Yes, I’m fully aware that Lincoln is barely alive. Noticed that I didn’t say well…because it is anything but that.
Why did I pick 2010? Because that was the year that the real last Lincoln was widely available to customers…the Lincoln Town Car (fleet sales ended in 2011). In fact, I would go as far as to say that the Town Car is what personified Lincoln in the modern era (after 1980). The Continental had a great run, but once they flipped it to a quasi-Taurus/Sable platform in 1995, it began a running bad joke until its demise in 2002.
But more about that later.
The gradual descent to its grave really started in 1998, with the cancellation of the Lincoln Mark VIII. This signaled the end of the famed Mark Series, which was bestowed to their flagship coupes. My father owned two of these great vehicles, the Mark V and Mark VI. Looking back at his total automobile purchases, I feel like these two, as well as his ’69 Ford Torino 428 Cobra Jet were the highlights. Oddly enough, his dream car is the Corvette…but I suspect it is for most men his age (60).
The Mark VIII was discontinued because Ford decided to discontinue the platform that it rode on, also canceling the Ford Thunderbird. What was originally a direct competitor to the Corvette, it grew over the years to become a GT (Grand Touring) coupe with “sporty aspirations”. I do miss both vehicles so, and whenever I was an Internet Sales Manager for a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, we were still selling every pre-owned Mark that we could get quickly, and for close to the asking price.
The best thing about this was the engine…it was an Intech 4.6L V8, and it drank the good stuff (premium petrol), but gas was ridiculously cheap, and this bad boy churned out up to 290 bhp in LSC guise. Not bad for an 4000-pound plus luxo-barge. As the saying went, “you could turn off the traction control and go hunting for Camaros”.
What did Lincoln replace it with? The LS…a generic name for a generic-looking vehicle. It seemed to take every design theme from every sports sedan on the market and put it all into one vehicle. Unfortunately, I saw quite a bit of the Mitsubishi Diamante in the car…mind you, I don’t think that it’s a bad car per se, but still…Lincoln should have aimed higher.
Despite its looks, it was quite a driver in its day, and it did lure many of its intended conquest demographics (young 30’s, married, no kids) into their dealerships to at least take a look. Men were quite interested in checking out this BMW 3-Series competitor, while most women scoffed at it being a “old man’s car”. They would be somewhat correct in saying that, seeing as the other two vehicles for sale were the Lincoln Town Car and the Lincoln Continental…both cars that appealed mostly to older people.
Speaking of the Continental, it met its demise in 2002 after Ford decided to end it…not necessarily because of the platform itself, but because of slow sales. It was quite an incredible car, despite it being FWD…I would say that this was the only thing wrong with the vehicle. You could get it in 5 or 6 passenger seating (honestly, the 6 passenger is for your wife to be able to “sit closer to you” while cruising down the road), with a host of technological options to satisfy even the most gadget-happy driver. I particularly loved that you could change the ride and handling, which is something that I missed in the newer Town Cars. Not to mention the leather was the best that Ford had offered in their vehicles, save for the F150 King Ranch Edition (Connolly leather, the same stuff that Astons and other better British cars had).
But the best thing was the engine…which was essentially the same as the one in the outgoing Mark VIII. Although it wasn’t pumping out nearly 300 bhp, it was churning out “only” 275 bhp. Despite its weight and luxury aspirations, it could really get up and go. In short, despite me being a two-time Lincoln Town Car owner, I would gladly admit that this was their best car on the lot.
So why did it not sell? Simple…because Lincoln had a car that was nearly identical on their lot…at least in their customers’ eyes. The Town Car was bigger, yet had less features in it, and it sold for the same price…even had the same average transaction price (thousands were slashed off of the MSRP, although most people would negotiate the trade difference. They had bags of money and quickly grew tired of the colour of Town Car/Grand Marquis that they had). Yet people couldn’t justify paying the same amount for “a smaller car”…even though this supposedly smaller car had better leather, a better engine, and more features.
Also, Ford didn’t know how to market the vehicle, and with the flashy new LS and Navigator pulling in younger customers, plus the ultra-loyal customer base of the Town Car, the Lincoln Continental was the redheaded stepchild that was locked away in their room, while the others played outside with all of their friends. Its death in 2002 as all but a formality. My old General Sales Manager would say that “having six Continentals means that we have a two year supply of them”. That should tell you how often we sold them…same went for other dealerships in the area.
So, what about the LS? Well…it was killed off in 2006, barely alive to see a significant refresh. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to entice customers to come back, and with the new six-speed automatic transmission being rushed out into the market by PAG head honcho Wolfgang Reitzle (it also saw duty in the Jaguar S-Type), it became a warranty nightmare for dealerships, with customers constantly having to bring back their vehicles for repairs that were an exercise in futility. The refresh in 2003 should have been the original vehicle that was launched back in 2000, and the auto tranny should have had a couple more years of development and testing. I feel as though it would still be alive today…or rather, it should still be alive today, battling for RWD entry-level supremacy with the Cadillac ATS.
Finally, last but not least, is my beloved Town Car. Yes, I know, it was getting a bit long in the tooth. But I honestly feel that given the right amount of platform/interior upgrades, this car would (and should) be the flagship of Lincoln. As with almost every other car, Ford let it “die on the vine”, neglecting to react quickly to the ever-changing automotive landscape. Thankfully, those days are long over, thanks to one Mr. Alan Mulally, the saviour of Ford.
I had owned two Town Cars, the 1995 Signature Series Spinnaker Nautica Edition, and the 2001 Signature Series. The ’95 was superior to the ’01 in every way, from creature comforts to the ride and handling. The ’01 was an example of cost-cutting getting out of hand, and Lincoln losing focus on their loyal customer base. No wonder people quit buying them and started buying Grand Marquis. For every new Town Car that I sold, I would sell 10-20 GMs. Why? The GM was better looking.
So, with all of that being said, what did Lincoln replace these cars with?
Mark VIII was replaced with the LS.
The LS was replaced with the Zephyr.
The Zephyr was replaced with the MKZ.
So, it went from a luxury flagship coupe to a fancy Fusion.
The Continental was never officially replaced, the Town Car would absorb the 10 or so sales that it would of had every year. In my opinion, the Continental and Town Car were effectively replaced with the MKS.
What’s a MKS? A Mark S. Yes, the Mark name came back in 2007, but it was only internally known as Mark. It’s being marketed as MK, because apparently Lincoln decided that it was a better brand than two of their nameplates with brand equity that most automakers would kill for.
Officially, the Town Car was replaced with the livery version of the MKT.
There you have it…two storied nameplates and a promising entry-level RWD sedan being killed off and replaced with FWD fancy Fords is why Lincoln went from being the best selling luxury brand in America (1998) to being a mere afterthought in 2012. Actually, does anyone even think about Lincoln when purchasing a luxury vehicle? Sales numbers don’t lie…just customers.
At least the Navigator is still around, but something happened a few years ago…the marketplace passed it by. It’s only a matter of time before it’ll meet its demise, just like the great Lincolns before it…and you know that it’ll be replaced with a FWD minivan called the Lincoln MKN or something stupid like that…
Oh wait, they already have that now…