Mark My Words

Bob Elton
by Bob Elton
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mark my words

Here's an idea: revive the fabled "Mark" model designation, slap the badge on a Ford pickup truck, whack on a Lincoln grill, and call it good. Yes, that's right: the new Lincoln Mark LT is a pickup truck. It's also tangible proof that Lincoln-Mercury's marketing department has completely lost their way. Admittedly, it's been seven years since the Mark VIII rolled out of the company's Wixom plant– a lifetime in the halls of the glass house. But there's no getting around the fact that the new Lincoln Mark LT luxury pickup truck is the wrong name for the wrong vehicle for the wrong company.

It's also a bizarre development. After all, Lincoln already has a perfectly good model suitable for Marking-up: the Navigator. The Ford Expedition-based luxury SUV has been one of Lincoln's few real bright spots in the last five years. It's got street cred, a loyal customer base and time-tested mechanicals. An open-bed Navigator with upmarket exterior and interior trim would have offered Lincoln buyers a logical jump from the donor model; much like the Cadillac Escalade leads into the Escalade EXT. Common sense, marketing and sales would have been equally well served.

But not history. Even a Navigator pickup would represent a major diminution of the Mark nameplate. For over half a century, many different cars in the Ford family have worn the Mark moniker. With a few notable exceptions, they were all relatively small two-door coupes or convertibles. They all had large, powerful engines and lavish appointments. From the very beginning, these popular and cherished Marks were designed to appeal to connoisseurs of the "personal luxury car"– not NASCAR dads.

All of the early Marks were style leaders; the first two are part of The Museum of Modern Art's prestigious permanent collection. Later Marks showcased the very best technology Ford could muster, from air suspension to DOHC, 32-valve V-8s. In fact, the Mark has been the one Ford car that has remained true to Edsel Ford's original vision of a distinct and distinguished model line based on elevated quality, style and performance.

To keep the faith with its fabled Mark-badged ancestors, to add major value to the current Lincoln model range, the new Mark model should have been a coupe or convertible aimed directly at the Cadillac XLR, Lexus SC430 and Mercedes SL. The Mark X concept, based on the Thunderbird platform, showed that an elegant coupe could be created on the existing T-Bird's underpinnings– just as Lincoln had done in the past.

Ford's had several other platforms in its corporate cupboard that would have been ideal for Mark product designers. The LS-based platform developed for the Mustang, for example, is capable of taking the largest Ford passenger car engines and boasts the technical sophistication needed for a "proper" Mark (e.g. an independent rear suspension). Although this design was eventually dropped in favor of a cheaper alternative, the lion's share of the development was done and dusted.

Lincoln's new Mark also could have been based on a shorter Lincoln Town Car– a platform that proved suitable for the Mark IX concept. If Lincoln had updated this platform, the brand could have produced a new, smaller Lincoln AND a new Mark. Or, if Ford had the moxie, they could have built a new Mark based on the high-tech Ford GT platform. Although expensive, a re-skinned and reengineered 500hp Mark would have blown the competition into the weeds!

Alas, Ford lacked both the will and the courage to create something unique and daring that could live up to the renowned Mark name.

No surprise there. Since 1990, The Blue Oval Boys have reduced the Lincoln brand to nothing more than an exercise in badge engineering, with little to offer customers aside from leather upholstery, wood accents, a powerful stereo and a new grill. Predictably, sales have suffered. And now, this… A pickup truck that dares call itself a Mark.

In the last five years, Lincoln has lost over half of its market share. Had it not been for the Navigator, the decline would have been even more dramatic. This grasp at an old name, with no sense of its history or true meaning, demonstrates that Lincoln and Ford's marketing departments lack the creativity and determination needed to reverse Lincoln's slide.

When all is said and done, the new Mark LT pickup truck is nothing more than a nicely appointed Ford F150. Mark owners who understand the nameplate's significance don't want a pickup truck, and F150 owners don't need a Lincoln (especially when lavish versions of the F150 like the King Ranch edition are widely available). The new Mark LT cheapens a name that once stood for automobiles that were special, enduring and desirable. It will be no more successful than Lincoln's last attempt at an upmarket pickup: the short-lived Blackwood.

Bob Elton
Bob Elton

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