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?

  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.
  • Sgeffe There's someone around where I live who has a recent WRX-STi, but the few times I've been behind this guy, he's always driving right at the underposted arbitrary numbers that some politician pulled out of their backside and slapped on a sign! With no gendarmes or schoolkids present! Haven't been behind this driver on the freeway, but my guess is that he does the left lane police thing with the best of 'em!What's the point of buying such a vehicle if you're never going to exceed a speed limit? (And I've pondered that whilst in line in the left lane at 63mph behind a couple of Accord V6s, as well as an AMG E-Klasse!)
  • Mebgardner I'm not the market for a malleable Tuner / Track model, so I dont know: If you are considering a purchase of one of these, do you consider the Insurance Cost Of Ownership aspect? Or just screw it, I'm gonna buy it no matter.The WRX is at the top of the Insurance Cost pole for tuner models, is why I ask.
  • Mebgardner Wishing for the day of open source software in EVs, including the OS. Lets have some transparency in the algorithms and controls. No Fair data hoovering my phone when connected.I'm also wondering at the level of CANBus components in this vehicle.