Forget all about Jimmy Fallon and that puddle of beige goo Lincoln has been calling cars of late. Let's go back to a time when Lincoln meant class. It meant style. It meant "personal luxury" and all of the loud polyester tie, wide lapel wearing glory that entails.
When you see the words "personal" and "luxury" used in the same sentence, a variety of things can come to mind. Whatever those things are, you have to assume that they're big, unpractical and American. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Lincoln Continental Mark series cars were FoMoCo's premier personal luxury cars from the baroque lux-focused late-'60s all the way through Detroit's awful Malaise years.
Even though the personal luxury car concept is patently ridiculous – a car that's neither sporty nor all that useful for anything other than transporting golf clubs and a brief case, and using a lot of gas in the process – they do have a certain allure to them. Aside from Rodney Dangerfield characters and the schlubs Lincoln used in its curious late-'60s ad campaign, plenty of 1972's classy gents were interested enough in the Lincoln Continental Mark IV Coupe to buy one new.
The Mark IV – a refined (and then, when emissions controls were tightened in 1973, curtailed) version of the '69-'71 Mark III – was exactly what Ford's then-CEO Lee Iacocca wanted. It was a Thunderbird chassis with some fancy bodywork and a fake Rolls Royce grille slapped on for a bit of style. The idea sounds silly; not at all unlike the badge engineering awfulness we've seen so much of ever since. But the final result is an unexpectedly graceful car that looks good everywhere from a Ritz Carlton driveway to a '70s Blaxploitation flick. It sold like hotcakes, so Iacocca must have had the right idea.
Full Disclosure: I've always loved these big, gorgeous, wallowing behemoths. In college I drove an '86 Lincoln Town Car, and always had my eye on the '78 Diamond Jubilee Mark V my neighbor was selling for way too much money. But I've always found the early Mark IVs the apogee of Lincoln's post 1960s baroque styling – a far cry from the same-as-everything-else beige blobs Lincoln serves up today.
Cecil Campbell was good enough to indulge my Lincoln preoccupation. He told me that when he bought the car 15 years ago, a '72 Lincoln Continental Mark IV was the farthest thing from his mind. He was actually looking for a '50s classic. But there it was, a sweet long nosed, short decked yellow beauty. So he scooped it up and the rest is history.
We drove the car around Williamsburg, Va., and despite it being a wretchedly cold and overcast day, people appeared out of the woodwork to gawk at the car. Little kids pointed and asked questions (I may have heard something in there about marine biology); old men took pictures and smiled wistfully; the bellhop at the stately Williamsburg Inn grinned and gave us a brisk salute as I wheeled it past Lexus and Mercedes SUVs parked along the hotel's roundabout. People still know classy when they see it, even if they don't have a guy wearing white loafers and a plaid sports coat telling them what to look for.
Lincoln's Continental Mark III – Iacocca's rebadged, Rolls-grilled Thunderbird – is a counterintuitively sexy car. Its long snout and short rear deck, outfitted with a fake continental spare tire bulge, gives the car pleasing dimensions. By 1972, FoMoCo had smoothed out some of the styling details, and the knife edged fenders weren't so in-your-face. With a longer body, lower stance, and larger grille, the Mark IV looks more like something that would show up in a film noir piece or a highly stylized comic book. It's awesome to behold.
Many (aside from our own Jason Torchinsky) would take issue with the yellow hue on Mr. Campbell's Mark IV, preferring a darker, more sedate color. But even the yellow works, giving it a garish look that kind of goes with its distinct, exaggerated styling.
My biggest beef with modern cars is that their interiors give me a headache. In most models, there's too much going on. But that's not the case inside the '72 Mark IV. Lincoln deduced (correctly) that its 1972 buyer wanted the type of luxury that would effect a seamless transition from a leather and wood-bedecked office/boardroom to wood paneled home study/wife-and-kids-avoidance room.
Usually, you spend most of your time looking at the inside of a car, so why shouldn't it be soothing and comfortable. The Mark IV's brown leather couches feel sumptuous and rich, and the faux wood dash, although constructed entirely of cheap plastic, has an angular orderliness that reassures the undoubtedly male driver of this car (because honestly, what woman in her right mind would want to pilot such a monster) that his position as master of all he surveys is secure for now.
Ford's 460 V8 is a hell of a thing. Installed in a smaller car, it would be like attaching a rocket engine to a wood and canvas WWI biplane. The Mark IV is more of a Saturn V kind of a car; heavy and straight. It's 212 hp mill has plenty power to launch a 5,000 pound sled from its pad (an upscale suburban driveway). After 1972, Detroit's muscle car era big block V8 prowess fell prey to tightening federal emissions standards, and once-mighty motors like the 460 were robbed of most of their grunt by the choking and squeezing of terribly engineered anti-pollution devices slapped onto motors that weren't meant to have them.
Unfortunately, the swan song of unfettered 460 Lincoln power came two years before the Mark IV's debut, when higher compression ratios made for a 365 hp power rating. Still, the emission control-free low compression V8 cranks out a respectable amount of power.
I cannot tell a lie. The brakes on this thing were terrible. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that old brake fluid and/or an improperly adjusted pedal were partly at play here. But I think the main culprit was a tendency in the days when this car was designed to put small brakes and skinny tires on huge cars. I guess they didn't know any better, but still. There were a couple of times I thought I was going to plow right through a Kia or Toyota at a short light.
Until relatively recently, Lincoln's schtick has been providing a cloudlike ride. The '72 Mark IV is no exception. I took it out on the freeway, and it was as if there were no irregularities on the road's surface. If ever there were an automotive equivalent to a sedan chair ride, this is it. As you glide along, the nose and sharp edged fenders, waaaay out in front, sway along lazily, as if guiding you along. The throaty burble of the huge V8 only adds to the car's I'm-American-and-better-than-everyone-else pleasure.
That dreamlike ride turned into a nightmare whenever a turn broke up the morphine high serenity of straight line driving. The Mark IV's spongey suspension was great for soaking up pesky road bumps, but when it came time to swing the rudder one way or the other, well, let's just say that Captain Cook may have had it easier steering his ship around the Cape Horn in a gnarly storm. That once tranquil view of a placidly floating nose ornament turned ugly as the whole world lurched sideways and all of the car's prodigious weight hefted to the outer two wheels.
Ford's C6 transmission was one of the best automatics they ever made. It was used with great success in big trucks, and it served well in Lincoln's ponderous land yachts, too. The only way you know the shift has happened is that the tone of the car's huge engine changes to a lower pitch. There is no lurch, hesitation, or slipping. You could probably tow a 30-foot-long boat with this car and its transmission would act the same way.
The only bummer about the C6 is that it doesn't have an overdrive, which would increase gas mileage a bit. But on a 5,000 pound car with a 7.5-liter V8, that's splitting hairs as far as most people are concerned. Owning a car like this means that you waste resources because you can.
Other than looking like a baller, I can't think of too many practical uses for a '72 Lincoln Mark IV. You could drive it to work every day, but you'd have to buy a small Middle Eastern country to gas the thing up. Although its proportions are brobdignagian, there's little useable space inside. The trunk, which you would assume could fit at least three or four freshly murdered mob associates, could barely fit one, and that only with some creative hacking and lots of extra plastic sheeting.
Let's also not forget that parking a 19-foot-long car is a ludicrous way to spend time. I guess that's what valets are for.
But you can fit a bag of golf clubs in the trunk, and maybe even a small suitcase or two. Honestly, if you're taking a road trip in this thing, it means you have money to pay for $100 fill ups every couple of hours. If you can do that, why bring anything? You can just buy new stuff when you get to your destination.
Just look at the profile of this car. Its designer saw a low slung late-'40s fastback climbing up a mist covered canyon road in some old movie and said to himself – "Hey self, I think we can do that even now that plaid pants are cool." A Mark IV looks like the kind of car a millionaire detective would use to chase down the perpetrator of a string of grisly call girl murders (never mind that he was a client of one or two). At the same time, it could be – with the quick addition of a set of wide white wall tires, chrome curb feelers, and a La Cucaracha air horn – the ride of a top tier Harlem pimp.
In short, it's a jack of all trades for classy gents who have a stately statement to make. The Mark III wasn't quite low enough to have the simple comic book flamboyance of the Mark IV, and later Marks fell further and further away from that ultimate balance of pimptasticness that had been reach in that most pimptastic of years: 1972.
Lincoln Mark IVs aren't the rarest cars in the world, and essentially, they're badge engineered Ford Thunderbirds (albeit really good ones). That doesn't help their collectibility. But they are beautiful cars that can be had in decent shape for not too much money. As time goes on and more disappear into recycling yards and backwoods hollers, they'll certainly become more rare. Let's also not forget that Lincoln seems to be on an inexorable march toward oblivion as it offers one unremarkable model after another. When the axe finally falls and Lincoln goes the way of the dodo, you might want to have one of these representations of the company's former luxury car prowess on hand as a reminder of its better days.
Besides, Lincoln books and movies are all the rage right now, so who knows. Maybe Lincoln cars are the next logical step.
- Engine: 460 cid/4V (7.5-liter) gasoline V8
- Power: 212 HP @ 4,400 rpm / 342 LB-FT @ 2,400 rpm
- Transmission: C6 3-speed automatic
- 0-60 Time: 10.8 seconds
- Top Speed: 121 mph (in a straight line)
- Drivetrain: Rear wheel drive
- Curb Weight: 4,993 LBS
- Seating: two huge leather benches
- MPG: 10-12 mpg
- original MSRP: $8,640 (about $47,000 in 2012 dollars)
Photo credit: Benjamin Preston