Car Disgust: 1977-1980 Lincoln Versailles
Not long ago, we here at Car Lust went back to the days of Marlon Brando, greasy hair, and leather jackets. Now let's slingshot around the sun, hit warp drive, and time-travel to the age of leisure suits, twirling mirrored balls, psychedelic lighting, and thumping dance floor music... those now-distant, dearly departed, dreaded days of Disco.
I'm not sure if a more superfluous period of car (or fashion) design has ever existed. Sure, the 1950s had chrome and 3-tone paint schemes. But the late 1970s and early '80s was an era of padded vinyl roofs, opera windows, wide body-side moldings, wide pinstripes, fake wire-wheel hubcaps, flip-up headlights (some were even padded vinyl), requisite upright hood ornaments, pillowy crushed velour seating, and fine Corinthian leather. It is a period of garishly concocted automotive design that should be remembered only so that we will never repeat it again.
This time slot was all about flash, not substance. After all, how long could a vinyl roof last in the Florida sunshine? Surely nowhere near as long as 1950s chrome and paint would.
Some of these cars were designed almost from the ground up to be in this class, such as the Chrysler Cordoba or 1977 Ford Thunderbird. Others were quickly transformed from whatever was already on the assembly line, like the 1975 Mustang II Ghia Silver Edition. But in any sense, the Lincoln Versailles (pronounced ver-sigh) surely did not spend near enough time in the bake oven, and was served to us both rare and bleeding. Its origins actually trace back to the humble 1960 Ford Falcon.
Born as a quick response to the first Cadillac Seville, anybody who did not recognize the more pedestrian Ford Granada under the upright grille, thickly padded vinyl roof, raised body side molding, and tacked-on humped trunk lid needed to go back to Car School 101 immediately. Even the dash was basically the same as a Granada, just with some more-realistic fake plastic burled wood. And yes, that's a factory 8-Track tape player built into the radio.
My aunt had one of these. She thought the world of her car and even kept it under a sheet in her garage, and always called it her "Ver-sales." That poor lady. She really, really thought she had something special. After all, it was a very collectible Lincoln that was extremely rare, since not many were sold, right? Right? Right.
I guess Cadillac does not have a monopoly on pretentious car rebadging. Feeding a market that hardly even existed (nor should it), this "trickle up" theory of car engineering sadly did not end in the 1980s. Or the 1990s. The Lincoln Zephyr of 2006 is a knockoff of the Ford Fusion, with the usual upscale grill, unique wheels, and interior and comfort upgrades.
The Versailles continued the Granada's powertrain offering, and with no substantial improvements. Most of these had the 302-cubic-inch V-8 under the hood, a few early ones had the 351-cubic-inch V8. Drivetrain similarities aside, what disgusts me the most about this car is that you could have had two well-equipped Granadas for the price of one Versailles.
I don't have any performance numbers on this car because, well, basically there aren't any worth noting. By now, early smog and emissions controls had choked the life out of nearly all vehicles, especially the muscle cars, even the few that did survive this long. To "Get Up And Boogie" now meant something else entirely.
So instead of sport and performance machines, many cars of this time were being built as "personal luxury" vehicles, ranging from the Vega Cabriolet to a Lincoln Mark V. Maybe padding our keesters in living room-style comforts, stepping on shag carpeting, and operating effortless power steering and brakes was supposed to help us forget how crappy our cars had really become.
The public was not fooled by this pretentious poseur. Only 15,000 Versailles were sold in its first year, about one-third as many as the Seville. Half that number was sold in 1978, and in its final year, 1980, a mere 4,000 of these gussied-up Granadas found happy homes. By contrast, a total of 2,066,336 plain old Granadas were built.
Yet as wretched as the car's pretensions were, some credit must go to Lincoln. The Versailles team engineered rear disc brakes onto the car, putting it in the same stopping league as the Seville. It was also the first American car to use halogen headlights and clearcoat paint.
What's ironic (and somewhat insulting to Lincoln) is that all of these Lincoln parts, including the humped trunk lid, can be easily bolted onto either the Granada or its stablemate Mercury Monarch. Even their two-door models can be "Lincolnized."
My fondest memory of this little Lincoln came when I was walking in my friends' auto salvage yard one day. I saw a signature Versailles trunk lid just sitting there, in remarkably good condition. I wanted to buy that part and maybe put it on a wall some day. But I kept walking, and to this day I regret not taking home that piece of Americana/automotive history.
Maybe my aunt was right. These cars, because of their low volume, are now becoming collectible. Though they cost about $14,000 new, a good one now is about $10,000- 12,000. So in 20 more years, give or take and figuring inflation, she might even break even, had she kept it.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Thanks to Wikipedia for the Versailles trunk image and some technical information for this post. Thanks, Cookie The Dog's Owner, for the link to the 3-tone paint scheme chart. The dash image is from Photobucket. The black and gray Versailles image is from ClassicCars.com. The overhead view is from www.Ajovalo.net.