It’s Time for Lincoln to Resurrect Its Signature Big Coupe

 

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From Road & Track

(The above photo is of Lincoln’s Mark 9 concept from the 2001 NAIAS.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about the new Lincoln Continental. I’m excited about the way it looks, which is properly regal and country-club compatible. I’m excited about the powertrain; its predecessor, the MKS EcoBoost, was a brilliant high-speed freeway stealth machine. This Continental will be even faster and better sorted. I’m particularly excited about the fact that it has an actual name instead of an alphabet soup. If only Cadillac would follow suit, we could have a Calais instead of an ATS and a de Ville instead of a CTS and-I have to admit, this gets me almost too excited to type-a Fleetwood Brougham instead of a CT6.

There’s only one issue with the Continental: It’s not really a “halo car” in the traditional sense. I think it will sell to people who like the looks and want the combination of spaciousness and all-weather capability that you only truly get with a transverse-engined big sedan, but that same prosaic and practical nature will prevent it from being anybody’s dream ride. Of course, the Navigator has been the true top dog vehicle in the Lincoln lineup since its introduction, the same way the Escalade is for Cadillac. That’s a shame, because those trucks don’t stir the soul or the imagination. You don’t buy a Navigator because you’ve been dreaming about one since you were a kid; you buy a Navigator because they finally gave you that executive vice president job and you want to tow a boat on the weekends. There’s no romance to that, which means that there’s a hole on the showroom floor that could be filled by a Lincoln that is purely aspirational rather than merely practical.

There’s a hole on the showroom floor that could be filled by a Lincoln that is purely aspirational.

About 50 years ago, Lee Iacocca surveyed the Lincoln lineup of the day and saw a similar opportunity. It seems tough to believe that he would have thought the Lincolns of the Sixties needed jazzing up, because today we absolutely venerate the ’61 Continental and its siblings. At the time, however, it was just another sedan, one that had already been competently copied in 1964 by the Continental’s own designer, Elwood Engel, after he moved to Chrysler in November of 1961.

In Iacocca’s opinion, Lincoln needed a boost. So he told Gene Bordinat, Ford’s design chief at the time, to “put a Rolls-Royce grille on a Thunderbird.” From that crass but effective diktat, Bordinat created the subtle and elegant Continental Mark III. The Mark III badge was a touch of brilliance; there had already been a Mark III successor to the famous Continental Mark II, but nobody remembered it. So the Mark III was a reboot of sorts.

The rest is history. The Mark III was hugely successful. The Mark IV had less differentiation from the Thunderbird. The Mark V set all-time sales records by placing a massive, razor-sharp Baroque body on the Mark IV platform. The Panther-derived Mark VI was offered as a particularly unfortunate-looking short-wheelbase sedan. The Mark VII was a sleek Fox-body aerocoupe that, in LSC form, took the fight to BMW and Mercedes. The Mark VIII was a stunning 32-valve disco volante that could face the Lexus SC400 on equal ground.

And that’s where the story ends, unless you consider the MKX variant of the Ford Edge to be a Mark Nine, which I certainly do not, and which I would strongly discourage you from doing. We haven’t had a proper Lincoln Mark coupe in nearly 20 years. That’s about 20 years too long, in my opinion.

If Lincoln built a Mark Nine, it wouldn’t sell in brand-saving volume the way the old cars did. We just don’t have the joie de vivre that our parents and grandparents seemed to effortlessly possess. They had three or four kids and stuffed them in the backseat of a coupe; we have one designer baby in our late 30s and surround it with a 5000-pound steel fortress. They attended formal dinner parties in their Mark coupes and left the kids at home with a sitter; we order up Netflix, fire up our laptops, and get some PowerPoint decks done while the movie plays and our kid multi-tasks on a tablet and a PlayStation. Of course, they also drove drunk as a matter of habit and had key parties and who knows what else. It wasn’t all wine and roses and Bill Blass Designer Editions.

 

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