The Versailles was largely a response to the great success of the smaller Cadillac Seville which had appeared in 1976. The Seville was based upon the Chevrolet Nova and became an instant hit. Ford responded by choosing the Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch as the base for a new mid-size Lincoln sedan.
At the time however, Ford did not have as much development capital to spend on its vehicles as General Motors, which was a problem that has often lead to the similar bodies of Ford and Mercury models. Until the Versailles, however, care had generally been taken to give Lincolns a distinct appearance and feel, in order to hide their sometimes humble origins. But the Versailles was visibly a Ford Granada clone and quickly became one of Lincoln's greatest sales disasters.
Unable to afford a new body, Lincoln stylists attempted to disguise this fact with a Lincoln-esque grille and wheels, along with a "humped" trunk lid that mimicked the spare tire bulge of the Continental Mark coupe. Whether these elements really worked on a smaller vehicle could be debated, but what was in between was indisputably Granada. Doors and windows were interchangeable, the roofline was identical and inside, the potential luxury buyer faced the same dashboard design as the budget-minded Granada customer. Perhaps most tellingly, the Granada windshield wipers remained present and exposed, long after hidden wipers had become expected not just on luxury cars, but even on intermediates.
A somewhat longer, more formal roofline(via a hidden fiberglass cap)was grafted on for 1979, with a carriage-style landau vinyl roof. The car was also given some genuine firsts. The Versailles was the first American car to use halogen headlights and the first to use clearcoat paint, which would shortly spread throughout the industry. Buyers evidently noticed, because sales went up to 21,000, then virtually stopped. The Versailles was withdrawn before the end of the 1980 model year with only about 4,000 produced, although prototypes for the next generation design had already been built.
Lincoln remained out of the luxury mid-size market for a couple of years, then re-entered the market in 1982 with the downsized Lincoln Continental.
The car's mechanicals, along with its body, were somewhat lackluster. The standard 351 in³ V8 was carbureted, as opposed to the Seville's fuel injected 350. Even worse, Ford's situation with regard to the tightening fuel-economy standards was precarious, as it had not been able to afford as fast a downsizing of its line as GM had managed. Consequently, almost immediately the Versailles was cut back to the smaller 302 in³ V8, which was very common in the Granada.
The rear differential used in the Versailles was the tried and true Ford 9-inch, but equipped with rear disc brakes, replacing the drums on the Granada and the Monarch. A Versailles rear end assembly can be fitted to 1965 to 1973 Mustangs, making them much sought-after in salvage yards.
At least in its brake setup, the Versailles did measure up to its Cadillac rival. A unique and rigorous quality-control regime was also used at the factory, according to advertising. The car sold 15,000 units in its first year, compared to the Seville's 45,000 that same year. For 1978, sales were about half of the mediocre 1977 figure.
The car's close relationship to the Granada had an unforeseen consequence. Although the Versailles was a sedan-only model, its trim and mechanical parts would bolt right onto a Granada coupe. An unknown number of these two-door conversions were made by owners with a sense of humor, particularly as donor Versailles began to depreciate and show up in wrecking yards.
Other Lincoln-exclusive parts are easily retro-fitted to other Ford products of this era, most notably the rear-disk brake setup that was Versailles-only but is a popular upgrade for enthusiast owners of other 70s Ford models.
|Henry M. Leland||Corporate website||A brand of the Ford PAG|