Above Image:  The Concept 100 Show Car was very close to the Mark VII but lacked any evidence of a centerpost.

Designing the Continental Mark VII

by Tim Howley

Originally published in the July-August 2001 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 241).

The Mark VII design originated with the Concept 90 show car done in the late ‘70s and introduced on the show circuit in 1981. This was followed by the very similar Concept 100 car. While retaining a recognizable Continental grille, this car was extremely aerodynamic and added the fluted side trim of the Mercedes. There were also styling cues from the Boxer Ferrari 365GT4/BB and BB512. The Concept 90 was very close to the Mark VII introduced two years later right down to the flush headlights, wheel covers and flush windows, It is hard to imagine that Ford would give away most of the Mark VII’s styling in a show car, but at the time Ford was trying to get the public accustomed to the Mark VII’s radically new styling. About the only difference between the Concept 90 and the Mark VII was that the earlier did not have a “B” pillar, that is it was a true hardtop.

Originally the move to the Mark VII was called Project 198X, and the idea was to develop a whole group of American cars in a European tradition with emphasis on technology, driveability and aerodynamics. Out of this Project 198X came the Thunderbird, Tempo/Topaz and finally the Mark VII. After the Concept 90 and Concept 100 there were two Mark VII designs, one with sealed beam headlamps, and the other with the body flush aero headlamps that became a Ford first. This was a very expensive way to go, but it had to be done because until May, 1983 the government did not permit the new type of headlamps.

Prior to Project 198X Ford had its aerodynamic Probe futuristic cars, but did not take aerodynamics very seriously. From the Continental Mark III through Mark VI Ford management was sold on the boxy look in luxury vehicles. But the luxury market was changing with Mercedes and BMW who were offering functional and extremely driveable aerodynamic cars. Meanwhile Ford management resisted change. Then Ford management changed to a younger group with overseas experience. This new management was much more willing to accept the new styling themes.

In an interview with Car Design magazine in 1983 Jack Telnack stated, “It is always difficult to sell a revolutionary concept, particularly in this town (Detroit) where management is surrounded by other Detroit products. My theory is that Ford has always been most successful when we didn’t follow anybody…when we went off in our own direction…provided we had good reasons for doing so.

A Mark VII type of car was first designed in 1979, even before the very square and formal Continental Mark VI was introduced. The original designers of the Mark VII were director Bob Zokas, executive designer John Aiken and design manager Allen Ornes all working under Jack Telnack, Chief Design Executive for Ford Motor Co. Telnack returned from Europe in 1977 and even before then all Ford products in Europe were wind tunnel tested.

In the late ‘70s Ford built a wind tunnel testing facility in Marietta, Georgia. Their first real aero effort in the U.S. was the ’79 Mustang.

You might say that the Mark VII was an aerodynamic anomaly because of its traditional Continental grille and hump on the decklid. There is little doubt that these features fought aerodynamics. Without them the coefficient of drag would have been lower than .38. But these were important styling cues that management felt had to be retained, especially when going through a radical styling change. Much better aero could have been obtained with no grille at all, with a completely smooth front end and the air intake below the bumper. But such a front end would have totally lacked Mark identity.

Introduced in 1983 as a 1984 model the Mark VII was never intended to stay in production for nine model years. In fact, the Mark VIII was already well along the way at the time the Mark VII was introduced. In late 1988 development was started on what might be called a Mark VII stage two. This car would have softened the front and rear end appearance without eliminating the Continental grille or decklid hump. Then mysteriously the whole project was scrapped. The Mark VII would stand in its original form until an entirely new 1993 Mark VIII could be introduced in mid 1992.

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