1972-1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV

The Lincoln Continental was reincarnated in the 1970s as a luxury personal coupe. See more classic car pictures.

Though the Lincoln Continental Mark IV moniker already had been used on an ocean liner of a Lincoln in the 1950s, its reincarnation on a 1970s personal coupe showed that when it came to luxury car buyers, Ford's prestige marque had their number.

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Let's begin by making one thing perfectly clear: Our subject here is a Nixon-era Lincoln, not one of the big boxy Continentals from the late Eisenhower years.

As the story goes, Henry Ford II never liked the 1958-1960 Marks III, IV and V deeming them unworthy of the original 1940-1948 Continental created by papa Edsel, or its 1956-57 Mark II reincarnation.

Thus, when Ford Motor Company VP Lee laccoca proposed a new "personal" Lincoln for 1969, Hank the Deuce insisted it be called Mark III instead of the more logical Mark VI. It's almost as if he was trying to salvage family pride by rewriting history -- as he probably was.

But that new Mark made history all its own, and set the stage for an even more successful "second" Mark IV. Each was a stroke of genius, to a large degree the genius of Lee lacocca.

lacocca had led Ford Division in 1960-1965, where he pushed the personal-luxury Thunderbird to higher sales through increased size and glitz. Lincoln, meantime, found salvation with an elegant new 1961 Continental that was considerably smaller -- until the economy turned super-strong and the car started growing for 1964.

But that only left room for a smaller, more exclusive companion model to pick up where the Mark II had left off, or so lacocca evidently thought.

This time, though, there would be no unique body and chassis with all their associated expense. No slow hand craftsmanship either -- and certainly no losing money on each car sold.

Instead, the new Mark would be a cost-wise profit-maker using the basic Thunderbird frame and inner body structure. It would even be built in the same plant, much as the Falcon and Mustang were.

L. David Ash was appointed design director for the project, assisted by Arthur Querfeld, Damon Woods, and Hermann Brunn. But it was lacocca who decided which ideas got used.

What Iacocca mainly decided on was "neoclassic": an unabashed copy of Rolls-Royce's famous "Parthenon" radiator, Mark II-style "Continental hump" trunk-lid and close-coupled hardtop coupe proportions, and bodysides etched to suggest flowing separate fenders.

Iacocca also decreed all the gizmos and interior trappings associated with late-1960s luxury never doubting that his taste was exactly the same as the rest of the public's.

Fortunately for Lincoln, it was. Though the Mark III may have looked baroque next to Cadillac's crisp new front-drive Eldorado, it sold like no Mark before. Exactly 7,770 were built as "early 1969" models (introduction was spring 1968), which nearly equaled combined production of the "Mark I" and II.

A rousing 71,611 were produced for model years 1969-1971, nearly one-third of Lincoln's total volume.

There was no mystery here. The Mark III delivered prestige-car looks, a certain historical mystique, and all the expected amenities at a fair price ($6,741 base in 1969). Once again, laccoca had unearthed a rich new vein of sales. The only thing left was to keep working the mine.

To learn about the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV's exterior, continue on to the next page.

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The 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV Exterior

In 1972, the Lincoln Continental Mark IV's bumper was created before federal regulations outlawed the drop-center look.
In 1972, the Lincoln Continental Mark IV's bumper was created before federal regulations outlawed the drop-center look.

The 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV was ground-up new, styled by Wes Dahlberg under Dearborn design chief Gene Bordinat. Dahlberg may be the first designer in Ford history who had charge of both the exterior and interior on a single car. His challenge outside was to preserve Mark III visual cues within a distinctly different look.

Again, frame and inner body structure were shared with the Thunderbird, which was also redesigned for 1972 to be as big as it would ever get. This time, though, suspensions would differ.

Up front were the usual coils and unequal-length A-arms, but the Mark arrangement wasn't exactly the same as the T-Bird's. Coil springs reprised in back, but specific new four-link geometry with a stabilizer bar replaced the previous Mark's three-link track-bar setup.

Lower arms were stamped and conventionally mounted, but the forged-steel uppers angled inward toward the frame from mounts behind the axle housing. The primary reason for this so-called "STABUL" design was increased rear seat room, but a side benefit was a somewhat softer ride.

Steering was still geared at 21.76:1, but the mechanism was reworked for less road feel (to the chagrin of most reviewers).

Against its predecessor, the Mark IV was 3.2 inches longer in wheelbase (120.4), four inches longer overall (at 220.1), and 1.3 inches lower (52.9). It was also 211 pounds lighter (4,782 at the curb), yet it looked heavier thanks to extra overhang at each end, greater cant to windshield and backlight, thinner A-pillars, slightly bulged body sides, and larger rear wheel cutouts.

A pseudo-Rolls grille again separated headlamps concealed by electrically operated flip-up doors. The grille itself, however, sat more deeply in the bumper, and stylists made it appear taller without changing hood height by dint of a wide U-shaped central bumper cutout.

The trunk lid became shorter, its dummy spare flatter. Taillights moved from rear fenders to the bumper.

A wide-quarter vinyl-covered roof was a Mark III signature, but the IV offered a new touch of old-fashioned formality in small double-pane oval "opera windows" cut into the C-pillars. They also provided some welcome over-the-shoulder visibility for drivers.

Each window was adorned with an etched four-pointed Continental star that was silver-filled on the inner surface of the outer pane. Initially standard, then optional from mid-year, these windows began a styling fad that soon swept Detroit.

As with the full-size Continental, Lincoln's big 460-cid V-8 was detuned for 1972, with lower compression to permit use of unleaded gas. Horsepower dropped from 365 to 212 (12 fewer than quoted for the Continental), but the loss wasn't quite what it seemed because Ford, like other Detroit makers, switched to more realistic SAE net ratings.

Lincoln's three-speed automatic transmission was carried over with minor internal improvements and a quadrant shifted from the steering column into the instrument cluster.

The Mark IV dashboard was a major change from the four-pod Mark III design. Crashes with test dummies at the wheel dictated a new three-pod layout in a heavily foamed, hooded, and recessed panel. If arguably less attractive, the Mark IV panel met federal rules, which also prompted a switch from real wood to splinter-proof burl-grain plastic on dash and door panels.

Go on to the next page to learn about the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV interior.

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The 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV Interior

Naturally, the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV had conveniences galore. Like the 1971 Mark III, driver and front passenger sat on a split "Twin Comfort Lounge" bench with individual six-way power adjustments (via door-mounted controls). Power locks remained standard, but plungers now allowed locking both doors from either side.

The trunk was fully carpeted, but so was the glovebox. Upholstery comprised nylon cloth inserts and grained vinyl bolsters; leather seating surfaces were optional. Air conditioning was much improved, and again offered automatic temperature control.

Other niceties included a Cartier clock, AM radio with power antenna, and a dome light with a pair of small, fixed auxiliary spotlamps.

The Mark III was a very quiet car, but Lincoln engineers had been working for over a decade on reducing noise, vibration, and harshness, and the Mark IV was their best effort yet.

For example, all suspension components mounted in large rubber bushings (springs were double-bushed, top and bottom), and body-mounts were not only redesigned but made of an entirely new butyl compound.

Each mount's shape and placement were determined by testing full-size cars on a laboratory "ride simulator" that could replicate most any road condition from cobblestones to railroad tracks.

Adding to the quiet were 225-15 Michelin steel-belted radial tires, a Mark standard since 1970. Also back for a third season was "Sure-Track," an early form of anti-lock brakes, now standard instead of optional.

Initial color choices involved 23 standard paints, four optional "Moondust" metallics, and five hues for the padded vinyl top. Popular options ran to automatic headlamp dimmer, power sunroof, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM stereo radio, "luxury" wheel covers, and Traction-Lok limited-slip differential with numerically higher axle ratio.

At $8,640, the Mark IV was $173 cheaper than the final Mark III, which for various reasons had cost over $1,500 more than the 1970 model. In other words, the IV was more Mark for the money Lincoln cashed in as Mark sales leaped to 48,591, a near 56-percent gain over the previous year's 27,091.

Just as satisfying for Lincoln, the Mark finally outsold the rival Eldorado (by 8517 units) even though Cadillac offered a convertible as well as a hardtop.

To learn about the 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, continue on to the next page.

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The 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV

The 1973 model came with a five-mph front bumper, which added 130 pounds to the weight of the car.
The 1973 model came with a five-mph front bumper, which added 130 pounds to the weight of the car.

New models don't generally change much in their second year, but that was not the case with the 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. Aside from restandarized opera windows, the most visible difference for 1973 was a new five-mph front bumper per federal edict.

This bulky spar added 130 pounds to weight and nothing to appearance, as it made for a stunted grille and a somewhat heavier look. Turn indicators were restyled to suit, and cornering lamps were newly standard.

Another sign of the times was another reduction in horsepower, now 208 net. A tighter 2.75:1 rear axle helped compensate.

Among other technical changes were more sound insulation, larger rear brakes, improved front disc brakes, bigger tires (230-15 Michelins or LR78-15s) and a side-terminal battery. Standard paints were cut to 15, but Moondust options went to nine, vinyl roof colors to eight.

Lincoln had lately profited from special trim options on the Continental, and the idea was extended to the Mark with a mid-1973 package, the Silver Luxury Group. Priced at $400, this comprised Silver Moondust paint, matching "Levant grain" vinyl top, and an interior done in Cranberry Victoria Velour.

Dark red leather upholstery was later added as a no-cost alternative. Also issued after the start of the model year was a Silver Mark that added silver leather seats and a pioneering sliding glass moonroof to the luxury group.

Though some felt the Mark IV hadn't changed for the better, the 1973 attracted 69,437 orders, nearly 8000 more than that year's Eldorados. It also contributed to Lincoln model-year production that exceeded 100,000 for the first time -- by a healthy 28,073 units.

To learn about the 1974-1975 Lincoln Continental Mark IVs, continue on to the next page.

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The 1974 and 1975 Lincoln Continental Mark IVs

Among the styling cues from the Lincoln Continental Mark III  incorporated in the 1974 model were the hidden headlights.
Among the styling cues from the Lincoln Continental Mark III  incorporated in the 1974 model were the hidden headlights.

The Lincoln Continental Mark IV broke another psychological barrier for 1974, as its base price leaped $1,210 to $10,194. One reason was a newly required five-mph rear bumper that took overall length to 228.3 inches and base curb weight to a pudgy 5,362 pounds. (It also forced taillights back to the rear fenders.)

Happily, horsepower was up too, now at 220 thanks in part to solid-state ignition. Newly optional dual exhausts (originally planned for 1972) added a few ponies as well.

Other engineering changes included further structural reinforcements for crash protection and a starter interlock that required belting up before the engine would start. The latter was another Washington mandate, but was soon unmandated amid copious consumer complaints.

Options and trims expanded for 1974 with a "Quick Defrost" heated windshield and rear window, and a $438 Gold Luxury Group as a companion to the Silver package. The latter featured Gold Diamond Fire metallic paint, "Gold Flare" vinyl top, and a tan interior in nylon and vinyl or optional leather and vinyl.

Sales declined in the "gas crisis" panic of the OPEC oil embargo, but the Mark slipped only to 57,316 (versus 40,412 for Eldorado).

Sales slipped again for 1975, settling at 47,415 despite added standard features like four-wheel disc brakes, cruise control, tilt wheel, and remote electric trunk-lid release. Of course, all that inflated the base price, which went to $11,802, a likely reason for the sales drop, though the Mark again bested Eldorado (at 44,752).

Horsepower also dropped again, falling to 194, despite adoption of that new emissions clean-up device, the catalytic converter. At least the big V-8 ran with almost none of the stumble-and-stall problems that plagued earlier versions, and Lincoln somehow managed to trim a little more than 200 pounds from curb weight, even with all the add-ons.

New on the 1975 option sheet was a landau roof with vinyl on the front three-quarters, painted metal behind, and a stainless-steel tiara between. Also listed were three new luxury groups: Blue Diamond, Lipstick Red/White, and Saddle/White. A fourth arrived at mid-season in the Spring Edition Versailles Option, with "pillow-style" upholstery in "crushed Majestic cloth."

Go on to the next page to learn about the 1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

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The 1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV

The Lipstick/White model was part of the 1976 Designer Series. The interior was leather and vinyl.
The Lipstick/White model was part of the 1976 Designer Series. The interior was leather and vinyl.

The 1974-1975 Lincoln Continental Mark IV models may not have been a big success, but they were only a warm-up for 1976. This was the first year for the successful Designer Series options.

There were four in all, each named for a famous fashion mogul who allegedly had a hand in creating it: Bill Blass, (Hubert) Givenchy (Emilio) Pucci, and Cartier. Of course, Cartier was a jeweler, not a couturier, but who cared?

Despite a $1,500-$2,000 premium, the Designer Series was an instant hit, accounting for more than a quarter of 1976-model sales, which recovered to 56,110.

And that wasn't the end of it. Though the Gold and Silver groups were dropped, the Lipstick and Blue Diamond were joined by four new treatments: Gold/Cream, Red/Rose, Light/Dark Jade, and Jade/White.

More exclusive still were three Spring Editions introduced in March: Black Diamond, Lipstick/White, and Desert Sand. No production figures are available for those, but it's estimated that only 50-100 of each were built. (There was also a Black Diamond group for the big Continentals.)

Announced at the 1976 Detroit Auto Show, the $1,064 "Black Diamond" option wore Black Diamond Fire metallic paint that could be set off with optional silver pinstriping and black premium body side moldings.

The oft-chosen black padded roof had "Cayman-grain" vinyl that looked like patent leather and was used only on the top's rear quarter. Full-length "Normande" vinyl also was available.

The interior could be all-black with leather or crushed velour and patent-leather assist straps on the backs of the front seats. For those who thought black too funereal, dove gray was available with either leather-and-vinyl or Versailles velour.

The Lipstick/White group combined white or Lipstick Red paint with a landau roof carrying Lipstick Red Cayman vinyl on the aft quarter. The interior was white leather-and-vinyl, with Lipstick Red assist straps. Those straps and the Cayman vinyl top distinguish this option from previous Lipsticks.

More involved was the Desert Sand, which was tan on body sides and rear deck, and dark-brown metallic on nose, hood, the very tops of the doors, and around the rear windows. Discreet pinstripes separated the colors. The all-vinyl roof was also tan, but there may have been a rear landau roof with tan or dark-brown metallic paint on the front.

The interior offered a choice of dark-brown crushed velour or saddle leather-and-vinyl. Like other 1976 Spring Editions, this one also had assist straps.

Last, but not least, was the "Silhouette" package, which saw just 200 installations. Supposedly created to honor the 1976 presidential election, this was probably finished in black only, with a black rear landau roof, red body pinstripes, and a black or red interior.

Opera windows were blocked out, replaced by "Silhouette" script, and brushed stainless steel adorned the front of the roof.

With so much lily-gilding, the 1976 Mark IV had to be the most consciously fashionable car since Kaiser's early-1950s Dragons. But it was a nice way to end a banner four-year run of 278/599 units, a single-model Mark record. (The successor Mark V would sell even better for 1977-1979, though.)

While some of those trim options were undeniably gauche, the Mark IV appealed to a whole new breed of luxury-car buyer. In so doing, it made Lee lacocca a Dearborn hero once more.

But did this success also contribute to his abrupt firing by Henry Ford II in 1978? Quite possibly lacocca may have been a genius, but as HFII would remind everyone --especially lacocca -- "It's MY name on the building."

Go on to the next page to learn about the legacy of the Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

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The Legacy of the Lincoln Continental Mark IV Program

Wes Dahlberg lead the team that designed the Lincoln Continental Mark IV.
Wes Dahlberg lead the team that designed the Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

Veteran stylist Wes Dahlberg set up Ford's British and German design studios in 1958. Nine years later, he returned to the U.S. to work on what became the 1971 Pinto subcompact.

His next assignment was the Lincoln Continental Mark IV which -- in typical Lee lacocca fashion -- was a five-way intramural design competition. Dahlberg headed the team from Advanced Styling.

Now retired and living in La Mesa, California (near San Diego), Dahlberg reflected on the Mark IV program in a 1986 interview with Continental Comments, the national publication of the Lincoln and Continental Owners Club. What follows are excerpts from that conversation:

"There were five different areas and they were all pretty secret. We were in competitive studios. It was really a crash program. I had two designers under me and six modelers.

"It was a designer's dream as far as the package was concerned. The proportion of this car was so superb. It was a treat for me, because after having done [small] European cars for so long, here, all of a sudden, was this huge car.

"We had this particular model semi-prepared for a show, and were working toward another one when [then-Ford president Semon] "Bunky" Knudsen came in one day unexpectedly with his crew of men and saw this model. We were supposed to have it covered, but he came in without our knowing it.

He said, 'Gentlemen, this is going to be the next Mark, the Mark IV Don't change anything except for manufacturing and engineering feasibility.' He said it without consulting Henry Ford or anybody, and you just don't do that in a large company like Ford.

"But it turned out, and from then on we just worked with the engineers and worked with the feasibility problems and we changed as little as we had to. The oval windows were added later, but except for those, there were very few details that were changed.

"The grille was sort of like the Rolls-Royce, but we did not copy it directly. We were trying for the look of many of the great classics if they were to be built in 1972 -- not necessarily the Duesenberg, but all of them. We wanted a clean look and simplicity.

"And here's something else I'd like to point out: The Mark III had very flat sides. The Mark IV sides are rounded. There's a deep crease through the body and you will see a shadow below. That's very important to the overall effect we were after. We did the Mark IV first, and [the Ford studio] patterned the [1972] Thunderbird after it."

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