If you stroll into a Lincoln dealership today, you might find yourself disappointed at the marque’s current lack of diversity. You have a choice of just three crossovers and the flagship Navigator. It’s been a couple of years since Lincoln last sold sedans in American, and its final entries–the Continental and MKZ–leaned more towards luxury than a sporty driving experience [Ed Note: The MKZ 3.0 was actually kinda quick. -DT]. If you wanted to have luxury and a thrilling drive, you had to go back to the early 2000s. The Lincoln LS was the marque’s interpretation of European sport sedans and the rear-wheel-drive sedan could even get equipped with a manual transmission.
Last time on Holy Grails, reader TheMecca reminded us of a time when Infiniti built a crossover for people who like driving. The Infiniti FX, later the QX70, came available with a coupe-like body and a V8 engine. The top of the line at first was the FX45, which came with a 4.5-liter VK45DE V8 making 315 HP. Perhaps Car and Driver said it best when it summed up the FX45 as “an SUV that thinks, and runs, like a sports car.” The magazine found it ever so slightly faster than a BMW X5 4.6is and a Mercedes ML55 AMG. Later, the SUV would get a VK50VE V8 punching out 390 HP. V8 versions are also weirdly rare, with around 3,000 to 3,800 units on the road. Today, Infiniti takes credit for creating the coupe-like SUV designs that so many automakers love today.
The Early 2000s Was A Fun Time To Love Cars
Today’s Holy Grail follows a similar idea of a luxury car that’s a little different than you’d expect. Reader Jeff H takes us back to the early 2000s. The automotive landscape during this era was a rather wild one. Over at Chrysler, you could buy a Prowler, a retro-style roadster that looked like nothing else. You could also come home with the practical, yet controversial PT Cruiser. Honda’s Insight ruled the fuel economy charts and Pontiac’s Aztek polarized enthusiasts while technically being ahead of its time. And if you wanted speed, there were all kinds of choice out there from the Dodge Viper, Ford SVT Mustang Cobra, and even the SVT F-150 Lightning.
This era also saw some changeups in luxury cars. Personal luxury cars were dying off while luxury SUVs and sport sedans were in vogue. As MotorWeek noted in its Episode 1839, Lincoln had for generations been known for building plush luxury rides. Take, for example, Lincoln’s 1995 lineup. Your choices were the Continental, Town Car, and the Mark VIII, all cushy American luxury vehicles. Lincoln hadn’t even sold a vehicle with a manual transmission since the 1951 Cosmopolitan. But times were changing. European marques enticed American buyers with their luxury and driving performance while the luxury SUV continued to gain traction.
Lincoln had gotten into the luxury SUV market with the Navigator, a Ford Expedition-based posh cruiser that would become a smash hit. But that wasn’t Lincoln’s only trick up its sleeve. As the folks of Motor Trend note, Ford had an idea to steal buyers away from European luxury marques, and it would do it with exciting rear-wheel-drive cars.
Lincoln’s First Sport Sedan
The first vehicle to come out of Lincoln’s plan was the Lincoln LS, and it was another major departure from what the public would expect from the brand. So much of it comes down to Ford product development chief Richard Parry-Jones, chief designer Helmuth Schrader, and engineers brought in from Ford’s European operations. As Motor Trend writes, the LS was built from the ground up to be innovative rather than following Lincoln’s then existing traditions.
These engineers were working with the freshly-developed Ford DEW98 platform. Developed by Ford and Jaguar engineers, the DEW98 platform would find itself underpinning the Jaguar S-Type, Ford Thunderbird, and Jaguar XF. It was supposed to be the underpinnings of the 2005 Ford Mustang as well, though that didn’t happen. Publication the Morning Call notes that the Jaguar S-Type and Lincoln LS share about 40 percent of their parts, yet both development teams worked hard to give both cars entirely different characters. Edmunds Inside Line further describes the magic that the engineers did:
Engineered for solidity, DEW98 provides the LS with an incredible sense of substance. Nary a shimmy nor a shake writhes its way to the passenger compartment, which is tomblike in its silence factor except for somewhat intrusive road rumble from the P235/50R17 Firestone Firehawk LH tires (non-Sport models have 16-inch 60-series rubber) on certain paved surfaces.
Lincoln went to great extremes to isolate the driver from unwanted aural annoyances. For example, the natural frequency of the steering column and steering wheel are purposely high to avoid body-structure resonance, and a metal seat foam support pan was designed for reduced vibration. Hydraulically damped engine mounts also minimize shaking, and the two-piece driveshaft is balanced at the factory prior to installation. A true dual exhaust system helps dampen noise, as do triple-sealed doors, 4.6 mm thick front side glass and a special acoustic shield that keeps out engine racket. Maybe that’s why the tire noise is so obvious, eh?
Attached to the stiff underbody is a four-wheel short-long arm (SLA) independent suspension that makes extensive use of aluminum to keep poundage down and the car’s nearly perfect 51/49 front/rear weight balance intact (52/48 for the V8 Sport we tested). These lightweight double-wishbone components also reduce unsprung weight, helping to keep the Firestones glued to the road. Retarding dive and squat under hard braking and acceleration is a patented rear setup that seats the rear springs and shock absorbers against the frame rails. This allows engineers to dial in a substantial amount of negative lift to keep the rear of the car level. It works brilliantly.
The Lincoln LS marked a few firsts for the automaker. It was Lincoln’s first sport sedan, Lincoln’s stiffest body, and the sedan offered Lincoln’s first manual transmission in 48 years. This car was supposed to ring in a new era for the automaker, and reading reviews of the machine, it seemed like Lincoln really had a winner. Check out this review from Motor Trend:
Unbelievable! That was my overriding thought, as I circled Northern California’s Thunderhill Raceway again and again. Whether accelerating down straights, carving through sweepers, threading hairpins, or hauling it down under hard braking just before slicing in toward a new apex, this car was working surprisingly well. It felt unexpectedly taut, predictable, and controllable as it tackled the ins and outs of the track with the same finesse and fine-tuned control as a world-class European sport sedan. Yet, most amazing of all, I was driving a Lincoln. This is no mushy, wallowing Town Car; it’s Lincoln’s brand-new entry-level sport luxury model, the LS. And it is, quite simply, a revelation.
When the Lincoln LS went on the market in 1999 for the 2000 model year, the $31,450 ($57,266 today) base version sported a 3.0-liter engine that was a variant of the Jaguar AJ-V6. That put down 210 HP and 205 lb-ft torque. Later, this output would get bumped up to 220 HP and 215 lb-ft. If you wanted more power, you had to pay $35,225 ($64,140 today) which netted you a 3.9-liter Jaguar AJ-V8 that sent 252 HP and 267 lb-ft to the rear wheels.
Lincoln originally wanted the vehicle to be called the LS6 or LS8 depending on the engine choice and you can even find brochures that were printed to reflect this. However, as Edmunds Inside Line reports, Lexus was concerned that buyers would confuse the Euro Lincoln for the Lexus LS 400. Lincoln backed down, settling for just LS. Edmunds joked that now buyers would now end up in Saturn dealers looking for a Lincoln LS.
By all accounts, the reviews above suggest that Lincoln somehow achieved something fantastic and built an American sport sedan that performed on the level of something European. If you were an enthusiast and wanted to row your own gears, Lincoln had you covered there as well, and that’s the one that Jeff H says could be a holy grail:
My dad had a Lincoln LS manual with a sports package. It was an awesome car. Looks like ~2300 were made. Lincoln isn’t known for sporty cars. Shared platform with the jaguar s-type. Near 50/50 weight distribution. Underpowered, but could this be a holy grail?
Matt Hardigree certainly agreed:
Excellent suggestion. I actually almost bought one of these a few months ago!
As Wards Auto notes, Lincoln sold the LS with what the publication called the “fun” package. While you could get either the V6 or the V8 LS with an automatic, you could spec your LS V6 with a five-speed manual from Getrag. From there, you could add the Sport package, which deletes the brightwork for monochrome trim. The Sport package also adds thick 17-inch wheels and tires, a 38 percent thicker rear stabilizer, heavy duty brake pads, an engine oil cooler, new shock valving, and a more sporty steering system. Getting a V6 with the manual and the sport package was $32,250, or $58,723 today.
As far as how well this worked? Well, MotorWeek seemed to love it:
We tried out the sportiest V-6 manual at our Maryland test track, and recorded a consistent 0-to-60 time of 8.5 seconds. The quarter mile took 16.6 seconds, ending at a speed of 87 miles-per-hour. The V6 engine revs freely, and makes good power above 2,000 rpm, hitting hardest at 4,000 rpm and up. Lincoln’s wide gearing produced a noticeable drop in revs between second and third gears, but otherwise, the gearbox is light and very positive.
Handling is even more impressive, thanks to a new short-and-long-arm suspension. With our car’s firmer sport tuning, standard with the V6 manual, it reminds us of the excellent Lexus GS400. Turn in is quick, with very little body roll. There is some front end plow, but it arrives very late in the corner, and is easily controlled. As is the oversteer that we experienced in sharp maneuvers. The steering is very responsive, though more feel to this well balanced effort would be welcomed.
Braking is accomplished by standard anti-lock-equipped 4-wheel discs. We averaged 134 foot stops from 60 miles-per-hour. Stability is sport-sedan solid, with a soft but very positive feel to the brake pedal.
Out on the civilized road, the LS is still a lot of fun to drive, with its spirited engine and sharp handling. Too bad Lincoln expects the V6 manual model to only make up five-percent of LS sales. So, the majority of LS models to leave showrooms will be equipped with the V-8 which we drove extensively at the press introduction in San Francisco. Overall, it’s about a second quicker than the V-6.
I’ve thus far talked about how the magazines loved how the Lincoln LS drove, but I haven’t mentioned the luxury aspect. In addition to the great driving chops, Lincoln filled the LS with burled walnut trim, standard leather seats with power, memory and heating, dual-zone climate control, a car phone, and a six-disc CD changer. Really, Lincoln wasn’t really moving the needle on technology with the LS. During this time you could find BMWs with refrigerators and Xenon headlights while GM had night vision with heads up displays.
Instead, the goal here was an entry-level Lincoln that drivers would love. The Lincoln LS was supposed to be one of a number of rear-wheel-drive cars meant to reinvigorate Lincoln, but Ford was reportedly suffering from a financial crisis that left Lincoln without the planned RWD platform for future products. That left the LS as the only exciting vehicle in Lincoln’s line and by 2006, even the LS found itself on the chopping block.
As Automotive News notes, the manual version of the car didn’t even reach five percent of total sales. Lincoln sold 262,900 LS sedans between 1999 and 2006, though just 2,331 of them came equipped with that manual transmission. Put that number as a percentage and it’s just 0.8 percent of total Lincoln LS production. Clearly, the vast majority of LS buyers didn’t want to row their own.
Despite that, these still do exist out there. I found two of them in my area and both are well under $10,000. Indeed, these are pretty rare for a Lincoln, but they aren’t worth a lot of money. Still, if you’re looking for the kind of Lincoln that might make your grandfather scoff, this might be the ticket.
Do you know of a “holy grail” of a car out there? If so, we want to read about it! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us a pitch for why you think your favorite car is a “holy grail.”
(All photos: Manufacturer, unless otherwise noted.)
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