Lincoln’s Mark series has an illustrious history… the exclusive ’56 and ’57 Continental Mark II that cost more then a house. A hand built car the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley owned. Actually not even a Lincoln the First Mark’s were Continentals. Continental was Ford’s premium luxury brand positioned above Lincoln that lasted from 1956 till 1960. Ford discontinued Continental because it lost millions. The extravagantly styled Continental Mark III, IV and V sold better then the Mark II but still lost the company 60 million dollars from 1958-1960. The cars were simply too expensive to produce.
In 1969 the beautiful Mark III 2 door luxury coupe is unveiled to compete with Cadillac’s Eldorado 2 door coupe. Thus begins a 30 year rivalry for king of the hill. These’s cars were the ultimate personal automotive expression from Detroit. The Mark III having a 7.5 liter v8 with 365 gross horsepower, super plush leather interior with wood trim, anti lock brakes (called sure grip) available sunroof etc. It weighted 5000 pounds and cost upwards of 9,000 dollars. After Mark III, came the huge Mark IV and Mark V continuing as Lincoln’s 2 door status symbol of the 1970’s.
In 1980 the Mark VI shared Ford’s new panther platform with the Town Car/Continental, coming in 2 door and 4 door versions. Fuel injection and a 4 speed overdrive automatic where standard. In 1984 a a leaner and sportier Mark VII was introduced on the Fox platform. This car debuted a 4 corner air bag suspension system with computer control. The Mark VII was intended as a import fighter against cars like the BMW CSL and Mercedes SEC coupes. It had a 9 year run until 1992 because the car that would replace it was behind schedule.
Ford was reinventing itself in late 80’s and early 90’s. The Mark VII successor and the flagship of the Ford Motor Company had to be good. The Mark VIII arrived packing all of the latest technology. Like Mark VII it has air bag suspension, this time with 4 wheel independent suspension. Shoehorned into the car is a brand new engine. An all aluminum 4.6 liter, 4 cam, 32 valve V8 with 280 horsepower. A lot of horsepower in those days- the equal of the best v8’s from Mercedes, BMW and a match for Cadillac’s new Northstar V8. Lincoln’s new luxury sport coupe is shaped like a bullet with aerodynamic, coke bottle styling. A chrome grille and small continental spare tire hump in the trunk lid are concessions to the past.
Designers created a futuristic, show car like interior. It wraps around the driver emphasizing a personal sporty feel. Mark VIII would even lower the air suspension system above 55 mph for less wind drag and better handling.
Mark VIII was produced from 1993 to 1998. 1998 was the end of the run for Mark series cars- the 2 door personal coupe market falling out of favor with buyers. In the nineties sales of new cars shifted towards sport utility vehicles. New competition from new Japanese luxury brands like Lexus and Infiniti also contributed to lower sales. The Mark VIII’s chassis was heavily based on the 89-97 Ford Thunderbird mn-12 platform.
The featured car is a 1996 Mark VIII base model. Starting in 1995 an LSC (luxury sport coupe) model was added. LSC’s have a monotone paint scheme, 3.27 geared rear end and 10 more horsepower. 1996 was the last year of the gen 1 Mark VIII. 1997 and 1998 getting revised styling and a mildly updated interior. The color is opalescent, a triple coat pearl paint treatment that was a popular Lincoln color. The owner has added aftermarket dual exhaust and replaced the air bags with Ford Thunderbird springs and shocks. It’s common to find that the air bags have been replaced on these cars because they eventually develop leaks and the complex suspension system can be troublesome to maintain. A lot of owners go to springs to make the car reliable or out of frustration from high prices to replace the original air bags.
Approach the machine- the styling is rakish and swoopy. The long door is light and entry is easy. Once inside, the interior wraps around you, the controls angled towards the driver and close to the touch. There is a ‘message center’ in the middle of the dash that beeps when you push the function buttons- it gives fuel economy and trip information. Turn the ignition key and 32 valve v8 starts with a smooth, thunderous exhaust warbling coming from dual pipes.
Underway the steering is heavy for a Lincoln with a quick ratio like a sports car- turn in is crisp. The car is large but the chassis feels special with 4 wheel independent suspension keeping the wheels connected to the road. There is minimal body roll and the ride is smooth- the most objectionable aspect is a tendency to bounce on broken pavement. The 4.6L 4 cam v8 is it’s heart. Starts and idles smooth, like a true luxury car. It doesn’t have instantaneous power like a big block, rather the power builds.
Accelerate through 3000 rpm and the top end charge of 4 valves per cylinder zings the rev counter up to 6,000 rpm and the car bolts forward with extra effort. Driving at low speeds the drivetrain can feel pretty sleepy with the wide ratio 4 speed automatic in high gear and the engine chugging along at 100o rpm or less. You never doubt the muscle of the engine though with the thunderous exhaust. Mat the gas around 30-50 mph and the transmission kicks down to first gear and acceleration is ferocious as you’re pinned in the seat. Stay in it and the shift into second chirps the rear wheels. Brand new these cars did 0-60 in about 7 seconds and this one could even be less then 7.
Out on the freeway the Mark VIII has long legs and want’s to cruise at 80 mph plus. Keeping the car in it’s lane is second nature with the well weighted steering. You have the knowledge that a vast reserve of passing power is underfoot. Practice discipline and the Mark VIII will take care of you- these days the older styling of the car helps it fly under the radar and not call attention to itself.