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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Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
8 months ago

> Dodge Omni GLH? More presence

My horizon was certainly present on a lift very often.

ScottyB
ScottyB
8 months ago

I’d rather have a Newport after the 1976 update, but I’m a big fan of these.

The Ver-Sigh might be tied with Cimarron for most poorly disguised badge engineering job of all time.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
8 months ago

If you are not voting for the Chrysler and those motherfucking awesome seats, you have no taste.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
8 months ago

If I am buying a 1970’s pig with 120 hp out of a V8, I’m getting the New Yorker with that plush velour interior.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
8 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

Bring back velour!

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
8 months ago

The Versailles looks like a Granada that crashed through the front door at JCWhitney. So I picked it.

Fun fact: this is one of the later models with the more formal roofline than the donor car (thanks to the ubiquitous American Sunroof Company) — not that it fooled anyone, of course.

Masterbuilder
Masterbuilder
8 months ago

I owned that exact New Yorker, except in Metallic Dark Green, with a dark green vinyl roof and dark green leather interior.

It was one of the best cars I ever owned. I bought it used with about 50,000 miles on it and pit another 100,000 on it with no problems whatsoever. The 440 had torque forever and the TF727 is indestructable.

With snow tires, it was unstoppable in winter, and drove and rode like a dream on the Interstate. IIRC, it got about 14 – 15 MPG on the highways at 80 – 90.

If it hadn’t rusted through at the torsion bars and rear fenders around the fender skirts, I might still own it.

I really miss that car.

Ricki
Ricki
8 months ago

I’d definitely be grabbing the Lincoln for parts. Rebuild and de-shittify the drivetrain and slap it in something else. Or body swap it with something better. I dunno.

I get the feeling that Chrysler smells like pee. Or mold. Or moldy pee.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
8 months ago

The Versailles is just awful looking, while the New Yorker has that undeniable presence and a lovely bordello interior. I wouldn’t dare be caught in the Lincoln, but I’d rock the New Yorker unironically as I’m rather a fan of those fuselage body Mopars.

Rapgomi
Rapgomi
8 months ago

I learned to drive in a 1978 Blue/Blue New Yorker sedan! And later I personally owned a White/White 1976 New Yorker 2 door. They were giant beasts but drove and handled better than you might guess – my 76 440 coupe would hold 90mph on the highway like it was asleep, with no noise and consistent gentle rock from side to side.

I dream of finding just the right car and replacing the awful lean burn with single point fuel injection, but so far the cost/condition/location equation just hasn’t been right.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

I am more of a neither on these. But consider the fun after fixing the roof issue apply some weird ass vinyl adhesive shelf paper for all kinds of attention.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
8 months ago

I definitely would rather have the enormous Chrysler. It at least has presence and a bit of style.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
8 months ago

What a day-night difference from yesterday’s poll where you couldn’t go wrong with any of the two.
And now these two clunkers that are not only more expensive, they’re older, slower, rustier and more than likely not running unless you put some elbow grease? I mean I have a soft spot old Lincoln’s but the Versailles isn’t one of them and the New Yorker not only comes with some tastier body, it’s also got less plebeian mechanical bits like the 440 + stronger Torqueflite (I guess it’s an A727?) and it’s not pretending to be an Imperial with acres of Corinthian leather.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
8 months ago
Reply to  Baja_Engineer

If I’m soft spotting 70s Lincolns it’s going to be a Mk V.

Myk El
Myk El
8 months ago

I’m taking the Chrysler. That velour. Has to be Zapp Brannigan approved, right?

Griznant
Griznant
8 months ago
Reply to  Myk El

They don’t call him The Velour Fog for nothing.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
8 months ago

If you’re truly intent on embracing the suck, you embrace it in tufted red velour.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
8 months ago

I’m going for the Chrysler for the velour seats.

Mike B
Mike B
8 months ago

As soon as I saw what the Linc was, I got excited to comment about the rear end. Imagine my disappointment when I saw it was mentioned in the article, haha.

I hate both these cars, but if I had to choose I’d go with the Linc. I want to like the Chrysler, but its not worth it. At half the price it’d be worth it for the motor.

3WiperB
3WiperB
8 months ago

The New Yorker has much more of a Chameleon XLE vibe (see the SNL Phil Hartman sketch).

“Introducing the Chameleon XLE for 1993. Finally, a luxury car that doesn’t look like a luxury car.

Inside, the Chameleon XLE has everything you would expect in a luxury sedan of its class. Soft leather seating, a contoured instrument panel, and fine wood. But there’s more – much more.

Authentically distressed fenders give way to a partially padded roof of blistered vinyl. While under the hood, a simulated transmission-fluid drip whispers, “Hey, not worth the trouble.” This is craftsmanship no one will steal. This is engineering for the inner-city driving experience.

There’s attention to detail. Like three mismatched wheel covers, and one exposed rim in school-bus yellow. Standard.

A broken taillight repaired with duct tape. Standard.

Retractable antenna. Standard.

The body of a Pontiac with a driver’s-side door from an Oldsmobile Delta ’88. All standard.”

3WiperB
3WiperB
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Here you go. It’s a classic. “They might tow it away, but they’ll never steal it” https://www.tiktok.com/@sassollou/video/7168257039540473134?lang=en

Last edited 8 months ago by 3WiperB
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

True classic but that replacement door isn’t from a Delta 88, way too short.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
8 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

That was awesome – thanks for sharing. Considering I actually watched SNL on occasion in ’93, I’m amazed I had never saw it before. Or, none of my friends for that matter because they would’ve instantly told me about it as I had a tendency to drive cars the would’ve earned the badge “Chameleon XLE”.

Rich Hobbs
Rich Hobbs
8 months ago

Q: What’s it gonna cost to get either one to pass smog in sunny California? Both look like money pits to me. Yeah, the Lincoln is a parts car. But for what? Let’s up the ante and get some better choices. Please?

ProfPlum
ProfPlum
8 months ago

My ex-wife’s dad had a ’78 Newport, the slightly downmarket version of the New Yorker; it was white with a red top and the same red interior. We called it the “Queen Mary.”

Parking was an event, but I grew up with these beasts and also drove a commercial truck prior, so it was doable. Even with that 440, it wasn’t spectacularly quick, unlike another huge car – the 1969 Olds 98 my college roommate had in the mid-70s.

Last edited 8 months ago by ProfPlum
Mike B
Mike B
8 months ago
Reply to  ProfPlum

I love the Newport! When I was in high school in the mid 90’s my friend’s mom had one. Her dad had a whole fleet of late 70s/early 80’s beaters, she got a “new” one every few years. She was a little nuts, thanks to her I can verify that a Gremlin with a 258 is capable of a donut.

We’d cram at least 6 of us into the “Newp” and just cruise around. A favorite game was a quick swerve to see how many hubcaps we could lose, followed by the dash to collect them. It had a 360, and was not fast, but it sounded good and would lay a mean one-wheel-peel under the right circumstances.

Tbird
Tbird
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

Pretty sure my aunt had one, light green with a dark green paisley interior. The 70’s were wild.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
8 months ago

Not awful for a parts donor Lincoln. That’s firmly what it would be.

Old Fart Parts Guy
Old Fart Parts Guy
8 months ago

Luxury is feeling special in a place object or experience not easily accessable to the masses.

Mike F.
Mike F.
8 months ago

I was initially set on the Lincoln. From the fuel filler door to the giant grill to the “Versailles” name, it’s just stupid. And in a contest like this, why not go full-stupid? But the rust issues and the fact that it’s actually sitting on a trailer involve a different kind of stupidity. The Chrysler is not quite as visibly and outrageously stupid (although that interior is really something), but it’s probably more of a viable car. Chrysler it is.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
8 months ago

Gotta go Mopar. The styling on these holds up, 440 + Torqueflite? yes please.

Yeah it has the “lean burn” system on it, but they weren’t the worst, and you could probably fit it with a TBI system or just a simple carb swap. That and probably put in an RV cam.

Last edited 8 months ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
Sklooner
Sklooner
8 months ago

You can resolder the Lean Burn and replace some resistors and they are good to go, the engine and transmission are almost indestructible, the rest of the car not so much

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
8 months ago

8 mpg, an American tradition. I really like Imperials in general, so this was pretty easy to begin with. That it was up against a Linconesque Ford made it no-contest.

Last edited 8 months ago by Boulevard_Yachtsman
XLEJim700
XLEJim700
8 months ago

Welp, my birthplace is Staten Island, New York so…

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