Versailles...the personal Lincoln for 1980
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Just about the time Lincoln gets it right, a quiet finale comes for the Versailles. The 1980 Lincoln Versailles represented the final performance for Lincoln's first compact luxury car. A luxury car that had to overcome its modest heritage to compete at the top of the luxury market. A car of impeccable design, quality, and amenities.
Sales for 1980 dropped to their lowest level ever for the Versailles, with just 4,784 built. And the 1980 models were the best of the bunch. Lincoln continued to refine and improve the car, and even in its final year, expanded standard equipment to be more competitive with the Cadillac Seville.
From the very beginning, Lincoln intentionally priced the Versailles a couple of thousand dollars below the Seville. As a result, even though the standard equipment levels on both cars were comparable, there were a few important items luxury car buyers normally wanted that were extra cost on the Versailles, but were provided as standard equipment on the Seville. For instance, a Tilt and Telescope Steering Wheel, power door locks, 50/50 front seat with 6-way power driver's side adjustment and a 2-way power passenger's side adjustment were all standard on the Seville.
The Tilt Steering Wheel was optional on the Versailles from day one through the end of production, as was the Power Lock Group. You couldn't even get a 6-way power driver's seat or individual front seats on Versailles until the 1980 model year, when both were made standard. A power passenger seat was never offered on the Versailles, although reclining seats were also made standard for both driver and passenger in 1980, and sporty bucket seats with a console were options offered from the beginning that included dual recliners as part of the option group.
Of course, since both the Versailles and Seville were comparably equipped when loaded up with accessories, it ultimately didn't matter. But what did this difference in standard equipment say to potential customers? Was it an issue? Could it have had anything to do with the unfavorable impression people had of the Versailles? Lincoln must not have thought so, since it could have easily added the Power Lock Group and Tilt Steering Wheel to the standard features list, just as it did with other things during the production run. Twin Comfort Lounge Seats had been around for a long time on Lincolns, as had dual 6-way power seat adjustments for driver and passenger, so including these on the Versailles doesn't seem like it would have been much of a challenge. But why they weren't included from the very beginning remains a mystery.
At any rate, the Versailles did finally get the Twin Comfort Lounge Seats as standard in 1980. Each side was individually adjustable, with the driver's side including the 6-way power adjustment. Both sides included recliners, but no power seat was included on the passenger's side. This mean that the seating configuration in both the Versailles and Seville were identical, except for a 2-way power adjustment on the passenger's seat on Seville, and the dual recliners on the Versailles. Standard upholstery on the Versailles was a bit richer, and had the look and feel of cashmere. Versailles also had leather door armrests and instrument panel covering, an refinement over the vinyl used on the Seville.
The AM/FM stereo/Quad-8 tape sound system provided as part of the base equipment in 1979 was changed to an Electronic AM/FM Stereo Search radio in 1980. A digital readout indicated the station frequency, and an improved electronic search function found more stations and locked them in better. Four speakers and a power antenna were included, of course.
Several attractive new colors were introduced in 1980, including Bittersweet Metallic, a bright metallic coral color with a hint of russet in it that included a matching vinyl roof. Medium Fawn Metallic was a taupe shade that was also available as part of the Dual-Shade paint option, paired with Light Fawn Metallic. A Midnight Blue interior was also new, replacing the Wedgewood Blue shade that had been offered since 1977.
Despite all the improvements for 1980, there were other indications that Lincoln had resigned itself to the possibility that the 1980 models weren't likely to sell well. The Versailles received its own brochure, and it had full color images on quality glossy paper, but some of those images were taken for the 1979 brochure, then recycled for 1980. The cars were similar enough that it didn't really matter, but it does indicate that some short cuts were taken. Advertising was minimal, with only a couple of full color ads prepared, emphasizing the Versailles as The Personal Lincoln.
One Lincoln dealer told us the 1980 Versailles' didn't sell well because they were gas guzzlers and expensive. Lincoln's customers were more interested in the other 1980 Lincolns with brand new styling in a smaller size, which captured more attention than the dated Versailles. The new 4-door Continental Mark VI Sedan was a big attraction, and without question took sales away from the Versailles.
So the last of the Versailles models sat largely ignored on dealer lots, overshadowed by the new smaller Lincoln models that it had helped prepare the public for. Sales of Lincolns as a whole slid 42 percent, so it wasn't just the Versailles that wasn't selling, it was a difficult time for the brand, as well as the automotive industry in general.
The Versailles was a unique motorcar that featured state of the art technology and testing procedures. Its Clearcoat/basecoat paint introduced a European automotive painting process to the American market, but Lincoln perfected it. The Versailles cut through the darkness with standard halogen headlights, another first for an American car. At the time of its introduction, the Versailles in standard form was the best equipped Lincoln ever. The new Vehicle Electrical Test System (VETS) that checked every electrical connection and component before a Versailles was approved for shipping was another first, along with a road test simulator designed to identify squeaks and rattles so they could be repaired before the new owner could, as well as an electronic image meter that made sure the paint finish on every Versailles was within specification. Mechanical components were matched and balanced to eliminate vibration, harshness, and noise. That's quite a lot for an automobile that many don't feel is worth consideration, even today. Automotive Mileposts believes that the Versailles is very much currently under rated and under appreciated. That may change someday, but it might not. To those who have discovered the Versailles' unique aspects, we aren't telling you anything you don't already know. To those who will discover the Versailles in the future, you'll be pleasantly surprised and wonder what took you so long.
So, the next time you have the opportunity to inspect a Versailles up close, take advantage of it. If you can drive one, do it. A few minutes behind the wheel will reveal what a great little Lincoln the Versailles always has been. A car Lincoln can be proud of. A car you will be proud of as well. There's no place like Versailles!
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