Story and photos by B. Mitchell Carlson
Between the introduction of the Mark IV and its demise, there were several important events that would start to change not only the personal luxury car market, but the auto industry as a whole. The Arab oil embargo of 1973, in particular, ushered in gas shortages and dramatic increases in the price of gasoline. There was talk — and some action — to get more fuel-efficient vehicles in the market. There were also some early attempts by more radical environmental interests at social engineering to create a stigma against big, fuel-thirsty cars. This created rumors that the traditional American luxury was about to become extinct. However, the market share that generally bought these cars were financially successful and conservative in their views — and were greatly taken aback by such talk. If anything, they seemed to become more deeply entrenched in their desire to own a “land yacht.” While the fuel crisis years of 1973-’74 saw sales of all luxury cars drop dramatically, by 1976 that market was starting to rebound. With all of this in mind, Lincoln-Mercury started to downsize their cars.
The new-for-1977 Mark V may look leaner and trimmer than the previous Mark IV, but in actuality, it physically grew in stature, but only by fractions of an inch in most dimensions. On the other hand, its traditional stable mate, the T-Bird, had become so bloated that it was actually the Mark IV’s most formidable competitor in the marketplace, with nearly the same price. The product planners at Ford saw their market share threatened by the burgeoning personal luxury segment, with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chrysler Cordoba, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Century fighting off the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme as the sales leader in the segment (and as the best selling of all cars in the U.S. in 1977). As a stopgap, they dressed up a Grand Torino as an Elite for 1975, but the long-term solution was to get the T-Bird slimmed down in both stature and price. The new 1977 T-Bird hit the target, shattering sales records that hadn’t been seen since the four-place ’Bird usurped the original two-seat convertible.
Since it had been constantly outselling the relatively unchanged Eldorado since 1974, the fresh look of the Mark V was a runaway success, as 1977 was its most successful year with 80,321 units sold. That nearly doubled the sales of Eldorado’s 47,344 cars.
In a way, the Mark V went back to some of Lincoln’s history with the squared-off, slab-sided body reminiscent of the 1960s, now interrupted by a set of three functional front-fender vent louvers. If the rounded and more heavily radiused wheel well openings seem a bit over scale for the 15-inch wheels on the car, it was initially for a good reason. Ford and Michelin were cooperating on a new tire design which incorporated a larger rim and a smaller sidewall profile. Late in the Mark V development stage, Ford opted out, due, in some reason, to the way it looked. Little did they know that they were just 30 years too early, as this concept has arrived in the 21st century in the aftermarket with huge “bling” wheels on exceptionally low-profile tires. Individual tastes still haven’t come to a consensus if this is stylin’ or just plain tacky on a Mark V. On the other hand, the new wheels that were available, in addition to the forged alloys, were the “turbine” aluminum wheels, which became the premium wheel used with the Designer Editions.
While the Mark V was slightly bigger, it was also 450 pounds lighter. Bear in mind that this is comparing the new Mark V only with the previous-year Mark IV, as the previous model had already gone up and down in weight. The 1972 model checked in on the scales at 4,792 pounds, had quickly ballooned up to 5,362 pounds by 1974 and started its diet in 1975 with a final 1976 weight of 5,051 pounds. The new Mark V was relatively starved at 4,652 pounds. This was due to the use of thinner-gauge sheet metal and glass, removing the rear quarter window motors and fixing the glass in place and by using a smaller base engine.
The now-standard 400-cid V-8 was from an entirely different engine family, going back to the 260-cid small-block architecture. The 400 was basically a 351 Cleveland with a longer-stroke crankshaft. This motor was configured with a Motorcraft two-barrel carburetor, in lieu of the four-barrel that was always on the 460. The difference in the engine weights was nearly 150 pounds. As the 460 was now regulated to being optional in 49 states (California, of course, being the exception due to Ford willingly letting the CARB certification on the 460 lapse), that made the 460-equipped cars hit the scales at 4,950 pounds. So where did the extra weight come from beyond the 150 pounds? Simple: larger ancillary components. The prime example under the hood was the change in power brakes. On the 400-cid cars, they had a vacuum booster, while on the 460s, they were still equipped with the Hydroboost since 1975, which was hydraulically run off the power steering pump. More lines, bigger booster and more power steering fluid equals more weight. The 460 could also be optioned separately with dual exhausts, something that was not available on the 400. This also made the 460-equipped Mark Vs something of a gentleman’s hot rod, with the best power-to-weight ratio since the high-compression Mark III’s. The Mark V may have been on a diet, but it wasn’t going down without a fight.
The trim levels between 1976 and 1977 didn’t change too much, either. In fact, the color combinations of the Cartier and Bill Blass Designer Editions remained exactly the same (only the 1978 Cartiers in this era weren’t in Dove Gray with Dove Gray Landau roofs – when customers choose light tan paint and full vinyl roof). While there were still several Designer Edition color combinations that could be created by the customer, they tended to be more sedate than before, mostly in blues, maroons and browns. It was also not as well known, but you could still custom-order your Mark V in any factory color combination that was available in the palette, even if it wasn’t part of a recommended package or combination. I personally know of a 1978 Mark that was ordered with Wedgewood Blue paint and a Maroon leather interior. Why? Blue was the wife’s favorite color, and maroon was the husband’s favorite.
The year 1978 was the 75th anniversary for Ford Motor Co., and for the occasion, it pulled out all of the stops on the Mark V and created Ford’s first car to exceed $20,000 as standard — the Diamond Jubilee Edition. They were available in only two colors — Diamond Fire Blue and Jubilee Gold — with color-coordinated velour interior. Second only to the recently introduced Lincoln Versailles, both of these pigments were among the first automotive finishes in today’s industry standard base coat/clear coat paint. Ford really gilded the lily with the Diamond Jubilees, as they were stuffed with nearly every option in the book as standard equipment. In fact, the only options that weren’t part of the package, but could be ordered on them, were the 460-cid engine (excepting, of course, in California) with or without dual exhaust, Sure Track (an early variant of ABS, dating to the Mark III), power moonroof, Limited Slip differential and audio systems (the most popular upgrade was the AM/FM/CB radio with integrated microphone which debuted in 1977). There were also a number of features that were not available on any other Mark V. The most obvious were the unique bucket seats and center console (both based upon the sport package on the T-Bird). Inside, the armrest portion of the console was a compact umbrella, and inside the glove box was a color-coordinated leather cover for the owner’s manual. In the trunk was another color-coordinated leather item, a fully stocked tool roll. The trunk was also upholstered in the same plusher cut-pile carpet as the interior, and the outside of the trunk lid had a vinyl covering over the rear simulated spare tire hump on the back. The trunk hump carried the same unique vinyl texture as the rear-half-roof vinyl top, with unique forward coach lamps. The porthole windows were a unique beveled-glass treatment with the Diamond Jubilee Edition script imbedded in the middle and a simulated diamond chip dotting the “i” in “Diamond.”
Based on the success of the Diamond Jubilee Edition (relative, as they were fixed at 5,159 units, or generally one per dealer), Lincoln followed that up in 1979 with the Collector’s Series. Since this was the last year of the Mark V’s product cycle, Ford was going to send it off with a bang. And a clearing out of the corporate parts bin. Most of the unique trim, interior fittings and accoutrements were part of the Collector’s Series package. Three of the biggest variances from the previous-year Jubilee were the deletion of the porthole rear window, a greater selection of colors (initially only in Midnight Blue Metallic, but by mid year also in white, light blue and silver) and the fact that they made as many as the company could crank out — they weren’t a one-per-dealer item. On top of that, it was also carried over to the soon-to-be-downsized Continental Town Car, albeit with less of the accessories like the tool pouch, the umbrella, the padded deck lid hump (since there wasn’t a hump) and also without the porthole rear window (which joined the Continental stable in 1975, thanks to the success of the Mark IV).
One option that didn’t make it to 1979 was the 460-cid V-8, as this was in the early years of CAFE standards, and FoMoCo needed to shave mpgs any way possible. While the big profit maker Mark was selling well, Ford’s economy cars weren’t doing as well. Another widely held myth about these cars is that the 460 could be a special-order item. This is simply impossible, as the 460 was not certified in 1979 and wasn’t available in any Ford passenger car. Its availability was even suspended in light-duty trucks early in the 1979 model year, becoming available in 3/4-ton F250s and 1-ton F350s mid-year, and that was a slightly different engine, with a new camshaft profile.
Also for 1979, Ford spiced up the color palette significantly, discontinuing a number of duller paint hues for brighter base coat/clear coat finishes such as Turquoise Metallic. Like in previous years, this also included the Designer Editions. The surprise success of 1979 was the Bill Blass Designer Edition. For this year, they went with a nautical theme, with a navy blue-on-white paint scheme. It was fitted with the white Carriage Roof treatment (first offered in 1978 with an initially lukewarm response) and the white-and-navy theme repeated in the leather interior. Not only was this the best selling of the Designer Editions, it has since become one of the most collectible of all of the Mark Vs.
However, the end of the large land yacht was nigh, and this was reinforced towards the end of the model year, when the second energy crisis started. This time, for all intents and purposes, the only people buying Mark Vs were doing so as future collectibles. Therefore, Ford quietly shut down the Wixom assembly plant on June 8 to re-tool early for the new downsized Continental and Mark VI of 1980. While the successor retained a lot of the styling cues (the popular Bill Blass was an exact duplicate of 1979 in smaller scale), they didn’t look as graceful and appeared out of proportion on a smaller canvas, coming off almost as a caricature of the Mark V.
Editor’s note: The preceding story is the second part of a two-part article on 1970s Lincoln Mark IV and V Continentals. Please see other article online at www.oldcarsweekly.com