Campus Classic – 1982 Lincoln Mark VI

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In the upper echelon of luxury automobiles, rare is the occasion that a customer of such a prestigious chariot demands one of diminutive size. Since the days of the first Cadillacs and Packards, luxury in the car market has been exemplified by sheer size of a product – more length, more width, more weight, and so on. Size is often the sizzle that sells the steak, so to speak. The 1980-1983 Lincoln Mark VI seen here, however, came about during a time downsizing became a requirement, not an option. The result? The downsized Mark came out with a very different flavor than its predecessors, and proved to have a taste that appealed to the appetites of few.

The Mark VI was in fact the fourth, not the sixth, generation of Lincoln’s personal luxury liner. Back in 1968, Lincoln debuted the first of the Marks – the Mark III. With an upright grill, hidden headlights, long hood and the now-classic spare tire bulge on the trunk, the big two-door Mark was a neo-classical sales success. Luxury buyers looking for distinctive styling flocked to their nearest Lincoln-Mercury showrooms to drive off in a car that carried the air of a rarefied Rolls Royce with the price tag of a (still expensive) Lincoln. Even more impressive, the new-kid-on-the-block Lincoln outsold the vaunted Cadillac Eldorado, which heretofore had been the perennial leader of the personal luxury arena.

The Mark series continued to find success as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, an era which saw the peak of the personal luxury segment. As the Mark III turned into the Mark VI and V, the cars grew ever bigger and heavier, until the behemoth Mark V weighed so much that putting a couple cases of beer in the trunk would send a scale reading north of 5,000 pounds. While such gargantuan dimensions might have been socially acceptable in the early part of the 1970s, the fuel crisis of 1974 and the subsequent CAFE restrictions put an end to the ever-ballooning full-size American car. Government mandated fuel economy standards became implemented, which the American automaker’s current business model was woefully unprepared for. The Mark IV and V, for instance, had a 460 cubic inch (7.5 L) motor. When paired with a nearly 5,000 Ib. Mark, resulting fuel economy was about 9 MPG. This gas-guzzling was something the government demanded rectified, and sent the American automakers scrambling to the drawing boards.

Lincoln especially was in a quandary. The Mark V was so far the most successful Lincoln Mark yet, as well as one of the most successful Lincolns of all time. The V was also printed money for Ford, thanks to high demand and high transaction prices. How does one keep that momentum up with a Mark VI that has to be significantly smaller in every way? The Lincoln boys decided that the best way to continue the Mark’s success was to scale down the design of the V to fit the new, smaller proportions of the VI. The final result? Aesthetically shocking. While the four-door looked stylish enough, many critics lamented that the two door Mark VI came off as a little girl who had found her mother’s makeup. Buyers and critics found the car was proportionally off, with the roof too high, the wheelbase too short, the overhangs too much. In short, the design of the long, low and wide Mark V was simply unable to be smoothly translated down to the smaller and taller VI.  

On top of the unfortunate proportions, the Lincoln also had to compete against two other personal luxury contenders – the Eldorado and the Chrysler Imperial, both of which also had been recently redesigned and introduced (1979 and 1981, respectively). To compete, Lincoln offered specially trimmed designer series, from the classic blue and white Bill Blass to offerings from Pucci, Cartier, and Givenchy.  On the powertrain side, the Mark offered a fuel injected 302 V8 motor along with four speed overdrive, a combo which offered little in the way of horsepower, but did have ample amount of torque, and was more than adequate to haul around the smaller Mark VI. However, fancy paint jobs and a decent engine was not enough to keep the competition at bay. The Eldorado in particular debuted to an overwhelmingly positive reaction from buyers and critics, and decimated the Lincoln in sales. Consider: In 1982, the Lincoln Mark VI two-door sold 11,532 units. The 1982 Eldorado? 52,018 units. It was clear to Ford that the attempt to make the Mark VI a mini-me Mark V had failed.

When Ford debuted the replacement for the Mark VI in 1984, the automotive world was stunned by what they saw. The VII was lithe and futuristic, and its arrival signified the end of the proud Mark tradition of being baroque, traditional and neo-classical. Today, the Mark VI is the most obscure and forgotten of the successful Mark series. The attempt to scale down the lauded design language of the much larger Mark V simply did not result with the same panache and presence, and buyers of such a style-conscious segment were much happier plunking down their money for the more cohesive and sophisticated looking Eldorado. However, as the old adage goes, time heals all wounds. What was once rejected by contemporary buyers has become a rare sight in the world today, with low production numbers and the onward march of time thinning the numbers of an already uncommon car. It is a pleasure to see this car still on the road and cared for, and makes for a striking contrast to the jellybean cars that clutter today’s parking lots. While the 1980-1983 Mark VI may have lacked the sizzle of its predecessors, it still offered flavor, and its taste satiates the palate of this Mark’s owner. And isn’t that what really matters?

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