I can only imagine how happy automakers, and the general public, were to leave the 1970s behind. It was a decade of rude awakenings, wait, we have an impact on the environment?!, and major social upheaval, All In The Family, disco. Sure there were bright spots, Scorcese, Zeppelin, Trans-Am SD-455, but for the most part the 70s were a trying time for everyone on planet earth. Many of the policies implemented then set the tone for the next 30 years, and still directly effect our lives today. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the Big 3 offered up the final expressions of “old guard thinking” with the 1980-1983 models that would close out the Malaise Era. Some parts, styling, and attitude carried on for the remainder of the decade, but by 1990 the gaudy rides of the 70s were but a faded memory played back in Super 8 inside your head.
When Lincoln introduced the Continental MkVI in 1980 they must have been pretty damn pleased with themselves. They had effectively downsized from the ’79 model to the tune of 800 lbs and 14 inches. However, the new Continental debuted just as the economy went in the crapper, where it would stay until 1983. As a result the MkVI wasn’t exactly a smashing success, as reflected in two year production number drop off following its initial year on the market.
The styling was well received as it mostly retained the sharp baroque styling of the 1970s models that consumers loved. When I look at the MkVI, I see it as an imposing piece of machinery, somewhat evil, especially with the headlights exposed. It evokes strong images of 80s excess, and I’ve always assumed they came standard with a box of cigars, and bottle of cognac. The model designations and specialty trim levels available can be confusing as hell, but let me break it down for you as easily as I can.
Lincoln was late to the downsizing party when compared to Chrysler and Cadillac. Therefore they were essentially selling 3 variations of the same car, the Continental, Continental MkVI, and Continental Town Car. For 1981 the Continental was dropped from the lineup, it would re-emerge a year later as a replacement for the poorly performing Lincoln Versailles. The Continental Town Car was the larger of the 2 Panther Platform based Lincoln’s, though it was demoted from top dog, that honor was given to the Continental MkVI.
In what seems like the worlds dumbest decision, Lincoln offered a Continental MkVI sedan and a Continental TownCoupe. They already had the MkVI coupe and the Town Car sedan, but for whatever reason they manufactured opposite versions of the car under the same damn nameplate. My best guess is whoever was running things in ’80/’81 was on some fantastic cocktail of designer drugs, and just decided to approve every idea floated their way. How else can you explain the mess that is the designer edition model sheet?
In addition to the Signature Series, Lincoln offered specialty designer editions of the Continental as both a coupe and a sedan. For 1980 you could get a MkVI coupe done up by Cartier, Pucci, Bill Blass, or Givenchy. My personal favorite of the four is by far the nautically inspired Bill Blass version, It’s so delightfully tacky that it makes me laugh every time I think about the kind of people who went in and bought one new. In 1982 Lincoln moved the Pucci edition to the MkVI sedan and the Cartier edition to the Town Car nameplate, no doubt in an effort to entice buyers to give those four door models a chance. Givenchy was given the boot for 1983, and a Pucci edition coupe was introduced mid year, making them exceptionally rare and highly sought after by crazy Malaise Era collectors.
The constant juggling of these models and special editions is all the evidence one needs to see that Lincoln was in a tailspin at the dawn of the 80s. They learned the hard way that style could no longer reign over substance as it had during the 70s. Buyer were becoming more savvy and tastes were rapidly changing. Even with impressive technological advancements, like having the first direct fuel injected V8, a keyless entry system, and a 4 speed automatic overdrive transmission that drastically boosted fuel economy, the Continental was still not the smashing success that Lincoln had hoped for. The 70s were good to Lincoln, but the 80s were off to a rocky start, so the MkVI was redesigned, and relaunched strictly as a coupe in 1984. The Town Car would soldier on largely unchanged in appearance until 1989, when its sharp edges were rounded off, and it became one of the best selling luxury cars in domestic history.
If you’re in the market for a piece of Malaise Era history, a designer edition MkVI is a great choice, be it a coupe or a sedan. I prefer the coupe as it embodies what the Mark series was all about, but the sedans are rarer, and pretty cool in their own right. The Black over Red example pictured here is one of those vehicles that would make for an amazing conversation piece.
The seller has all kinds of neat extras to include with the vehicle, as well as a detailed history of the car. It was owned by a carpet salesman, who won it in 1980 as part of a work incentive program, right up until he passed away in 2014. This example is fully loaded, which means factory installed CB radio, YES! It also has the one year only 351 Windsor V8, which gives you much more power than the fuel injected 302, but can be more troublesome due to the variable venturi 2 barrel carburetor. As with any old car, you just need to do your homework and proceed with an purchase cautiously. If it were my money, I’d go with the 1980 Bill Blass coupe or this triple white ’83 Mark VI coupe. No matter what Mark VI you would choose, better make sure to stock up on your 8 track tape collection before taking ownership. Period correct tunes deserve to be played on period correct radios. Check out the Spotify playlist below for inspiration and then get to searching for your Malaise Era Mark with AutoTempest!