Curbside Classic: 1977 Lincoln Town Car

curbside classic 1977 lincoln town car

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.

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  • Farrah77 Farrah77 on Jun 30, 2012

    I have a pristine one of these - unlike the pictured one, I look after mine. Ice Blue Moondust, no vinyl roof (I had it removed), no opera windows, and a medium blue velour interior that looks new. A PA state Feb 1977 Town Car with the 460. It's my daily driver/commuter and an absolute joy to own and drive. I wish every trip was longer and arrive at every destination relaxed and soothed. It averaged about 6.5mpg city (I live in a big, congested city and work downtown) and barely reached 11 on a highway cruise, so I had it fully converted to LPG, and now its even better to drive. Smoother, and far cheaper to run. Am I able to post pictures here? Dermot

  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.