By on September 9, 2012

We all wish some things could last forever: a sports team’s winning streak, the love of a soul mate, or perhaps the still-kinda-futuristic look of the Lincoln Mark VIII.  Aside from showing how every post-Mark VIII Lincoln’s style has been a step in the wrong direction, this car helped “mainstream” design elements (tiny HID headlights, super curvy side contours, etc) while keeping the basic, timeless goodness of American car proportioning. If I didn’t already drink my own design Kool-Aid, the regular stream of compliments from by-standers certainly didn’t help.

The good? A Mark VIII’s bi-plane dashboard made of a blizzard of decadently padded vinyl and rubber coated (like an Audi) hard plastics. The bad?  That dated, cheap looking driver’s side airbag. 

There’s no flashy emblem, no invisible seam that breaks open when the airbag needs to do its business…it’s all very late 1980s in design. Cutting edge technology means that Form follows Function FTL.  Well…19 years later, that is.

Which is fine for a car made in 1993, but my Mark VIII lives in the year 2012. I want to keep that late-model flair alive, so I looked to the not aggressively designed, less futuristic GEN II (second generation, 1997-98) Mark VIII with one significant upgrade: an airbag that looks at home in a late-model car.

That’s better! Agreeing with me isn’t necessary, the thought process behind the madness is what we need to understand.  And appreciate. And share.  I am sure many among TTAC’s B&B considered a similar upgrade, coming directly from the redesigned version of your whip. What about a new tail light design, like that of a 2004 Sentra?  A better door panel, like the 2008 Dodge Magnum? This is the time to share it.

More importantly, tell us how difficult it was to make your design upgrade a reality.  Because, for me, the GEN II Mark airbag wasn’t the easiest find, if you wanted it in black.  The new airbag didn’t arrive until mid-year 1997, and by 1998 they changed the color to dark charcoal.  So when I found a black late-1997 airbag on eBay, I made it happen. Quickly.

Have a great Sunday, thank you for reading.

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59 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: Dated Design, Timeless Upgrade?...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Stop making me want one so bad…

    Hopefully Dearborn will see fit to build another one some day.

  • avatar
    TheDward

    That looks identical to the steering wheel in my 1997 Mercury Sable. Let me guess: same design, higher quality material?

    • 0 avatar

      Bingo. Nicer leather, and it went all the way up the spoke and to the airbag. Gotta love airbag sharing in the 1990s.

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      Reminds me of the steering wheel in my 1997 Ranger. Identical except for the lack of the blue oval. I have cruise.

      I don’t like the feel of the steering wheel so first thing I did was buy a cover for it. It helps as it gives me more to grip and provides a more comfortable grip.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        I love the same steering wheel in my 1995 Taurus; it is thick, and fits my long fingers very well.

        And, smart move allowing you to sound the horn by pressing on the airbag. Recently, I was driving the Esteem when a truck in front of me started to back up at a light. I lost precious time beating on the airbag before pressing the horn buttons on each side; then flipped the windshield wipers on before reaching down to the floor shift and putting it in reverse. By that time, it was already denting the hood. Driving two totally different cars can really mess up your reflexes….

  • avatar
    Marko

    One thing that always bothered me about the Mark VIII’s interior was its instruments. It looks like the designers spent a lot of time making everything else futuristic, but forgot about the gauges and panicked, so they said, “Well, we’ve got a surplus of F-150 clusters lying around – put our name down before production starts next week!” Unfortunately, it seems like they again forgot to do anything with the cluster for 1997.

    Otherwise, it is a neat car.

    • 0 avatar

      I donno about that, the gauges are mounted on different planes, its a staggered/jagged look from an angle. I’d love to see the Lexus LS400 style gauges in there, so maybe you are right.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffrodigital

      They look F-150 like but also have a kind of classic look to them. Sure the car was futuristic, but it was also a Lincoln so they had to incorporate that look. Plus, it prob was from an F-150 or something they had lying around so they got it done cheaply! Win win !

      Lincoln keeps trying to straddle that classic/modern look but hasn’t really been able to pull it off since the Mark VIII. The LS was pretty cool though. I know theres conflicting camps about reliability, driveability, and performance vs how much they asked for those things but you can’t deny they’re cool looking cars.

    • 0 avatar
      trk2

      The gauges were freshened in the 2nd generation Mark VIIIs. At quick glance it doesn’t look that different, but the layout is different and the 2nd gen gauges are a clean one panel design instead of the three panel of the 1st gen.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Chrysler shared steering wheels to an even greater extent circa 1989-1995. The two-spoke airbag steering wheel appeared in everything from the last of the Diplomats to innumerable K-Car variants to early Grand Cherokees.

    Heck, I think even some Omnis and Ram Vans had it…

    • 0 avatar
      wagonsonly

      Not sure about the Ram Vans, but the Omni and Horizon had this wheel for the ’90 model year. The cars got a whole new instrument panel for their final, and very limited, run…finally moving the A/C and heater controls to the center stack (from the left of the driver) and adding the airbag. I wonder how much that cost Chrysler – and who made that call.

  • avatar
    monomille

    I realize that the Mark VIII is the look of the future but I’ve always been attracted by the transitional look of the Mark VII. How would you contrast and compare them Vellum Venomically speaking?

    • 0 avatar
      mr_muttonchops

      I think both cars look great for different reasons. The Mk VII had a sort of brutish, intimidating look to it (especially with the right wheels, and in black- yum) while the Mark VIII had that sleek elegance that a lot of luxury cars in the 90′s were starting to have. (Riviera, Lexus ES, Infiniti J, etc)

    • 0 avatar

      I would compare them to the context of their eras: the Mark VII was almost as radical as the VIII, but it had far more traditional Lincoln elements to it because it needed them. How can you possibly one-up the VII? Making the insane VIII. That’s the story, in theory.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Ugh, I hate to admit this, but I will most likely look to a custom interior to replace the banged up interior trim on my ’84 Continental. Blasphemous and is the easy way out.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Fox body? Very nice, after the last Fox/Panther article I started thinking about how neat it would be to find a Fox Conti and swap in the old Ford 300 I6 or some kind of turbo 4.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        Would that even fit? an I6 in a fox car – I dont seem to recall an I6 in a fox except perhaps in an early model.

        —> go go magic google <—

        Apparently so, a 200 CID I6 as late as 1981

        That jogs my memory a bit, as I think the early I6 cars had a unique K-member for the engine compared to the I4/V8 cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Correct: I-6 will fit with a K-member swap to a Fox that originally had an I-6. But the big 300 would be a pinch.

        Of course that’s a bad move, as the Conti is rather large and plush…stick with a V8 of some sort. A turbo 4 is a horrible idea, unless you dropped a modern DI-turbo unit with enough low-end torque to possibly offset the effect of bulk on a small displacement motor.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I recall a very unique turbo’ed Edsel ‘eco boost’ last year. Perhaps the Ford 300 doesn’t make much sense but I think something along those lines in a Fox Conti would be epic.

        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/curbside-classic-special-1959-edsel-%E2%80%9Ceco-boost%E2%80%9D/

    • 0 avatar

      tresmonos: don’t bother with custom, you’ll want the stuff in my parts car.

  • avatar
    mr_muttonchops

    I’m looking to swap the wheels on my Saturn LS right now. I haven’t found anything that I like that’ll fit, and because I’m unfortunately stuck with a college student budget, I’m resorting to whatever I can find from abandoned cars and salvage yards. If only the old Corvette wheels in the shed fit. That’d be hilarious looking.

    Also Lincoln had a really nice design language going on in the mid 90′s. It stinks they can never seem to adhere to one for very long. The Town Car got hideous after it’s last facelift.

    • 0 avatar
      DubTee1480

      I’m in the same boat with my wife’s Accord and my Civic. Trying to shed the hubcaps for some OEM aluminum wheels. I never had any idea it would be so hard to find some at a decent price, especially with all the Civics running aftermarket wheels.

  • avatar
    jeffrodigital

    Great article! Glad to see someone else noticing and commenting on the little things that change throughout a car cycle that no one really talks about that make a big difference to someone who owns that particular model.

    I had a 93 Taurus with the real square airbag that was the first one they used back in the late 80′s when air bags were brand new. They used that wheel on everything from a base taurus to 5.0 mustangs to top of the line Contentals.

    I missed the wheel you got rid of by one model year (they started them on the Taurus in 94) and wished it was the one I had. The square one was real thin and noodly. I finally got the upgrade when I bought a 98 Taurus that had it.

    Great mention of the Sentra tailight as well. My soon to be wifes mother has a 2002, we have a 2006 and I always notice the small change in shape makes a big difference and is way nicer to me than the older one. To mostly anyone else its just a Sentra and no one really cares haha. They made a similar change with the headlights as well. They also went from a white/green dash lighting scheme to a smoother more sporty looking orange, which again, people who don’t own one wouldn’t really think is a big deal or notice. However if you own the car you really notice these little details and they make a big difference to you since it’s yours.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      That big airbag packed a powerful punch. A guy online put one into an kitchen range and it blew the thing to pieces. When my 92 dies, I’m going to use both bags to blow something up…

  • avatar
    drylbrg

    I’m currently contemplating a change for my 71 Camaro. The door panels for the early 2nd gen Camaros don’t have any place to put speakers in them as the lower section is a plastic panel that isn’t flat. I’m thinking about changing them to a later version, but I’m not sure I want to change one of the things that separates the early 70-73 cars from the disco era cars.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    I put the front bumper from the 99-01 Impreza 2.5RS on my lowly ’93 Impreza L. Along with the alloys from a ’98 2.5RS, the plucky little thing looked pretty sharp. Then I just bought an ’01 2.5RS and gave the old car to my little brother.

  • avatar
    Mike

    Gee, thanks Sajeev. My ’97 (prairie tan) has the older-style wheel, and although I’d heard of the upgrade, I considered mine to be “good enough.” But now I want one. Badly. :)

    As for the Sable comparison, I noticed the same on an ’01 Taurus a while back. The differences I noticed on that one were that the steering wheel on the Taurus was some kind of foam rather than leather, and that the buttons for the cruise were not backlit as they are on the Mark. I don’t know quite where the Sable’s wheel falls within that spectrum, I would be interested in finding out. I too filed away this little tidbit of information. People seem to be breaking clocksprings at a rapid rate.

    Although I agree that the primary gauge cluster isn’t all that exciting, I have seen aftermarket “white face” gauge overlays for both 1st and 2nd gen Marks that look a fair bit sharper. At least in the case of the 2nd gen ones, they do away with the Kph markings, and once per year or so, I find myself in Canada and wonder if I would miss them..

    Keep up the good work, Sajeev.
    Mike

    • 0 avatar

      I’d actually like the Bullitt Mustang-style faces on a GEN I Mark, because they’d be clean an legible on that gigantic speedo.

      FYI: you might need to take a dremel to the “new” wheel, as there’s a tab in the harness’ plug that needs to be ground off in order for the two parts to click and lock into place. The two wiring harnesses do lock in place, but it does feel a little weird to type that…and wonder what you must be thinking!

  • avatar
    vlangs

    Oh man I’ve done this to my Second Gen Acura TL too much to list. Lets see, I have a 2000 TL and in 02 they released the Type-S model and gave it a facelift. While I’m glad I have the pre-facelift front end (looks better IMO) here’s a few things I did swap.

    Rear taillights, they went from an amber turn signal to a clear signal, much nicer.
    Type-S intake manifold, Type-S exhaust
    Type-S rims
    I got the 2003 gauges put in, that was a worthwhile upgrade I love the LED bulbs
    I too swapped the steering wheel, the 03 wheel has an actual emblem instead of the embossed one on the 2000. Much like your swap.
    I put in coilovers for a good looking drop (ok that’s an aftermarket but still)
    Type-S seats swapped in when the driver seat finally tore on mine
    An 02-03 rear-view mirror it was much better at auto dimming than the previous model.

    I think that’s it. I dunno haha

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    The Mark VIII was one of my favorite cars of all time. My wife thinks I’m crazy when I point out a clean one.

    They’re on my “bucket list” of cars to own someday, if I could find a nice one at the right price, I’d scoop it up, but they all seem to be either clapped out or someone thinks they have a car destined for the Smithsonian.

    I thought the lines were drop dead gorgeous and the interior was also beautiful the way it enveloped the driver.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the Lincoln Mark VIII. I’d love to own a ’98 LSC, body colored everything, red, add the biggest Supercharger I can find, and put some sticky rubber on her. Talk about a sleeper.

    I got raped by a Mark VIII when I had a 88 Honda Prelude Si back when I was an idiot teenager and thought my car was quick. Talk about a wakeup call.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    While I do like the Mark VIII, the nod for me goes to the original Aurora for true seamless and nearly bespoke design inside and out. The Mark VIII shares too much with more plebeian Fords, like the HVAC controls, radio stack, and switchgear, for my taste. I also prefer the Continental’s more advanced gauge cluster.

    I would – however – like to borrow the Lincoln’s lighting element for the full-width reflector on the Aurora.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Nice. I put glass window NB top on my NA Miata, so I’m always interested in the opportunity for parts compatability improvements. The newer airbag is probably safer also, both because of any technical improvements, and because it is less old.

    From an aesthetic perspective I would argue that the final Buick Riviera did the personal luxury coupe better the final Mark, inside and out. However, mechanically it was wrong wheel drive.

    • 0 avatar

      Did you ever sit in a Riv? The interior was the epitome of GM cheapness, and I felt the entire body was unrefined lumps and curves. And that’s not compared to my Mark, that’s compared to Corolla.

      • 0 avatar
        Towncar

        Well, I sit in a ’95 Riv every other week, when I don’t have my Panther hat on, and I have to disagree with Sajeev.

        I looked seriously at Mark VIII’s to replace my Mark V, but I just felt claustropobic in them. The trans hump is large and the console is wide, and it just felt like sticking my legs down inside a sleeping bag to get to the pedals. Whereas the Riv’s wrong-wheel-drive setup produces a nearly flat floor and plenty of leg and knee room. I would argue, too, that the Riv’s design doesn’t look nearly as dated as the Mark’s.

        I will allow that Sajeev is right about the interior, though–it is too plasticky.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I’ve been in Mark VIIIs but only sparingly so I can’t use them as an accurate point of reference, but I happened to very much like the last Riv and have driven them. The Lincolns lines were much smoother but the Riv stands out quote a bit more in traffic. Mark VIII and Riviera were two very different cars, the Riv was meant to handle like a floaty couch (a Park Ave coupe as it were) with adequate but not incredible power and the Mark is more of a classic RWD ‘Lincoln Sports Car’ with refined V8 power and cornering to boot. They are are not directly comparable IMO.

  • avatar
    Mr Nosy

    With my rising sign being Virgo,how I DO love attention to detail!
    This has given me an idea.My neighborhood has long featured businesses favored by a clientele that leases cars and parks by Braille.I’m thinking of some way to modify my ride to accept 70′s era US spec British Leyland bumpers.BTW,today on the freeways of L.A., there was a Scion iQ owner that re-badged it as a Lexus.I bet if an Aston-Martin Cygnet owner existed,he’d be pissed.

  • avatar
    Polar Bear

    This is like looking at a car from another planet. I have never been inside a Lincoln. I can’t remember seeing a Lincoln. Are they sold anywhere outside of North America and Saudi Arabia? And more importantly, did I miss anything?

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I have always wanted to own one and modify the trunk to eliminate the spare tire hump to see what that would look like.

    A friend had a Mark VIII. He let me drive it on an Arizona desert freeway one evening and through some curvy back roads. (designated driver) I put it through it’s paces and I was impressed.

    I heard back in the day it won the award as the “easiest car to wash”. Really, some car wash association.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    I’m in the process of looking at doing some updating to My AP1 S2000 as well.

    I already replaced the radio door with the faux aluminum radio door from the AP2, and I bought the car with a new soft top with a glass rear window and defroster.

    My next retrofit will definitely be an AP2 center console, it looks much nicer than the one from MY2000.

    Any year AP2 rims would be next as well, plus the extra rear width will be great for the track as well.

    Finally, I’m in the process of looking for the AP2 taillights for a reasonable amount of money, as well as possibly AP2 headlights, and add some clear sidemarkers as well.

    At the end of the day I imagine I want to do an almost AP2 conversion, I do prefer the old style bumpers on the AP1

  • avatar
    patman

    Interesting, so the leather covers the spokes on the MVIII wheel? I need to go back to the junkyard and grab one for my Mustang then.

    • 0 avatar
      patman

      Mission accomplished – not bad 15 minutes of work and $10.74 plus tax

      https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/IpjTmEFqkk7HOXCp4gprvdMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I have already heard howls of protest from those who correctly identified a mutilated Corvette DBW throttle pedal fitted with a Moon Eyes big foot in place of the stock factory rectangle in the project car. Most won’t understand why we hacked into something that pricey to affix something that cheesy, but getting the little details right provides the proper bit of nostalgia when entering the vehicle. The biggest problem was the aftermarket pedal cover’s fitment hasn’t been changed since the 70s, which made for lots of extraneous material removal.

    Body hugging 70s bumpers. All it took was a recontouring of the mounting box, a pair of 6061 aluminum crush sleeves and a handful of 850 lbs/inch intake valve springs hidden in the posts to offer some sort of cushion should the unthinkable happen and the bumper be called upon to do what it was designed for. It sounds a lot easier than it was, but the end result is definitely worth it in the looks department.

    Side mirrors from a ’91-’94 GM B-body for the project car: anachronistic, but they complement the vehicle’s organic lines so well I’m giving them a pass. The hardest part has been determining the proper place to start cutting, and finding a good set of mounting gaskets.

    The pedal: 1-1/2 days.
    The bumpers: a couple months of weekends, most of it studying, sketching and testing – and they still need to be chromed.
    Side mirrors: still in progress, and the internal support brackets have yet to be fabricated.

    This week will be spent with a router and around 50 sq ft of teak creating the rear storage area deck lid and fitting a recessed tie down track system to add some utility to the rear of the car, as the cramped rear seating area has been excised in favor of increased carrying capacity.

    I’m still working on a set of rear windows for a 4-door L-body that will roll down fully but it looks possible with copious use of rivnuts, ptfe blocks and some careful heat treating of internal components. I may never use them, and rear seat passengers may never notice them, but it will be nice to know they’re there.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    Some may consider this going backwards but after the factory low profile tires wore out on my commuter/DD 2010 Mazda 3s I swapped the 17in wheels for 16in wheels from a 2012 3i that I picked up on CL for dirt cheap.

    The smaller wheels save 4 lbs of unsprung weight per corner and provide a more comfortable ride. Tires are about $30-$40 cheaper each. If I’ve lost any handling ability I haven’t noticed but then again I never really push the limits commuting and driving around town.

    Tires are the same overall diameter and the wheels have a nearly identical design – no one who rides in my car regularly noticed the change. Overall a worthwhile and money saving mod with few downsides.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      IMO low profile tires on conventional cars are very backward. I could see an argument for handling on some performance models but this and the excessive beltlines are the stupid direction the automakers are taking us in… incidentally I read somewhere one of the gov’t requirements for the high beltlines were the fact the giant wheels were on the car, something to the effect of there was a correlation between high line and large wheels.

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        That’s interesting and makes sense in the interest of keeping new car designs proportionate I suppose. I wonder how many car buyers take wheel size into account when shopping for a new vehicle? It didn’t cross my mind until I started pricing tires and realized that quality replacement 17in low profile tires cost as much as the much larger, heavier 31″ all terrain tires on my truck.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Friend of my fathers was in the tire business for 31 years, tires were ingrained with me at a young age. I am pretty sure the tire industry finally got in cahoots with auto mfg and convinced them to use the most oddball ones possible. The big Mercedes SUV (GL I think) uses factory 19s which wear out in something like 7,000 miles (according to this friend) and evidently they are a special order to the tune of $400/tire… there is no way in physics 19in low profile tires make a lick of sense on a big SUV but that’s what Mercedes thinks of their customers.

  • avatar

    That reminds me of one of the few quibbles I have with the first car I really ever laid eyes upon: the Gen-8 Buick Riviera (1995-99), which itself was a competitor to the Lincoln Mark VIII. It was conceived right in the middle of the era in which GM (and Ford and Chrysler) airbag assemblies had those unsightly perforation lines, along with the words “Supplemental Inflatable Restraint.” Moreover it was the corporate Buick steering wheel and therefore the one part of the car which eschewed the Riviera’s own “inscribed-R” logo for the tri-shield one…

    Then, in 2001, Buick built the famed Blackhawk concept. Its art-deco exterior was mated to the then-already-defunct Riviera’s interior, but with one major revision–a steering hub that was much more modern and appealing than the Riviera’s.

    I wonder if it even had an airbag behind it…

  • avatar
    pdog

    Ugh. A relative drives a 98 LSC with mouse grey interior, and seeing these pictures just fills me with dread because, yet again, I have to disassemble and partially remove the dashboard (for the 3rd time!) in order to replace the underengineered heater blend door mechanism. This time I’m going to try the epoxy/nail/wire trick to shore up the replacement part.

    Maybe that experience has left me biased, but I have trouble seeing the charms of these things. It’s been relatively reliable, other than the air suspension and this recurrent heater issue, but I just don’t view the interiors as particularly luxurious compared to contemporaneous luxury cars. Did they cheapen the interiors by the end of the run? The 98 I’m too familiar with is on par with a friend’s Avalon from the same era: functional, but not luxurious. But definitely less luxurious than the Audi A6 of that era, to give one example.

  • avatar
    DubTee1480

    On my 2004 Impala SS I absolutely loathed the color matched steering wheel that came from the factory, at the first opportunity I swapped it for a black Monte Carlo steering wheel of the same year.
    My 1993 GMC Sonoma has wheels and suspension components from the next generation trucks with ZQ8 suspension. Coming soon, dual piston calipers from the newer trucks.


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