Rare Rides Icons: The Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part XXIX)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

The successes the Lincoln Continental Mark series achieved with its triumphant return as the Mark III personal luxury coupe of 1969 ensured the Mark IV of 1972 was also a success. And when the Mark V debuted on its own (reused Thunderbird) platform in 1977, it brought the Mark name to a pinnacle of sales. Laden with trim, designer editions, and special commemorative super lux limited-run cars, it was a last-of moment: Lincoln was still selling true full-size cars while the rest of Detroit had already downsized. But the clock ran out on the enormous domestic luxury boat in 1979, and Lincoln needed a do-over for 1980. Enter a big misstep, the Mark VI.

It was a dark time in the American automotive industry. Downsizing, regulation, and pressure from new Japanese competition combined with choked engines, rushed engineering, and build quality that was by and large, awful. In that light, time to put Lincoln’s lineup of 1980 into some context. 

Most important to Lincoln was the fuel economy of its new lineup. Complying with CAFE standards was absolutely necessary by 1980. To that end, both Continental and Continental Mark VI were moved onto the smaller Panther platform. A smaller platform and a smaller body meant huge weight savings. Engines were 100 or 150 cubic inches smaller, too, and were all new.

The Panther had its first usage in 1979, as the Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis downsized a year ahead of Lincoln. The benefits of launching the new smaller platform on lower-end models were many and included time to work out the kinks before a luxury launch, as well as the ability for Lincoln to tout the “last ones” nature of the full-size 1979 lineup. The latter point was a very good one, as many consumers weren’t too fond of the downsized ‘77 models from GM, or the (disastrous) R-body from Chrysler.

In 1980 the full-size Lincoln lineup was entirely new; the company’s only carryover model was the midsize (and pretty bad) Versailles. Though it was only in its third year, the Versailles was canceled after 1980 as Lincoln attempted to wash away the Granada feelings with an all-new midsize Continental for 1982.

Continental had one final outing as a full-size car. In its newly downsized Panther guise, the 1980 Continental wore its name for one model year. As with the prior generation Continental, Lincoln’s bread and butter was available as a two-door or four-door. 

While there was a four-door pillared hardtop on the prior generation Continental, it vanished with the model’s 1975 modernization. Now a staple of the Continental offerings, the upmarket Town Car and Town Coupe returned in 1980. For more luxury than Town Whatever, a customer was directed to the Continental Mark VI. 

And what a redirect it was. Unlike prior generations where Continental two- and four-door cars wore different sheet metal to the Continental Mark, the Mark VI looked almost exactly the same as the Continental. So confused were the models in fact, that a search for “1980 Continental” in Google returns almost exclusively images of the Mark VI. 

An easy way to differentiate between the two unfortunate siblings is to check the front clip. If there are headlamp doors present, it’s a Mark VI. The Continental always had exposed quad headlamps and additionally had a less formal C-pillar that lacked the trademark opera window of the Continental Mark. 

For the first time since 1960, the Continental Mark was available with four doors. You may recall that the 1960 model was the first Mark V, which was an unpopular and gigantic unibody whale. It was also a very lightly disguised version of the base model Lincoln Capri and upmarket Premiere. 

Even though the Continental model line of the late Fifties hadn’t worked, Lincoln tried it again in 1980. Mark III creator Lee Iacocca was still all about personal luxury and felt that Mark should expand and become its own lineup with a variety of luxury-oriented body styles.

The development of the Mark VI took place in the middle part of the Seventies, just as the company was riding high on the success of the Mark III and IV. The future of the personal luxury car looked as bright as ever, and a Mark sub-line was equally promising. The original idea for the Mark VI was an extreme downsizing onto the midsize Fox platform, where it would be a triplet of the Ford Thunderbird Town Landau and Mercury Cougar XR-7. 

The Fox-body Mark idea lasted only a short while, as the accountants reminded the group that there was a new Panther Continental coming and the cost amortization of building a Mark on that platform instead was not insignificant. Suddenly, the Mark’s design and product team had a larger platform to use! 

Full of enthusiasm, designers went a little wild and envisioned a Mark sedan, station wagon with wood paneling, and even a two-seat coupe. The latter two formats had never been used by any Continental. But Lincoln of the mid-Seventies wasn’t the only place where Ford executives were going a little wild with the model-as-a-lineup idea. They executed such a strategy in 1980 with the new Fox platform Mercury Cougar, which appeared as a two-door coupe and sedan, and a four-door sedan and wagon. 

However, there was a change in the wind at Ford’s management. Midway through Mark VI development in 1978, Lee Iacocca left Ford to go work at Chrysler. The cash-strapped company came calling and offered Iacocca the role of president. 

Iacocca’s arrival was a huge boon for Chrysler. Lee walked in the door and started work on the K-car project that saved the company. And he brought with him the idea of the Mini-Max, a front-drive van project that Ford killed in 1975 for fear of damaging Country Squire sales. And we all know how that one went.  

After Iacocca left Ford, the zeal for various Mark body styles was dampened. Ford decided to build only a two-door and four-door version, probably because they matched what was already planned for the Continental and were almost free to engineer. In our next entry we’ll review said malaise engineering that created the worst Continental Mark ever.

[Images: Ford]

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Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 30 comments
  • Pig_Iron Pig_Iron on Jan 30, 2023

    Never ceases to amaze. 🙂

  • Ehaase Ehaase on Jan 30, 2023

    The book Lincoln Design Heritage showed a photograph of a prototype Lincoln Town Car on the FWD Taurus platform that was boxy similar to the 1988 Chrysler New Yorker and GM's 1985 C bodies, but that car was never produced, though it looked better than the FWD 1988 Continental.

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.