The Continental Mark VII.  Coming of Age.

The Continental Mark VII. Coming of Age.

The Continental Mark VII.  Coming of Age.

By Tim Howley

Originally published in the September/October 1995 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 205).

In June, 1983, Continental Comments previewed the forthcoming Continental Mark VII at the Sears Point Race Race Track near Sonoma, California. We were invited there as part of the general press. Motoring magazines saw the car several months later. Most of the Third Quarter, 1983 issue, Continental Comments #153 was devoted to the new 1984 Mark which we called the most changed Lincoln-built car since the 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr.

A lot has happened to Lincoln-built automobiles since this author and his wife previewed the 1984 Mark VII 12 years ago. A lot has happened in LCOC, too. Since that time we have published more than 50 issues of Continental Comments covering the very broad spectrum of cars that this club recognizes.

With the 1984 Continental Mark VII, Lincoln went after two distinct markets, the Mercedes 380 SEL type of buyer with the LSC model and the traditional Lincoln buyer with the Designer Series. The LSC model had high-performance suspension, quick-ratio power steering, high-performance axle ratio, high-performance tires with racing type wheels and a sporty interior. Only the LSC cars, as I recall two of them, were presented to the press at Sears Point. These were hand built prototypes which I am sure have long since been destroyed by the factory. None of the Designer Series models were available at the time. In fact, almost none existed at the time except for mules that were used in the advertising.

So this was the Mark of the future that is now a Mark of the past, and it could well become in the very near future the fastest growing segment of Lincoln and Continental collecting.

In 1984 these cars took some getting used to. Aerodynamic design was only beginning to come out of Detroit at that time. A lot of Lincoln buyers were not used to it; hence Lincoln kept their Town Cars in the classic styling mode for the remainder of the decade. As the decade wore on, the Continental Mark VII, later renamed the Lincoln Mark VII, became more and more popular, especially the LSC series. Slowly Lincoln began to attract a younger type of buyer, not really the died -in-the-wool Mercedes buyer, but certainly the “Yuppie”who was moving up from the Toyota Celica and Honda Accord. The Marks of the Eighties defined for a whole new generation of Americans what Lincoln quality, craftsmanship and distinctive motoring personality were all about.

The new Mark’s single most advanced feature was EAS (Electronic Air Suspension). The singularly least innovative feature was the Ford 302 V-8 with throttle-body fuel injection coupled to a four-speed overdrive automatic transmission with a locking torque converter.

Later in the model year, all Mark VIIs were available with a 2.4 liter six-cylinder turbo diesel engine. This was a completely new engine designed to overcome the problems that GM had been having with its automobile diesel engines. We do not know how many Mark VIIs were equipped with these diesels and wonder if any of our members have Mark VIIs so equipped or know anything about them. The flush-fitted European style halogen headlamps were the first ever on any U.S. car. The coefficient of drag on the Mark VII was down to .38. On the Mark VIII it is down to .32.

EAS was controversial in 1984 and remained so for several years. The fear was that it would eventually wear out and be prohibitively expensive to repair/replace. The mechanical air suspension of 1958 was highly unreliable, so much so that Ford never put it on a single Lincoln or Thunderbird, but a few hundred 1958 Fords and Mercurys were so equipped. The GM system, which was sold on all GM makes in some numbers, was forever deflating in the poor owner’s garage or driveway. EAS, introduced on the 1984 Mark VII was a much more encouraging story. It was developed over a four-year period in cooperation with Goodyear. The system is similar to that used by NASA for the space shuttle’s launch platform. As it was explained in Continental Comments #153, “Four rubber air canisters replace the standard coil springs. There is an electronic air compressor, two height sensors in the front and one in the rear, plus an open-door sensor, a brake sensor and a microcomputer in the trunk. With air springs, Lincoln-Mercury engineers were able to develop a ride that is soft enough on the boulevards, yet stiffens up in the turns. There is also automatic load leveling at all four corners so the car is always at the same level.”

It is interesting and reassuring to note that in the 11 years that the Mark VII has been on the road, Continental Comments has only received one letter from an LCOC member complaining about EAS failure. From what we can determine, EAS is as durable as the total car, engineered to last 200,000 miles or more. Indeed, there are now quite a few Mark VIIs out there with 200,000 miles on them.

The Designer Series models were originally, in 1984, offered in the Bill Blass and the Versace. If there were originally more Designer Series than that, the 1984 brochure did not mention them. The Bill Blass models were gold on the exterior with wire spoke aluminum wheels (not wire spoke type wheel covers). Interiors repeated the gold theme. For 1984, the classic white and blue Bill Blass models with the nautical theme were no longer available. The Versace models, inspired by the young Italian designer, Gianni Versace, had dark walnut exteriors, again with wire spoke aluminum wheels. Interiors were desert tan. In addition to the LSC and Designer Series, there was a standard Mark VII offered in a variety of colors and with an assortment of styled wheels available. Here is specifically what the 1984 catalog had to say about wheels: “(A) Special cast aluminum wheels for the optional special handling package have wider rims than standard wheels and unique centers with exposed bright lug nuts. These wheels are standard on the LSC. (B) Cast aluminum road wheels are standard on the Mark VII. (C) Wire spoke aluminum wheels are standard on Bill Blass and Versace, and (D) Forged aluminum wheels are optional on all models, except with the handling package and LSC.”

If you’re buying an early Mark VII to collect, 1984-86, it will not be easy to find a low mileage car. The original owners bought them to be driven. It is very rare to find any example today with less than 100,000 miles. But don’t be discouraged, the low mileage examples are out there. Also, consider that miles really don’t mean a lot on a Mark VII if the car has been cared for. The LSC models are still the most popular and consequently command the highest prices. The Designer Series models are really not in demand like the LSCs, consequently you may be able to strike a real bargain. Original owners of these cars tended to be older, more conservative people, and you just may find one of these with low miles. The least collectible, but probably the most plentiful are the standard Mark VIIs. Any Mark VII with all the goodies, especially the moonroof option, is especially collectible.

When interviewing Lincoln-Mercury stylist Dave Turner on the Mark VIII (see the next issue of Continental Comments) the subject of the Mark VII quickly came up because this was the car that bridged the enormous gap between the classic Mark VI and the very futuristic Mark VIII. Rating the Mark VII in terms of styling, Turner commented thus: “I think what the Mark VII is is a real classic in the series. What the Mark VII has is superb trendiness. There is this sense of wheels and tires, and the road and stability and competence and all of these things. They are the mark of the Mark VII, and I think that’s one of the things that’s going to go down in the history as to what the Mark VII was. It’s competent, it’s trendy, it’s straightforward, it’s disciplined, it’s a really good car. And when I look back on them, every once in awhile you see a really nice one driving on the road, and I say, ‘Wow, that was a nice car’. I think that anyone who owns a Mark VII can be proud of that.”

Our feature car is a 1984 Bill Blass Mark VII owned by Ed and Joan Harants of Brunswick, Ohio. This is a 60,000 mile all original car. Harants bought the car when it was only one year old and had 11,000 miles. He has maintained it in like new condition ever since. Last year they entered the Mid-America National Meet in Itasca, Illinois and the Eastern National Meet in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. At both meets they took a Primary First. While Ed bought his car when almost new, others are finding that there are some real advantages in buying an early Mark VII now. First, it is possible today to buy such a car for $5,000 or less. All you really need to do is a lot of detailing in order to be highly competitive in the Primary Class. You really don’t need to worry about restoring. A Mark VII has yet to win a Ford Trophy and enter the Senior Class for even bigger hardware. And surely there must be one or two of them out there with only a few hundred miles, just waiting  or some loving collector and Elliston H. Bell potential.



Stainless Steel Lincoln Continental Convertible at Williamsburg, 1993

Stainless Steel Lincoln Continental Convertible at Williamsburg, 1993

Stainless Steel Lincoln Continental Convertible at Williamsburg, 1993

By Tim Howley

Originally published in the July/August 1995 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 204).

One of the most most unusual cars displayed at the 1993 Eastern National Meet in Williamsburg, Virginia was a 1966 Lincoln Continental convertible sedan brought to the event by Bill Westfall on behalf of the owner, Allegheny Ludlum Steel, a pioneer in stainless steel development. This car has 190,000 miles, the engine has never been gone through, and was just starting to use oil in 1993, only proving how long these engines can go. The car is a 1966 with a 1967 grille and some 1967 trim. It has both 1966 and 1967 parts.

Originally three of these Lincoln Continental convertibles were built. This one and one other are are in daily use. The other was in Dearborn at the time of the meet. This one is kept in the Philadelphia area. Allegheny Ludlum uses these cars for sales purposes and they take their clients out in them.

These cars were hand assembled at a cost of approximately $300,000 each. Two were built for Allegheny Ludlum’s promotional use and a third one was built for the Ford Motor Company, Lincoln- Mercury Division. Two were built very late in 1966 accounting for the combination of 1966 and 1967 trim. The third one was all 1967. Later Ford decided to dispose of this third car but it had been in an accident at Ford and was almost demolished. Eventually it was almost given (free) to Allegheny Ludlum who restored it. It is now in the Thompson Museum in Cleveland.

These are not the only Allegheny Ludlum stainless steel cars. The whole story goes back to the late ’20s when Henry Ford dreamed of a stainless steel car that would last forever. The first stainless steel cars to appear were Model A Fords back in 1930. Three of them were built. They had a conventional Ford chassis and running gear, wooden floorboards and stainless  steel bodies—or “Allegheny Metal” as it was called then. Two of these cars were scrapped during world War II; the third one may survive.

In 1936, six 1936 Ford stainless steel two-door sedans were made by Allegheny Ludlum. This time the floorpans were made of high carbon steel rather than wood. At least four of these Fords survive. One is in the Thompson Museum. Two still belong to Allegheny Ludlum and a fourth may be in the hands of a private owner.

In 1960, two stainless steel Thunderbird hardtops were built. Allegheny Ludlum still retains both of them, and both are regularly driven.

All of these cars were used for advertising and promotional purposes by both Ford and Allegheny Ludlum. None of them were easy to build because stainless steel cannot be stamped into shape like other types of steel, one reason why there have never been any stainless steel production cars other than the DeLorean. How these cars were built is a story in itself. The most difficult task in building them was shaping the roof panels, hence it was somewhat easier to build the Lincoln Continental convertibles than the others. The Thunderbirds and the Lincoln Continentals have stainless steel exhaust systems which have never been replaced.