Mark VIII and Continental Mark II
the Lincoln & Continental Owners Club asked me to road test a
1995 Lincoln Mark VIII and compare it to my Continental Mark II, I
panicked. I had never done a published road test before. I looked at
some of the recent tests in the car buff magazines and they were
frightening. They were done with lots of instrumentation, reporting
things like lateral acceleration in G-force units, slalom speed, rates
of deceleration, etc. Plus there were always letters to the editor
disputing the results - "In your test of the Clamshell
3.2-litre Deluxe, you claim a top speed of 113.4 miles per hour. My
buddy is an Indiana State Trooper and we borrowed his radar gun over
the weekend and clocked my Clamshell coupe at 119.8 mph. Furthermore,
your front track measurements are incorrect ..."
get the picture - lots of nit-picking. And I'd be exposing myself to
the greatest group of nit-pickers of all - LCOC members, who will spend
hours over a few beers discussing how many Mark IIs were really made
and what's the correct color of the windshield fluid reservoir cap on
the '77 Town Car.
I discovered a role model - Tom McCahill. McCahill tested cars for Mechanix
Illustrated from the late Forties to the early Seventies.
Everybody called him Uncle Tom probably because he was the kind of
uncle everybody wished for. He was a no-nonsense guy who loved cars,
dogs, driving fast and a couple of scotches at the end of the day. He
palled around with notables, including bandleader Paul Whiteman.
tested cars using nothing but a stopwatch, a heavy right foot and the
seat of his pants. His prose was legendary; he compared the handling of
a '57 Buick to "a fat matron trying to get out of a slippery
bathtub." The swivel seats on the '59 Imperial were "as
easy to get into as a floating crap game." My friend Marty
Hayes and I once brought a copy of Mechanix Illustrated
to high school when asked by our English teacher to cite examples of
modern, enduring prose. The teacher was not amused by Uncle Tom's
writing. Tom McCahill spoke bluntly, too - his opinions were firm and,
if you didn't agree - too bad.
So ... armed with nothing but a heavy foot, an
attitude and a digital stopwatch which I got in 1988 from a BMW dealer
as a premium for test driving a new 7-series (I liked the
stopwatch better than the car!), I headed to Detroit to wring
out the Lincoln Mark VIII. When I picked the car up my first impression
was that this was indeed a personal luxury car. I felt surrounded by
instruments; the dash and console seemed to wrap around me and
everything was in easy reach.
I moved off into traffic, the car felt, well, agile. You point it; you
punch the gas pedal; it goes. This was not a car that would take some
getting used to. I felt at home immediately. I hadn't been to Detroit
in ten years and I had forgotten how much the streets get beat-up from
those cold winters. Asphalt doesn't like big temperature changes. It
gets brittle when it's cold and it doesn't like to be hammered by cars
and trucks with chains and studded tires. Choppy, potholed roads didn't
bother the Lincoln Mark VIII. That air suspension just smoothed out
everything. The computer controlled suspension just soaks up the bumps
and potholes but when you throw the car into a corner, the computer
instantly responds and stiffens everything up so that the Mark doesn't
wallow and thrash around. Tom McCahill would have said that the VIII
was as "smooth as a vanilla ice cream soda that's been
standing in the sun."
comparison, step into a Continental Mark II and the controls are
generally within easy reach although the heater and air conditioner
controls are set low enough that you've got to take your eyes off the
road to make adjustments. The Mark II rides well but wallows in the
corners - big time. You shouldn't try any tricky cornering in a Mark II
anyway; you'll just lose those expensive wheel covers when they go
flying off the wheel. Replacements are over $200 a pop - if you can
find them. Uncle Tom would probably tell you that they're "as
rare as ladies of the evening in the church choir."
Lincoln Mark VIII is an exceptionally quiet car, too. When you punch
the gas, you'll hear a nice but muffled V-8 rumble as the car takes
off. When you're at cruising speed there's a real absence of noise. Tom
would say that this Lincoln is "as quiet as a pocketful of
Jello". If you need some sound, crank up the JBL audio
system. It's great and creates the same theater of sound effect as the
Bose system found in competitive contemporary cars.
Mark II is a pretty quiet car for a '50s hardtop but the vent windows
and lack of door pillars make it hard to prevent wind noise at freeway
speeds. Turn on the Mark II's Town and Country radio and all you'll get
is AM - after the vacuum tubes warm up. The 6-way power adjust seats in
the Mark II are very comfortable for me; we've taken lots of long trips
in ours and the seats feel as good after eight hours as they did when I
first got in. The Mark VIII has about 37 way power adjust seats. I
certainly liked them and I think that they can be adjusted to fit just
about any driver. We didn't take the Mark VIII on any long trips but,
if we did, I bet they'd still feel great 10 hours after we started. Tom
McCahill would have likened the VIII's seating comfort to "a
wheelchair upholstered in cream puffs."
about performance? Well, the Lincoln Mark VIII is a real Hot Rod
Lincoln. The engine spools up quickly and you can easily burn rubber
from a standing start if you don't engage the traction control switch.
I clocked 0 to 60 in 7 seconds flat; Motor Trend
says 7.2 seconds. On a quiet evening on the Southfield Freeway, I got
the Mark up over 100 mph; it got there quickly and felt great. MT
says this puppy will do the quarter mile in 15.4 seconds with a trap
speed of 95 miles per hour. I have no reason to disbelieve them.
about the Mark II? Well, Motor Life magazine tested
one in 1956 and said it would get to 60 in 11.5 seconds. Sounds about
right to me. My Mark II does about 12 seconds if you start it in low
and manually shift although it never sounds happy when it's pushed. In
contrast, the Lincoln Mark VIII sounds very happy when you push it.
It's a little unfair to compare the Mark VIII and Mark II directly. The
Mark II is a much heavier car. And it has less horsepower. When the
Mark II was new, FoMoCo declined to list its horsepower but everybody
knew that the Mark II had the '56 Lincoln engine which was rated at 285
hp. SAE changed the way they rated engines beginning with the 1971
models. So, by today's measurements, the Continental Mark II probably
has 200 or so horses. That's no match for the 280 ponies under the hood
of the lighter Lincoln Mark VIII.
is, of course, a relative thing. A 1956 Volkswagen would get to 60 in
about 30 seconds. A '56 Corvette would get there in about 7 seconds.
The Mark II was in-between but nearer to the Corvette than the VW.
Today, the performance gap has narrowed a lot. A 1995 Volkswagen Golf
will get to 60 mph in under 10 seconds; a new Corvette LT-1 in just
under 6 seconds. At 7 seconds, the Mark VIII is still nearer to the
Corvette than the VW. Unk would have probably said that the '95 Mark is
"as hot as the mustache of a cross-eyed fire eater."
I have any complaints about the Mark VIII? Well, when I first drove one
in late 1992, the interior looked too stark. They've since added some
rosewood trim to warm things up a little but it still seems a little
too clinical to me. By contrast, the Mark II's interior speaks volumes
about luxury. The exterior of the Mark II was considered conservatively
styled and relatively chromeless when it was first introduced but it's
got a lot more chrome than the Mark VIII does. I do like the optional
chrome wheels on the VIII, they add a distinctive touch to the
exterior. A couple of extra pounds of chrome in the bumper areas and a
set of whitewalls would make the Lincoln Mark VIII just about perfect
in my book.
VIII's price is very competitive with other contemporary luxury coupes
and, in 1995 dollars, it's about 33% less pricey than the Mark II. Oh
... my other complaint about the Lincoln Mark VIII was that I had to
give the car back to Ford. Until I realized that I had to return it I
was, as Tom McCahill would say, "as happy as a pack of fleas
at a dog convention!"
1995 Joseph M. Sherlock. All Rights Reserved.
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