One of the most interesting stories to come out of 1980s autodom was Ford’s purchase of BMW diesel engines for its Lincoln brand. Today’s Nice Price or No Dice Continental is a rare surviving example of that ill-fated plan. Let’s see if historical value holds any sway over that of the car.
About halfway through the Pixar movie Up, Carl and Russel, having reached South America via house-balloon, meet a talking dog named Dug. Dug becomes their new best friend, except for when he’s side-eyeing an errant rodent while shouting “Squirrel!”
I think that when it comes to small cars in general, and hot hatchbacks in particular, a lot of car buyers are just like Dug. Instead of focusing on a compact, easy-to-park and fuel-efficient fun car, their attention gets swayed by a tall crossover or SUV with a plaintive shout of “RAV4!” “CR-V!” or “Evoque!” Well, OK, maybe not “Evoque.”
I’m not saying that’s what happened to yesterday’s 2016 Chevy Sonic RS Turbo, I’m just making an observation. The thing of it is, that seemingly fun little car didn’t win many friends at its $11,990 price. In the end, it faced rejection in a sizable 86 percent No Dice loss.
Chevy’s Sonic was one of the last attempts by the carmaker to offer a really fuel-efficient model built here in the U.S.A. Back in the 1980s, all of the U.S. automakers were scrambling to boost their fuel economy numbers. That standard was called Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, and was first enacted in 1975 as a means of making the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. The U.S. automakers took different paths to meet the federally mandated standards.
The path that GM took for its big cars was to create a homegrown diesel V8 by adapting an Oldsmobile gas engine. GM also attempted a variable displacement engine with the Cadillac 8-6-4 but the less said about that, the better. Chrysler, meanwhile, decided it was best to churn out as many variations of its fuel-efficient four-cylinder K-cars as it could to bolster the company’s overall miles per gallon.
The strategy at Ford was somewhere in between. The company did introduce some smaller, more fuel-efficient cars built in the States, but also offered diesel engines for those seeking the ultimate in efficiency. Very wisely, however, Ford didn’t develop its own diesels, instead buying existing oil burners from other manufacturers. That meant Mazda diesel engines in Escorts and Tempos, and a small run of BMW M21 turbodiesels for the Lincoln brand.
The BMW engine proved a bit of a sales disaster for Lincoln. The M21 was offered in 1984 in both the Mark VII and the baby baroque Continental. Between the two models, Lincoln sold fewer than 2,000 diesels, and the story goes that the remaining engine stock was sold to the company building the Vixen motorhome.
That all makes this 1984 Lincoln Continental an amazing piece of automotive history. Add to that the weird mix of a European drivetrain and styling that’s a pastiche of both past Continentals and the bustle-back boot lid that Caddy had grafted onto the Seville and you’ve got yourself one truly weird car.
The Continental switched from the Panther to the Fox platform for the 1982 model year, and it was with this car that Ford actually started taking the model’s handling and ride seriously. It may look like a Holiday Inn off the New Jersey Turnpike, but underneath the car carried rack and pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes and gas-charged shocks.
The ad for this Continental is a bit confusing since the seller is actually offering it and a diesel Mark VII at the same time. Puzzlingly, the seller lists $4,500 as the price in the headline, but reading further that is revealed to be the price for the coupe.
The seller claims that the car “runs and drives great!” and says it features both a new timing belt and replacement radiator. This being a European diesel of the 1980s, it’s far more tortoise than hare, offering up a modest 114 horsepower from its 2.4 liters. Ford bought the diesels from BMW with transmissions attached, so this car runs a ZF four-speed automatic.
The engine compartment looks a bit grungy, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. The body wrapped around that actually doesn’t seem to be all that bad. It features two-tone metallic blue paint with only some modest chipping in the side stripes. One turning lamp (yes, that was once a thing) seems to have lost its lens, but the car does appear to have all four of its full wheel covers intact.
The interior looks to be leather, but we don’t really see much of that. We do get a glimpse of the digital dash, and that has seen better days.
The mileage given is 100,000, but that seems like a placeholder for the ad and nothing more. On the plus side, the title is clear, and at $4,000 this four-door Continental is the cheaper of the two cars that the seller is trying to unload.
What do you think, is there $4,000 worth of value in this rare but fated Continental? Or, is there no price that will get this diesel Lincoln in anywhere but the history books?
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