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The Carchive: The 1979 Lincoln Versailles

Chris Haining December 11, 2015 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 14 Comments


Yesterday I spent a fair bit of Redusernab bandwidth carrying out an assessment of American car styling in the ’60s and ’70s, and ended up observing the strange tangents it went off on. I stated then that today’s featured Carchive Car would be the one that, I felt, epitomised everything which had become strange and peculiar to American Car Design at the end of the seventies, but I didn’t give any clues as to what that car would be.

So, let’s have a show of hands for anybody who guessed the Lincoln Versailles?

“Lincoln Versailles. New custom roof designs, interior elegance and today’s trim size makes it a tasteful melding of classic and contemporary”

The upwardly mobile American consumer of the late 70s wanted more of everything, irrespective of whether they could afford it. Those with upscale tastes wanted the world to know just how aspirational they were.

The Lincoln Versailles; the most compact and least costly car ever to wear the Lincoln emblem, was an opportunity for folk of “sufficient” wealth to walk down the street exposing their jewellery to the world. It was unmissable and unmistakeable.

So, why am I highlighting it as being a great force of evil from car styling’s murky past? Well, on the face of it you can see that the Versailles has absolutely no design purity whatsoever, but that’s not the key issue here. What irks me the most about the Versailles is as follows.

It was based on Ford’s unspectacular midsize Granada. This in itself was fine, But that car was marketed to the domestic market as an honest American alternative to high-quality German imports. We may laugh at them now, but Ford in the late ’70s were publishing commercials asking us to spot the differences between their Granada and a Mercedes. A Mercedes-Benz was very expensive by comparison, but it was a quite soberly dressed, unshowy machine, likely to only impress those who knew what they were looking at, or those who had come to know and respect the brand.


The entire case for the validity of those adverts hinged on the idea that the Granada was “good enough” to compete with high-dollar machines in other sectors of the market. So you could say that FoMoCo’s introduction of the ritzier Versailles was evidence of a lack of conviction. Also, if the Granada (especially the ESS models) was intended to be at least in tune with the prevailing upmarket trends towards European ideals and physical tastes, what on Earth were they thinking by bolting a load of add-on tat which took the Versailles as far in the opposite direction as it was possible to go?

We are show an image of a sporting couple standing proudly next to their Versailles in Cordovan with standard Cavalry Twill vinyl half-roof and optional wire wheel covers. The entire car appears to have been rolled in liquid chrome, with wide brightwork pressings demarcating the start of that half-roof, as well as highlighting the wheelarches, the sills, the waistline, the windows, the edge of the roof, as well as the expected bumpers and radiator grille.

But that wasn’t all. Adding to the festoonment were “New, standard integrated coach lights”, and a “standard padded rear deck accent”.

Who on earth needs a padded rear deck accent? Who, for that matter, needs a half-vinyl roof? Vinyl roofs weren’t exclusive to the USA, of course; Rolls Royces had been wearing “Everflex” roofs for a while, and it was still a sought-after option on your humble Ford Cortina right up to the late ’70s. But I’m pretty sure the USA had a near-monopoly on the vinyl half-roof, or the Landau roof, and once they had gained a foothold they remained popular for ages.

But never stopped looking silly.

It can’t be much of a coincidence that none of this gauche trinketry had any impact on the mechanical or structural aspects of the car. That presumably means that a these “must have” features could be sprayed liberally all over the car without much impact on the cost to manufacture. This was not progress in car design, this was milking profit out of a gullible market.

“Everywhere you look inside Versailles, you find evidence of the kind of meticulous craftsmanship which has been the hallmark of over five decades of fine Lincoln automobiles.”

This is the point that hurts the most. If you see this car as an up-contented and embellished Granada, it no longer sits very well in the rich history of the brand. A look at the ’72 Lincoln MKIV brochure shows that car to be a long, low rocketship of a car which couldn’t be more Lincoln if it tried, despite having commonality with the contemporary Thunderbird. The Lincoln V12 of 1936 would be embarrassed if it was told that its distant offspring would be tinsel-wrapped Granadas.

That’s not to say I don’t see the appeal of the Versailles; I just see it as being more compelling today as an object of curiosity and faint ridicule than it ever deserved to be at its launch.

It’s a statement of where American Car Design once was. Things could always be better, but lets be thankful that things have moved on so far since 1979.

(All opinions those of the Author and do not necessarily mirror the views of Redusernab. Images all photographed from original manufacturer publicity materials, copyright held by Ford Motor Company, except Granada advert, pinched from )

  • tonyola

    The original ’77-’78 Versailles looked like something created by judicious ordering from a J.C. Whitney catalog. The ’79 got a new roofline that was not shared with its lower-priced cousins, but the car was still a gross underachiever. What is remarkable is that Cadillac apparently didn’t take notes about the Versailles failure and introduced its own version a few years later as the Cimarron.

    • dukeisduke

      The Cimarron may have been a poorly-disguised Cavalier, but the Versailles was a me-too to the Seville. Where the Versailles shared most of its sheetmetal with the Granada/Monarch cars, the Seville had unique sheetmetal, re-engineered unibody, subframe, and suspension, and a 3.3 inch wheelbase stretch (114.3″, versus the 111″ wheelbase of the X-Body cars).

  • Jeepster

    But they had an old 9″ rear end, with nice fat disc brakes – that will bolt right into a vintage Mustang. plumb in a proportioning valve and go.

  • Fuhrman16

    To think, that this car evolved from this:

    • Rover 1

      And in parallel evolution elsewhere evolved into this, with the same six cylinder engine block casting

      • ptschett

        Meanwhile in the USA, there is a similar-looking car that has wrongfront-wheel-drive and transverse four-cylinders…

        • Rover 1

          This will be the Falcon’s replacement, (or it’s replacement will be).

          Soon to be sadly ‘RIP’ for the final version of the old Falcon inline six with the original block-casting and mountability but in it’s top version 24 valve variable valve timing DOHC alloy head and intercooled turbocharging.

          No ‘Ecoboost’ here, just power and torque 416 hp (310 kW) of power @ 5500 rpm and 565 N·m (417 lb·ft) of torque while meeting Euro V emissions standards and all of Ford’s Corporate reliability standards, and fitting anywhere the old ‘Falcon six’ fitted.

          And if you really like sixes 1,000 hp (746 kW) was made reliably from a Barra 240T engine in 2004, with carefully designed cams, manifolds and turbocharger. With Motec engine management the engine rev limit was increased to 7200 rpm and it produced 1,000 N·m (740 lb·ft) of torque at only 3500 rpm. A custom
          crank, conrods and pistons were used but the cylinder head was left
          unmodified apart from the camshafts and valve springs. This engine was
          available for order to be built by Nizpro Turbocharging, based in Victoria, Australia, with their roots in Nissan engines, but now focusing on the Ford’s potential.

          Who will be first in the States with this bolt in upgrade?

  • hubba

    The Versailles was *more* expensive than the regular enormous Town Car, basically for the snobbery value of having a high price. The Cadillac Seville was more expensive than a Sedan de Ville.

  • CraigSu

    While the comparo ad between the Mercedes and the Granada rings a bell of recognition, I can safely say I’ve never seen a Granada Sports Coupe in the wild. That must be one rare beast.

  • NapoleonSolo

    Looks pretty decent in this view…

    • I can see the body roll in that car just sitting there. It’s just screaming malaise in all of its shiny glory.

      • NapoleonSolo

        I hear you re malaise. I know it was considered a land yacht, but my 1972 Electra 225 always did everything I asked of it with aplomb and was absolutely reliable. I had just move back to the east coast in 1985 and had just started a field service job with General Electric. I needed something until my company car came, and a friend of my dad sold this Buick to us for $350. At 25 cents/mi I was making out like a bandit in spite of the fuel consumption. Drove ALL over NJ in that car with all my equipment in the trunk. Set the temperature on the automatic climate control and toss an eight-track in and cruise. We kept it after the company car arrived and gave it away twice to single moms needing cars. Always came back eventually. Finally sold it to someone who paid us what we paid for it at least ten years earlier. Never had a single mechanical problem, and it always passed inspection because it was massively over-engineered. I supposed a 1979 Ford would have much more malaise-era crap on the engine. The 225 had a 455 with a four-barrel carb which made that tank almost sporty – somewhere in the neighborhood of 314 hp and infinite torque on unleaded gas.

  • Sjalabais

    Whenever I see that Granada-Mercedes ad, I wonder if you can still use the factor 5-and-then-some for similar sized cars within that same quality difference today.

  • Tamerlane’s Thoughts

    In elementary school, my step-dad had two cars. Strangely, they were the 450SEL and the Versailles.

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