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Continental Mark IV

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About the Continental Mark IV

As difficult as it may have been to introduce a new car in a new market, following up a success story like the Continental Mark III [links in this article open in new window] after a redesign is just as big of a challenge, if not more so. Lincoln pulled off this feat in high style with the introduction of the 1972 Continental Mark IV, successor to the Continental Mark III. Lincoln was able to keep all of the styling cues from the Mark III, and update them with a fresh, current, inspired look, without losing anything in the translation. The Mark IV was gorgeous from the front bumper to the rear bumper. The classic Rolls Royce-inspired grille returned, again flanked by concealed headlamps and front turn indicators mounted in the leading edge of the front fenders. In back, the classic Continental deck lid hump returned, with horizontal tail lamps set in a new rear bumper that emphasized the deck lid hump above. Flared, open wheel wells returned and the somewhat muscular lines of the Mark III were replaced with a more fluid, rounded appearance. To some, the new Mark IV was reminiscent of the 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado, only a bit softer.

Image: 1972 Continental Mark IV1972 was the first year for Opera Windows on the Continentals. Technically, they were optional and some early cars were built without them, but the majority of the cars were built with the option, making any Mark IV without them a very rare sight today. The drive train was carryover from 1971, but everything else was new. Luxurious new interiors set the standard for Lincolns and Continentals through the rest of the decade. The instrument panel featured simulated woodgrain in two patterns, Kashmir Walnut Matina and Baby Burl Walnut. Three rectangular gauges were placed dead center, one of these housed the Cartier timepiece, the others housed the speedometer and the fuel gauge. All gauges and warning lights were located within the driver's line of sight, and all controls were placed for easy access. Sales of the 1972 cars were very strong.

Changes to the 1973 Continental Mark IV were minimal, after all, why would you want to mess with perfection? The biggest change was at the front end, where a new federally-mandated 5 mph front bumper was affixed. Designed to minimize damage to the car in minor impacts, it detracted from the overall appearance to a certain extent. In Lincoln's defense, they were able to integrate this new bumper into the design much better than others did. The optional power door lock switches returned to the door armrests, which is where they should have stayed for 1972, but they didn't. In an odd move, Ford incorporated the door lock switch into the door lock plunger on the door panel. This location was not convenient, and thankfully the designers realized their error quickly. A Silver Luxury Group [links in this article open in a new window] was introduced for the 1973 Mark IV, which included a Silver Metallic paint job, with matching vinyl roof and leather interior. Or, if the customer preferred a color contrast, Cranberry velour or leather was available for interior trim. The luggage compartment was color keyed to the interior.

The rear bumper got the same treatment in 1974 as the front bumper did in 1973. This change tended to remove some of the emphasis from the deck lid hump, but again, the design was integrated very well compared to some of the other cars on the road. A Gold Luxury Group joined the Silver Luxury Group in 1974, and a Saddle and White Luxury Group was introduced late in the model year, a hint perhaps that the Luxury Group option would be expanding in the coming years.

The 1975 and 1976 Mark IV's are difficult to tell apart. The 1975 models came equipped with a higher level of standard equipment, with many formerly standard items moving to the options list in 1976. New Luxury Groups for 1975 included the Lipstick and White and Blue Diamond Luxury Groups, making a total of five available. In 1976, Lincoln would expand the Luxury Groups even more by adding the Red/Rose, Jade/White, Light Jade/Dark Jade and Gold/Cream Luxury Groups. And if all this wasn't enough to make you dizzy, there were even more Luxury Groups introduced later in the year. The Black Diamond Luxury Group and Desert Sand Luxury Group were introduced in March 1976. A special Silhouette edition was available through Lincoln Dealers as well. The Silhouette was not a factory package, but it was nicely done and certainly could have been a factory offering.

Image: Designer Series 1976 Continental Mark IV

But wait! There's more! 1976 also ushered in the era of the Designer Series Marks. Lincoln teamed up with well known and highly respected designers such as Emilio Pucci, Hubert de Givenchy, and Bill Blass, as well as precious jeweler Cartier, to create special Designer Edition Mark IVs. Each had a specific color combination, special interiors, specific wheels and exterior moldings and striping, and engraved plaques mounted on the instrument panel. The designer's signature or logo appeared in the Opera Windows to verify at a glance that this wasn't your ordinary Mark IV. The Designer Editions were very popular, and would continue through the 1977-1979 Mark V series and beyond.

One wonders how Lincoln could possibly create anything comparable to follow up the Mark IV series. Without a doubt, the Mark IV was one of the most beautiful cars on the road at the time, if not the most beautiful car on the road. Few cars could hope to even come close to the Mark IV's class and elegance. It transported its passengers down the road in near silence, with a softly sprung suspension that swallowed up bumps in the road, yet still handled remarkably well for such a large car. Performance was becoming a thing of the past, emission controls were sucking the life out of most engines at this time, but the 460 V-8 could still propel the Continental in a very brisk fashion when asked to do so, and fuel economy was respectable when the car was driven responsibly. The Continental Mark IV takes its place in history as one of the most distinctive cars ever built, one that was as much a pleasure to drive and ride in as it was to admire from afar.