Sow’s Ear: 1980 Lincoln Versailles

Corey KemendoBy Corey Kemendo

Lincoln had serious guts in the 1970s when they debuted their new Versailles. Based on the malaise Granada and Monarch, which were based on the economy minded Maverick, which were based on the original Falcon, the Versailles was Ford’s answer to the hot selling Cadillac Seville. It was a thinly disguised attempt to fool the public into thinking that this was an all new model. The new baby Lincoln started out in 1977 with a base price higher than the popular Mark V and Continental. Over 50,000 buyers took the bait in four years. Find this final year 1980 Lincoln Versailles in Ottawa, Illinois for $8,500 here on craigslist  or saved here. This is badge engineering at its finest!

I have to make a confession, the Lincoln Versailles is one of my dream cars. The more cynical the car, the more I like it. The more added on luxury, the better. Padded Continental hump? Check. Vinyl landau roof? Check. Waterfall grill? Check. Opera lights? Check. Shag carpeted trunk? Check. Nearly every period luxury feature was added to the lowly Granada to make you forget that Mercedes wannabe, and yet every change they made just further reinforced where this car started out in life as. But one thing Lincoln did right was to make sure that quality control truly was implemented. Engines and transmissions were matched and balanced for smooth operation, carefully applied clear coat paint was an American first, cars were checked and rechecked for flaws and fixed as necessary, and high quality materials were used to make sure your Lincoln didn’t feel like just another Ford. For your $11,000 plus, you deserved the best, even if the styling and size didn’t quite convey that.

These cars are fantastic to drive. A 351 or 302 V8, depending on year, provides plenty of scoot, lots of sound deadening and thick carpets means a quiet ride, thick leather or velour means comfortable seating, and a long, flat hood with Lincoln Star hood ornanment to guide the way makes for a very relaxing drive. These truly feel like Lincoln’s, except they are more connected to the road with less lean and wallow. 4 wheel disc brakes means strong stopping power, but most rear ends have been surgically removed for use elsewhere. In fact, finding a decent Versailles today is no easy thing since so many parts could be pilfered for other Fords or hot rods.

This example is very clean for being almost forty years old and a life spent up north. The Dual-Shade paint and Bright Red pinstripe are original and still shiny. The optional Valino grain landau roof option with frenched back window in silver is also original and intact. Some of the center caps are missing their black centers, the back bumper is corroded, and whitewalls are desperately needed, but the car presents well.

Inside, the standard leather dashboard cap still looks pliable, though the seats have lots of deep creases and could use cleaning and conditioning. You could easily mistake this interior for a Granada with luxury option or Grand Monarch, since everything about the design is pretty much identical. But Lincoln did make sure to pad every surface and add lights to every corner. The wood has lost its luster on the dash and the steering wheel, but the original electronic radio and one year only digital clock is still present. Don’t expect much legroom or trunk space in this upscale compact either. Though the ’77s had a 351, the ’79-80s had the better roofline.

In fact, if you lower your expectations just a touch, you might truly enjoy what Lincoln was attempting here. All the luxury without the size, a combination that Iacocca would take with him when he left Ford and had the Fifth Avenue created for Chrysler. So what do you think of this Seville competitor? At $8,500, it is as overpriced today as when it was new! But without it, the bustle back Continental might not have existed, or today’s MKZ. Do think the looks kept it from being a hit, or was the Seville just that good? Is there anyone else out there like me who wants to own one of the oddest Lincoln’s this side of a Blackwood truck? What do you think of this rolling mini palace?

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Comments

  1. KSwheatfarmer Member

    I like Fords but these things were so obviously a Granada it’s a wonder they sold as many as they did.

  2. Rock On

    KSwheatfarmer that is exactly what I think when I see all of those Acura models on the road that are clearly a Honda Civic with Acura badging.

  3. Christopher Wenz

    $8500? I watched quite a few cars cross the block at the recent Mecum auction
    far better for less money. Go figure.

  4. Rube Goldberg Member

    You calls this a Lincoln? I’d have to think this was the low of the low for the brand. I realize, the auto industry was turned upside down around this time. All the biggies were suffering. American’s, especially people like my old man, who refused to buy these downsized cars, didn’t receive these well. The old man went with Cadillac’s during this time, even though they too were downsized, they didn’t seem that much smaller.

    • RichS

      I kind of agree, but if I had to pick out the single worst Lincoln – I’d have to go with the late 80’s-early 90’s Continental. Nothing more than a badge-engineered Taurus built with the 3.8/AXOD which I personally believe to be the worst engine/transmission combination ever produced.

    • mike

      Rube, Cadillac did some rebadging also…They turned a Cavalier in to the Cimarron…

  5. RichS

    Only thing good about these is the disc brakes that will bolt into Mustangs. That’s about it.

    • david

      yes, the rear disc brake is the best thing going on these models. A little tricky to set up in another accepting car, but it is done often enough. I have been in these cars when new , they were cushy and nicely appointed as compared to the ford and merc version.

  6. Miguel

    It looks like the rear suspension needs a bit of work.

    I just don’t see the money there.

    • Sam

      I think so, too. Mine (and a friends) never sat squatty like that. I bet that’s expensive.

  7. Maestro1

    RichS, I had a 93 Continental Signature V-6 which was trouble free for 169,000 miles until it died in the carport. We performed Final Ceremonies and shot it in the left rear quarter panel (just kidding). I had a fortunate chance to talk with a retired Ford Engineer who said, “It was a good idea, poorly executed”. Indeed.

  8. Sam

    They had listed it on eBay a few times. The first time they had it with an $11,000 price tag on it….yeah.

    I owned one of these when I was a teenager. It was only 1 year old and still like new. It was more than most people understood. It is most often thought to be only rebadging but they put much more into it than that. Did you know the Versailles was the first car produced with a clear coat paint? There was something else that was a first, i think it was they type of headlights used. I’ll have to think on that one some more. It was really great for date nights and cruising the town in, with the moonroof open, the stereo turned up…. lots of great memories.

  9. Sam

    FOUND IT! Ford introduced Halogen headlights when it debuted the Versailles in ’77.

  10. Bob c.

    Do more with less was the name of the game back then, yet impressive. Reminds me of the 1982 to 1987 Lincoln Continental with its Fairmont origins.

  11. cyclemikey

    These suffered from a fatal flaw when they were new that became notorious and really hurt sales. The “module” box for the electronic ignition would fail at the most inopportune times and leave the car dead in the water without warning. Sometimes it would recover when it cooled off, but it was a dangerous fault. It was actually a problem on all Fords of that era with the early electronic ignition, but it was especially prevalent on the Versailles for some reason. They’d get towed in multiple times for the same failure until the owners got disgusted and traded them in for something else. Eventually Ford engineered replacement modules that would last for the duration.

    • Bill Owens BillO Staff

      cyclemikey, I know what you mean. I bought a new 1978 Thunderbird with a 351 Windsor. About the time the car had 50,000 miles, and was 4 years old, it developed that problem. Unfortunately, I lived in a town where the Ford dealer had closed and traveled to another town. They pretended to fix it. All this started about 2 weeks before I was married. The Friday before the wedding on Sunday, it cut out again. I took it to a Precision Tune and they did something to it. We drove it from NC to Toronto, ON and never had a problem with it cutting out, just hesitating on a hill. I had intermittent problems with it. I took it to a different Ford dealer, and while waiting for repairs, I almost traded it for a 1982 Thunderbird Heritage. But having just got married and my bride not working, I decided I better keep trying to fix it. It dropped my wife in a town 50 miles away while she was on her way to see her mother, and she would never drive that Thunderbird again. Finally, a Ford dealer opened in my town and I carried it to them. They said it was the module box. They repaired it and I never had a problem again. This all was over at least a years time. You would think some of the other Ford dealers had run into the problem before.

  12. scottymac

    GiMiC Motors showed everybody how badge engineering should be done with the suvs built in the early Aughts: Chevy Trailblazer; GMC Envoy; Oldsmobile Bravada; Buick Rainier; Saab 9-7X; and Isuzu Ascender, all built on the same platform. It’s a wonder Daewoo didn’t try to market a version!

  13. Cmarv Member

    Like the write up says , the rear differential is the only part of this car worth having .(9″ with disc brakes) . I bought several years ago at the Baltimore City abandoned vehicle auction and cut out the rear , if the 135hp 302 ran OK that would be saved too . The rest got sold for it’s weight value .

    • jw454

      Cmarv,

      I agree. These rear axle assemblies were prized in the eighties when we were building hot rods. They were a perfect width and had the disc brakes. Great hot rod item.

  14. MrF

    Sow’s ear indeed. A fine example of Iacocca’s craptastic vehicles.

  15. Laslotroth

    With any luck it’s got an EEC 3 engine management system with a back – suction feedback varivent carburetor !

  16. z28th1s

    My mom had a baby blue ’77 Versailles with the light blue leather interior when I was a teenager. The car rode well and gave us good service for many years.

    As said earlier most of these cars when they get to where they need a little work are parted out for their 9″ disc brake rear end and other parts used to upgrade Mustangs, Mavericks, etc.

  17. Coventrycat

    If I couldn’t find the same vintage Cadillac Seville, I’d be perfectly happy with one of these.

  18. PaulG

    *8500 seems high…or maybe the seller is.

  19. David Miraglia

    Versailles equals Cimmaron

    • z28th1s

      The Cimmaron was based off of a compact car (Cavalier) and the Versailles was based off of a mid-sized car (Granada) so that doesn’t equal.

  20. Twistedcarguy

    If Lincoln had started with this formal roofline in 1977 as opposed to just a heavily padded standard Grenada roofline, it might have done better. At least the formal roof line makes it look a bit different then a Granada

  21. Palandi

    At least it’s better than a Brazilian Ford Versailles, itself a badge-engineered version of the VW Santana.

  22. Reg Bruce

    Hmm. Didn’t this vehicle have one of Ford’s notorious EEC systems on it?
    In 1980 I think it was EEC III — does anybody know where to get parts for these engine control systems now? Ford technicians please log in.

    RB

  23. Elwood

    Wasn’t it P.T. Barnum who said “There’s a sucker born every five minutes, and two to take his money.” Well, apparently, there were 50,000 suckers who were taken with this atrocious excuse for a luxury car. Of course, then there was the Cadillac Cimarron, which made this look like the pinnacle of luxury. It never ceases to amaze me what sells in the automotive world. There are still people filing reports of UFO sightings every time they encounter a 1974 AMC Matador Coupe or mid 1970s Pacer. And all this time, I thought AMC Matador Coupes and Pacers were being used by extraterrestrials to accumulate earthlings to take back to their home planet for scientific experimentation.

  24. johnnyb

    A high school classmate’s parents had one of these. Notwithstanding that I was aware it was no more than a tarted-up Granada, the one time I got to ride in it I remember being impressed with all the fancy interior bits: all that leather and, gee whiz, a power moon roof. Up to that point, my exposure to sun roofs was limited to my neighbor’s Peugeot 403 and my boss’s ’66 Beetle. I may not have ever sat in leather seats up to that time, either.

    As I recall, the classmate’s Mom, with her coiffed hair and perfect makeup, fit the aimed-for demographic for this model.

    If I were shopping for a malaise era, midsize luxury ride, I’d definitely be torn between one of these and an all-yellow Seville.

  25. Mercury Man

    I owned a ‘77 Versailles for about 10 years, it was a very nice car and received many compliments. The color was Silver with a silver vinyl roof and Wedgwood blue leather. The ‘77 models had the 351 Windsor engine and a carburetor, EFI throttle bodies came in ‘78.
    The only draw back to the car was the power steering, the typical Ford slave cylinder design that always leaked and had no road feel. I would have removed it and installed manual steering but the pump also was used as a power source for the hydro boost four wheel disc brakes.
    One of the many cars I owned and wish I never sold.

    • Mike W H

      I too drove one of these in 1977-1981. It was very suitable for the purpose; we developed office and industrial buildings. Lincoln or Cadillac were the choices. Mine was Aqua with a matching vinyl top and leather interior. It got GREAT mileage. in 81, traded it for a Mark. Which did not fit in the garage, but was a cool sled for the day. Found out why the mileage was so good after a small fender bender- the front hood was aluminum. Don’t remember about the fenders.

      2
  26. glenn

    overpriced and needs to much work

  27. Brad

    Putrid Automobile. It’s like putting perfume on a turd.

  28. Orch.whips

    My dad got one of these when they came out after a series of big Merc Marquis company cars. Being a high schooler I looked up the specs in M/T to compare it to the other cars. I was surprised to discover that the Versailles had the lowest cruise dB and idle dB rating of any car they tested in their road test summary.
    They may have looked liked a Granada, but they really were among the most luxurious cars sold back in the era of Jimmy Carter malaise. *He ran up many trouble free miles on it, and then traded it for a de ville diesel, which he later regretted on a near daily basis.

  29. Daved N.

    I’ve always felt like these were very odd looking- greenhouse/roof especially. No balance, grace or elegance in the proportions to be seen.

    • Mercury Man

      The first two years (‘77 & ‘78) had an extended Granada style roofline. The ‘79 & ‘80 had the formal roofline that I myself did not like. The early cars had a fiberglass extension riveted to the steel roof to get the unique Versailles roofline, it was then covered with a slightly padded vinyl roof with a French seam sewed down the middle.

  30. theGasHole

    Ugh, okay I know this is an old post but thought I’d comment on it as one of the few people who have actually had a Versailles (recently) and can offer some actual insight into the car instead of a bunch of peanut gallery commentators who know nothing about the car.
    Were these for everyone? Of course not. In the context of when the car was built, it was Ford’s attempt to recapture some of the luxury automobile sales. The Versailles, though based on the Granada, had very little to do with the Granada. The QC on the Versailles was industry-first, and became industry standard.
    The 351 was very rare to have in the Versailles, and only was available in the early 1977 models. Mine was an early 1977 model, purchased from the original owner, with 60k miles on it. Mine also had what I’ve never seen in another Versailles: front bucket seats with a floor shifter (automatic of course, but still). Even Ford told me they were shocked to see this setup, as they knew it was available but did not know this option had actually been ordered by anyone.
    I’ve had over 50 classic cars, and I will to this day tell you that the interior of my Versailles was the nicest of any car that I’ve ever had. Ever. The front bucket seats fully reclined, too. The lenses over the dash gauges were cut glass, not plastic (though Ford gave that up after the 1977 model year I believe), and the clock was Cartier.
    Now, as to the car listed here. This is the final year of the Versailles and, in my opinion, the least desirable of a fairly undesirable car. To put it in perspective, I bought my 1977 Versailles, with it’s rare options and in immaculate condition, in 2014, for $2,300. I sold it a couple of years later, for $2,300. Everything worked on it, even the AC and the clock. $8,500 for this car is ridiculous.
    Hopefully, I’ve added some Versailles knowledge to those of you who have any interest in this model.

    1
    • Sam J Young

      You certainly have an impeccable knowledge of them and I can attest to the accuracy. Mine was a 1980. My uncle was an attorney and his wife bought him one (i do not recall if it was a ’79 or ’80). You are 100% right in your observation of the quality of the interiors. The leather was the nicest I’ve seen in any car (even nicer and thicker than the leather in some of the other Lincolns in our family). Mine did not have the floor shift but it did have the split seats with full power recline, the moonroof, the CB radio that worked through the stereo… I could go on and on. But I just wanted to say that I recognize the accuracy of what you posted, since I’m a “kid” that both had one and had them in the family and wish I had mine back with a passion.

      1
      • theGasHole

        Hey Sam wow the moonroof was a rare (and expensive) option, I can’t say I’ve seen a Versailles with one. I agree that the leather in these cars was really something, and the full seat recline was cool to the point of being funny. These cars get a lot of crap thrown at them, some of it rightly so, but looking at the landscape of what other cars were available in the late 70’s and early 80’s there’s not a lot nice you can say about anything at that time.

        1
      • sam

        Thanks for the reply! You’re so right! The moonroof was rare and was the only one I saw with one as far as I can remember. It was pretty dreamy for our late night high school cruising. I was the first in my group to get my drivers license so I had no shortage of buddies to go cruising with and it was a great date car. You made a good point about the full recline being almost laughable. It was great for playing a visual gag with friends, especially those sitting right behind me.

        Your interior is the exact same colors that mine had. The only difference is the floor shift with console and I do not remember having a digital clock, so yours may be rare for that reason, too. I’m just sick that I let mine go and now knowing how extraordinarily rare it was.

  31. gregory malcolm lewis

    have you driven one Rube ?

    1
    • Sam

      That’s gorgeous! It’s almost identical to the one I had (my father gave me one almost exactly like that when I was a teen and I’m so sorry I let it go years later when times were tight for a single dad starting a career). Is this yours? If so, is it for sale? All I can say is that is’ a good thing I was sitting down when I saw your post. Please let me know. THANKS!

  32. sam

    Showing the age of this photograph (a polaroid) washing my parents vehicles was one of my chores and I took pictures of them after I had cleaned them in and out (dad always checked under the mats, the door sills, the rubber seals….he was a great teacher).

    1
    • theGasHole

      Looks like you had a pretty nice Mustang there too Sam.
      Versailles are not easy cars to find. They we’re (and still aren’t) loved by most people, and as you can see from other posts most of them were relieved of their 9″ rears and then discarded. I do see a Versailles pop up for sale now and then on the old CL but prices have jumped up a bit due to the “it’s an old car it must be worth a fortune!” syndrome. Check the east coast…Washington DC metro area CL seems to have a couple per year for sale.

      1
      • sam

        Yes, dad was a big Mustang GT fan. That one was a 1985 GT and he also had a black 1982 GT, both with stick. You speak the truth about the Versailles. In fact, I think mine ended up being “acquired” for it’s 9″ rear end. I’d kill to get the rest of it back as it was but that’s the pain on hindsight. I almost had one from a friend in Texas but he was partners with someone else on it and while my friend would have sold it to me on day one, the other wanted way more (that syndrome you referenced is so real!) and so I let him sit on it forever and he finally sold it for about half of what I’d have given him to start…but by then I decided to just let him have. 🙂 Thanks for the DC tip. That’s very nice of you.

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