Comparison Drive Test Mark II vs. Mark VIII
by Joe Sherlock
Originally published in the September/October 1995 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 205.
When Jim Farrell asked me to road test a 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII and compare it to my Mark II, I panicked. I had never done a published road test before. I looked at some of the recent tests in the car buff magazines and they were frightening. They were done with lots of instrumentation, reporting things like lateral acceleration in G-Force units, slalom speed, rates of deceleration, etc. Then there were the inevitable letters to the editor disputing the results— “In your test of the 1995 Clamshell 3.2 litre Deluxe, you claim a top speed of 113.4 mph. My buddy is an Indiana State Trooper and we borrowed his radar gun over the weekend and clocked my Clamshell coupe at 119.8 mph. Furthermore, your front track width measurements are incorrect….” You get the picture—lots of nit-picking, and I’d be exposing myself to the greatest group of nit-pickers of all—LCOC members, who will spend hours over a few beers discussing how many Mark IIs were really made and what’s the correct color of the windshield fluid reservoir cap on a ’77 Town Car!
Then I discovered a role model—Tom McCahill. McCahill tested cars for Mechanix Illustrated in the Forties to early Seventies. Everybody called him Uncle Tom, probably because he was the kind of uncle everybody wished for. He was a no-nonsense guy who loved cars, dogs, driving fast and a couple of scotches at the end of the day. He palled around with notables, too, including band leader Paul Whiteman. Unk tested cars using nothing but a stopwatch, a heavy right foot and the seat of his pants. His prose was legendary; he once compared the handling of a ’57 Buick to “a fat matron trying to get out of a slippery bathtub.” The swivel seats on the ’59 Imperial were “as easy to get into as a floating crap game.” My friend Marty Hayes and I once brought a copy of Mechanix Illustrated to high school when asked by our English teacher to cite examples of every modern, enduring prose. The teacher was not amused by Uncle Tom’s prose. Tom spoke bluntly, too—his opinions were firm and, if you didn’t agree, well too bad.
So…armed with nothing but a heavy foot, the seat of my pants and a digital stopwatch which I got in 1989 from a BMW dealer as a premium for test driving a new 7-series (I liked the watch better than the car!), I headed to Detroit to wring out the Mark VIII. When I picked the car up, my first impression was that this was indeed a personal luxury car. I felt surrounded by instruments—the dash and console seemed to wrap around me and everything was within easy reach. As I moved off into traffic, the car felt, well, agile. You point it; you punch it; it it goes. This was not a car that would take some getting used to; I felt at home immediately. I hadn’t been to Detroit in 10 years and I had forgotten how much the streets get beat-up from those cold winters. Asphalt and concrete don’t like big temperature changes. They get brittle when it’s cold and they don’t like to be hammered by cars and trucks with chains and studded tires. Choppy, potholed roads didn’t bother the Mark VIII. That air-suspension just smoothed everything out. The computer controlled suspension just soaks up the bumps and potholes, but when you throw the car into a corner, the computer instantly responds and stiffens everything up so that the Mark doesn’t wallow and thrash around. McCahill would have said that the Mark VIII was as “smooth as a vanilla ice cream soda that’s been standing in the sun.”
By comparison, step into a Continental Mark II and the controls are generally within easy reach, although the heater and air conditioning controls are set low enough that you’ve got to take your eyes off the road to make adjustments. The Mark II rides softly but wallows in the corners— big time. You shouldn’t try any tricky cornering in a Mark II anyway; you’ll just lose those expensive wheel covers when they go flying off the wheels. Replacements are over $200 a pop—if you can find them. Uncle Tom would probably tell you that they’re as rare as having ladies of the evening become members of a church choir. The Mark VIII is an exceptionally quiet car, too. When you punch the gas, you’ll hear a nice although muffled V-8 rumble as the car takes off. When you’re at cruising speed there’s a real absence of noise. Tom would say that this Lincoln is “as quiet as a night with an archbishop.” If you need some sound, crank up the JBL audio system. It’s great and creates the same theater of sound effects as the Bose system found in competitive contemporary cars. The Mark II is a pretty quiet car for a Fifties hardtop, but the vent windows and lack of door pillars make it hard to prevent wind noise at freeway speeds. Turn on the Mark II’s Town and Country radio and all you’ll get is AM after the vacuum tubes finally warm up. The six-way power adjust seats in the Mark II are very comfortable for me; we’ve taken lots of long trips in ours and the seats feel as good after eight hours as they did when I first got in. The Mark VIII seemed to have 37-way power adjust seats. I certainly liked them and I think that they can be adjusted to fit just about any driver. We didn’t take the Mark VIII on any long trips but, if we did, I’ll bet they’d still feel great 10 hours after we started. Tom McCahill would have liked the Mark V III’s seating comfort to a La-Z-Boy recliner upholstered in cream puffs.
What about performance? Well, the Mark VIII is a real hot rod Lincoln. The engine spools up quickly and you can easily burn rubber from a standing start if you don’t engage the traction control switch. I clocked 0 to 60 in seven seconds flat; Motor Trend says this puppy will do a quarter mile in 15.4 seconds with a trap speed of 95 mph. I have no reason to disbelieve them. What about the Mark II? Well, Motor Life tested one in 1956 and said it would get to 60 mph. in 11.5 seconds. This was respectable for the day, but not earth shaking. My own Mark II does 0-60 in about 12 seconds if you start in low and manually shift, although it never sounds happy when it’s pushed. In contrast, the Mark VIII sounds very happy when you push it. It’s a little unfair to compare the Mark VIII and Mark II directly. The Mark II is a much heavier car, and it has less horsepower. When the Mark II was new, FoMoCo declined to list its horsepower, but everybody knew that the Mark II had the ’56 Lincoln engine which was rated at 285 hp. SAE changed the way they rated engines beginning with the 1971 models. So, by today’s measurements, the Mark II probably has 200 or so horses. That’s no match for the 280 ponies under the hood of the lighter Mark VIII. (FoMoCo personnel told me that every Mark VIII engine is dyno tested and that it consistently pulls around 300 hp. FoMoCo has continued to rate it at 280 hp. to keep insurance premiums reasonable.)
Performance is, of course, a relative thing. A 1956 Volkswagen would get to 60 in about 30 seconds. A ’56 Corvette would get there in about seven seconds. The Mark II was in-between, but nearer to the Corvette than the VW. Today, the performance gap has narrowed a lot. A 1995 Volkswagen Golf will get to 60 mph. in under 10 seconds; a new Corvette LT-1 in just under six seconds. At seven seconds, the Mark VII is still nearer the Corvette than the VW. Uncle Tom would have probably said that the ’95 Mark is “as hot as a Saturday night in a room full of Jane Mansfields.”
Do I have any complaints about the Mark VIII? Well, when I first drove one in late 1992, the interior looked too stark. Since then, the Lincoln folks have added some rosewood trim to warm things up a little, but it still seems a little too clinical for me. The interior side panels on the door seem kind of flimsy. By contrast, the Mark II’s interior speaks volumes about luxury. It’s got lots of detailing around the dash, on the side panels and on the upholstery that says, “Hey, we spent a lot of hours making this thing!” The exterior of the Mark II was considered conservatively styled and relatively chromeless compared to its contemporaries when it was first introduced, but it sure has a lot more chrome than the Mark VIII does. I do like the optional chrome wheels on the Mark VIII; they add a distinctive touch to the exterior. A couple of extra pounds of chrome in the bumper areas and a set of whitewalls would make the Mark VIII just about perfect in my book. The Mark V III’s price is very competitive with other contemporary luxury coupes and, in 1995 dollars, it’s about 33% less pricey than the Mark II. (A $10,000 domestic car in 1956 was unheard of, one reason why the car was so short lived.) Oh…and my other complaint about the Mark VIII was that I had to give the car back to Ford. Until I realized that I had to return it, I was, as Tom McCahill would say, “as happy as a pack of fleas at a dog convention.”