The Lincoln Versailles was the first mid-size luxury car from the Lincoln division of Ford Motor Company. Nearly identical to the Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch it was based upon, the Versailles was sold only as a 4-door sedan; it was the final product derived from the 1960 Ford Falcon. Sold from 1977 to 1980, 50,156 were produced.
During the 1980 model year, the Versailles was discontinued without a direct replacement; however, the division would again reintroduce smaller cars based on Ford products. In 1982, the Continental, after three decades as the largest Lincoln, became a mid-size car nearly the same size as the Versailles. Based on the Ford Fox platform, it wore an entirely different body from its Ford counterparts. In the mid-2000s, the division revisited the concept of an entry-level luxury car with the Lincoln Zephyr (renamed the MKZ). Although still an openly badge-engineered Ford/Mercury (in this case, the Ford Fusion/Milan); the MKZ has fared better in terms of sales than the Versailles.
During the late 1970s, Ford did not have as much development capital to spend on its vehicles as General Motors, which led to the high usage of badge engineering to save money. Although they had used unique platforms, powertrain, and bodies as recently as the late 1950s, the full-size Ford and Mercury product lines differed only in grille and trim. 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 although by the 1970s the similarities were very apparent. However, by mid-decade, even the Continental shared a number of components with Ford products.
The aftermath of the 1973 fuel crisis also exposed a significant hole in the Lincoln lineup: Lincoln had no smaller luxury cars to compete with foreign automakers (primarily the Mercedes-Benz E-Class) and Cadillac, which introduced the Seville in 1975. While the Seville shared its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Nova, it had been modified to the point that General Motors gave it a separate platform designation.
Comparison to Granada
Unable to afford to rebody the Granada from the ground up, Lincoln stylists gave the Versailles its own look with several subtle changes to the Ford Granada/Mercury Monarch. The Versailles received a Lincoln-style front clip, with quad headlights, a Continental-style grille, and wheel covers shared with other Lincolns. In the rear, the trunk lid wore a spare tire bulge inspired by the Continental Mark coupe (lettered "Lincoln" instead of "Continental"). How well the styling transferred from the Continental/Mark V to a compact car may have been a source of debate, but the controversy laid in the middle ¾ of the car; it was largely identical to the Mercury Monarch also sold in Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. Doors and windows were interchangeable and the roofline was identical. Inside, the potential Lincoln buyer faced the same dashboard design as the budget-minded Granada customer (greeted with only a speedometer and fuel gauge). In a detail-oriented segment, the windshield wipers remained present and exposed, long after hidden wipers had become expected not just on luxury cars but even on intermediates. Most tellingly, the base model Versailles for model year 1977, was exactly the same car (except for the trunklid) as the top of the line 1976 Mercury Grand Monarch Ghia; the latter could have been purchased for 50% less than the Lincoln counterpart.
Although the Versailles openly bore a resemblance to the Granada/Monarch when it was introduced in 1977, the difference between it and its stablemates became clearer in terms of quality control and control over NVH. Going beyond factory standards for the Granada and Monarch, the Versailles was designed with “matched balance driveline parts, low-friction lower ball joints, double isolated shocks, reinforced chassis areas and plenty of insulation. Balanced forged aluminum wheels wore Michelin X-radials. Quality control at the plant was strengthened to the point of dynamometer testing of the engine/transmission, a rigorous water spray test to pinpoint body leaks, and a simulated road test. Bodies received the first clearcoat paint on a regular production car.”
For 1979, some differentiation between the Versailles and the Monarch/Granada was provided when it received own notchback roofline with a carriage-style landau vinyl roof. This was done by the use of a hidden fiberglass cap and required the use of separate rear window frames. The Versailles also introduced some genuine firsts to the industry. It 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.
In a break with Lincoln tradition of the time, and the Cadillac Seville of the same period (the "Elegante" package from 1978), the Versailles was available in standard sedan form only with no "designer editions" or luxury packages adding to its title (i.e.-"(Title) Edition").
After 1980, 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 midsize Continental was also a clone of a midsize Ford, but fared far better due to extensive differentiation between it and its Ford counterparts.
The car's mechanicals, along with its body, were somewhat lackluster. The standard 351 cu in (5.8 L) V8 was carbureted, as opposed to the Seville's fuel injected 350 cu in (5.7 L). 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 cu in (4.9 L) V8, which was a common option in the Monarch with which the Versailles shared Lincoln-Mercury showroom space.
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 complete rear end assembly or brake setup can be fitted to many other 1960s & 1970s Ford products, making them a popular swap. 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.