Thursday, October 4, 2012

1963-1970 Lincoln Limousine

The 1967 Lincoln Executive Limousine featured a revised side-window treatment with a vinyl-covered panel just behind the front doors. Thanks to George Lehmann's financial backing and Robert Peterson's practical know-how, Lincoln was presented with an opportunity to compete with Cadillac and Imperial for the limousine trade in the 1960's with the 1963-1970 Lincoln Limousine. A world of possibilities lay before George "Skip" Lehmann in autumn 1962. Just 23 years old, he had finished college and was fresh from a stint in the United States Army. He was an heir to his grandfather's estate, which included the famous Fair Stores. He was also steeped in his hobby of racing sports cars. Surely this set of circumstances would send him down one interesting path or another in life. Of all the places fate could have taken Skip Lehmann during that fall, it chose to route him through a Chicago garage. It was there that he met Robert Peterson. In short order they would team up in an audacious enterprise that invigorated the select market for limousines in America and added a chapter to Lincoln history in the 1960's. Bob Peterson ran a very successful customizing shop. Ten years older than Lehmann, he had gained a well-deserved reputation as a mechanical genius who was able to handle practically anything automotive. He also had a background in racing as a driver and a mechanic. Delivered in fall 1967, the Lehmann-Peterson Secret Service cars featured the grille and other trim parts from the 1968 Lincoln. Lehmann happened to stop by Peterson's shop when he learned that a race car he'd once owned, a rare Scarab, had been severely wrecked. Peterson had rebuilt the car in just a few weeks; Skip Lehmann was impressed. At the time, Lehmann rode around in a Cadillac limousine, but yearned for something different. He had already had more than a year to admire the new slab-sided Lincoln Continental. In fact, he liked it so much that he bought his mother, Morella, a brand-new 1962 Continental. It was during one of his visits to Peterson's shop that Lehmann asked Peterson if he could make a limousine out of his mother's Lincoln. Peterson looked in, around, and under the car, and said, "Nothing to it. Twelve days." Lehmann-Peterson Limousine Beginning with a conversion of a 1962 Continental, George Lehmann and Robert Peterson soon became the official suppliers of Lincoln Executive Limousines like this 1969 model. The first Lehmann-Peterson limousine was built in late 1962 or early 1963. Meanwhile, Skip Lehmann and Bob Peterson's friendship grew and they decided to go into business together. Lehmann-Peterson and Company was formed in 1963. (Its shop at 2710 N. Sawyer Ave. in Chicago would be the company's home throughout its lifetime.) With Lehmann's money and salesmanship skills, plus Peterson's superior mechanical ability, they began a quest to win approval from Ford Motor Company to provide Lincoln-based limousines. The limousine body style was in one of its periods of retreat at Lincoln in the early 1960's. Long-wheelbase formal sedans and limos had been cataloged from the marque's beginning in 1921 through 1942. Then for 1959 and 1960, professional-car builder Hess and Eisenhardt, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was commissioned to convert limited numbers of those years' production Continentals into formal sedans and divider-window limousines, albeit on the standard 131-inch wheelbase. Luxury-market rivals Cadillac and Imperial had no such lengthy interruptions in their limousine programs, however. As the 1960s began, Cadillac was turning out almost 1,000 Fleetwood Series 75 limos a year while Imperial was selling tiny handfuls of very expensive Italian-built Crown Imperials. To get Ford's attention, Lehmann and Peterson made an unannounced visit to corporate headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. When they rolled up in Morella Lehmann's modified Lincoln Continental, they were met at the front of the building by an official whose perhaps predictably skeptical attitude was along the lines of, "Right, you want to build our limousine for us." The pair was told to drive around to the rear and wait by a garage door. After the limo pulled up, a crowd of 40 to 50 Ford Motor Company personnel quickly gathered. Soon an agreement was reached that allowed Ford to extensively test the car for the equivalent of 100,000 miles. Ford research showed that any car stretched more than a few inches would suffer greatly from metal fatigue. The Lehmann-Peterson experimental limo was lengthened by a full three feet in the center section, which Ford engineers believed to be a weak point to begin with. Thus, the engineering department gave the car an acid test whenever possible. Years later it was learned that even top executives joined in on the torture tests. At lunchtime, they would jam the car full of people and speed it over various test-track road surfaces, finally launching it off built-in rises, all in an attempt to break it. It didn't. 1963 Lincoln Limousine Lehmann and Peterson were contracted by Ford to produce a pair of limos built to 1963 specs for testing. Based on the test results and Skip Lehmann's enthusiasm, Ford signed a contract and immediately ordered two more 1963 Lincoln Limousines based on the 1963 Lincoln adapted by Lehmann and Peterson. They were also tested by Ford and driven at least 100,000 miles each. It was these cars that were used in all the early advertising, as Lehmann-Peterson did none of its own. An added stipulation was that the two cars never be sold to the public. And so, in 1963, Lehmann-Peterson was in the limousine business. A regularly updated survey begun by Lincoln and Continental Owners Club (LCOC) member H.W. Schofield revealed that two additional 1963 limos were produced for public sale; other records indicate that one of them was bought by comedian Jerry Lewis. In 1964, Lehmann-Peterson and Company became Lehmann-Peterson, Inc., "Builders of the Lincoln Continental Executive Limousine and Automotive Specialties." The limousines and special projects were handcrafted with state-of-the-art coachbuilding techniques. Ordering was done by picking out a car at a Lincoln-Mercury dealership and choosing from the vast Lincoln and Lehmann-Peterson options lists. At the factory, Ford would install a "Limousine Conversion Kit" consisting of a beefier suspension with an added leaf spring in the rear and stiffer front coils, heavy-duty shock absorbers, and larger tires. Lehmann-Peterson would then strip the car, cut it in half, and add a section between the front and rear doors. For 1964, its first full year, Lehmann-Peterson ran off 15 Lincoln Continental Executive Limousines. From 1964 on, this added section was 34 inches long, which produced a wheelbase of 160 inches -- though at least two cars were built with a stretch of just nine inches for owners who wanted something that would be appropriate as a chauffeur- or owner-driven car. Apart from a lengthened driveshaft, the powertrain was stock Lincoln. This included a 430-cubic-inch V-8 good for 320 horsepower through 1965. A 340-horsepower version of this engine enlarged to 462 cubic inches served from 1966 through early 1968 when it was replaced by a completely new 460-cube V-8 that made 365 horsepower. Although Ford built the Lincoln Continental to extremely high standards of body rigidity, annual testing revealed that after conversion, the limousines were even stronger. Because of this, Lehmann-Peterson was the only coachbuilder granted the right to have its cars covered by the same Ford Motor Company warranty as the factory-produced cars. Furthermore, Lincoln began advertising the limos in its brochures in 1965 (though for some unknown reason they weren't included in the 1968 and 1970 literature). From the beginning, Lehmann-Peterson reached exciting new heights of luxury. For example, the eight-passenger seating arrangement allowed all passengers to face each other rather than stare at or talk to the back of someone's neck. The options list tested the buyer's imagination. After piling on what Ford had to offer, then came Lehmann-Peterson's list. First there were the no-charge items, like a chauffeur's "escort umbrella harnessed below front seat" for nasty-weather days, or the choice of an AM/FM signal-seeking radio with power antenna or AM stereo tape player for the rear compartment. Typical extra-cost items (in 1968 prices) included a two-inch increase in head room ($950), which came off very well because of the size of the limo. Also offered were air conditioning ($350 rear only, $503.90 including the front), a divider window ($250 manual, $350 power), 11-piece beverage service ($200), rear-compartment floor foot rests ($48), companion-seat foot-rest pads ($54), television with built-in antenna ($295), and many other neat and glitzy gadgets that could make a mobile dream come true. 1964 and 1965 Lincoln Limousine Lehmann-Peterson was given less than a week to convert what had originally been a test vehicle into the 1965 papal parade car. The 1964 and 1965 Lincoln limousines made by Lehmann-Peterson continued to succeed. At $15,153 to start in 1964, the Lincoln Continental Executive Limousine was priced fairly squarely between Cadillac's Series 75 at $9,960 and the $18,500 asked for a Ghia-built Crown Imperial. Output rose to 15 units, making the Lincoln an instant -- though very distant -- number two in the three-way domestic limousine sales race. Lehmann-Peterson's experience in producing limousines for Lincoln put the firm in line to carry out some critical special jobs. In September 1965, the Vatican announced that Pope Paul VI would visit New York City on October 4. Ford was enlisted to supply an appropriate vehicle and it gave the job -- and the publicity that went with it -- to Lehmann-Peterson. There was only one catch: The car had to be ready in five days! "The impossible can be done right away," goes a saying, "but miracles take a little longer." This project fell somewhere in between, because the shop ultimately was granted an extra day to finish it. At a cost of $15,500, a crew of 40 worked day and night to complete the job. Pope Paul VI waves to an applauding crowd while riding in a specially modified Lehmann-Peterson limousine during his visit to New York City in October 1965. The famous "Popemobile" was based on one of the special-order limousines Ford had requested for testing in 1963. (It had a 1964-style grille.) Special features included: •A seat that could be elevated for the pontiff, per a church rule that the pope always be above the public. •A cutaway section of the roof with a "flying bridge" windscreen to protect standing riders. •Lights to illuminate the pope when inside the car. •A public-address system. •Flag holders on both front fenders for United Nations, U.S., and papal flags, plus lights to be shown on them at night. •Oversized retractable running boards at the sides and rear for use by security personnel. Meanwhile, in Lehmann-Peterson's main business, Executive Limousine output tripled in 1965, with about 50 units sold. The 1966 model year saw a continued refinement of the Continental design, with the most extensive restyle since 1961. This, of course, carried over to the Lehmann-Peterson limousine, which enjoyed another tripling of sales to 159 units. 1966 and 1967 Lincoln Limousine Orders for the 1966 Lehmann-Peterson limousines tripled from 1965 to 159 cars. The 1966 and 1967 Lincoln limousine explored new territory. In 1966, Bob Peterson flew to Washington to present to the government his ideas for replacing the aging Kennedy-era presidential limousine. Armed with his knowledge of lightweight metals and plastics, he set out to convince the government that a new car could do all that was demanded of it and still retain the strength of armor plating without as much weight. He succeeded, returning home with orders for a White House limousine and two new Secret Service security-detail convertibles. The Secret Service cars were equipped with 11-inch-wide running boards, which extended the length of the bodysides between the wheels, plus assist handles and bars for agents to grasp. The rear doors were reworked to allow entry from the running boards while the car was in motion. This was achieved by cutting the doors in half and hinging them to allow the front portion to slide over the rear half, not unlike the way modern minivan doors operate. In 1966, Lehmann-Peterson won approval from the U.S. government to supply a presidential limousine and two Secret Service security-detail cars. For normal entry and exit, the rear doors opened and closed in the conventional ma­nner. The rear bumper was hinged so that it could swing down to form a platform that was operated hydraulically so it could be adjusted to the optimum height for the men standing on it. An assist bar for them to grab could be retracted flush into the trunklid when not needed. Convertible tops were made of transparent vinyl trimmed with black cloth. The divided front seats were altered so that a man could ride facing the rear on the portion between the seats. Front and rear seats and the convertible top were elevated three inches for better visibility. As far as security goes, the car was a rolling arsenal. The Secret Service cars were 1967 Continental convertible sedans specially modified to the needs of the presidential bodyguards. As the Secret Service didn't take delivery of the convertibles until October 1967, the cars were trimmed as 1968 models. That made them more unique; Lincoln had dropped ragtops from regular production after 1967 due to declining public demand. The presidential limousine would take a bit longer. Trim on the Executive Limousine was changed a bit for 1967. A new privacy shield just behind the front doors became standard. It added to the overall lines of the limo, plus helped to break up the mass of glass seen in profile on earlier models. Inside, the companion seats could now be folded up like theater seats. Dictation equipment, high-intensity reading lamps, and a rear-seat center armrest storage compartment were new options. Sales came to 110 units. Among the options found on this 1967 Lincoln Limousine is a two-inch raise in roof height. By the end of the year, Lehmann had recouped his initial $600,000 investment and the company was operating in the black. Now, more than ever, his attention was focused on keeping the company on this upward swing. He also entertained thoughts of marriage in the not-too-distant future. But he began having migraine headaches, which he passed off as a consequence of work-related stress. Being co-owner of a successful business was a big enough job, but Lehmann managed to find time for some special pet projects. He built a dune buggy and he had a Ferrari Testa Rosa reworked so that it wouldn't stall at every red light. With other adjustments, this small, brutal, blindingly fast racing machine was made street legal. He also owned and enjoyed a 1935 Packard Twelve. Elvis Presley admires the 1967 Lincoln Executive Limousine given to him by longtime manager Colonel Tom Parker. Meanwhile, Peterson's spare time was spent researching and developing economy ambulances based on Ford and Mercury station wagons. All were fully equipped once a prefabricated unit was installed. Plus, another company was purchased; it customized full-sized buses into motorhomes before that became a popular trend. 1968 Lincoln Limousine George Lehmann (left) and Robert Peterson pose at the White House with the presidential limousine they were contracted to build. The 1968 Lincoln limousine turned out to give another banner year for Lehmann-Peterson -- but not in sales, although a healthy 91 units were built. Rather, it was due to the notoriety of the new presidential limousine. Planning, research, development, and construction of this masterpiece took more than 15 months in 1967 and 1968. Its price -- $500,000 -- put it in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of that considerable cost was explained by the fact that the limousine had more than two tons of armor and a fighter-planelike canopy. (In fact, the windows and canopy were thicker than the glass used in U.S. Air Force fighters.) This shielding could stop a .30-caliber rifle bullet or a barrage of Molotov cocktails. The car ran on four heavy-duty truck tires; inside of each was a large steel disk with a rubber-rimmed tread, which allowed for driving up to 50 miles at top speeds with the tires flat. This car replaced the $25,000 limo that President John F. Kennedy had commissioned in 1961. It didn't even have bulletproof glass until after he was assassinated in 1963 and Ford spent $300,000 to partially armor-plate it in a 1964 revamp. Of the presidential limo, Skip Lehmann said, "It is designed to look like a perfectly normal car one minute, and the next minute it will look like no other car you ever saw before." The interior featured the two inches of added headroom optional in "civilian" Lehmann-Peterson limousines. The car was not unlike a communications center, with "the button" always within arm's length in the event that a national security crisis should arise while the president was riding in it. Like the two Secret Service vehicles, it was a 1967 car with updated appearance details. Ford Motor Company absorbed the estimated $500,000 in cost and then leased the car back to the government for a nominal $100 per month. Delivery to President Lyndon Johnson was scheduled for August 1968, but its arrival was delayed until October, by which time the car was updated again with 1969 styling touches. Its first use the following month actually wasn't by the nation's sitting chief executive, but by President-elect Richard Nixon, who was in Washington to visit Walter Reed Army Hospital. The 1968 Lincoln limousine started with a 462-cubic-inch V-8 that was superseded during the year with an all new 460 that made 365 horsepower. Notably, 1968 also saw the first major round of federal auto safety regulations that were destined to have an extensive impact on the industry as a whole. Because of their low annual production, Lehmann-Peterson limousines were excluded from any kind of government crash or endurance tests. Ford, however, wanted the first limo produced every model year for its own tests and held it to a higher standard than even the production cars. (This goes a long way in explaining why so many Lehmann-Peterson limos have survived.) Then, in 1966, a driver fell asleep during a simulated 100,000-mile run and plowed into a ditch. Except for the passenger compartment, the car was a total loss. Ford deemed the annual high-mileage testing unnecessary after that; driving a new limousine into a fixed barrier at 35 mph every year would take its place. Even though the Lehmann-Peterson limos passed every test given them, it's believed that a fear of the unknown gave Ford an excuse to begin withdrawing support from the limousine program. By 1970, the firm would lose all financial backing. But that was still a couple of years in the future. In the meantime, Lehmann-Peterson was as strong as ever, and both partners believed their company could make a go of it independently if need be. Plans for expansion were discussed, perhaps into Mexico to take advantage of a strong U.S. dollar and inexpensive labor. 1969 and 1970 Lincoln Limousine Lehmann-Peterson's output of limos for 1969 increased slightly from the year before, to 93. The 1969 and 1970 Lincoln limousine saw production rise and fall. In 1969, production rose slightly to 93 units. Aside from making Executive Limousines, Lehmann-Peterson also dabbled with the idea of converting Lincoln's new entry in the "personal-luxury" field, the Continental Mark III hardtop coupe, into a four-door sedan. Such a car was built for Ford Product Planning, equipped with the Mark III's narrow grille and hidden headlights, wheel covers, trunklid with tire hump, rear bumper, and taillights. Like the Ford Thunderbird four-door sedan, it had frameless door glass and rear "suicide" doors. The idea never went any further than that as far as becoming a factory-built Lincoln. However, that didn't stop Lehmann-Peterson from making one to order for a paying customer. The 1969 Lincoln limousines were the last Continentals with both unit-body construction and rear-hinged suicide doors in back. In a March 20, 1970, letter to prospective client Grover Hermann, the former chairman of Martin-Marietta Corporation, George Lehmann explained that such a car had just been completed for Henry Ford II at the cost of $13,000. Included with the letter was a snapshot of the car. (Another Lehmann-Peterson photo exists showing a 1969 Mark III four-door nearly completed.) Hermann chose to have one built for himself, and it was finally delivered late in the year. Some of the more obvious differences were a 7.3-inch body stretch, rear-seat cushions intended to allow for armrests, and 1971-style back-up lights per a mid-year change. Curiously, Ford Motor Company has denied the first four-door Mark was ordered by, let alone built for, Henry Ford II. (A rumor at the time was that it was a gift to a foreign nonrelative female.) Perhaps this was the Product Planning car. In addition to limousines, Lehmann-Peterson converted a pair of Lincoln Continental Mark III two-door hardtops into four-door sedans. The last Lehmann-Peterson Lincoln Continental Executive Limousines were produced in 1970. That year, the big Lincoln reverted to separate body-and-frame construction, dropping the unit-body configuration used since 1958. With this change came new styling, a backward step that tended to make Lincoln look less distinctive. Gone were the graceful rear-opening back doors, for example, which provided the only proper way to enter and exit a limo. Still, Peterson deftly worked out how to lengthen body and frame on this new-style Continental. Unfortunately, fewer than 20 Executive Limousines were made for 1970. This was hardly the only problem that faced Lehmann-Peterson, either. Near the end of 1969, automakers found themselves running into a barrage of new federal safety standards, the impact of which on the way they did business was uncertain. This factor more than any other forced Ford's hand in deciding to deny Lehmann-Peterson any more support. The risk of the unknown was just too great when faced with potential liability from a car that wasn't even produced under its own roof. The final Lehmann-Peterson limousines were made in 1970 from the new body-on-frame Continental. In fall 1970, Lehmann-Peterson was forced to close its doors. The company's taxes hadn't been paid for the last couple of years, so the government foreclosed. Most employees left to work for competitors. Lehmann tried to make a go of things on his own, but the brass ring never came around again. In a few short months, he entered the hospital for the last time and spent a solid year there. Having slipped into unconsciousness, George Walter Lehmann died of a brain tumor on April 6, 1972. He was only 33. The lengthy hospitalization took its toll on Morella Lehmann. During that time, she contracted a near-fatal case of hepatitis. Upon her recovery, she continued to live not too far from where "it" had all begun in Chicago until she died on August 7, 1989. Robert Peterson later went on to produce Cadillac limos for Maloney Coachbuilders, also in the Chicago area. He died in January 1995. Source: Internet

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lincoln Compact Luxury Cars, the Lincoln Versailles, And The Lincoln Collector Series

The 1979 Lincoln Versailles was hastily developed to rival Cadillac's more compact Seville. Model-year 1977 also saw Lincoln move into the luxury-­compact class, its first response to the radically changed market left behind by the energy crisis. Called Versailles, this was a hastily contrived reply to Cadillac's remarkably successful 1975-76 Seville. It was little more than an everyday Ford Granada/Mercury Monarch adorned with a Continental-style square grille, a stand-up hood ornament and humped trunklid, plus more standard equipment. Established Lincoln buyers looked askance at the plebeian origins (which the press never failed to mention), while buyers balked at the $11,500 price. You can only fool some of the people some of the time, and Lincoln didn't fool many with this one. Versailles' 1977-model sales were a mere 15,434, a fraction of Seville's. This basic three-car squad held the fort for 1978-79 while Lincoln readied a troop of downsized 1980 models. Amazingly, the big cars continued to sell well, defying the combined threat of further fuel shortages and a fleet of luxury intermediates from lesser makes. Part of this was due to circumstance. By 1979, anyone who wanted a truly large luxury car -- "traditional-size," Lincoln called it -- had precious few choices. One of Lincoln's most successful marketing ploys in the '70's was the Designer Series. American Motors had tried something similar with Gucci Hornets and Pierre Cardin Javelins. As a luxury make, however, Lincoln was in a much better position to exploit the snob appeal of haute couture brands. First seen for 1976, these extra-cost packages were decorated inside and out with colors and materials specified by well-known high-fashion designers. The schemes varied somewhat from package to package and year to year, but the results were invariably striking and usually pleasing. Perhaps the most consistently tasteful was the Bill Blass edition, a nautically inspired blend of navy-blue paint and eggshell-white vinyl top outside and navy velour or dark blue-and-cream leather upholstery inside. Other combinations were created by Hubert Givenchy (generally tur­quoise or jade), Emilio Pucci (maroon and gunmetal grey), and Cartier (champagne/grey). The last, of course, was not a designer but the famous jeweler. Following a spate of limited-edition 1978 packages to mark Ford Motor Company's 75th anniversary, Lincoln devised a "Collector Series" option group for the '79 Continental and Mark. Both were adorned with appropriate nameplates, gold grille accents, special midnight-blue metallic paint, and a host of "custom" accoutrements such as color-keyed umbrella and leather-bound owner's manual and tool kit. It marked the end of an era: The day of oversized Lincolns was over. So, too, it seemed, any differences between Continentals and Marks. The 1980s were much more alike, but also much more sensible. Lincoln now adopted the "Panther" platform introduced for '79 with the full-size Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis as the basis for a substantially smaller Continental and an upmarket Mark VI sibling, thus resuming its 1958-60 practice of fielding two versions of one basic design. Compared to their immediate predecessors, these cars were up to 10 inches ­shorter between the wheels and significantly lighter. Yet they were nearly as spacious, thanks to only marginal reductions in width, plus taller, boxier styling. Each line retained its usual appearance cues, but not the usual big-block engines. Standard for both was the corporate 302-cid small-block V-8 in new 129-bhp fuel-injected form; a 140-bhp 351 was the only option. It was all for the sake of economy, as was Ford Motor Company's new four-speed overdrive automatic transmission, basically a three-speed unit with a super-tall fourth gear added (0.67:1). Handling was more competent, thanks to a revised suspension, and refinement was emphasized with retuned body mounts and suspension bushings, plus standard high-pressure radial tires, which also helped eke out slightly more mpg. A pillared four-door Mark returned for the first time since 1960, and the various designer editions were bolstered by a new Signature Series much like the pre­vious Collector option. Lincoln Sales in the 1980's The 1980 Lincoln Town Car was a harbinger of the success Lincoln would enjoy throughout the decade. A second fuel shock occurred in 1979, touching off a deep national recession that drastically reduced 1980 volume throughout the industry. Lincoln suffered more than most, its model-year total sales skidding to just under 75,000 -- nearly 115,000 below '79. The underwhelming Versailles was in its final year and found fewer than 5000 buyers. The 1981 result was even worse, falling to about 69,500. But that would be the decade low, and Lincoln followed the overall market in making a strong recovery. By 1985, it was up to some 166,500. Output dipped the following two years, then rebounded to over 215,000 through 1990. More important to proud division managers, Lincoln passed Cadillac in 1988, only to lose that position, but Ford's finest remained competitive with its arch­rival despite offering just three distinct models to Cadillac's five. Remarkably, much of this success was owed to a single 1980-vintage four-door that saw only one major change through 1989: a rounded-corner "aero" facelift for 1985. Called Town Car after 1980, it soldiered on following the cancellation of the 114.3-inch-wheelbase Town Coupe after '81 and the Mark VI duo after '83. The throttle-body fuel-injected 302-cid V-8 was the only engine available after 1980, but it would be upgraded. After an '84 boost to 140 bhp came more sophisticated multi-point fuel injection that ­lifted horsepower to 155. Trim and equipment shuffles were the only alterations in most years. But it didn't matter: At 50,000-100,000 units annually, this series outsold other Lincolns by margins of 2-to-1 or more -- sometimes upwards of 5-to-1. Yes, the Town Car was smaller than its late-'70s predecessor, but it proved that traditional Detroit biggies still had a place in the '80s. As Mark Twain would have said, reports of their demise (in the wake of "Energy Crisis II") were greatly exaggerated. Such consistent popularity was remarkable for this large, rela­tively old-fashioned car. Though Cadillac remained the luxury sales champ, its lead over Lincoln dwindled as the '80s progressed. One reason: An increasing portion of Cadillac sales depended on smaller "big" cars that looked too much like cheaper GM models and lacked the Town Car's sheer presence. Lincoln was quick to play up its rival's "lookalike" problem in snobbish TV commercials designed to pull in more and more "conquest" sales. Chrysler, meantime, had nothing remotely like a traditional full-size car after 1981, though its midsize Fifth Avenue found a steady market for the same reasons Town Car did: plentiful creature comforts in a package that "mature" buyers could relate to, all at reasonable prices. Of course, stickers swelled a lot on all cars from 1981 to '89 -- in the Town Car's case from about $14,000 to about $25,000. But relatively speaking, this Lincoln remained a good buy, and the public's "pocketbook vote" confirmed it. If the late-'70's Versailles was a hasty reply to Cadillac's Seville, the new compact Continental sedan of 1982 was a more-considered response. It even had "bustleback" styling like that of the new 1980 front-drive Seville, plus a Mark-type grille and the usual base, Signature Series, and designer-edition trim and equipment variations. Underneath, though, it was just a heavily modified Ford Fairmont with an extended-wheelbase version of the same rear-drive "Fox" platform -- and it was really none the worse for it, except perhaps for rear-seat room, which was limited. A 232-cid V-6 was offered in the debut '82s, but proved somewhat weak for their weight, so most left the fac­tory with injected 302 V-8s of 130, 140, or 150 bhp (the last adopted after 1985). The front and rear ends were smoothed out for '84 a la Town Car, the only appearance change for this design generation. A noteworthy mechanical development was an antilock brake system (ABS), a 1985 option that became standard equipment for all Lincolns the following year. Developed jointly by Ford and the German company Alfred Teves, ABS greatly improved steering control in panic stops and shortened stopping distances on slick surfaces, a laudable safety advance. The compact Continental was far more successful than the Versailles it effectively replaced, selling an average 21,000-26,000 a year through 1987. If not a vast aesthetic improvement, the bustleback sedan was more roadable and enjoyable, well put ­together, and as posh as any Lincoln. And at $21,000-$26,000, it, too, represented good luxury value. Lincoln Mark VII LSC Hot Rod With its aerodynamic look, the 1985 Lincoln Mark VII LSC represented a departure from the typical stodgy Lincoln design. After years of square-lined formality, Lincoln's premium coupe took a dramatic new direction with the 1984 Mark VII. Though it shared a platform with the bustleback Continental, this swoopy semifastback was derived from the new-for-'83 Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar. The result was smooth, distinctive, and more visually aerodynamic than any previous Mark. A humped trunklid, modest taillamps in the rear fender trailing edges, and a toned-down Mark grille were stylistic links with the past, but the car was clearly aimed at a very different clientele: younger, affluent buyers who'd been defecting to high-dollar, high-status imports, a group Lincoln had never courted before. It was also a bold challenge to Cadillac's Eldorado, which was still relatively overblown. The Mark VII was an instant critical success, especially the performance-oriented LSC (Luxury Sport Coupe) -- the fabled "Hot Rod Lincoln" come to life. Enthusiast magazines even thought it a credible rival to the vaunted BMW 6-Series and Mercedes-Benz SEC. No wonder. Where the base and Designer models had a soft ride and traditional appointments, the LSC boasted a firmer suspension with fat performance tires on handsome cast-aluminum wheels, plus multiadjustable sport bucket seats and Lincoln's best cloth or leather upholstery. For 1985 it adopted the Mustang GT's high-output V-8 with 165 bhp (versus 140 for other models). The '86 got an even hotter port-injected engine with 200 bhp (versus 150 bhp on other Marks), plus standard ABS four-wheel disc brakes and a nice set of analog gauges (replacing the digital/graphic electronic display retained for its linemates). Engine refinements extracted another 25 bhp for 1988-90. With all this, the LSC was the most overtly sporting Lincoln since the very first Continental and the most roadable Lincoln since the "Mexican Road Race" days. It was also one terrific buy at initial prices of $23,700 -- about half the cost of erstwhile German competitors. Lincoln-Mercury planners thought lesser VIIs would outsell it, but buyers confounded them by ordering more LSCs -- enough that by 1988, the original four models had been cut to just LSC and Bill Blass. Overall Mark VII sales were good: 30,000-plus in the first season 15,000-38,000 thereafter. Prices inevitably escalated, reaching the $27,000 level by decade's end, but standard equipment also kept growing even as trim variations thinned. The 1990s boasted an important new safety feature in a standard driver-side airbag, which also brought a reworked, slightly more ergonomic dash. Perhaps even more daring than the Mark VII was the all-new Continental sedan that bowed for 1988. Essentially a stretched version of the excellent midsize Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, it was the first Lincoln with front-wheel drive and the first with all-independent suspension, both of which contributed to a noticeable increase in cabin room despite a wheelbase only half an inch longer than its bustleback predecessor's. In appearance, which L-M described as "aero limousine," this new Continental departed even more from tradition than the Mark VII: squarish but carefully detailed for efficient "airflow management." The old humped trunklid was abandoned at last, leaving only a vertical-bar grille to echo the past -- and even that was low and smoothly curved to match the nose and modern flush-fit Euro-style headlamps. Powering the new Continental was the 140-bhp 3.8-liter V-6 made optional for the '88 Taurus/Sable, mounted transversely (in typical front-drive fashion) and teamed with a four-speed overdrive automatic transaxle. It didn't provide much snap in the heavier Conti (which was little lighter than its rear-drive forebear), and even L-M officials later admitted the car was underpowered for its class. At least quietness was a strength. A MacPherson-strut suspension employing dual-rate shock absorbers and LSC-style air springs, both computer-controlled, sounded great on paper. Unfortunately, this complicated design failed to provide a truly outstanding ride/handling balance in the real world. The standard all-disc brakes with ABS were superb, however, and interior decor was a blend of Euro-trendy and American traditional. For 1989, the dash and steering wheel were redesigned to accommodate dual airbags. Though just a driver-side airbag would have satisfied the government's new passive-restraint rule, Lincoln got the jump on Cadillac by providing inflatable cushions to protect both front occupants. Arriving at dealers in December 1987, the front-drive Continental proved a strong seller, thanks partly to an attractive $26,000 base price -- again, thousands less than comparable European sedans. Model-year production totaled about 41,000 for '88, rose to 57,775 for '89, then climbed above 64,000 for 1990. The Continental wouldn't fare this well again, but the mere fact that Lincolns could now stand comparison with high-buck foreigners spoke volumes about how far Lincoln had come in the '80's and where it hoped to go in the '90's. Source: Internet