The Lincoln Versailles was the first mid-size car from Ford Motor Company's Lincoln luxury division. It was sold from 1977 to 1980, as a four-door sedan only, with a total production of 50,156. The Versailles was largely a response to the great success of the smaller Cadillac Seville which had appeared in 1975. The Seville was based upon the Chevrolet Nova and became an instant hit. Ford responded by choosing the Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch as the base for a new mid-size Lincoln sedan.
Ford did not have as much development capital to spend on its vehicles as General Motors, which was a problem that has often led to the similar bodies of Ford and Mercury models. Until the Versailles, however, care had generally been taken to give Lincolns a distinct appearance and feel, in order to hide their sometimes humble origins although by the seventies the similarities were very apparent. But the Versailles was visibly a Ford Granada clone and quickly became one of Lincoln's greatest sales disasters.
Unable to afford a new body, Lincoln stylists attempted to disguise this fact with a Lincoln-esque grille and wheels, along with a "humped" trunk lid that mimicked the spare tire bulge of the Continental Mark coupe. Whether these elements really worked on a smaller vehicle could be debated, but what was in between was indisputably Granada. Doors and windows were interchangeable, the roofline was identical and inside, the potential luxury buyer faced the same dashboard design as the budget-minded Granada customer. Perhaps most tellingly, the Granada windshield wipers remained present and exposed, long after hidden wipers had become expected not just on luxury cars, but even on intermediates. Even more, the base model Versailles for model year 1977 was exactly the same car as the top of the line 1976 Mercury Grand Monarch (which could have been purchased for 50% less than the Lincoln counterpart).
1980 Lincoln Versailles rear, showing extended roofline & continental trunklid
A somewhat longer, more formal roofline (via a hidden fiberglass cap) was grafted on for 1979, with a carriage-style landau vinyl roof. The car was also given some genuine firsts. The Versailles was the first American car to use halogen headlights and the first to use clearcoat paint, which would shortly spread throughout the industry. Buyers evidently noticed, because sales went up to 21,000, then virtually stopped. The Versailles was withdrawn before the end of the 1980 model year with only about 4,000 produced, although prototypes for the next generation design had already been built.
Unlike other Lincoln vehicles, and the Cadillac Seville of the same period (the "Elegante" package from 1978), the Versailles was available in standard sedan form only with no "designer editions" or luxury packages adding to its title (i.e-"(Title) Edition").
Lincoln remained out of the luxury mid-size market for a couple of years, then re-entered the market in 1982 with the downsized Lincoln Continental.
The car's mechanicals, along with its body, were somewhat lackluster. The standard 351 cu in (5.8 L) V8 was carbureted, as opposed to the Seville's fuel injected 350 cu in (5.7 L). Even worse, Ford's situation with regard to the tightening fuel-economy standards was precarious, as it had not been able to afford as fast a downsizing of its line as GM had managed. Consequently, almost immediately the Versailles was cut back to the smaller 302 in³ V8, which was very common in the Granada.
The rear differential used in the Versailles was the tried and true Ford 9-inch, but equipped with rear disc brakes, replacing the drums on the Granada and the Monarch. A Versailles complete rear end assembly or brake setup can be fitted to many other 1960's & 1970's Ford products, making them a popular swap.
At least in its brake setup, the Versailles did measure up to its Cadillac rival. A unique and rigorous quality-control regime was also used at the factory, according to advertising. The car sold 15,000 units in its first year, compared to the Seville's 45,000 that same year. For 1978, sales were about half of the mediocre 1977figure. The car's close relationship to the Granada had an unforeseen consequence. Although the Versailles was a sedan-only model, its trim and mechanical parts would bolt right onto a Granada coupe. An unknown number of these two-door conversions were made by owners with a sense of humor, particularly as donor Versailles began to depreciate and show up in wrecking yards.
Today, the Versailles' lack of success is working for it. The fairly small number produced has given the car rarity value, and Versailles values are reportedly going up. As the enthusiast site lincolnversailles.com puts it, "Finding few Versailles buyers during the late 1970s, today it is being viewed as a future classic. Low mileage and restored Versailles are, now, being advertised with list prices from $5,500 to $10,000."
In early calendar 2005, as a 2006 model, the Lincoln Zephyr (shortly renamed the Lincoln MKZ) was introduced, an update of the Versailles' basic concept in that it was very much an up-trimmed Ford (in this case, the Ford Fusion).