To understand the worst Lincoln ever made, you have to understand the times. Detroit was on a downhill slide past mediocrity. With rising gas prices along with shortages twice in the 1970s, it was frantically trying to find a magic bullet out of this predicament. But everything it did, including the 1984 diesel-powered Lincolns, became a comedy of errors. They also became the poster children for poorly engineered and built American cars for decades to come. But let’s look at Lincoln’s contribution to these miserable times in Motown.
Lincoln just couldn’t help itself with design, engineering, handling, or quality. All of them were bad by the time the 1980s commenced. And the Continental diesel epitomized its plight.
Because diesel fuel was cheap, got better mileage than gasoline, and was seen as a European approach to the times, it appealed to Ford. And one prominent German manufacturer, BMW, was willing to share its 2.4-liter inline-six turbo diesel engines with Ford. What could be a better marriage?
BMWs have a great reputation for design (until recently, anyway), quality, handling, and sound engineering. That reputation would surely rub off on Ford’s luxury Lincoln brand, and it needed it. So the deal was struck and the engines began piling up at Ford’s Wixom Assembly Plant.
While everything from Ford Fiestas to Chevrolet Corvettes saw their power throttled in the name of emissions and fuel economy, Cadillac offered a 135-hp V8. And Lincoln’s all-new 2.4 diesel engine? It had 114 hp. How much did it weigh? 3,800 lbs., which is not too far off from two tons.
So this 114-hp diesel engine would be powering this almost two-ton stinkin’ Lincoln. Did any of the Ford engineers ever think about this? Was there a prototype they could drive around? And what about that unwanted diesel smell? Would luxury drivers be able to dismiss it?
The answer to all of those questions apparently was “No.” But those questions didn’t get past Lincoln buyer’s awareness. You could see the Lincoln diesel’s flop sweat just driving by an unlucky dealership with one on its lot.
In all, Lincoln squeezed out 1,500 diesel duds. And by all accounts, it was very lucky to be able to unload those. Yes, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW also offered diesel engines. Cadillac’s was another incredible disaster, while the Germans had their buyers, mostly in Europe, who were stalwart luxury diesel drivers. And besides, a 7 Series BMW sedan weighed around 500 lbs less than these Lincolns.
We expect that the majority of those diesel derelicts ended up at local wrecking yards lickity-split. We occasionally see survivors pop up for sale. But you’ve got to have some dynamic inner drive to step up, even at the cheap prices we’ve seen.
These also prove that though rare, even when new, that rarity doesn’t always equate to value. Lincolns from this era are mostly poorly designed, engineered, and built, with terrible handling and anemic performance, even with a gas-powered V8. Saddling a survivor with a diesel makes it worth even less. But if its oddball story compels you, then by all means go for it.