Much to the delight of accountants at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, the new Thunderbird-based 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III was an immediate sales success. It was a case of the right product (a personal luxury coupe) at the right time. The Mark III went head-to-head with its rival and closest competition, the Cadillac Eldorado.
And though the Eldorado nameplate had a long history and was better established than the Mark, Lincoln’s offering topped the Cadillac in sales in its first year. Part of that was down to an exceptionally long first model year that padded the figures, but credit also went to the excitement generated by the Mark. Mark III was all new in 1968 (for the ‘69 model year), while the front-drive E-body Eldorado had been on sale since 1967. Though a few updates happened within its debut model year (that ran from March 1968 to December 1969), product vice president Lee Iacocca knew his pet project needed additional updates to keep consumer interest going.
Today we return to the groovy year of 1968 in our Lincoln Mark timeline. In March, the quickly and affordably developed Continental Mark III made its debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida. It generated plenty of buyer excitement overnight, and went on sale immediately. Based on the fifth generation Thunderbird, Lincoln’s most exciting car was once again a halo personal luxury coupe.
After almost a decade where Lincoln offered a small number of variations of the Continental sedan that debuted in 1961, the Mark III was something different. We covered its development and styling in our last entry, and now it’s time to step inside a world of gently tufted luxury.
We return to the Lincoln Mark story at a very promising time for the personal luxury coupe. Aside from Ford’s floundering Thunderbird, several other new PLC models arrived in the late sixties. Every major Detroit automaker had one, and circa the turn of the Seventies even more would arrive!
Together, they formed three tiers of personal luxury, segmented by asking price. At the top was the long-standing Cadillac Eldorado, and in the middle were the Thunderbird, Buick Riviera, and Oldsmobile Toronado. They’d be joined in the Seventies by the likes of the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chrysler Cordoba, and Chevy Monte Carlo.
In 1965 Ford’s VP of passenger car product, Lee Iacocca, decided he’d make some use of the fifth-generation Thunderbird’s platform for a higher PLC purpose. With as much parts sharing and cost saving as possible, he’d create a luxurious new Mark that could take on the Eldorado. Ignoring the Marks III, IV, and V of the Fifties, the new Mark would start at III, and attempt to connect itself with the ultra-luxurious Continental Mark II of 1956. We begin today (oddly) with some endurance racing.
We finish up our Abandoned History coverage of the long-lived UltraDrive transmission today. The pursuit of simplification, modernization, less weight, and better fuel economy lead to the creation of the electronically controlled four-speed A604 marketed as UltraDrive. The idea floated around at Chrysler in the Seventies and then was greenlit and put into production (before it was ready) by an eager Lee Iacocca. A case of unfortunate timing, the new transmission arrived in 1989 at a time when there was almost no exciting news in Chrysler’s product portfolio. Thus the UltraDrive name was coined by marketing, and the new and advanced transmission was featured heavily in the company’s PR materials in 1989 and 1990.
The UltraDrive’s debut version was prone to numerous types of failures because of fluids and sensors, build quality, parts, really everything. But engineers at Chrysler quickly massaged the A604 into the improved 41TE that was ready for use midway through the 1990 build year. UltraDrive was up and running within acceptable reliability standards per Chrysler. Clearly, it was time to create more UltraDrive variations!
Today we reach the 22nd and final installment in the Imperial series. In our last edition, we reviewed the development and birth of the final production car to wear the Imperial name: The super-extended K-car platform known as the Y-body. Lee Iacocca was keen on the idea of a full-size luxury sedan for the elderly customer, but Chrysler had neither the resources nor the platform to do it properly. Thus the Y-body appeared, and its angular and pencil-thin shape went on sale in 1990 alongside the similarly lengthened Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue. Speaking of angles, let’s talk about that sweet money-saving clip swap action.
The recent Rare Rides Icons post on the 1990 Chrysler Imperial Super-K Gingerbread Cookie Edition generated a few comments not only about the subject in question but its four-speed UltraDrive transmission. It seems more than one of you wants a discussion – no – an essay on the UltraDrive. Wish granted! Here we go.
We find ourselves at the final two installments of the long-running Imperial series today. It’s been almost six months since the first Imperial entry, when a new model was dreamt up by Chrysler’s founder as competition for the likes of Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker. The Imperial name outlived most of the Twenties competition it was designed to beat, though along the way it drifted both nearer and further to the original mission. The concluding entrant into the Imperial lineage was definitely the weakest ever. K-car time, commence!
Here we are, the 20th installment of the Imperial series. We’ve covered the Imperial’s inception as a coach-built car for the wealthy, through its Fifties rebirth as an independent brand with hand-built quality that rivaled the best luxury car makers had to offer. From there Imperial’s tale was ups and downs (mostly downs) as Chrysler’s luxury arm continually found itself less independent, and more tied to the New Yorker.
But after its sad Seventies cancellation, it was time for an Eighties rebirth under the direction of CEO Lee Iacocca. He was determined to make the best, most exclusive American personal luxury coupe money could buy. To date we’ve learned about the angular bustle back exterior, the J-body Cordoba platform underneath, and the Cordoba-plus leather-lined interior, by Mark Cross. Today we continue with Iacocca’s close personal friend, Frank Sinatra (or ‘FS’ if you’re talking badges.)
We return to our Imperial series again today, and the third installment on the all-new personal luxury coupe Lee Iacocca launched in 1981 to resurrect the historical Imperial name. Unlike every other Imperial to date, the new one was available only in two-door coupe guise. The new car had the dual mission of bringing luxury car credibility back to Chrysler, and grabbing some high margin luxury coupe sales from GM and in particular, Lincoln and the Continental Mark VI. We’ve covered the exterior and the underpinnings, so today we slide into the interior, which is most definitely not covered in Rich Corinthian Leather.
In our most recent installment of our long-running Imperial coverage, the Eighties dawned with a resurrection of the Imperial name and the debut of an exciting new personal luxury coupe. Chrysler’s new chairman Lee Iacocca was determined to recreate the runaway success he’d had at Ford with the Lincoln Continental Mark III. But that meant a simultaneous ask that luxury coupe buyers ignore the very recent financial troubles that plagued the Detroit automaker. And while the exterior of the new Imperial coupe was all bustleback and new angles, its platform and mechanicals were not quite as exciting. Let’s talk about Mirada, Cordoba, and the reliability benefits of electronic fuel injection.
In our last Imperial entry, we found the brand’s run came to an end. In production since 1926 and an independent brand since 1955, the Imperial fizzled out to nothing after 1975. Chrysler closed its luxury Imperial division, and the once proud two- and four-door Imperials were stripped of some standard features and rebranded into the Brougham trim of the New Yorker. The Imperial name had come a long way from its beginnings as a super luxurious coach built car for the wealthy, and ended up as a slightly nicer New Yorker with more formal front and rear clips. But 1975 was not the end of the Imperial’s story, as a particular Chrysler CEO had big Imperial aspirations. To get to that point for Imperial, let’s talk about Ford.
With The General offering a costlier-than- an-S-Class Cadillac built in Turin and Hamtramck (the two assembly lines connected via custom-built 747 freighters) as well as Italianate Buicks and Oldsmobiles in the late 1980s, Lee Iacocca decided to leverage Chrysler’s investment in Maserati to create a K-Car-based Italian sports car: the TC by Maserati. Like the Allanté, Troféo, and Reatta, the TC hasn’t held its value so well over the decades, and I find the occasional example during my junkyard travels. Here’s a crashed ’91 in a yard near Denver, Colorado.
In Part V of the Rare Rides series on the Eagle Premier, I mentioned an abandoned project at Chrysler called Liberty. Announced in 1985, Liberty was supposed to be a direct challenge to GM’s recently announced Saturn brand. Or it wasn’t, depending on what day of the week Liberty was addressed.
Chrysler’s PR department and CEO Lee Iacocca seemed at odds on what the Liberty project was, but they were both sure it was very important and it would build something, probably.
When Lee Iacocca’s K-cars finally hit American showrooms for the 1981 model year, the ax that had seemed poised over Chrysler’s neck for much of the late 1970s seemed to pull back. For model year 1983, a stretched version of the K chassis became the basis of such luxurious machines as the Dodge 600, Plymouth Caravelle, and Chrysler E-Class. Just to confuse everybody, the New Yorker line bifurcated that year, with the New Yorker Fifth Avenue remaining on the same platform as the rear-wheel-drive Dodge Diplomat and the regular New Yorker becoming an E-platform sibling to the 600/E-Class/Caravelle. Here’s one of those first-year New Yorkers, found in very clean condition in a Denver-area self-service yard last week.
Once Lee Iacocca’s front-wheel-drive K-cars brought Chrysler back from near-death and into profitability, the platform became the basis of a sprawling family of K-related relatives. One of the earliest spinoffs was the E Platform, a lengthened K that gave us the Chrysler E-Class/New Yorker, the Plymouth Caravelle, and the Dodge 600. Just to confuse matters, the Dodge 600 coupe remained a true K, sibling to the Dodge Aries.
That’s what we’ve got here, and this Denver 600 coupe has some stories to tell.