Rare Rides Icons: The Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part XVII)


October 13th, 2022 5:24 PM

With its splashy debut and immediate sales success, Lincoln’s Continental Mark II I personal luxury coupe offered up immediate and serious competition to the more established Cadillac Eldorado, which previously had the market all to itself. With its unique styling different from other Continentals and a more upscale interior, the Mark typically won in comparison tests published by the automotive press of the day.

After a successful three years on the market, it was time for a new Mark in 1972. The year prior Cadillac introduced a new ninth-generation Eldorado that was larger and more luxurious than before and adopted Seventies-ready boat-like styling. Lincoln quickly followed suit with the all-new Mark IV.

Similar to the fifth-generation Continental two- and four-door models that shared a platform and lots of sheet metal with the Mercury Marquis from 1970, the new Continental Mark IV shared lots with the (sixth-gen) Ford Thunderbird. The platform sharing was nothing new, as the Mark III used the fifth-gen Thunderbird’s platform. But with Mark IV, Ford took the sharing a few steps further.  

Though the Mark IV maintained a look that was an evolution of the Mark III, there were many more similarities to the Thunderbird: The roof, hood, windows, mirrors, and doors were shared between Thunderbird and Mark IV. Differences were limited to exterior trim, and front and rear styling. This approach was a distinct departure from the Mark III, which had a body design all its own. 

Parked side by side, the similarities between the two models were obvious. However, in a move that probably pleased Ford dealers, the similarities were a lift to the Thunderbird’s image. The styling on both cars was carried out to make Thunderbird a Mark-minus, rather than the Mark a Thunderbird-plus. 

The Mark IV’s identity and lineage were obvious when considered next to a Mark III. The same sort of long hood and short rear deck proportions remained, along with the most desirable covered headlamps and their flip-down doors. At the front, the grille and headlamp design was minimally changed from Mark III to Mark IV. One notable addition was a Lincoln hood ornament, as the Mark accepted its company branding in a much more obvious way. 

The Mark IV’s hood was shaped almost identically to that of the Mark III, though the distance between the A-pillar and the front end of the car was much greater. It was a time of growth and gingerbread excess in domestic automobiles, and the PLC led the charge forward in such aspects. The long front fenders were similarly sharp as on the Mark III, and battering ram front corners made a return.

Also present were similar wrap-around indicator lamps, though they donned a new chrome grille look on Mark IV. As it was the Seventies, the Mark IV’s bumper was chunkier than its predecessor and unfortunately identical to the Thunderbird’s. The chrome trim around the Mark IV’s front end was almost unchanged from its predecessor, with one exception: The chrome strip that ran along the top edge of the fenders was removed.

Not to fear, new (optional) body side trim appeared along the sides of the Mark in line with the chrome under the headlamp doors. The trim had its own dual chrome appliques, and was available in different colors of plastic and detailing (filigree) dependent upon color scheme and options. In its fullest optional format, the trim curved up over the wheel arches – which were more pronounced on the Mark IV – and continued all the way to the rear of the car. 

Inside the trim ahead of the front tire was an amber reflector, which complemented a new cornering lamp placed low on the body. The lamp was inside a chrome trim strip that ran the length of the Mark IV, but it was chunkier and less well-implemented than on the Mark III. Thicker, more substantial trim also appeared at the A-pillar and ran along the door sill.

It wasn’t a new location for chrome but was of a greater volume than the Mark III, and was not a continuation of the fender line trim as on the old car. The thick chrome wrapped up around the rear side window and continued around a window line that was fairly similar to the Mark III. 

Like the Mark III, Mark IV arrived with a vinyl roof covering which extended down the A-pillars. In the new Mark, the simple vertical opera lamp was replaced by an oval opera window – a sort of porthole for rear barge passengers to peer out of. The window was trimmed in its own chrome and bore another Lincoln crosshair logo. It was an option in 1972, (though almost always selected) and became standard for 1973.

Beneath the opera window another piece of chrome trim appeared, which again performed the same sort of decorative function as the Mark III’s fender line trim. On the new Mark, it wrapped around the B-pillar and continued across the trunk, where it was joined by a thickly chromed rear window. The trim continued around to the other side in its framing of the vinyl roof and ended at the window on the opposite side.

The clumsy vinyl roof implementation was the start of a theme for the rear end of the Mark IV. There was slightly too much of everything. Too much rear fender metal, too much trim, and panel gaps that were too large. The elegant rear deck on the Mark III was replaced by something much chunkier looking.

The small tail fins of the Mark III were all but gone on Mark IV, reduced to smallish protrusions that were much softer. Rear fenders lacked definition too and appeared less flowing and more bulbous. The problem was the Mark’s character line, which was relocated from the sharp fender down to the middle of the body. It drew the eye downward and made the Mark IV look taller. 

New rear tail lamps were small and horizontal, placed to either side of the now famous Continental kit bulge. Though equally as pronounced as it was before, the bulge presided over a rear end that was much less interesting to look at. The bumper was heavier than it was before and included more sculpting representative of the tire hump. Reverse lamps and the license plate area were in about the same place they were previously. 

From a rear three-quarter view, the lesser Thunderbird got away with a cleaner look. With sleeker and simpler chrome implementation and a large red heckblende, it was more sophisticated looking than the Mark IV. The only mark on Thunderbird’s rearview was the corny-looking rectangular opera window. 

Both cars had a slightly gawky appearance from the rear because of something new and different Ford designers tried: They gave the front and rear wheel arches the same height. It was a break from a long tradition where a car’s rear wheel arch was lower than the front. The equal-height wheel arch trend was started a few years prior, by the Oldsmobile Toronado of 1966.

It was a key difference from the Eldorado which maintained the traditional offset wheel arch height. Additionally, the sporty wheel arch flares meant there would be no relaxed fender skirt action. And the skirts were a key component of the Eldorado’s look in the Seventies. 

In our next installment, we’ll step inside the Mark IV’s interior, and into a world of quite unrealistic-looking wood paneling and shag pile carpeting. Sort of like your grandparents’ living room circa 1970! We’ll also review the Mark IV’s mechanical details.

[Images: Ford]

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