Good morning! It’s Valentine’s Day, and to celebrate, we’re looking at a couple of cheap cars that aren’t completely embarassing, for once. But before we find our perfect luxury coupe match, we need to see which of our twos-of-a-kind you chose yesterday:
There you have it. Prince Valiant and his rusty sidekick emerge victorious. Several of you pointed out that both of those stalwart slant-six classics are probably worth fixing up, rather than relegating one to parts-car status, and I’m inclined to agree. (Get it? Inclined, because slant six… ah, never mind.)
Now then: One of the big problems with the cheap-car lifestyle is that the cars you find at the bottom end of the price spectrum tend to be a bit rough-and-ready. They’re fine for driving to work, and no one is going to turn their noses up at them at a gas station or supermarket, but sometimes you just want something a little less scruffy for those two times a year you splurge on dinner at a place with valet parking, you know? Well, fear not, because I’ve managed to find two good-running, good-looking two-doors that are just the ticket, and won’t keep you from affording that fancy dinner. Let’s take a look.
1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK430 – $2,800
Engine/drivetrain: 4.3 liter overhead cam V8, five-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Clackamas, OR
Odometer reading: 151,000 miles
Now, right up front, let’s be honest: none of us are going to be impressed by a 24-year-old Mercedes. We know better. We’re going to take one look at it and think about the condition of the wiring harness, and start putting together a mental shopping list from PelicanParts, and wonder whether those foggy headlights are going to polish up or not. But what we might not see, at first glance, is what the rest of the world sees: This is a nice little car.
This was the top of the line for Mercedes’s small coupe in 1999, with a 4.3 liter V8 shoehorned in place of the typical four or V6 engines. A year later, that V8 could be punched out to 5.4 liters in the AMG-ified CLK 55, but you’re not likely to find a nice one of those for under three grand. If I’m not mistaken, this one has the seventeen-inch wheels of the AMG version, which were available as part of a “Sport Package,” or on eBay anytime in the intervening two decades.
Inside, it’s all leather and wood as you would expect, and except for some wear and a popped seam on the driver’s seat, is in good shape. There is some scorched paint (or clearcoat) on the outside, but it’s still pretty shiny. Those foggy headlights will need a little attention. We don’t get much to go on in terms of mechanical condition other than “runs and drives excellent” and assurances that the HVAC system works as it should.
I suspect that the seller photographed it at night to hide some of the cosmetic flaws, but that’s not a big deal – we’re not going for perfection, just trying to avoid embarrassing our date. The three-pointed star still carries some cachet outside of our jaded little enthusiast’s world, so at least it won’t stick out like a sore thumb in the parking lot.
1998 Lincoln Mark VIII – $2,200
Engine/drivetrain: 4.6 liter dual overhead cam V8, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: San Diego, CA
Odometer reading: 150,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does!
Looking for something a little more distinctive, though maybe less prestigious? How about a lipstick-red Lincoln with the heart of a Cobra? Ford’s last-hurrah personal luxury coupe is still a sharp-looking car, even twenty-five years after the last one left the production line. And it has a little bit of hot rod panache that makes you feel a little bit cooler behind the wheel than some staid German.
The Lincoln Mark VIII is powered by a four-cam version of Ford’s Modular V8, a slightly lower tune version of the engine used in the Mustang SVT Cobra of the same era. It’s a far cry from the soggy Mark V we looked at on Friday. It’s still meant more for comfort than for canyon-carving, but it’s a step closer to the European concept of a grand tourer than the American personal luxury coupe ideal.
After 150,000 miles, this Lincoln is showing some wear around the edges, but it’s still presentable. The seller says it runs and drives well, but the air conditioning is inoperative. Not a deal-breaker this time of year, but get it fixed before taking a date to a July 4th picnic.
I like the styling of this car. The Continental spare-tire hump in the trunk lid is barely there, more of a suggestion of past glories than an in-you-face anachronism. Ford did a nice job of distinguishing this car from the cheaper Thunderbird, making sure everyone knows that it’s special. Will it impress that special someone? Maybe not, but they won’t be embarrassed to be seen getting out of it, either.
Shitboxes and style don’t often go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. You just have to dig a little deeper. I don’t think either one of these would impress anyone, exactly, but there’s nothing here you’d have to explain away either. Just a couple of nice, comfy coupes. Which one are you picking up that special someone in?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
I have an irrational fondness for that era of Mercedes. I love the balance of oval headlights with a slightly-sloped grille. The tail lights were tasteful, and the body cladding gave it a purposeful look, but not overdone.
That said, the Lincoln looks pretty cherry! I was going to say “Mercedes for inside, but Lincoln for outside”, but I think the Lincoln gets the nod for both.
I also think both of these have more character than a modern, budget sedan or crossover.
I’m impressed with how difficult this feature continues to be for me. I rarely finish the article with the same opinion as when going in. Well done!
So strange that there’s so many comments saying something to the effect of ‘the Lincoln will be the reliable pick’. How? What little I know of that car is that they’re basically a rolling collection of NLA parts. Neon taillight tubes, anyone? It’s the fancy, ‘Lincoln specific’ version of a platform that really didn’t sell that many cars in the first place. Had a Lincoln Aviator in the family with the DOHC 4.6, and learned about their problem with insufficient coolant flow to cylinder #8, which is why they pretty much all have, I guess, warped heads? The transmissions in them aren’t great. You can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting an old Lincoln with a collapsed air suspension. I can think of few cars I’d want to try to keep going less than a ’90s Lincoln.
The Mercedes on the other hand – yeah, the interior is cheap. Yeah, the headlights are yellow. But, the M113/722.6 combination is one of the most durable/reliable Mercedes ever made, and even if you do somehow cause a problem with one, replacements are cheap as they can be. Relatively simple suspension. The electronics are a mixed bag (no, these didn’t have a biodegradable wiring harness), but, they’re probably better than what’s on the Lincoln and, at the least, better documented for when they do break.
Do I really want to be responsible for maintaining either of these cars? No, not particularly. Is the Lincoln way cooler than the Mercedes, with a nicer interior? Absolutely. But you could tempt me into buying the Mercedes – you’d have to give me the Lincoln if you wanted it in my driveway.
Who the hell is reading this that goes somewhere with (and uses) valet parking twice a year? Twice a decade, maybe.
My pappy said, “Son, you’re gonna’ drive me to drinkin’
If you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln.” ヽ(͡◕ ͜ʖ ͡◕)ﾉ
Lincoln, because I wanted a Mark VIII in 1998, but I was 23 and didn’t have 40k. That car is dead sexy.
I, on the other hand, knew a guy in college whose mommy had $40k for him to have one, who also had $100k (in 90s dollars) to buy him a goddamn 1400sqft condo to park it in front of while at school. Loved the car, hated his spoiled guts.
This is a lipstick red Lincoln. https://www.volocars.com/vehicles/16495/1976-lincoln-lipstick-edition-mark-iv
This one is Toreador Red.
Re: the Lincoln – what is going on with the weird bumpy trim on the rear window and the stripe of rust (?) at the bottom of the passenger side C-pillar?
I would choose the Merc because it’s smaller and wouldn’t be a DD anyway.
Mark it VIII, Dude.
I’ve had three Panthers with the 4.6 2 valve, I’ve done an air-ride to spring conversion on my Grand Marquis Ultimate which was not too bad, and I dealt with the blend-door actuator on my ’06 Grand Marquis GS which was hell with no high water.
I enjoyed all these sedans with the bench seat/column shift, and I’d love to roll with this Mark.
The Merc obviously has hepatitis. Gimme the Lincoln.
They are both out of style. You might as well own it and cruise around in that distinctive Lincoln.
I’ve loved Lincoln Mark VIII’s from the day they came out. I’m still a fan of the now nearly extinct personal luxury coupes, likely due in part to this very car. But I learned the hard way that they are, or at least can be, incredibly unreliable. A lot of people know about the air suspension, it’s sort of the obvious thing to worry about, but it’s the 4r70w transmission that’s the real concern here. From what I understand they don’t have to be unreliable if they’re properly maintained but I’ve personally broken 2 of them, both right around 100k miles. I’m kinda done with those now.
What’s the matter with the car I’m driving?
Can’t you tell that it’s out of style?
Should I get a set of whitewall tires?
Are you gonna cruise the miracle mile?
Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental
Your best bet’s a true baby blue Continental…er… Red Mark VIII
Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk
It’s still rock and roll to me
It’s Valentine’s, great
Even got a date,
Roll up in the Mark VIII,
Got a Cobra V8,
0-60 if you’ll wait,
Just don’t hesitate,
Don’t want to be late,
She could be my mate
Having owned the CLK55 AMG version of this car, I will say that the engine and transmission are nothing short of fantastic with head snapping acceleration at any speed to match. The sound from the hand built AMG V8 is sonorous too, particularly in the mid range and at high RPMs.
But that was the 55 and this is the 430 we’re talking about. Still a good motor and transmission, both with a reputation for longevity if looked after. The rest of the car, however, is a bit meh to me. The seats are rock hard and completely uncomfortable for long journeys – my butt would ache after only a few hours. And the materials used for the dashboard, seatbelt retainers, center armrest have a cheap, brittle feeling that do their best to undermine the whole experience of the car. My center armrest and frameless windows were a constant sources of never ending squeaks and chirps.
Even if you can get past the low rent interior, the exterior is a bit of a mixed bag. It never really manages to look graceful and instead looks a bit heavy handed and bloated due to the high waist line and hiked up rear.
Finally, since the interior and seats deny it from being a grand tourer and it’s too flabby dynamically to be a sports car, the W208 CLK finds itself in a weird no man’s land.
So I voted for the Mark VIII because first I think these look completely badass. And the 32V Intech V8 is a really screamer with mid 14 second quarter mile times STOCK. Yeah, I think Ford was sandbagging on the HP ratings here. Cool ride for not much cash, I would roll the dice.
Mark wins. Air ride is easy to replace, and affordable. Springs are also an option if they haven’t been done. The only real issues on that Era mark are the blend door actuator, the trunk neon burning out, and the factory HID headlights are $$$. Otherwise, pretty reliable. Oh, and add a trans cooler. Those 4R70Ws burn the OD band without one.
Also- the SVT Cobra has a lincoln heart ????. Mark visited got it in 93, aluminum block and all, compared to 96 for the mustang. Although the lincoln guys aren’t sure if they were hand built like the cobras were.
Can you still get the Jatech disappearing doors on the Lincoln?
In case you, like me, aren’t familiar with Jatech…
The Mustang with a real back seat has a cooler color combo, but the CLK has a hood ornament.
Lincoln for sure, and when you wreck it or get wrecked ..slide that 32 valve into something else and party!
Easily the Lincoln in this battle of dated luxobarges. The Benz is a ticking time bomb that will need expensive repairs sooner or later, whereas any decent wrencher or local mechanic can keep the Lincoln running for cheap. It’s also in a fantastic shade of red (how festive!) and you’ll sink 2-3 inches into those seats.
I love the maroon-adjacent reds all the American luxury manufacturers were doing around this time. A buddy of mine’s dad used to have a Cadillac sedan from this era in a similar red. I remember riding in it on country roads on the way back from a weekend of college debauchery. I advised my friend not to speed in the area, because the state police are always on the prowl, we were all underage, and we had a trunk full of booze and other…items in the car.
He disregarded me, drove the northstar V8 at ludicrous speeds, and we got pulled over. Our two friends in the backseat panicked, to which I responded “don’t worry everyone, there’s nothing in the car!” They calmed down, I stared at my phone, and my friend put on one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. He wound up with a nasty ticket, but boyyyyyy could that situation have turned out a lot worse.
All hail the maroon luxobarge swag. It’ll protect all of us from consequences.
Lincoln for sure. Not as desirable as the 5.0 LS7, but in very good condition. and kind of a real head turner these days since so few survived the Buy here, Pay here lots.
Both of these have potentially expensive and annoying service issues looming in the background … the Merc’s wiring harness, the Mark’s air suspension … but heck, those are future problems! Let’s focus on today! And love! I’d take the Lincoln.
The marks air suspension is cheap to deal with or cheap just to swap springs in. That’s an easy way to grab one. Look for one laid out…buy it cheap and less than 300 later be whipping shitties.
Unfortunately, the spring swap ruins the car. Had a friend that did this on a used one he bought. I drove it in both states. It was quite a nice car with the air suspension, hauled ass (for the time) and the incredibly soft suspension just soaked up the road on long trips like a Lincoln should. Once he put the springs on, it ruined the ride. Now it didn’t soak up the bumps at all, was bouncy, etc.
One other problem – the headlights on the Lincoln SUCK. I mean, some of the worst headlights out there.
In spite of all of that – I’d still take the Lincoln. Just accept that you’ll have to fix the air suspension eventually. I fixed it on my Navigator, it really wasn’t that bad just the seals between the lines and the bags needed changing. Key is to repair the leaks before it burns the compressor out.
Never knew why people fear Ford air suspension so much it’s decently reliable and durable. You’re right on the coil springs though. It’s not even that expensive to fix with upgraded components. 2 brand new air springs from Arnott and a brand new compressor is less than $500 and easy to install.
I went with the Lincoln, though the AC could double the price. Still a nice ride for under 5k.
Hmm – an easy one (for me anyhow) finally!
I have an irrational love for those Mark VIII’s – they hit me as a really good interpretation of what a modern Lincoln should be – sophisticated, distinctive, powerful, comfortable.
At the same time I have an irrational fear of Mercedes from that era. I don’t think that the 1999’s had the infamous (literally and legally) bio-degradable wiring harnesses but if your one year older sister has wiring problems, I am going with the safe bet that you’re nuts too.
Merc or Mark? While the Merc is tempting, it would be much more difficult to keep running. The Mark is one of the very last Personal Luxury Coupes (along with the Riv), which at one time was the dominant automotive form.
Decider: Either one of these would make a fantastic road tripper, but the Merc would be a bear to get serviced out in flyover country. Every podunk town big enough to have a dealership row has a Ford dealer that can handle the Mark.
I’m just here to say that a REAL MURCAN gets HIS “Merc” serviced at the same place you get the Lincoln serviced – at your local Lincoln-Mercury dealer. “Merc” for “Mercedes” is a Eurotrash word.
That CLK is the definition of aging poorly. You’ve got the weirdly bad materials used, which explains headlights so foggy they were directed by John Carpenter. But it just looks uglier every year. I remember people thinking it was nice when new. I can’t imagine thinking that now.
“I remember people thinking it was nice when new. I can’t imagine thinking that now.”
That’s funny because I have basically the same thought process with the Lincoln.
And you are both right.
It’s the same thought process I was having about both options.
True, but the Mark has now come around the corner and is now “cool” again because it was “uncool” for so long.