Rare Rides Icons: The Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part XXVIII)
For our 28th entry in the Lincoln Mark series retrospective, we arrive at a momentous and sad occasion: the end of the traditional full-size Mark V. In 1979, fuel economy concerns of consumers and government meddling in the form of emissions standards were layered onto a car market that contained ever-increasing numbers of economical, reliable Japanese imports. Other Detroit automakers threw up the white flag by 1977 and introduced smaller full-sized cars, but Ford held on to the bitter end. And for its three-year run, the Mark V sold very well, both as Lincoln’s most prestigious car and a full-size holdout at a time when many Americans really didn’t want to buy a smaller car.
The Continental Mark V was a case of the right car at the right time. At the pinnacle of the personal luxury coupe era, the gingerbread-laden Mark V was appealing in all its guises, from skinflint Ace of Base to mid-pack Luxury Group, and on to top-tier Designer Series. Customers even snapped up the true top-tier Mark V via the Diamond Jubilee Edition of 1978 and Collector’s Series of 1979. All-in, the Mark V was the best-selling Continental Mark ever.
A total of 228,262 examples of the Mark V were sold over its three-year run. That's an impressive figure considering its close sibling the Mark IV managed only 278,599 sales over five model years. The best year for Mark IV sales was 1973, when 69,437 examples found homes across the country. The Mark V trounced this sales figure in each of its three years.
The Mark V had its best sales year at introduction in 1977 when Lincoln sold 80,321 examples. Unfortunately, a breakdown by trim is not available for that year. Sales fell slightly in 1978, down to 72,602 cars. Of that figure, 16,537 were upscale Designer Series trims.
Of the four Designer Series cars that year, the monochromatic Cartier was the most popular with 8,520 sales. Runner up was Bill Blass with 3,975 sales, its only non-nautical outing during Mark V. Close behind was the more restrained Pucci with 3,125 sales, but the vibrant Givenchy managed only 917. Lincoln raked in the profit margin cash with the invention of the Diamond Jubilee Edition and sold 5,159 examples of the blue and gold beauties that year.
Consumers were aware that 1979 was a last-of-moment, and they snapped up more Mark Vs than they did in 1978. Sales increased to 75,939 cars, comprising an even greater number of high-end examples. The Diamond Jubilee Edition was rebranded as the Collectors’ Series, and the Designer Series cars continued with their reworked themes. Both were more popular than ever before.
Though it changed little from the prior year, the Cartier Designer Series Mark V remained the most popular choice with 9,470 sales. With its return to a bold nautical theme in its outgoing year, the Bill Blass was again in second place, with 6,720 sales. The fates of the Givenchy and Pucci were reversed in 1979, as customers much preferred the newly restrained looks of the Givenchy.
With a color scheme not far from the prior year’s Diamond Jubilee, Givenchy sales increased by 75 percent to 2,262 cars. What customers didn’t really like was the bold new turquoise theme of the Pucci, which managed just 763 sales in 1979. That makes the 1979 Pucci Mark V the rarest of the Designer Series Mark Vs. The $91,000 (adj.) Collector’s Series Mark was nearly as popular as the Bill Blass, and Lincoln sold 6,262 examples.
Though we’ve discussed the engineering and mechanical edits the Mark V debuted when it arrived as a heavy rework of the Mark IV, we haven’t covered the year-to-year edits and overall improvements Lincoln made to its flagship. One important new luxury feature that arrived with the Mark V was the Illuminated Entry System. Available as a standalone option or packaged with the moonroof, the system included 25 seconds of interior lighting upon entry or egress, as well as lighted exterior lock cylinders. On approach, the lighting was activated by pulling either exterior door handle. Worth noting, quickly Cadillac mimicked this setup as part of Twilight Sentinel and included lighted lock cylinders into the Nineties on its cars.
Engineering improvements were implemented in 1978, as it turned out the emissions-strangled V8s needed better cooling. To that end, a larger radiator appeared, as did new heater core inlets and radiator hoses. Unfortunately for the base 400 cubic-inch (6.6L) engine, there was less to cool: The engine was detuned a bit to net better fuel economy. Buyers of the 460 (7.5L) V8 suffered no such detuning.
For 1978 the often lighted door lock cylinders were updated, and so was the ignition lock. Both changes were to deter thieves from absconding with the desirable Mark V. Paint quality improved (in some colors) in 1978, as Lincoln added their newly-developed two-stage base and clear coat paint process to the Mark V and Continental. Developed for the Versailles, the paint process debuted with that car midway through 1977. Worth noting, two-stage paint was only available on metallic (Moondust) paint colors.
The previous year’s detuning of the base 400 engine was in preparation for a bigger change in 1979: The discontinuation of the 460 V8. In the name of meeting new CAFE standards (enforced from 1978), the 400 became the only engine available in the Mark V of 1979. Dual exhaust disappeared from the options list, and all examples made do with just one outlet.
There was a new standard stereo with a cassette player in 1979, and optional was a high-end electronic AM/FM stereo with a Quadrasonic 8-track player, as the latter form of media began its quick decline into irrelevance. Speaking of which, despite its sales, the huge 230-inch length and 400 cubic-inch engine of the Mark V meant it was irrelevant, too. The following year Ford would downsize all its full-size cars, with an all-new Mark and Continental.
In a disastrous move for Lincoln, the company downsized the Mark into the Mark VI of 1980 and moved it to the smaller Panther platform. There were two-door and four-door Marks for some reason, and despite twice as many body styles Lincoln managed only half the number of sales. We’ll pick it up there next time.
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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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