Curbside Classic: 1977 Lincoln Versailles

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic 1977 lincoln versailles

Deception (and self deception) is a very significant factor in the automobile business. Unless we buy a stripper Corolla (so conveniently parked here) or the like, we’re happy enough to pay more to feel like we’re not just getting transportation, but something that enhances our sense of well-being and social status. One of the biggest questions for automobile executives forever is how much of a premium folks are willing to pay for that. What’s the upper limit you can charge strictly for the sizzle when there’s little or no steak? It somehow seems fitting that we consider the most extreme real-world test of that question on Honest Abe’s birthday: the Versailles, the ultimate pig in a poke.

The Cadillac Cimarron is usually trotted out as the most egregious winner=loser of the category. But lets take a closer look: the Cimarron’s mark up over the price of a base Cavalier was almost exactly 100%. Same car and engine, except for a nicer interior and some exterior trim. At least the Cimarron was positioned at the bottom of the Cadillac line-up, a small and economical Caddy for those that felt so inclined/suckered. Still, a pretty rich markup (and price, $27k, adjusted) for a wheezy 1.8 liter econo-box with a leather interior. But the Versailles was decidedly more ambitious than that; in its pricing, that is.

Cadillac had rocked the luxury car market pretty hard with its Seville in 1975. For once, GM outfoxed Ford in identifying a new personal luxury car market niche, although with a four door. It seems that Ford’s biggest hits were always coupes. But the Seville was trying to recapture the magic of smaller but more expensive Caddys of the past; the brilliant 60 Special of 1938, and the Eldorado Brougham of 1957, especially in light of the onslaught of the more compact Mercedes sedans, which also were pushing the sizzle envelope in relation to what taxi drivers in Germany were paying for theirs. At least some real steak came with them.

The Seville was loosely based on the Nova platform of the times, which it shared with the Camaro. That was considered to be about the best handling domestic platform then. But that was just a jumping off point; the Seville had a longer wheelbase and a completely different body, tastefully designed for its intended mission. It also got a unique engine, an advanced fuel injected version of the Olds 350. And it was extensively engineered for a decent ride to handling relationship, as well as a completely unique and appropriately upscale interior.

Ford was caught napping with the Seville, which was priced about 20% higher than the most expensive big Fleetwood Brougham. And it did its intended job, selling some 43-55k units per year during its successful first incarnation. So what was Ford’s solution? A pig in a poke. (The derivation of that expression goes back to the Middle Ages, when unscrupulous folks would deceive unwary buyers by to selling a (non-existent) pig sewn into a poke (burlap bag)).

The 1977 Versailles is a 1977 Ford Granada ( shown here with its proud Daddy), along with a borrowed Continental grille and fake spare-tire hump on its ass, and some leather thrown around inside. I’m sure some softer suspension bushings and springs were part of that “notable engineering achievement”. The 132 hp carbureted 302 engine certainly wasn’t. Or the Granada’s notorious mediocre handling. Never mind the build quality.

If anyone could push the pricing frontier, it would be Lee Iacocca. And just how did he price his tarted-up Granada? Exactly three times higher than its lowly donor. $12,529 ($35k adjusted) was a piece of change back then, and like the Seville, the Versailles was the most expensive Lincoln money could buy. There really is a sucker born every minute.

Maybe not every minute, but enough for Lincoln to move somewhere between 9k and 21k units the first three years. By 1980, the jig was up, there was no pig in the poke (or was there?) and sales collapsed. But there was a replacement in the wings, and this time the Fairmont would be the donor, although somewhat better disguised.

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  • Wesley77versailles Wesley77versailles on Jun 17, 2013

    I just picked up a 77 Versailles. (And i'm a mustang guy)Factory 351 Windsor 4 wheel hydro assist brakes ( the most sensitive I've ever seen) and 9" rear end and factory bolt on sub frame connectors. Everything I would like in a mustang. All the gadgets work and the car is a joy to drive. I love it. My plates are ordered HTRDLKN . Guess where this is going?!

  • Swilliams41 Swilliams41 on Apr 23, 2019

    I wonder why Ford did not use the European Granada as the basis for Lincolns luxury car?

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂