The cars we loved.
Styling hits in the automotive world don’t come as often as designers would like, so whenever someone truly does something new and fresh, its bound to have copycats. The Chris Bangle era E60 5 Series is a great example of how a style can start a trend. In the Early 80s Detroit was struggling to get its mojo back in the cloud of massive regulation and wondering buyer tastes. Cadillac reinvented its big Seville as a leaner front wheel drive car in 1979 and caused something of a sensation. Never mind that in the long run buyers grew tired of its humpback rear end .
Before that Seville had a chance to grow stale on the imagination, Chrysler and Ford would have their own versions of the bustle-back look. Product planners rushed out and slapped on the shortened rear end in an attempt to catch on to what they were sure would be a trend for the future.
Ford’s entrant from Lincoln would be the newly redesigned and engineered Continental. No longer the full-sized Panther based car it was, for 1982 it had shrunk down a EPA class and was riding on a stretched version of the versatile Fox platform. Due to the downsizing, the Continental was no longer related to the Mark VI which carried on with its big boxy self on the Panther platform. While the Mark VI was available with two or four doors, the new Continental was only available as a four door sedan.
While the outward appearance of the Continental took something of a beating, it did manage to remain rear wheel drive. In an effort to offer more fuel efficient options, the first ever V6 in a Lincoln was offered. The 3.8L had just over 115 hp. If the efficiency of the V6 was not enough, a 114 hp BMW built 2.4-liter six-cylinder gave the Continental highway gas mileage ratings in the mid 20s. It was rare with only 1500 examples sold. Nearly any engine in Ford’s arsenal would have struggled to move the over 4,000 lb. car, so Lincoln chose to stress its style and comfort.
For those who cared, the real news under the hood was the switch to fuel injection in the 302 ci V8. With 131 hp connected to a four speed automatic, it represented the top of the line in mid-sized luxury. Even in its newly downsized form, Lincoln engineers managed to retain the signature floaty ride while sharpening the cars reflexes. Ergonomics was still a far off science at Lincoln, as the Continentals interior resembled a living room sofa with a wooden counter against it.
The Continental was marketed heavily as a fashion accessory. It like many Lincolns before it was available in various fashion designer influenced trims. Givenchy, Valentino, Bill Blass and Versace headlined the list of designers who chose color schemes and interior fabrics for their respective models. While the designer trims alternated from year to year, the Base and Signature Series remained the foundations of the model lines for those who were not so designer obsessed. Oddly, while many of these designers were making clothes for the Disco set, the average buyer of the Continental was a much older person who were probably less interested in the latest ‘youth” fashions.
It would seem that few buyers were interested in the Continental. The Cadillac Seville had begun to tank in sales and the Chrysler Imperial had a similar story. Unfortunately, Ford was the last one out the gate and did not do well at predicting the popularity of the Baroque motor carriage look. To Ford’s credit, the Continental did not have the mechanical issues that plagued the Cadillac. Where the Cadillac actually used Chevy Nova parts, the Continental stayed true to form by not borrowing anything from other Fords (except the V6 in the Thunderbird/ Cougars and of course the Fox platform). Ford had learned a hard lesson with the Versailles during the 70’s that Cadillac seemed to be repeating with the Seville.
Lincoln Continental would get a facial in 1984, but held on to its sloped hide until the model was completely updated in 1988. The sixth generation Continental remains as one of the better examples of formally large American luxury cars trying to keep up with technology in the face of a rapidly changing marketplace. Try as they did Lincoln, began to have difficulty attracting the designer set as many of them were moving to BMW, Jaguar and Audi.