Parked in Drive: 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V Bill Blass Designer Edition

Forest Casey
by Forest Casey

It’s difficult to imagine this happening today: Picture a major domestic automaker announcing the last hurrah of its largest, most opulent personal luxury car with the usual array of special edition models. But instead of letting its own designers handle the “collectible” trim-and-paint kits, it employed a fleet of famous, mostly European fashion houses to send off their last-generation model in style.

From 1976 until the early 1990s, Lincoln did exactly this for its flagship Continental coupes.

Cartier, Givenchy, Emilio Pucci were among those tapped by Ford to work their magic on the Continental, but there was one American designer hired to re-fashion the Mark V: WWII-vet and all-around badass, Bill Blass.

For 1979, the New York-based Blass chose a nautical theme, with two-tone paint, a contrasting gold pinstripe, and a choice of roof configurations including a “carriage top” (pictured here), which gave the massive coupe a cabriolet look. According to the brochure, the styling was meant to resemble “an all-American yachting party on the Fourth of July.” Because of the labor-intensive paint job and remodeled roof, the Bill Blass accessories added $2,744 to the standard cost of a Continental, more than any of the other designer editions from that model year.

The Bill Blass-badged Continentals were assembled at the end of the Mark V’s model run, from June 4 to 8, 1979. In many ways, they represent the height of 1970s excess, where luxury cars were as long as mobile homes and efficiency was an afterthought. There’s a reason the 1979 Mark V’s headline innovation was a digital gauge that estimated when you would run out of fuel. After this, the Mark VI was announced with its 14 in. shorter length and acceptable gas mileage (17 city/24 highway miles per gallon). Though fuel economy improved, the core Continental audience was not impressed, and sales slipped roughly 50 percent between 1979 and 1980.

It’s tempting to view the Mark V as an artifact from another time. Considering the complexities involved in modern brand associations, I’m not certain the Continental Designer Edition would be possible today. Would competing high-end luxury houses dare to go head-to-head with one another for sales? Would a high-end European designer want to associate their brand with an American automaker today?

For its part, FCA has been eager to incorporate other brands in its vehicles, from the John Varvatos-styled 300C in 2014 to the Fiat 500 Gucci Edition in 2013. Those associations make sense to some degree, but it’s questionable whether stereotypically American brands like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger would be a good fit to style a top-end Cadillac or Lincoln. Hilfiger might still be considered too downmarket; Lauren, with his museum-quality collection of European classics, is likely too upmarket to be interested.

As modern automakers, Cadillac and Lincoln are focused on showing the public they can deliver a luxurious experience without the need of external association. There probably won’t be a top-of-the-line Cadillac CT6 by Fleetwood or a 2018 Lincoln Continental by Carrozzeria Ghia. Chances are good that Lincoln won’t release a new Bill Blass Edition Continental, as good as that would look.

The brand partnerships that make the most sense are local. An association between Lincoln and Shinola would be logical, though upholstering a Navigator interior with Shinola leather would likely come with considerable cost when the Detroit-boosting brand’s medium-sized bag lists for a cool $895. Shinola’s clocks would look cool in a modern Continental, and you wouldn’t need to fit a ridiculous Bentley-esque watch winder as all Shinola watches are battery-powered. Now that Cadillac is officially a New York brand, it would be interesting to see a CT6 Rag & Bone Edition or an XT5 styled by Kate Spade (or Jack Spade).

For now, all we can do is browse the auction catalogues and admire this artifact of excess: a 40-year-old faux-convertible that measures a mile long, a product of a time when all-American styling could be presented without irony — the 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V Bill Blass Edition.

All photos and 2017 Lincoln Continental Bill Blass Edition mockup by author.

Forest Casey
Forest Casey

Write about cars ~and / or~ Create images of cars To both, "yes."

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  • Gtem Gtem on May 03, 2017

    Listed locally: terrehaute.craigslist.org/cto/6049512584.html I can totally see late 70s PLCs and other big land yachts pick up some steam in the collector sphere as so many were discarded as something best forgotten. And while 2 door 60s muscle cars stay out of reach for many budding old car enthusiasts, some of these traditionally less desirable options might be a good option.

  • Mike1041 Mike1041 on May 03, 2017

    I drove one of these from Ontario to Virginia and I felt like a Commadore. Heads turned wherever I went and hands were outstretched in anticipation of a large tip. Between fuel and gratuities the cost of this trip doubled. But man the ride was great. It was a great cigar smoking car. I had the swagger of a rich dude for a few days. Mooring the beast on a parallel parking street was an adventure.

    • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on May 03, 2017

      @Mike1041: Drove a less than year old '75 Mark IV (Silver) from Toronto to Florida. You are correct felt and was treated like a King. Also got a great deal of interest from the 'fairer gender', from a number of generations. Also unfortunately at one point attracted the attention of a Police Officer and his dog when late at night, at a 7-11, I locked the keys in the vehicle and had to fish them out. Just one of the three times that I have had uniformed Law Enforcement Officers pull their weapons, twice they were American.

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