Wednesday, April 18, 2012

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car

Not many people seem to care about Ford's Lincoln luxury division anymore, because it has nearly lapsed into irrelevance. Lincoln builds only a small range of models, most of which are thinly disguised Fords that are gradually being upstaged by the redesigned versions of the cars on which they were originally based. Ford is shedding luxury and near-luxury divisions like crazy. They sold off their stakes in Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin, and phased out the mid-range Mercury brand completely. Suddenly the "One Ford" policy (combining American and European product lines) is starting to sound like "Only Ford". Even today, some people have a hard time making a case for Lincoln's continued existence.
People have long lamented the decline of American luxury. Some bemoan the death of the large, rear-wheel-drive sedan with floaty suspension and couch-like seats. Others pin the blame on those same cars as being short-sighted, ill-handling, gas-guzzling barges, symbols of wretched excess that seemed to parody themselves and increase our dependence on foreign oil. Along with Cadillac, Lincoln carried the torch for the traditional American RWD luxury formula well into the 1990s. Both were popular with the aging population, but not many other buyers. Both brands dabbled in front-wheel-drive and smaller powerplants, but as Cadillac transitioned primarily to FWD, the last true American RWD luxury car was the Lincoln Town Car. Today the Town Car, much loved by octogenarians, limo and livery cab drivers everywhere, is dead. Chrysler fields a revitalized 300C, and Cadillac's CTS takes on BMW instead of Lincoln. To a degree, Chrysler and Cadillac have been embraced by the hip-hop scene, courting younger buyers. And of course, the luxury market is dominated by brands from Europe and Japan, many of which didn't exist when this car rolled off the assembly line.
Lincoln is trying so hard to market itself as a thinking man's car, the sort of car driven by slick ad executives with thin-rimmed glasses and trendy suits who, if the ads are to be believed, would actually buy an MKZ Hybrid or MKS instead of the latest Audi.

This 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car is truly a dinosaur among dinosaurs. It was already a dying breed, as the basic body and platform dated to 1970. Lincoln designers had apparently realized the car's own obsolescence, as 1978 Town Cars finally lost their fender skirts. This was the final year for the hulking 460 V8. The Town Car was also the single largest factory passenger car in the world in 1978 -- GM had already downsized all their large cars the previous year, and the downsized "Panther" platform Ford and Mercury full-size cars would arrive just one year later.

Looking at this example, one can see why these cars aren't made anymore. This was still the era where a padded vinyl top, whitewall tires and spongy springs (and of course an upright chrome grille patterned after Rolls-Royce) were considered luxurious. Note the massive body but relatively small glass area and passenger compartment. Some modern observers despise these late-seventies Town Cars, calling them ugly and absurd. I'm torn on them, since I don't consider them to be especially attractive (particularly with the headlamp covers open), but the absurdity factor appeals to me. Would I own one? Hell no! But my God, this one has been taken care of. Inside and out, it looks like a brand new car that just needs a wash and wax job. I'd bet it's a low mileage car. Normally I'd never have featured a car like this, but when I passed by it a second or third time and saw a tow tag on the windshield, I feared the worst. Surely someone wouldn't abandon such a clean Continental! After I photographed this car, I never saw it again. Out of curiosity though, I recently checked the plate number against California smog records and it was tested the month after I last saw it. And the best part? Not only is this baby blue boat still alive and kicking, but it can pass a California enhanced-criteria emissions test. Take that, greenies.


  1. Excellent. Sheer mass!!!

  2. "Normally I'd never have featured a car like this"

    Why on earth not? I find cars of the so-called 'malaise era' far more attractive than contemporary cars or foreign cars of the same era.

  3. The bigger, the better! Used to have one ('78, dark blue, white vinyl top) back in the late nineties when I was living in Michigan. Unfortunately the conditions there were not so friendly to this mastodon...Tempted to buy one some years later while in Georgia, but never did...still feel sorry about that!