Here it is, the last of the species autosaurus giganticus. Never again would beasts of this size roam our freeways and driveways with their EPA stickers (10/12) still freshly removed. It was the end of an era; the giant American land cruiser became extinct when the last 1979 Town Car rolled off the lines. And that last roll took a while: two hundred thirty three and seven-tenths inches of steel, chrome, vinyl and deeply tufted leather. No less than the visionary Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome and the very un-Town Car like Dymaxion Car lamented (and lambasted) the passing of the last big Lincoln. Given that he was all of 5’2″ tall, that seems a bit odd. But really big cars were such a part of the American psyche, that when they were gone, it left a gaping hole. You don’t miss your water ’till the well runs dry.
I may have mixed feelings about some of the other big old Lincolns, but these last Town Cars, from ’77-’79, were such bold survivors like the last Wooly Mammoths that roamed the earth, that I can’t help but be in (shock and) awe. The transplanted fake Rolls Royce-like grille from the Mark IV only added to their outrageous rebellion against the grain of the times. Cadillac and the rest of GM had dramatically downsized in 1977. Chrysler’s increasingly irrelevant big cars were gone after 1978. But Lincoln held out, for even one more year after its stablemates, the big Fords and Mercuries, had jumped into the hot wash cycle.
Lincoln finally hit the big volume jackpot in the mid-late seventies. This 1977 Town Car is one of almost 200k Lincolns produced that year, about eight times what the classic ’61 Continental sold at. There was still a healthy gap between it and Cadillac, but nothing like earlier days. The Mark III coupe had been a fairly successful extension of the line, and the Mark IV was a really BIG hit. Well, it was the blow out, before the crash. Downsizing these slabby Lincolns did not go over well, as we’ll see in our next installment.
These cars epitomized the changes that had taken place in the US since the early sixties. The “Kennedy Lincolns” reflected the sense of understated style and artistic sensibility that Jackie embodied. The cars were powerful and optimistic, and projected the ideals of the time. By the late seventies, these Lincolns were a place to hide from a much more complicated and frankly uglier world. Of course these Town Cars did nothing to make the world any prettier or less ambivalent.
With their ostentatious fake grilles, opera windows and other affectations, and their gas guzzling ways in the face of rising gas prices and environmental concerns, they were a 5,000 lb bundle of contradictions. But riding in the back of one was anesthetizing balm; much better that then actually driving one.
Any semblance of performance had long gone the way of suicide doors. The standard engine in this ’77 was reduced to the 400 cubic inch (6.6 liters) mid-block V8, with a mere 179 (net) hp. In 1978, that shrunk further to 166 hp. At least the 460 was still optional. But in its final year in ’79, only the 400 with now 159 hp was on tap. No wonder Lincoln was playing up all the “Designer Series” variations.
Givenchy, Pucci, Bill Blass, and even Cartier versions of Town Cars and Marks drove up prices and profits in ways that would foreshadow the big luxo-SUVs to come. Some of the final ’79 “Collector Series” Lincolns cost over $22k, almost double what a base TC started at. Make hay while the sun shines; or: there’s a sucker born every minute. Both apply equally, as well as a few other choice aphorisms. Blinged-out Navigators and Escalades were barely a generation away.
But the eighties were the transitional decade before that started in earnest. And Lincoln’s first steps into that decade were not a walk in the park. Leaving behind the familiarity of big cars, and transitioning to smaller ones was something GM pulled off fairly well the first go-around. Meanwhile, it seemed like Ford was being dragged into it, and it showed. That must be the reason Ford made so much hay with the last few years of the big Lincolns; they obviously didn’t have a lot of confidence in the clays sitting in their advanced styling studios.