Home » What A Luxury Car Never Should Have Been: 1979 Lincoln Versailles vs 1978 Chrysler New Yorker

What A Luxury Car Never Should Have Been: 1979 Lincoln Versailles vs 1978 Chrysler New Yorker

Sbsd 10 25 2023
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Welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! I had so much fun with last week’s Mid-Week Malaise that I’m doing it again, only this time we’re wading even deeper into the mire of the Carter administration, and looking at two sorry excuses for luxury rides. One was a shadow of its former glory, and the other was a flat-out mockery of its brand. But let’s check the final score on yesterday’s cheap beaters before we get into all that.

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The big Pontiac wins, but not by a whole lot. I’m similarly torn on this one. I could see myself in either one, if I needed a cheap ride. I think it would come down to a test drive, and a rust inspection.

Now then: Luxury, like humor, is a hard concept to define. What makes something luxurious? Some would say exclusivity, or frivolity; if only a select few can afford to have something they don’t really need, then that’s a luxury item. Others would define luxury, especially as it applies to cars, by comfort, or quality; think Mercedes-Benz or Rolls-Royce in their glory days. And for others, especially in these modern times, a luxury car must have a lot of bells and whistles, and be on the cutting edge of technology. Where all three of these definitions meet, I think, is the rarefied air that most luxury brands aspire to, but few truly reach.

Back in the doldrums of the 1970s, somewhere between the 1973 oil crisis and the Disco Demolition, luxury, especially in American cars, pretty much meant “put cushy seats and opera windows in it, slap lots of chrome on it, and hope they don’t notice how awful it really is.” Or, in some cases, “keep churning out the same stuff we’ve been making for twenty years, only make it even bigger and heavier.” Today, we’ve got one example of each, and it’ll be up to you to decide which is better, or at least less bad.

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1979 Lincoln Versailles – $1,700

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Engine/drivetrain: 302 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 58,000 miles

Runs/drives? So they claim, but it’s on a trailer

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Whatever else you say about Ford, you can’t deny that they get their money’s worth out of a platform. The Lincoln Versailles was derived from the Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch, which in turn were derived from the Maverick, which could trace its roots all the way back to the 1960 Ford Falcon. This platform was replaced by the Fox platform, which lasted all the way until 2004. The Versailles was Ford’s answer to the Cadillac Seville, which also shared more humble roots – the Chevy Nova – but while the Seville looked and drove nothing like a Nova, the Versailles was obviously a Mercury Monarch with extra headlights.

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But of course, since it was a Lincoln, it needed a fake spare-tire-carrier hump in the back. Unfortunately, the Granada’s fuel filler was right there, so Ford’s designers just worked around it as well as they could. The result is, well, you can see for yourself. The Versailles was slightly upgraded mechanically from the humbler Ford and Mercury; it has rear disc brakes, and the V8 engine came standard, a weak-sauce 302 with a two-barrel carb that managed 130 horsepower.

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This Versailles is claimed to be a runner, but it’s sitting on a flatbed trailer in all the photos, and it has no license plates, so make of that what you will. The 302 and its accompanying C4 automatic transmission are solid, known quantities with plenty of parts support, so even if it doesn’t run, it probably could with a little effort. The ad claims only 58,000 miles, and from the look of the interior, that could be correct. Here, also, the baby Lincoln got an upgrade over its Ford cousin in the form of some mighty comfy-looking leather seats.

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The big red flag with this car is the rust peeking out from under the vinyl landau roof, and based on the seller’s description as “Parts or restore,” I fear the rust is worse than it looks. It is true, however, that this car has one highly desirable part: those stock rear disc brakes I mentioned earlier sit at the ends of Ford’s legendary 9 inch rear axle, the de-facto standard third member for hot rods, drag racers, and pretty much anything else highly modified and rear wheel drive. This car is probably too expensive for someone to buy it for the axle alone, but when you add in a good 302 V8 block and a C4 automatic, you’ve got the entire drivetrain for a much cooler car right there.

1978 Chrysler New Yorker – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 440 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Apple Valley, CA

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Odometer reading: 78,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but has been sitting

As one of two die-hard Mopar apologists on the payroll here, I often find myself defending the near-indefensible: K-cars weren’t as bad as you remember, PT Cruisers are actually kinda fun, that sort of thing. And Chrysler in all its iterations has built a lot of cars over the years that I don’t care for, or at least don’t care about. But the one thing its best designs have in common is a sense of presence, a sort of calm cool power that draws you to them. (All right, sometimes it’s a malevolent presence, but sometimes a car just wants to be loved, is that so wrong?) Think about the 1957 Imperial – it had presence. Hemi Cuda? Presence. The more recent LX/LD sedans? Presence, no matter what you may think of the drivers. Dodge Omni GLH? More presence than a compact hatch had any claim to. And what tape did I once find under the seat of a $300 Plymouth Caravelle I bought? That’s right – In Through The Out Door. (You thought I was going to say Presence, didn’t you?)

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This ’78 New Yorker, the last of the truly full-size Chryslers, definitely has presence. It takes up a lot of space, and it demands attention, with its covered headlights, B-pillar-less hardtop roof, and button-tufted interior. It even still has the mighty 440 cubic inch V8, albeit neutered by emissions controls and Chrysler’s notorious Electronic Lean Burn system. It’s an impressive, imposing, yet somehow still approachable machine. Unfortunately, Chrysler was more or less flat broke when this car was built, and build quality was not its strong suit in the best of times.

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This car is said to run and drive, but it has been sitting for many years and needs to be gone through before being put back into service. You’ll need belts, hoses, fluids, and tires if nothing else. It has only 78,000 miles on it, but honestly, that’s a lot for a ’70s Chrysler. Comfy and majestic they may have been, but long-lived they were not.

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The biggest problem I see with this car, as with the Lincoln, is that damned vinyl top, and the rust it has caused. This one actually has some rust-through on the roof, visible in one of the photos. If it was parked outside for any length of time, that probably means the headliner is trashed, too. You could probably patch up the roof, replace the vinyl and the headliner, and be fine, but is this car really worth all that effort? All I can say is that I hope vinyl roofs never make a comeback, like vinyl records did.

Both of these cars, when put back into shape mechanically, should be a comfy and quiet way to get around, but I’m not sure either one of them deserves the title of “luxury car.” Not by today’s standards, at least. They’re rare and exclusive these days, it’s true, but they’re poor quality, have zero prestige, and they’re certainly not high-tech. Nor are they worth restoring to whatever small amout of glory they may once have had. But they could be fun clunkers to bomb around in. Which one, though?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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DDayJ
DDayJ
8 months ago

These are both junk so I voted for the cheaper junk. If you can revive the 302 and the rest of it for $800, I guess you’re ahead, and as Mark noted the drivetrain has some decent items. Get it running, hoon the hell out of it, then pull the good stuff.

DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
8 months ago

That Chrysler has me feeling Pimptatstic. I can see Huggy Bear driving this thing, and picking up all the fine ladies.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
8 months ago

The Treaty of Versailles, depending on who’s doing the explaining, either ended World War I or laid the foundation for World War II. Probably both is the correct answer. The Lincoln Versailles ended any doubt Ford had lost its way and was, also definitely a prime example of auto diktat. Nobody asked for this thing to be imposed on them, excepting, maybe, bookkeepers and junior mobsters.

The Imperial wins today for its blood red bordello couches. Cue Skynard’s “That Smell.”

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
8 months ago

That Lincoln interior pic brings back haunting memories of my grandfather’s barges and the heavy smell of stale smoke that the interior would be steeped in.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
8 months ago

I’ll take the Chrysler. It looks much cooler than the Lincoln and I could de-smogify that 440 where I’m at to free up at least a bit more power

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
8 months ago

If you’re gonna do, then do it. Get the Chrysler, and slowly sail the great seas of the highway

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
8 months ago

Ugh. I’m usually up for a big soft American sedan, but just no. I choose neither.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
8 months ago

Chrysler by a mile. Back in the mid-90s a friend had one of those Lincolns and it was nothing to get excited about then, and is even less so now – it is certainly more desirable for parts than for driving.

The Chrysler has style, and would actually be worth repairing the rust holes on. I’m not one to ever consider buying a land yacht myself, but I could see myself in that Chrysler.

Last edited 8 months ago by Squirrelmaster
Slirt
Slirt
8 months ago

They’re both hideous, but the hardtop won the Chrysler for me. And there is no bad Led Zeppelin album [tape], but Presence & ITTOD couldn’t be more different; i love them both, tho (unlike these piles).

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
8 months ago

It’s like Ford was challenged to make the Granada uglier and boy howdy, they pulled it off!

JDE
JDE
8 months ago

I am actually surprised the NYer has not been snatched up by Birdsong or Dulcich already. 440’s are getting harder to come by all the time. they could probably swap the entire drive train into something more attractive in a single episode of Roadkill.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
8 months ago

Once again, I’m in the minority here. The Lincoln has a 302 Windsor, a 9″ axle, and rides on a chassis that, while older than the Dead Sea Scrolls, does have immense aftermarket support. A few trips to the right junkyards and/or an evening perusing the virtual aisles of Jegs or Summit could have the Lincoln running as glorious q-ship that would make the FoMoCo execs shit their pants.

The last of the petrol-chugging Chrysler land yachts is tempting, especially with the 440 and tufted velour couch seating. But parts are going to be harder to source outside of the drive train. Also, if the roof has holes and water has gotten inside, those glorious velour couches are going to have unpleasant odors that even Mercedes and Sheryl wouldn’t be able to eliminate, even with full sponsorship from Maguires cleaning supplies.

JDE
JDE
8 months ago

usually disc Brake 9″ rear axle as well, butt hat is not as big of deal as it once was. the 302 is not worth much even as rebuildable core these days, too many better options. The Imp has two thing going for it I suppose. the Motor and trans could easily be sold to Birdsong or Dulcich as they are just around the way from this guy. Ad before that occurs, you could perhaps cruise that yacht a bit once you clean the vinyl and apply Flex seal to the roof.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
8 months ago

The seats in the Chysler win by default. No other opinions are relevant.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
8 months ago

I want them both.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
8 months ago

I kinda wanna be driven to drinkin’

So I voted for the “hot rod” Lincoln.

Jerry Thomas
Jerry Thomas
8 months ago

That New Yorker wins by a mile, it’s a perfect car for an aspiring trailer park supervisor. Big dash to set the drinky-poo on, and worst case ontario you could live in it while fixing it up! It’s not rocket-appliances to see the winner here

James Colangelo
James Colangelo
8 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Thomas

Mr. Lahey LOL

Eugene White
Eugene White
8 months ago

Were that Chrysler in my area code, it would be headed to my yard of derelicts immediately. I’d spend the first day pulling the coil wire and cranking the engine repeatedly just to listen to the dulcet tones of a Mopar starter.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
8 months ago
Reply to  Eugene White

I was going to say this. You can tell an old school Mopar starter from a mile away. I believe they stick to them all the way to the late 90s

Laurence Rogers
Laurence Rogers
8 months ago
Reply to  Baja_Engineer

You’ll be pleased to know the Hemi Six starters have that same song. Chryslers on the Murray is like a symphony

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
8 months ago

The Chrysler was a reasonably credible luxury car by the standards of the time, once you had it back and forth to the dealer multiple times over the first 9 months of ownership to fix all the quality control issues and learned to live with the fact that some interior rattles are just never going away.

The Lincoln was a total exercise in lazy, cynical, cash grabbing. Ford was trying to rip off the Seville idea without understanding any of the nuance of it, GM succeeded because they took an economy car platform and extensively reworked and re-engineered it until it was barely recognizable as what it started as, Ford took an economy car, slapped a different grille on the front, jacked up the MSRP and called it a day. No mystery why one nameplate survived into the 21st century and one died after a fairly short single generation

Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
8 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Going to agree with you here. Even as a kid, I remember seeing the Lincoln and the Merc, and thinking “This is just a Grenada.” Even as a kid, I was offended by the Lincoln, because it insulted my intelligence. Like we couldn’t tell. So was the New Yorker out of date? Yes. And it isn’t what I would consider timeless elegance. But damn, the Lincoln is like being invited to a dinner at the White House and being fed McDonalds, and being told “isn’t this AWESOME??”

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Yet Chevy and Cadilac shared almost identical cars in the Cimaron?

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

GM got drunk on their success from the Seville and learned the wrong lesson

Although, their R&D team did push to delay the Cimarron by a year or two to allow more time to re-engineer the J-car into something more appropriate, but were overruled. Clearly they were hoping to do something more like the X-body rework

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Ah bean counters. It is really a perfect symbiotic relationship. Build a great reliable car, turn it over to accountants. You get planned obscelesance.

Lokki
Lokki
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Yet Chevy and Cadilac (sic) shared almost identical cars in the Cimaron(sic)?

Okay, okay, okay! Enough! You get drunk one night, fuck up, and nobody ever lets you forget it. That was freaking 1982, okay? Yer dad probably wasn’t even born yet. Jeez.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  Lokki

Glad you are taking it so well. Lol

Lokki
Lokki
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Lol!

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
8 months ago

I’m going with the true land yacht. The Lincoln just seems like a half-measure.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
8 months ago

The Chrysler had won me over, but when I got to the B52s reference in the vote box, I was sure 😀

Can’t not think of Bob Mayer from that Miami tv channel, who had to test drive all these 😉

Last edited 8 months ago by Jakob K's Garage
67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
8 months ago

The smart answer would be “neither”,but i have to vote for the Chrysler just because its not boring. Sure hope that roof can be welded up..

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
8 months ago
Reply to  67 Oldsmobile

Well, the roof is flat, and doesn’t have to look super good, with new vinyl on the outside and roof liner on the inside, so even a beginner should be able to accomplish that 🙂

JDE
JDE
8 months ago

And Bed liner from a Can does not look that much different from vinyl from 20 feet away.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
8 months ago

IDK, that gussied up Monarch would look great restored and shuffling Dr. Mrs. The Monarch to the Guild of Calamitous Intent.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
8 months ago

HENCHMAN 43! TO THE MONARCHMOBILE!!!

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
8 months ago

Well, it’s at least a slight step up from a mostly powder blue Stanza

Fuzz
Fuzz
8 months ago

It’s rare for me to ever select a Chrysler in these things, but this one is an ad for 2 mobile couches that look like clouds of red heaven, and I can’t really look away from that kind of comfort.

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
8 months ago

Give me all the red, cushy, velour. There’s too much hating on old vinyl tops. To me, it’s just provenance. No worse than all this “patina” everyone raves about. Probably better. No one is putting new vinyl roofs on everything and then distressing them to look old.

Toecutter
Toecutter
8 months ago

Malaise.

Toecutter
Toecutter
8 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I’d take the Lincoln, for the hot rod parts to use in another vehicle. A Little British Car or a Miata NB with a Ford 9″ rear end and tuned V8 with the smog controls removed would be interesting.

JDE
JDE
8 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

EH, even the Sunbeam that came with a V8 in America lacked room for a V8 with a carb. The rear 9Inch with discs might be the most appealing thing about this car, but after send it off for narrowing and custom axles, you would still be better off with a Strange or Moser unit with the tabs welded in lace for a proper 4 link in the end for the money.

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