The Lincoln Mark VII Is How Detroit Did Performance Luxury in the ’80s

Always in the shadows of contemporary BMWs and Benzes, the 1984–92 Mark VII deserves more respect.

A few years ago, Ford Motor Company was deluged by demands from sports-car fans that it give its ailing Lincoln division a performance model based on the bones of the Mustang. Lincoln needed, they reasoned, to boost the fun quotient in an otherwise boring showroom.

What many of those calling for a Stang-sourced two-door might not have realized is that Lincoln had already done exactly that roughly 35 years prior. Watching a bevy of sporty European luxury models flood the market and convinced that its premium land-barge strategy wasn't going to carry the day in the 1980s, Lincoln introduced the Continental Mark VII, a Fox-platform force to be reckoned with for enthusiasts seeking their fix from a premium domestic product.

Too Soon, Junior

As might be expected from its Malaise Era roots, the 1984-1992 Lincoln Mark VII—the Continental part of the name was dropped from 1986 on—had somewhat of a breech birth. The first two years of production saw the Lincoln outfitted with either a standard 5.0-liter V-8 or a puzzling (and ultrarare, even then) BMW-sourced turbodiesel, each matched with a four-speed automatic transmission. Neither of these engines were anything to brag about, with the latter's 114 horsepower providing the mere suggestion of forward motion and the former saddled with a central fuel-injection system that limited output to a wimpy 145 horses. Yes, even on the range-topping Luxury Sport Coupe (LSC) model.

It was a strange state of affairs for Ford to hobble the Mark VII when the Mustang across the showroom delivered 175 ponies from the same engine (as well as similar power from a turbocharged four-cylinder in the SVO model). It also no doubt had an impact on initial sales of the car, which was up against quicker rivals like the BMW 6 Series and the Mercedes-Benz SEC-Class.

In terms of styling, things were looking up, however. It had very little in common visually with the preceding Mark VI, a frumpy, mafia parody of a two-door sedan that had a brief four-year run. Instead, the Mark VII pushed forward with an aero-focused design that in some ways resembled the contemporary Fox-based Ford Thunderbird, and in ways surpassed it.

Indeed, while the family resemblance was definitely there, the car was longer and much more striking, featuring the first flush-fitting composite headlights of any modern Detroit-built vehicle. Of course, the Mark VII also maintained its vestigial continental hump on the trunklid, tying it back to an era when, yes, luxury cars' spare tires were hauled around like a Jeep's for all the world to see.

Better with Age

It would take a couple of years for the Mark VII to get on the electronic fuel-injection bandwagon, but when it happened in 1986 the Lincoln had a new lease on life—at least if you opted for the LSC model. While base versions of the coupe continued to soldier forward with 150 horsepower, the LSC graduated to a 200-horse, EFI-equipped 5.0 that would surge to 225 horsepower and 285 lb-ft of torque the following year. By 1988, this engine was the only one available with the car. In the mightiest of LSCs, the sprint to 60 mph was accomplished in just a tick over nine seconds and the quarter-mile time was 15 seconds flat, impressive performance for the time that placed it just behind the 560SEC at a drag strip.

The LSC was also something of a bargain for fans of plush performance motoring. Priced to undercut its import competition by as much as 50 percent, the most expensive trim would quickly become Lincoln's entire focus for the vehicle thanks to its popularity with buyers.

Of course, you could still turn to the Bill Blass Edition for an interior upholstered like the sitting room of a 1925 Louisiana massage parlor. That being said, the LSC's adoption of modern gauges, its use of sport bucket seats, and the installation of a stiffer tune for the air suspension to imbue better handling were more in tune with buyers' expectations.

In the same way the Mark VII arrived to showrooms a couple years too early, it also hung on too long for perhaps the same amount of time. With the Mark VIII replacement well behind schedule, Lincoln would continue to add options to the Mark VII through 1991 and 1992 to deflect attention from its aging mechanicals. When it was finally retired, it represented the last link for the brand between its pushrod roots and the overhead-cam future found in its successor (as well as the Lincoln Town Car and revised front-wheel-drive Continental).

One of the Mark VII's most enduring qualities has been its role as a stealth performance choice for rad-era riders intrigued by the potential of its Fox platform. With a drivetrain that's essentially identical to that of a 5.0 Mustang, the aftermarket modifications available for the Lincoln are extensive. Indeed, it's unusual that more wasn't done to highlight the potential of the coupe while it was still new, with only the low-volume appearance-package GTC edition and a very rare, 5.8-liter Roush model truly exploring the outer edges of Mark VII tuning.

Today, the car stands as an inexpensive entry-point into the world of '80s performance luxury. Far easier to maintain than the BMW and Mercedes-Benz models it dueled with back in the day, the Mark VII deserves a lot more respect—if not status as an auction-block star—than it currently enjoys. It's time to give this car it's due.

Related Articles
Automobile Mag Logoemail newsletter

Stay Updated

Car news, reviews, and more!