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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

It didn’t take very long for the chilly reception of the downsized and Panther-based Mark VI to reach Ford HQ in Dearborn. Despite the seductive and elegant four-door Mark VI’s presence, sales were nowhere near those of the outgoing Mark V. Things continued on their downhill trend for the model’s four-year duration. It was time for an all-new take on the PLC from Lincoln.

As we discussed last time, the Mark’s sales slide was partially down to the large car buyer’s rejection of downsized models. But it was also because the PLC buyer’s profile had changed: The original elder PLC customer of the Sixties who remembered 1930s luxury coupes fondly was dead. Younger aspirational leisure suit buyers of the Seventies had procreated and moved on to larger vehicles. 

Meanwhile, two-door luxury coupe competition had increased from Europe where the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Jaguar had their own well-developed offerings. There was also increasing competition from Japanese manufacturers, who began selling upmarket coupes of their own in the Eighties. In particular, the two-doors from Continental Europe were more luxurious than ever and had gathered heaps of prestige since the early Seventies. 

Said pressures were on Lincoln’s mind in the earliest part of the Eighties, when the company planned the upcoming Continental Mark VII. It was ultimately decided the upcoming Mark VII would reunite with two of its former (lesser) colleagues, in the Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar. Time for some contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark.

The trio’s separation occurred in 1977 when Thunderbird and Cougar were downsized to share a platform with the LTD II. It was a major prestige blow for both nameplates, especially the Thunderbird. Underneath, all three of these more basic PLCs for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976). 

Such sacrifices were necessary from a product perspective since in the late Seventies GM was eating Ford’s breakfast with their second-tier PLC offerings like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. As mentioned in a previous entry, the separation also allowed greater prestige for the much more expensive Mark V. As an added bonus, Mark V continued to use the old Thunderbird platform through 1979 (which spared every expense). 

Just a few years later though, Thunderbird and Cougar led the way for the Mark via a platform move made in 1980. Both cars dumped the old LTD II chassis that year, as Ford corporate performed a major reshuffle of its platforms. The coupes were migrated onto the even smaller (but new) Fox platform with the Mustang. Both cars used a longer wheelbase than Mustang’s 100.5”: a more luxurious 108.4 inches. 

Here we must mention a short-lived 1980-1982 product lineup: Cougar. With the transition to the Fox platform, the Cougar was newly available in a conservative two-door sedan, a four-door sedan, and a station wagon in addition to its expected two-door coupe guise. The “sporty” two-door coupe was differentiated via the XR-7 name, and all examples wore such badging. Other Cougar models used a shorter 105.5-inch wheelbase and were badge-engineered versions of the Ford Futura / Mercury Zephyr. I’m shaking my head too.

Both boxy and further downsized Thunderbird and Cougar coupes lasted only from 1980 to 1982, when they were consolidated and modernized into new Fox-based generations. Known as the Aerobird by most, in 1983 the all-new Thunderbird and Cougar shared a 104.2-inch wheelbase. Though the wheelbase and sheet metal were both smaller than before, both cars looked the part with sportier, more modern bodywork. 

The models did their best to shake off the old brougham vinyl image, and head toward Euro-chasing sports excitement instead. Of the two, the Cougar wore a knife-edge window line with which your author has never come to terms. Cougar was meant to look more upright and luxurious, while Thunderbird took on a sportier persona. The new Mark VII attempted to combine both of these qualities in a new way to attract the well-heeled away from expensive European cars of two-door persuasion. 

Worth noting, the Thunderbird and Cougar did not appear in the full-line advertising of Ford or Mercury in 1983. That leads to two different possibilities: The new cars were not available for photography when the brochures were completed, or they were so different from the rest of the stodgy line that they needed their own advertising. 

As the 1980 Thunderbird went on sale, Ford’s president Donald Petersen (1926-) approached Jack Telnack (1937-) the company’s VP of design in charge of Ford’s Eighties aerodynamic styling age. The very same man who was working on the 1986 Taurus. He asked Telnack if he’d want the 1980 Thunderbird in his driveway. Telnack gave a big “No.” response, and that was the start of the completely redesigned Thunderbird and Cougar.

Both Cougar and Thunderbird debuted a year prior to the Mark VII, as Ford used the “let’s make sure they don’t all burn down” approach before launching a luxury product on a shared platform. When the Continental Mark VII arrived in 1983 it rolled into Lincoln dealers to sit beside the other Fox-based Lincoln, the Continental sedan. Such was the start of a three-prong product offering that would last some 15 years: Continental midsize sedan, Town Car full-size, and Mark personal luxury coupe. 

Though the Mark VII shared its platform with the other Fox-based coupes, Lincoln was determined not to make the same mistake it had with the Mark VI. That is, a limit to the shared body panels and components between the cars. The “Town Car Mark VI” simply could not happen again. And so when Mark VII debuted it had its own longer wheelbase, was notably larger than the Thunderbird and Cougar, and looked different too.

It also offered additional options that were not available in its lesser siblings, as well as an extensive list of standard equipment. There was even (gasp!) a European engine in some models! In our next installment we’ll talk about mechanical facts and figures, and see how Lincoln worked to distinguish the Mark from a Thunderbird or Cougar.

[Images: Ford]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

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.

More by Corey Lewis

Join the conversation
3 of 53 comments
  • William William on Apr 03, 2023

    OK, I know I going to lose credibility here, but I liked the look of the 1980 Thunderbird. Maybe the design would have done better if it was named something other than Thunderbird. As for the Cougar, I realize they were going for a more European look, but the styling never did it for me. Like I said, I liked the look that the Thunderbird took, but clearly it wasn't for everyone. So when the 84 Thunderbirds and Mark Vlls were released, they were both instant hits. I rented a few Thunderbirds with the 5.0 under hood and even got to drive the 84 turbo coup with the manual transmission on the floor. I really liked it but I had a job that required a lot of windshield time and a manual was out of the running. When I first saw the Mark Vlls, I was hooked. I eventually bought a 1990 black over black leather interior LSC. well that was me. I hadn't felt that connection since my Black on black 69 Mach l. The Mark Vll went on to be my daily driver for 5 years. I loved everything about that car, but what really pushed me over the top was the sound of thr factory duel exhaust. It had throaty yet crisp sound that went right through me. In 1995, I bought a black over black leather, Town Car Signature Series. That didn't mean I couldn't keep the LSC, which I did, but the Town Car became my daily driver. It was everything the LSC was, but a whole lot more. I wish I still had both of them. "So Many Cars, So little time.

    • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Apr 03, 2023

      The man who lived across the street from my parents in the late '80s thru the '90s was enamored with the Gen 7 ('77 - '79) Thunderbirds. He had five in various states of operation/repair/disrepair sitting in his side and back yard as well as his two daily drivers parked on the street - one in front of his house and the other in front of Mom and Dad's place. On a good day he sometimes had three operable Thunderbirds at once (meaning two were parked in front of Mom and Dad's) but, alas, those "good days" were few and very far between...

  • BEPLA BEPLA on Apr 07, 2023

    I couldn't figure out why Mercury went with that upright roofline for the 1983 Cougar for the longest time....

    ....then it occurred to me: Take the Thunderbird rear quarter windows, and flip them right for left, upside down - then design a roofline around that.

  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.
  • ToolGuy I agree with everyone here. Of course there are exceptions to what I just said, don't take everything so literally. The important thing is that I weighed in with my opinion, which is helping to move things forward. I believe we can all agree that I make an important contribution (some will differ, that is their prerogative). A stitch in time saves nine. Life isn't fair, you know. I have more to say but will continue at our next meeting. You can count on that, for I am a man of my word. We will make it happen. There might be challenges. I mean, it is what it is. This too shall pass. All we can do is all we can do. These meetings are never really long enough for me to completely express all the greatness within me, are they? Let's meet to discuss. All in a day's work. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. At the end of the day, I must say I agree with you. I think you will agree. When all is said and done, there is more said than done. But of course that is just one man's opinion. You are free to disagree. As I like to say...(I am working on my middle management skills -- how am I doing?)
  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.