a three-link rear suspension with coil springs and a Panhard rod for lateral location. The Continental adopted this system in 1970, along with body-on-frame construction similar to that of the Mark. All Mark IIIs had front disc/rear drum brakes, even with the optional Sure-Track system. Four-wheel discs became standard on the Continental Mark IV in 1976.

SIDEBAR: Sure-Track

While the Lincoln Continental Mark III would never have anything to rival the Cadillac Eldorado’s then-novel front-wheel drive, the Mark III did introduce a significant mechanical innovation of its own: anti-lock brakes.

A vehicle’s ability to stop quickly is limited by the traction of its tires. If the forces the brakes apply to the wheel exceed the tire’s available traction, the brakes will continue to act on the wheel without slowing the rest of the vehicle at all. Eventually, the wheel will stop rotating entirely — or lock — while the vehicle continues to move. Wheel lockup may do considerable damage to the tire, aside from the more immediate problem of bringing the vehicle to a halt. Skilled drivers can avoid this problem by pumping the brakes (alternately releasing and applying pressure) when they feel the wheels beginning to lock; this is called threshold braking. However, this is a skill that is not widely taught in driver’s-education classes and without considerable practice, the driver may not remember to apply it in a panic stop. Street cars also complicate matters with the use of a brake booster, which make it difficult to modulate the brakes correctly.

The aircraft industry faced this problem in the forties and fifties, when heavier aircraft and higher landing speeds made safe braking a problem. The solution was anti-lock (or “anti-skid”) braking systems, which could detect imminent wheel lockup and automatically modulate the brakes. One of the first commercial systems was the Dunlop Maxaret system, which appeared in 1952 and later became part of Ferguson’s “Formula Ferguson” four-wheel-drive system. Maxaret’s first use on a production automobile was the 1966 Jensen FF. Maxaret was a crude mechanical system and not particularly reliable for automotive use, but it was reasonably effective when it was working.

In the late sixties, Ford Motor Company and brake manufacturer Kelsey-Hayes developed a more sophisticated system using magnetic wheel-speed sensors connected to an analog computer. If the sensors detected that the wheels were beginning to lock, the computer would automatically pump the brakes up to four times per second to prevent it. The system, called “Sure-Track,” worked only on the rear wheels, which are the most vulnerable to lockup: As a vehicle decelerates, its weight shifts forward, which reduces the traction of the rear tires.

Sure-Track became optional on both the Thunderbird and Continental Mark III in 1969. On the Mark, it cost an extra $195.80 and included a heavier ring gear for the rear differential (which might otherwise be damaged by the judder of the system’s operation). It worked reasonably well, although it was not a dramatic improvement over Lincoln’s standard brakes, which already incorporated a proportioning valve to limit pressure to the rear drums in hard stops. Front lockup could still be a problem in panic situations, however, and of course Sure-Track did nothing to reduce brake fade, which was a problem for these very heavy cars.

The Sure-Track system became standard equipment on the Mark III in 1970, and it was also standard on the later Continental Mark IV through 1975. It reverted to option status in 1976, but it remained available on the Mark series until the downsized Fox-platform Continental Mark VI of 1980. It was also offered for several years on the Continental.

Around the same time that Sure-Track was introduced, the Bendix Corporation developed an electronically controlled four-wheel system, which was offered on the Imperial from 1971 to 1973. Although it was more effective than Sure-Track, the Bendix system was more expensive (priced at $344) and was soon dropped due to lack of interest.

By the mid-seventies, however, Bosch and Teves developed similar electronic systems, which began to appear on high-end European cars in 1978. Lincoln was the first American manufacturer to reintroduce anti-lock brakes, introducing Teves ABS on the Continental Mark VII in 1984.

1970 Lincoln Mark III wheel
The 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III used the same wheelcovers as the Continental sedan for cost reasons, but Bunkie Knudsen demanded that they be more distinctive. Later Marks got revised wheelcovers with a distinct hexagonal center, like the one seen here, designed by Dave Ash and Art Querfeld. They derived the hexagon shape from the classic Packards of the twenties and thirties; red hexagon wheel centers were a Packard trademark for many years. This car’s tires are authentic; in 1970, all Marks got standard Michelin X radial tires, still rare on American cars of this period.


In early 1968, Henry Ford II promoted Ford Motor Company president Arjay Miller to vice chairman, which left Ford in need of a new president. This was a particularly challenging decision for Henry Ford, who was reputedly angling for President Lyndon Johnson to give him an ambassadorship if he was reelected that fall. Although Lee Iacocca clearly desired the presidency of Ford Motor Company, Henry thought Iacocca was too young and was somewhat wary of Iacocca’s ambition (a conflict that would eventually lead to Iacocca’s firing in 1978). Instead, Henry decided to look outside the company, setting his sights on GM executive Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen.

Bunkie Knudsen was a second-generation GM man. His father, William “Big Bill” Knudsen had worked for Henry Ford’s grandfather in the teens and early twenties and went on to become the president of General Motors. Bunkie, who joined GM in 1939, became a rising star in the fifties with a very successful career at Pontiac, followed by a stint as general manager of Chevrolet. Knudsen had looked like a strong candidate for the presidency of the corporation, but in the fall of 1967, he was passed over in favor of Ed Cole. Knudsen had not planned on leaving General Motors, but when Ford called to offer him the presidency, Knudsen was not inclined to turn him down.

Like Lee Iacocca, Bunkie Knudsen was an ambitious, energetic executive with considerable chutzpah and very strong ideas about product development. He and Iacocca clashed almost immediately and their battle of wills raged throughout Knudsen’s tenure, forcing other executives — and sometimes designers and engineers — to choose sides. Many chose Iacocca, sensing that Bunkie would not be with Ford for long.

When Knudsen arrived, Styling was considering proposals for a successor to the Lincoln Continental Mark III, to be called Continental Mark IV. During an unannounced visit to the styling studios in mid-1968, Knudsen took a fancy to a design developed by Wes Dahlberg of the Advanced Styling studio (actually the work of Jim Arnold and Dean Beck), announcing that it would be the next Mark. Gene Bordinat, who hadn’t liked Dahlberg’s car to begin with, tried to talk Knudsen out of it, but Knudsen remained adamant, blocking all of Bordinat’s subsequent attempts to alter the design and reminding Bordinat that Knudsen was still the president. That may have been Knudsen’s prerogative, but it hardly endeared him to either Bordinat or Iacocca, who took a paternal interest in the Mark series. It was also a bold move considering Henry Ford’s well-known fondness for the Mark III; few executives would have had the brass to revamp the chairman’s favorite car without consulting him.

Bordinat continued lobbying for changes, so Knudsen grudgingly allowed him to create an alternative design. Stylist Ron Perry and Steve Sherer of Don DeLaRossa’s Corporate Projects Studio subsequently developed a new Mark IV clay, which both DeLaRossa and Bordinat liked much better than the Dahlberg car. Although Knudsen showed no sign of changing his mind, Bordinat took the daring step of ordering DeLaRossa to continue work on Perry and Sherer’s design even after Dahlberg’s version had been approved for production, apparently hoping that Knudsen would be gone in time to substitute their concept for Dahlberg’s. It didn’t happen and Dahlberg’s car became the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

As Bordinat had predicted, Knudsen’s presidency was short. Any dreams Henry Ford may have had of an ambassadorial post disappeared after Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for reelection in 1968. Henry soon decided that Knudsen was not right for Ford after all and Bunkie was fired in early September 1969, only 19 months after his arrival. After a brief interregnum, Lee Iacocca assumed the presidency in late 1970.

Knudsen’s Continental Mark IV debuted in the fall of 1971 as a 1972 model. It maintained many of the styling cues of the Mark III, although the Mark IV was noticeably bigger. It continued the Continental Mark III’s fake spare-tire hump and upright grille while adding a new neo-classical element: round “opera windows” in the sail panels. (They were initially an $81.84 option, although few Marks went without them; they became standard in 1973.)

1972 Lincoln Mark IV front
The 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV still used the same 460 cu. in. (7,536 cc) engine as the Continental Mark III, although the big V8’s compression ratio was reduced to allow it to burn regular-grade gasoline, costing it between 15 and 20 horsepower (11-15 kW). Thanks to the adoption of more realistic SAE net ratings, the drop looked far more drastic than it was: the 460 was now rated at only 212 net horsepower (158 kW). The Mark IV was a bit slower than the 1971 Mark III, but the difference was not vast.

One now-ubiquitous item introduced on the Continental Mark IV was the moonroof, a sunroof with a glass panel that allowed it to do double duty as a skylight. The idea of Heinz Prechter of American Sunroof Corporation (ASC), the moonroof became a very expensive option on the Mark IV in 1973. The Mark and Thunderbird had also offered a steel sunroof since 1969, which remained available as an alternative.

The Mark IV was even more popular than the Mark III, selling nearly 50,000 units in 1972 and nearly 70,000 in 1973. Even in 1975, its worst year, the Mark IV sold 47,145 units, better than the Mark III in its best year. The Mark usually accounted for nearly half of Lincoln’s total sales and most of its profits.

1972 Lincoln Mark IV rear 3q
Even the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV was bigger than its predecessor: 220.1 inches (5,591 mm) long on a 120.4-inch (3,058 mm) wheelbase. Curb weight was similar, still around 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg). As with the contemporary Cadillac Eldorado, the effort to retain the styling cues of the Mark’s predecessor with more curvaceous lines made it look rather bloated, although buyers were evidently not dissuaded. By 1974, its base price had soared to over $10,000, thanks mostly to increases in standard equipment.

After Knudsen’s departure, Gene Bordinat ordered Don DeLaRossa to supervise the design of the Mark IV’s replacement, the Lincoln Continental Mark V, which would be closely based on the 1969 Perry/Sherer proposal. Introduced in 1977, the Mark V’s dimensions were much the same as its predecessor’s, but it was about 300 lb (136 kg) lighter, thanks in part to a smaller standard engine. The Continental Mark V proved to be the most successful Mark of all, selling around 75,000 units a year during its three-year run — remarkable considering its eye-opening prices.

Popular as they were, the two-and-a-half-ton Marks were not compatible with the demands of Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements, nor were their massive engines suitable for ever-increasing emissions standards. In 1980, Lincoln replaced the Continental Mark V with the downsized, Panther-platform Mark VI. Sales immediately dropped by half and never really recovered. The 1984 Mark VII was a decided improvement over the Mark VI (and its LSC version was the first Continental that could be called sporty with a straight face), but sold no better. By the time the sleek Continental Mark VIII arrived in 1993, the market for all personal luxury cars was evaporating; the Mark finally died in 1998. While Ford showed Mk 9 and Mark X concept cars in the early 2000s, there has been no move to revive the series.


The styling and concept of the Lincoln Continental Mark III were hugely influential both at Ford and elsewhere. By the early seventies, the Thunderbird, whose sales had slumped badly, became increasingly Mark-like. So did the Mercury Cougar and later the Ford Torino. Soon, Ford had a host of pseudo-Marks at various price points, as did most of its rivals. It’s fair to say that we have the Continental Mark III and Mark IV to thank for the upright grilles, opera windows, and other neoclassical gimmicks that blighted American automotive styling well into the 1980s. Don DeLaRossa, who followed Lee Iacocca to Chrysler in 1981, made no apologies for recycling Mark styling cues as late as the 1990-93 Y-body Chrysler Imperial.

1978 Lincoln Mark V front 3q
The Lincoln Continental Mark V was even bigger — a whopping 230.3 inches (5,850 mm) overall — and more expensive than ever, but had rather anemic performance; its standard 400 cu. in. (6,590 cc) engine had only 179 hp (134 kW) to move its nearly 4,800 pounds (2,175 kg) of heft. Nonetheless, it was by far the most popular Mark ever, selling 228,862 units in three model years.

We may even hold the Mark III responsible for the later obsession with retro styling. As Dave Ash remarked to Dave Crippen in 1985, prior to the Mark, stylists would have considered such backward-looking designs embarrassingly old-fashioned. The Mark demonstrated that there was a lucrative market for looking backward; it was eerily prescient of the sometimes mawkish nostalgia that gripped American culture a few years later.

At the risk of sounding snobbish, we consider the Continental Mark III and its successors to be supremely vulgar. We mean that both in the sense of being tasteless — frankly, their heavy-handed and self-conscious ostentation makes us want to avert our eyes — and in the most literal sense. “Vulgus,” the word’s Latin root, means “common people,” and the Mark III definitely had a strong appeal to the man on the street.

1978 Lincoln Mark V rear 3q
This 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V is a Cartier Edition. Lincoln began offering these “Designer Edition” models in 1976, bearing famous names like Pucci, Givenchy, and Bill Blass. Each had specific paint and trim combinations; the Cartier Edition had this “Light Champagne” scheme, with matching landau top. These packages were quite expensive, costing between $1,800 and $2,000, but were very successful. The Cartier Edition was the most popular, accounting for about 8,500 units in 1978 and nearly 9,500 in 1979.

The Continental Mark was perhaps the perfect car for the seventies. The giddy futurism of the fifties and the naive idealism of the sixties had collapsed by then, giving way to a queasy hangover of economic malaise, environmental anxiety, and political scandal. It’s little wonder that overstuffed personal luxury cars were so popular in that era. Americans often value symbols of success more than success itself and tend to see expressions of wealth as the highest of virtues — a tendency that becomes more pronounced when actual prosperity is hard to come by. The self-indulgent affectation of the Mark and its imitators was a palliative for the disillusionment and disaffection of Watergate, the energy crisis, Vietnam, and inflation.

It’s not difficult to see the connection between the Continental Mark and the SUV craze of 25 years later. The specific signifiers are different — brush bars and skid plates rather than opera windows, big rims instead of Continental decklid bulges — but the overwrought grilles, the needless bulk, the fuel-sucking engines, and the sheer look-at-me grandiosity are much the same. As they say, le plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

# # #


Our sources on the development of the Continental Marks III, IV, and V included L. David Ash’s 1985 interview with Dave Crippen (David R. Crippen, “The Reminiscences of L. David Ash,” 25 January 1985, Automotive Design Oral History Project, The Benson Ford Research Center, Accession 1673, www.autolife.umd.umich. edu/ Design/Ash_interview.htm (transcript), accessed 30 July 2009); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1972-1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV,”, 9 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1972-1976-lincoln-continental-mark-iv.htm, accessed 1 August 2009, and Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Automotive Mileposts, “1969-1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III,” “1972-1976 Lincoln Mark IV,” and “1977-1979 Lincoln Mark V,” automotivemileposts. com, accessed 31 July to 2 August 2009; Jim Farrell, “Don DeLaRossa: Seeing It All,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 19, No. 6 (April 2003), pp. 68-77; Jim and Cheryl Farrell, “Continental Style: A Contest of Wills: Lincoln’s Mark IV,” Special Interest Autos #199 (February 2004), pp. 44-47, and “Mark III Magic: A behind-the-scenes look at designing the 1969 Continental Mark III,” Special Interest Autos #196 (August 2003), pp. 36-39; Tim Howley, “A Mark of Distinction: 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III,” Special Interest Autos #58 (July-August 1980), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Lincolns: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002); Lee Iacocca, Iacocca: An Autobiography (New York: Bantam Books, 1984); and Michael Lamm and Dave Holls, Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997).

We also consulted the following period road tests: “Rampant Nostalgia: The new Continental Mark III,” Road Test March 1968; “Continental Mark III: It’s Thunderbird size and owes little to the classic Lincolns and Continentals,” Car Life March 1968; Edward Eves, “Lincoln’s New Continental Mk. III,” Autocar 15 February 1968; Robert Irvin, “Continental Mark III” and Bill Sanders, “First Driving Report: Continental Mark III,” Motor Trend March 1968; Graham Robson, “Driving the Lincoln Continental Mark III: The latest American status symbol,” Autocar, 18 July 1968; Charles Fox, “Viewpoint: Lincon Continental Mark III,” Car and Driver August 1968; “Continental Mark III: Prestige & Luxury? Dream car of many less than perfect,” Road Test April 1970; “King of the Hill: Road testing the Lincoln Continental Mark III and Cadillac Eldorado,” Motor Trend July 1970; John Lamm, “King of the Hill: Eldo-Mark III Revisited,” Motor Trend July 1971; “Distinctive Styling and Boundless Luxury: The Continental Mark IV, A Brand New Ballgame,” Car Life December 1971; and John Lamm, “King of the Hill: Cadillac Eldorado vs. Lincoln Continental Mark IV,” Motor Trend July 1972, all of which are reprinted in Lincoln Cars: Lincoln Continental 1969-76 (Brooklands Road Test Books), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, Surrey: Brooklands Books Ltd., 1992).


Add a Comment
  1. I recently saw a Mark V parked on the street, and while those pictures are very well taken, images and numbers alone cannot describe how huge these things are. Great work as usual!

  2. While the seventies cars had some pretty regrettable tie-ins with clothing designers, I’m curious what other collaborations might have been like. I’m especially intrigued with the idea of an Alexander Girard (designer of Braniff’s Flying Colors) edition of the Porsche 914. I’m still racking my brain for a car appropriate for Armani, though. What would Grace Jones drive?

    1. Grace would and did drive the Citroen CX Turbo.

  3. I recall being in a Lincoln-Mercury showroom several times in 1971-72; a friend of my parents’ (who had long been a Pontiac sales manager) had just taken over the L-M dealership. I noticed that all the sales literature for the then-new Continental Mark IV omitted the word “Lincoln,” which of course was also missing from the car itself. Was Ford perhaps trying to subtly resurrect the idea of Continental as a separate division?

    (Shortly thereafter our family owned a demonstrator ’72 Continental 4-door, with the antilock brakes and probably every other option then offered except the sunroof. What a great high-backed tuck-and-roll black leather rear seat that car had.)

    I wish one aspect of this story were clearer: The ’72-’76 Mark IV was clearly related to the Thunderbird of the same generation (same windows, etc.), whereas the much less costly ’77-’79 Thunderbird was based on the LTD II (formerly Torino) of the same period. Is it possible that the Mark V was a standalone among Ford cars?

    I like this site a lot – just discovered it today; someone linked to it within a comment on an entry at The Truth About Cars.

    1. The Mark V was based on the platform of the Mark IV, although it did part company with the 1977 T-Bird, as you say. I think that did indeed make it a stand-alone platform in ’77-’79, although not a bespoke one, if you see the distinction.

      The Continental name clearly still had an evocative ring for Ford in this period. Looking at how Ford applied it in the sixties, one gets the impression that they were tempted to phase out the Lincoln name entirely, although as far as I know, no one seriously discussed that. Iacocca definitely wanted to establish the Mark as something distinct and special, however, which they did pretty effectively.

    2. Actually, I may be mistaken. I found some indication that the Mark V was also on the LTD II platform, although presumably on a stretched version of the longer sedan chassis (118″, rather than 114″). It was not any smaller than before, but it was somewhat lighter, even accounting for making the 400 cu. in. engine standard, rather than the 460.

  4. The mid sized for chassis,used for the 72-up torino, mercury montego, LTDII and 77-9 thunderbird was pretty much a carbon copy of the chassis for all of the bigger fords, lincolns and mercurys.
    The only real differences were minor hardware pieces and wheelbases.

    1. Thanks for the information — I figured something like that, but I had no details.

  5. I had a 1970 Mark III back in 2002-2003, and while it was a big, lumbering land yacht whose thirst could not be quenched even by OPEC’s emergency supply, I miss it for it’s ironic 1970’s malaise-era pimp appeal. Say what you want, and you probably will, but it’s true.

    It was brown on brown, with a plush brown leather interior, and all the features still worked, including the in-dash Cartier clock, flip-up headlamp covers and 8-track player. And while the author might consider it an eyesore, it was for me one of the greatest hoon-and-poon wagons I’ve ever owned, bar none.

    1. I certainly understand the Mark III’s appeal, even if it’s not to my taste. There’s a part of me that says, “If you’re going to go for a lumbering land yacht, you might as well go all the way…”

  6. Hi, great article.

    However, I’d like to point out that the Mark VI is a Panther based car. It was released at the same time as the Panther based Town Car for 1980. It was just a coincidence that the Fox based T-Bird/Cougar were new for 1980.

    Vintage buff books and Panther car fans sites confirm this. The Mark VII was definitely a Fox based coupe.

    Tom M.

    1. Oops, you’re quite right. Fixed!

  7. The Panther platform Mark VI also had a sedan version, the only Mark sedan (unless you count the 1958 to 1960 models).

  8. i have been working on a 19671 lincon mark 3 im looking for a schematic for the vaccum lines i didnt take them off and the person who did id not helping me anymore…..please anyone

    1. I’m afraid I’m not qualified to give technical advice — the best I can suggest is getting a Haynes or Chilton guide, or a shop manual. The public library often has these, although you may have to request them via inter-library loan.

  9. The 1972 Torino/Cougar/Mark V was NOT a clone of the full size chassis. It was developed with a coil spring rear suspension called sta-bul by my late father, Klaus Arning. Any resemblence in purely co-incidental. Although it was not the suspension design he would become known for, it was the last production rear suspension design he did before becoming manager of Advanced Safety Car Design at Ford.

    1. Thanks for the clarification! I seem to recall reading that your father was also involved in developing the abortive independent rear suspension for the 1965 Mustang — is that right?

      1. Yes, he was. I rode in the prototype when I was a kid. The front suspension change was used on the Shelby GT 350.

        1. My understanding was that they came up with a fairly inexpensive bolt-in independent rear suspension, but that they found that the racers could get by with lowering the front A-arm pivots about an inch, raising the roll center, so the independent suspension was canceled. It’s too bad — it would have been an interesting option. (Although in all likelihood, it would have been rarely ordered and eventually canceled anyway…)

    2. I realize that I’m a little tardy on my comments on this auto review but what the heck; since when does anyone give a dam about what a writer like this has to say? I find it laughable that he uses terms like tacky and tasteless to describe these great pieces of American automotive history. Given that the author is entitled to his own opinion, shouldn’t that opinion by confined to something that he knows the first thing about? I didn’t see listed anywhere in the citations his design or marketing accomplishments. The Mark II and Mark III are beautiful cars. While the post ’71 successors were nothing more than boxes with motors, the II and III were unique statements of automotive luxury of their times. I only wish there was an American luxury offering today for sale that could compare.

  10. Hello! I am sure you know by now, I am surprise you did not get this right for such a thorough and articulate article, that the Continental “Kit”, trunk on the 1956 and 1957 Mark II is real and totally functional. Not a skin deep gimmicky detail as seen on so many newer models with the “bulged trunk”. Cheers!

    1. The word “fake” was perhaps an inopportune choice of words for the Mark II’s rear-deck hump, but I’m not sure I would go so far as to call it real or functional. It did contain the spare wheel, so in that sense, it was not simulated (as were the bulges on later Marks), but it wasn’t a ‘real’ Continental kit (which is an external spare wheel in some kind of decorative carrier). The spare wheel’s position also imposed some pretty significant compromises in trunk space and access, so its functionality was limited.

      Even though it contained the spare tire, it was certainly a styling gimmick. John Reinhart, who styled the Mark II, recognized that the prewar Continental had spawned many imitators. It certainly didn’t originate the “Continental kit,” but it definitely popularized it. It was a styling theme that was strongly associated with the Continental, but Reinhart didn’t want the Mark II to seem to be imitating the imitators — hence, the decklid bulge.

      I didn’t get into that here because it’s ultimately outside the scope of this article, but one of these days, I’ll do the Mark II itself, and talk about its styling in greater detail.

  11. You guys are assholes for your snide remarks about these cars – they are quintessentially American (for the era) and sold extremely strongly. Its you who who are vulgar.

    Also, Rolls Royce were far from the only company with a framed vertical grille.

    1. There’s any number of things that are supremely popular in their time that I find astonishingly tacky; the Marks III-V are on that list. The article clearly explains that they were very popular at the time, and you’re under no obligation to share my opinion of their aesthetics.

      Yes, Rolls-Royce hardly had a monopoly on vertical grilles, but both Lee Iacocca and Dave Ash have said the Rolls grille was the direct, conscious inspiration for the Mark III.

  12. I agree that the MarkIV and V were tacky and blocky looking, but I like the styling of the MarkIII. I think it was cleaner looking overall.

  13. While looking for a 70’s Cadillac last year I stumbled upon a 76 Mark IV. It was much cheaper and in better condition than the GM’s I had seen,even with 90,000 miles. I bought it on the spot and drove it home(200miles) without any problems. Remarkable I thought for a car that had been in storage for 20 years. It’s been love ever since with my leather couch on wheels. What a fantastic car! Driven gently it returns 14mpg city, 20mpg highway. Not bad considering how heavy the car is and the engine size. Gosh, how I miss the 70’s…

  14. I own three of these beautiful boats in great condition — and they always draw the impressed stares of young and old. Of course they are excessive, but that’s at the heart of the best car designs since the ’30s. The ’72 was the last year of the integrated bumper Mark IV, before the govt-mandated 5 mph bumpers added 6-inch bumpers to front and back. And it’s styling is classic, stylish and tasteful.

  15. Who ever said that these vehicles are tacky and blocky looking needs to go to Lenscrafters for an eye exam! I still have my parents ’76 Mark IV, all original. While people have called it a ‘Banana Boat’, they never reffered to it as tacky and blocky looking. It drives great on the highway, just like its floating. Just try and get something to last 36 years now a days! I am glad that I still have this piece of ‘AMERICANA’ While it is not a ‘cream puff’, it is in excellent condition and it gets all the looks like Mr. Luma just said!
    I thought this was a great article except for the tackyness, and blockyness, and I know that’s your opinion and I do not have to agree with it,,,,, And I don’t!!
    Now you see, I didn’t refer to anyone as an asshole to get my point across, oop’s, I sincerely apologize.

    An English speaking AMERICAN, and not a Hyphenated one either!!!

  16. what is a fair price for this car with 23,000 miles. clean condition no rips or tears in leather. two new catalytic converters and newly rebuild carburator. These were replaced from sitting.

    1. Roy,

      I’m really not qualified to assess or estimate prices for cars — sorry!

  17. I own a 1969 Lincoln Mark iii in Australia it has been converted to right hand drive I see teenagers here with mod cars like Nissan utes etc and they think they are hip lowered with a set of wheels until they see the Mark iii there jaws drop; rare here and these kids would not know they exist. These cars were the last of American extravagance before they all changed to Pick up trucks. All I know people spin out where ever I go have had screaming to people who just follow me to watch it.

  18. Citroen CX, of course!

    1. Now why didn’t I think of that – Grace Jones driving an Armani CX! But I’d want the CX to be first generation, not the ’80’s one shown in the ad. I just could never get on with those big plastic bumpers!

  19. I just received a 1972 Lincoln Mark 1V in excellent condition even though it did need a few minor repairs, non the less I’ve forgotten how beautiful these cars were and the time when American car manufacturers were leaders in their own right.
    Even though this car doesn’t exactly get choice gas mileage, its great to know that if it breaks down I can fix it, not like the plastic computerized junk they build today.
    This is a real car, built for real people who appreciates the time when America built good solid quality cars.
    I use my 93 Caravan during winter and I enjoy the summers more driving in class.

    1. I bought a 74 Mark IV on the very day you wrote this, New Years Eve 2011, and I totally agree!

  20. i currently own a ’78 Diamond Jubilee edition gold… and i find it funny when reading articles about these old cars of how bad they were or how good they were when they’re compared today. you have to remember when these cars were new no one knew any different of there was “better” they were “better” than say one of 1970! they were what they were.
    i think given a corvette of the same year with its lack luster 180hp 350 these big ol cars would run right along with them and the Mark’s were set up with quite an elaborate suspension for handling all the weight the worst thing i’ve found is the lack of a quick ration steering box.. if it would turn quicker it would handle curves quite nicely! i’ve replaced the front sway bar on mine and at 30mph it has very little body roll even at 60 for that matter but of course more than todays cars.

  21. what is the color of the wood grain above the glove compartment,and what kind of peel and stick wood is it called PLEASE HELP

    1. Depends on the year. On early Mark IIIs, there were two woodgrain options, depending on interior color: English Oak and East Indian Rosewood. I assume the applique was DI-NOC, but I don’t know; I also don’t have a list of which colors went with which grain. On 1970-71 Mark IIIs, the wood was walnut — it wasn’t an applique, but real wood veneer.

  22. Perhaps you missed the ads with the original Continental, the Mark I, II and the Mark III! Later in 1972 they did an advertisement with the I, II, III and IV.

    The following statement is utterly untrue:

    "Resuscitating the Mark name was an interesting decision. It’s a sign of the Mark II’s commercial failure that barely a decade after its demise, it was apparently acceptable for Ford executives to publicly criticize it."

    If anything Lincoln was distancing themselves from the 58-60 "Marks". The TRUE successor to Mark II was the 69 Mark III. That it was a commercial "failure" doesn’t mean it was a stylistic failure. If you want to put a spin on it, it was probably to honor Edsel Fords reputation, and continue THAT history.

    1. I agree, the 1969 Mark III was explicitly positioned as the successor to the Mark II; there’s no debate about that.

      However, whatever one thinks of the Mark II stylistically (I happen to like it a lot, although some people really did not, reportedly including Henry Ford II), it was a commercial flop and Ford executives of the late ’60s DID publicly criticize it: see for example the remarks of Gene Bordinat to [i]Motor Trend[/i]’s Robert Irvin in March 1968). Granted, those criticisms centered more on its price and marketing strategy than its concept, but the point remains.

      As the text notes, however, you could say the same about the earlier Eldorado and Eldorado Brougham, which didn’t make Cadillac drop the Eldorado name. Obviously, in both cases, the divisions decided that the name still had some equity, even if the earlier iterations hadn’t sold well.

  23. I bought my Fathers 76 Black diamond Mark IV in the early 80s. I understand production was limited. Can anyone tell me how many were produced? It is a great road car.

  24. Great article! Can you extend it to cover the Mark VII and VIII?
    The 7 was, like the Tbird turbo coupe, a sign of life and a way forward for Ford.

  25. I own two MK lll’s a 68 and a 70. They both need to be restored and I can’t wait to be cruising them in the California sun. My wife has a restored 68 LTD and a restored 1930 model A . Yeah we love our FORDS. I will probably need some help locating some parts so any info or input would be appreciated.

  26. The article states that the M-E-L 462 was used in the Mark II. Not true. The Mark II’s had the 368 Y-block. M-E-L 430s were used in ’58-65 Lincolns and the 462 did not debut until the ’66 Lincoln.

    1. Oops, you’re absolutely right. Fixed.

  27. Okay, so I’ve had 10 Lincolns (all but one of them variants of the 61-69 Elwood Engel design). The one exception was a 1979 Bill Blass Mark V I bought in 1995 with 86,000 miles on it. I have always thought that the 77-79 Marks were, like the Mark II before them, fine examples of styling restraint in an era of styling excess. Granted, both had their gimmicky qualities (the wrapped windshield and the filler pipe behind the taillight on the Mark II, the opera windows on the V), but overall they were both simply beautiful automobiles.

    The Mark V I had, however, had been in a pretty severe wreck at some point (and repaired quite professionally as well), but the frame was never quite right. As a result, the ride wasn’t as smooth as other examples of the car, and I ended up having to replace the U-joints every 7,500 miles or so. It also had a mystery leak above the windshield on the passenger side that defied discovery until, one day while driving to work, the fake convertible top became detached and flew into the air, before crashing to the pavement and shattering into about fifteen pieces. At that point I learned two things:

    1. The water leak was from a point on the roof where it had rusted out (at one of the attachment posts for the fake convertible top); this is what had caused the top to catch the wind at highway speeds and go AWOL.

    2. The guys who worked the assembly line were practical jokers, since I found on a metal panel that had been screwed over the opening for the opera windows, written in sealant, the words "Made in Japan".

    I ended up donating the car to Goodwill in 1997 when gas started getting really expensive, the U-joints needed replacing (again!), and the vent window mechanism on the driver’s door just sort of … fell into the door, making it impossible to get the driver’s window up again without disassembling the entire door and replacing everything but the switch. I do miss it … the seats really were like a sofa (albeit one with a fairly radical recline angle), and I always found the Bill Blass edition to be a very striking example of that particular beast. I would love to get another one, and drop a modern 300 hp V-6 into it so that it would actually have a bit of scoot and be able to go more than 50 miles without needing to be filled up again.

    SIDE ANECDOTE: During one of the blizzards we were hit with in the winter of 1995-96, at one point the snow was so deep the car was completely buried in a drift, and the only way I was able to locate it was by the antenna sticking up through the snow. No point to the store, really …

  28. Having difficulty with determining difference in info re Mark VIII. Stats say 2nd generation or 3rd, but I have a 1977 Mark VIII. What’s the story? Bob

    1. Bob: I don’t think I understand your question — a 1977 Mark would be the Mark V, not the Mark VIII, in any case.

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