Milestones: DTW looks back at significant automotive achievements. Today, the 1977 Lincoln Versailles, the first car to offer clear-coat paint.
According to Motor Trend, May 1977, the Lincoln Versailles represented Ford Motor Company’s attempt to compete with GM’s successful and smaller-than-was-usual Cadillac, the ’75 Seville. Lincoln also wanted the Versailles to steal sales from the Mercedes 280 E and BMW 728. As Motor Trend put it “…a significant number of automobile buyers were interested in smaller luxury sedans offering better driveability and handling ease.”
The 1975 Seville, Lincoln’s main competitor, had the odd distinction of being the smallest and most expensive Cadillac but it sold well enough to make Ford respond to its challenges. Mercedes also offered what some might call the best-engineered saloon ever made, the 280E. Both cars were taking sales from Lincoln. Lincoln’s solution was to restyle a Ford Granada/Mercury Monarch.
The Herculean task of taking a vehicle of astronomical mediocrity, the Ford Granada/Mercury Monarch, and making it look and feel a bit different took 24 months. Motor Trend took a charitable view though. They said “…to make the Versailles feel, ride and sound like a luxury car, a host of changes, some fairly obvious and some quite subtle, were made. Among the techniques used …were the careful mating, matching and balancing of driveline components to eliminate sources of vibrations” which you and I would call simple quality control.
I take this to mean that the same mediocre components that went into a stock Ford Windsor V8 were used but were assembled with a bit more care. Furthermore, “a double- cardan universal joint is used between the driveshaft and axle”. And the boot-lid was given a false spare-wheel hump. “Even the rear brake discs (which are standard) are indexed to the rear axle shaft flanges in such a way as to ensure the best overall balance.”
Best compared to what? A Ford Granada or best of the bad lot that was there on the assembly line that morning? They gave the Versailles a vinyl, padded roof as well. The grille did not resemble the Granada or Monarch. And to top all of this ingenuity, Ford offered clear coat paint, an industry first.
I get the impression having read the entirety of Motor Trend’s review, that the Lincoln Versailles was essentially a Ford Granada built properly: “a good percentage of the manufacturing cost budget has been allotted to qualíty control testing and inspection.” This bit is reassuring: “All malfunctions, however minor, are repaired”. Good!
Motor Trend tested a Wedgewood Blue example and drove it from Dearborn, Michigan to Los Angeles; California. They noted thick carpets, even in the boot. The seats offered good support despite being soft. The centre arm-rest was wide enough for both the driver and passenger. The carpet in the boot (“well-shaped”) stopped luggage being marred. “The ride was smooth but not mushy enough to sacrifice stability” And they rated its ease of handling. Fuel economy beat the Seville and the 351 cubic inches (5.8 litres) V-8 provided “satisfactory” performance. Nought to sixty took 12.6 seconds. To be fair, the Peugeot 604 launched at the same time took 13.7 seconds to sixty but it made do with a 2.6 litre V6.
50,156 Lincoln Versailles were produced. Lincoln advertised the car under the rubric “Investment in engineering”. Cynical?