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Car Disgust: 1977-1980 Lincoln Versailles

Lincoln_Versailles_Rear 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.

Versailles dash 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.

The trunk lid was humped to simulate a Continental Kit that had been offered on cars of yore; they were on all Lincolns around this time. And the Versailles derriere further insulted our intelligence by placing the fuel filler hatch directly where the spare tire would have been. So unless the mounted tire had a hole in the center of the wheel, you would have had to open the trunk and remove the tire every time before adding gas, eliminating the need for a filler hatch in the first place. Oh, what a tangled web we weave... .

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.

Versailles front 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.

Versailles overhead 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.

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A couple of things I seem to remember about the Versailles:

--Ford attempted to further disguise the fact that it was a badge-engineered Grandma--oops, I meant Granada--with a glued-on fiberglass roof cap that shifted the rear window back a little and made it even more vertical; it's hidden under the vinyl roof.

-- The Versailles rear axle is much coveted by hot rodders and Mustang enthusiasts; it'll bolt right in to early-generation Mustangs (which were also built on the Falcon platform) for a quick and easy upgrade to disc brakes.

Yes, the fiberglass roof cap went on in 1979, as did a landau vinyl roof treatment. It was not on the first two years of the Versailles.

Think of the Daimler-looking Seville Caddys that were around back then.Talk about Disco Cars.

Versailles was like Merkur. A Mercury nobody was positive how to pronounce.

Another funny Merc nameplate is Mystique as in "Oh No. I've made a HUGE MYSTIQUE!"

I was 19 years old in 1983, when my 1973 Pinto (with a 1972 drivetrain-2.0 liter OHC) was totaled. I drove my father's 1976 Ford P/U for a while. After a few months of this, it was made clear to me that I needed to get my own car-and that I should get said car in somewhat of a hurry. My uncle had a 2-door, 1976 Ford Granada on his used car lot. It was gray with a burgundy vinyl roof, burgundy interior, and had the fancy aluminum mag wheels from the factory. It was not a bad-looking car for it's time, but I still remember being somewhat unimpressed by the car, particularly seeing as my dad had bought a 1974 260 Z out from under me. I mean, is there really any comparision? Granada vs Z. A big step down, if you ask me.
What made me actually fork over my money was when I looked under the hood. I did not find the pedestrian straight 6, or even the bullet-proof 302 V8. It had a 351. I closed the hood and told him I'd take it. I came to love that car. It was very comfortable to drive on long trips, was very luxurious (consider I came from the Pinto!), and other than the transmission rebuild ($500.00) was pretty reliable. My girlfriend and I drove my Granada with >130,000 miles on it on trips because it was infinitely more reliable than her Omega with 40,000 miles on the clock. I used to think maybe I should change out the rear axle for a Versailles axle, but never got around to it.
I sold the Granada in 1988 when I bought my new Ford Ranger. I am still driving the Ranger today. I have no idea whatever happened to the Granada. I still remember it fondly, except the spark plugs were kind of a pain to change.

"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."

...somebody really needs to write an extended piece on donks - they're the primary reason for the absurdly high valuation a lot of these late seventies land barges have developed over the past decade...

I have a strange fascination with the Versailles. I love disco-era formal styling cues in general and the interior on these cars was really opulent. The optional leather interior got you a leather-upholstered dashboard and console. The shag carpeting was so deep, you could lose a small dog in it. You also forgot to mention that the radio was a digital tuning "Quadrasonic" 8-Track deck. Pop a tape into this baby and you can leave the quaaludes home. On the exterior, I think it looked tailored and classy. The Granada had so many Lincoln styling cues that it was a natural for the 4-pointed star. Compared to the absolutely heinous Taurus-based 88-95 "Continental," The Versailles wasn't such a bad example of badge engineering.

Knowing all this, I set out to buy one a few years ago. Every one I looked at had catastrophic rust and massive engine wear in the 302. You haters can rejoice, as the line is nearly extinct. I ended up satisfying my lust for a disco-era "small" luxury car with an 80 Seville (another endangered species), but I still pine away for the baby Lincoln.

After doing some thought and research on this post, I would love to see a two-door Versailles. With a half-roof/landau treatment and in the right colors (please, not brown), I think it would come across like a mini Mark V. Maybe Photoshop, anybody?

If you look at that dash image, you can see the thick carpet on the driver's kick panel. I'm surprised the parking brake pedal is operable. Oh, and has anybody seen Fifi?

I REALLY kick myself sometimes for not buying that Versailles trunk lid. It would have been like an "Instant Lincoln" kit. *sigh*

@TCG: Provided you could locate the parts, it shouldn't be all that hard. Start with a two-door Grandma--er, Granada. Add the Versailles trunk lid and grille--those should bolt right on. There was an optional vinyl landau half-roof treatment for the Granada that would be a starting point for the Versailles roof. If you're determined to put the fiberglass roof cap on the Granada, you're looking at major surgery; otherwise, it's just a matter of some padding under the vinyl, a set of coach lights, and some chrome trim. The Granada's optional body side molding looks pretty close to identical to the style used on the Versailles. Inside, add rich Corinthian leather and the Kool & The Gang shag carpet and you're good to go.

http://www.americangranada.com/rob_v.html

Check out this link and you will see a Versailles coupe. No Photoshop needed, somebody actually made one from a Granada.

Here's another great site dedicated to the Versailles:

http://www.lincolnversailles.com/

I may be crazy to love cars like the Versailles, Cordoba, 74-76 Cougar, bustleback Seville etc , but I'm not the only one. Keep in mind that these cars are the same age as the classic muscle cars were when the prices took off in the 90's. In a world where every car is competent but boring, a Versailles makes a big splash.

This does sound like a fun armchair project! I'm not sure if the roof cap from the 4-door would fit the 2-door. So a good auto upholsterer would have to do the best he could with a vinyl landau half-roof cover and some padding.

Jed, that's an amazing site on the 2-door Versailles! However, the body side molding is too low, and I think a two-tone paint scheme would have "glamourized" the car more. Also, the horizontal bumper rub strips are missing.

A great effort, but it fell a little short. I still looks like a Granada from the side.

At least the Lincoln Zephyr started with something halfway sensible - a Fusion isn't a bad car. Keep in mind that Japanese manufacturers have the wonderful habit of rebranding higher-end base brands as lower-end luxury brands, too (Camry-based Lexuses, Accord-based Acuras, and so on). A Granada-based design, on the other hand, is almost as ridiculous as creating a luxury Maserati out of a K-Car.

Oh wait...
http://www.carlustblog.com/2007/12/car-disgust--ch.html

Or trying to revive a defunct luxury line using a tarted up K-Car chassis... oh wait...
http://www.carlustblog.com/2008/02/incp--dodge-dyn.html

Or building a limousine out of K-Car parts... seriously?!
http://www.carlustblog.com/2008/08/chrysler-execut.html

That's it. Screw you guys, I'm going home.

Yes, the Fusion is a great car. And I'll take a Blue Oval or a waterfall grille long before I pay way, way more for a 4-pointed star with the same sheet metal, drivetrain, dashboard, etc.

Lincolns and Cadillacs used to be unique and possibly worth the price differences. Not any more, IMO.

Several of these 'cheap' lincoln's from this period came with rear disk brakes (as mentioned) on the Ford 9" rear, so they were always a good find in the junkyard for the rear alone..

So it was a junk, but the Versailles rear axle makes it the hot item to get to add rear disc brakes to a 64 to 68 Mustang.

these are great junk yard finds for retrofitting disc brakes and better steering onto early 60s midsized fords

"...Cadillacs used to be unique and possibly worth the price differences. Not any more, IMO."

So the LS series motor makes the CTS-V not worth it?

I kinda thought Cadillac was doing fairly well until the bankruptcy on differentiating itself.

To my credit, I think, I had my X-1/9 for most of that era.

I have several Granada/Versailles parts on my 65 Falcon. As he alluded to in the article, the Granada is really just a Falcon underneath. Ford took the Falcon chassis and created the Mustang, Maverick and Granada. I used to have a Versailles rear end and still have front disks from a Granada on my Falcon. I put different rear disk setup because the Versailles rear end is real heavy, so I went to Explorer parts.

--Stephen

I sold papers in front of the church, and this one old guy would pull up early every Sunday for the 8:30. I think he arrived early just so he could park his pearly white Versailles right there in front of the entrance.
The best part was his routine, because it fit with the car so well:
He would park with a 15 point turn, like a leaf see-sawing down from the branches overhead.
Each time he engaged reverse, his reverse beeper would tweet out the news.
Every time he got out, he would flick some imaginary speck off of the immaculate vinyl top. Every time.
And then he would go around and open the door for his ancient and stooped wife, with all the formality of a footman for the queen.
I did everything I could to limit my hysterical laughter to a friendly smile. After all, the car may have been garish, but a man who treats his wife like that after 50 years has class.

My dad had this car. It was ridiculous. The quadraphonic 8 track was pretty cool, and the demo tape included with the car sounded just great, but everything in the car was electric and automatic, and it all seemed to break down really quickly. In addition, it got about 10 miles to the gallon. He couldn't trade it in fast enough.

The only good thing about the Versailles is that its rear axle, with a 9" rear end and disc brakes, bolts right up to a 65-70 Mustang.

I think Henry Ford II assumed all GM did was reskin a Nova, so they didn't do much to their 'International Size' car.

Motor Trend at the time did a comparison test between a 77 Seville and Versailles. They wimped out and said 'both cars are nice'. This is about the time I stopped buying them. And I was only 17!

With all the demand for used Versailles rear axles, are there any even left by now?

Tomm, with the descriptions of rusty Versailles, maybe the axles are one of the few parts left?

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