Save the Lincoln That Couldn’t Save the Thunderbird


Perhaps that title is on the dramatic side, because the 2004 Lincoln Mark X concept car is unlikely to lose another battle after it already lost the war. It never became a production car, was never subjected to the rigors production entails, so going up for auction at Mecum Glendale is a relative cakewalk in comparison. The buying pool for 20-year-old concept cars is unlikely to pull the plug on this veteran after purchasing it, and surely the concept of double jeopardy also applies to concept cars?

We shall see where the bidding on the Mark X (pronounced Mark Ten) ends, because owning a vehicle with a bevy of unique parts that never made production will always scare people away. But one lucky winner will enjoy a stunning slice of luxury car history—one that’s also the tale of a tragic hero.

I dug deeper into the Mark X’s connection to the troubled, eleventh-generation Ford Thunderbird for a Hagerty Insider story, so I’ll be brief: The Mark X could have been made alongside the Thunderbird and Lincoln LS at the Wixom Assembly Plant, as part of a last-ditch effort to find more buyers and amortize costs associated with Ford’s struggling DEW98 platform. That wasn’t in the cards, however, as the Mark X was birthed right before Ford announced plans to close multiple plants and lay off tens of thousands of workers.


But the Mark X was precisely what the faltering Lincoln brand needed in a halo car. The retractable hardtop and 1963 Continental–inspired egg-crate grille would bring excitement to the brand in the same way the folding-droptop genre was benefitting the likes of Mercedes, Cadillac, Lexus, BMW, and Infiniti during that time.

But this concept car was more than a Thunderbird with a Continental grille. The chrome strip running across the Mark X’s belt line is a nice throwback to yesteryear’s slab-sided Lincolns. Or. as the press release said, “The Mark X concept is designed to demonstrate the potential of the Lincoln brand by stretching its DNA to a sophisticated roadster.”

While it’s clear Lincoln wasn’t going to change the Thunderbird’s hard points at crucial junctures—things like like the cowl, the doors, and its elongated rear deck—the overall look still screamed Lincoln DNA. It’s a shame the Mark X didn’t come to fruition, both for Lincoln’s loyal followers and the brand’s shrinking market share.

The Mark X’s interior was a concept car dream that looked close to production, as sharing bits with the Thunderbird meant you could do a fair amount of implementation behind the scenes and nobody would be the wiser. But the “lime sorbet” leather interior paired with Corian accents was likely never in the cards, the latter being the preferred finish for high-end kitchens, not cars. (This was before everyone demanded granite countertops in their McMansions).

Having lived in a house that had Corian added in a kitchen renovation, let me suggest that it is a bold interior material choice for an automobile. Corian is heavy and not exactly malleable, two poor traits when a production car faces a head-on collision. But the Mark X is just a concept car, and a Ford press release suggested that designers looked for inspiration from “the fashion, furniture and housing industries.” While the Corian accents likely just served as a little PR buzz for interior designers, the unfinished navigation system suggests this concept didn’t get nearly as far as intended. And certainly not as far as the Lincoln Mark VII Comtech from decades past.

So here’s the 2004 Lincoln Mark X interior in modern times, as it waits for its moment at the Mecum auction. The white Corian finishes made way for black, but that’s the most noticeable change over time. The interior presents itself with no wear, aside from one scratch on the plastic near the “Detroit 2004 Mark X” commemorative plate on the rocker panel.

The exterior photos from the Mecum listing show a concept car that still looks stunning, with an impressive stance and shockingly wide rear tires. There are two changes since we last saw the Mark X in 2004. The first is rather pedantic: Only a Lincoln nerd like yours truly knows that hood ornament came from an Essex Continental, so I wonder out loud what happened to the Mark X’s bespoke emblem. The other is more academic: someone took the chrome body side moulding in the fenders and rear quarter panel and made a matching metal strip for the door.


The bling in the middle of the door looks ready for production, and somewhat helps set the Mark X apart from the Thunderbird donor under the skin. And everything else on this concept Lincoln looks fantastic, so I’m curious if anyone can muster up the nerve to operate the folding hardtop after years of possible neglect. Trying to repair it will likely make working on a 1961–67 Continental convertible look easy. Or not, as the Mark X likely used off-the-shelf mechanisms found on other folding hardtops of the era.

Lincoln Begins Manufacturing Luxury Pickup Truck
2004 Lincoln Mark LT truck. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Speaking of what’s on the shelf, this was truly a sad era in Lincoln history: The Mark X was canned, letting the Mark LT truck carry the legacy started by Edsel Ford (Lincoln Continental), continued by William Clay Ford (Mark II) and Lee Iacocca (Mark III) on its burly, F-150–derived shoulders.

There’s nothing wrong with a Lincoln truck, at least in theory. It just needs to look as Lincoln-like as the Mark X did on its Thunderbird underpinnings. A different grille and acres of bling certainly worked (and continues to hold its value) but this vehicle could have been a Navigator with a bed. Perhaps that was never in the cards….

2006 Lincoln MKX Lincoln

Two years later, the Mark X did make an ironic comeback as the 2006 Lincoln MKX crossover. The name was strikingly similar to the Thunderbird-based concept Mark, and there’s no doubt where its grille came from. (Or perhaps a little doubt, as both Xs used the same 1963 Continental template in that regard.)

Both names were also unique, at least technically. The MKX crossover was never called a Mark Ten, though that’s absolutely what it looks like to traditional Lincoln customers who scan the tailgate’s emblems. Be it a Mark truck in 2004 or an “MK” crossover in 2006, the famous Mark Series evolved past its history as a low-slung Lincoln coupe.

While that’s a shame, the opportunity to grab the last Mark Series coupe ever made (so to speak) is at our fingertips. Concept cars are usually just dreams, but this will be someone’s reality. And wouldn’t it be a wondrous reality if it was feasible/legal to do a VIN swap with a tired, depreciated 2004 Thunderbird, then perform a supercharged V-8 powertrain swap from a Jaguar S-Type R? That’s truly how the Lincoln Mark X can live forever as the Mark Series successor it deserved to become.



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    Hey Sajeev; You and I are typically simpatico, but: I understand it’s Valentines day and all, but that car didn’t make it because it’s ungainly and ugly. At least with the roof up. The roof being down wouldn’t do anything to help the not very attractive front, but at least it would look much better from the side.
    It looks a bit like someone was trying to harken back to the Mark 2 and was just half a bubble off. Not quite Bizzaro world, or Bizzarini World, but not quite right on either.

    That’s a fair assertion, but even if it is/was ugly, the lack of money in Ford’s coffers and future projections killed it. Ford hemorrhaged money on sillier things (Blackwood, X-type) so I am certain they woulda greenlighted the Mark X if this happened about 5-7 years earlier. The “Way Forward” saved the company, but it killed a lot of things in the process.

    That said, to adore this car is more about adoration for the last Mark Series that 1) is actually a coupe and 2) was even remotely considered for production.

    I so sick about hearing how the 5.0 would have been a better engine for the Thunderbird. First off, Ford stopped making the 5.0 Windsor by that time. Second, the 3.9 made more power than any 5.0 Windsor and was a so much smoother engine, very much matching the character of the car. The ONLY advantage to using a 5.0 would the availablity of aftermarket parts. I don’t understand how people keep wanting to make this Thunderbird a hotrod, that was not the market it was designed for, that’s what the Mustang was for.

    Why the desire to take the Lincoln and try to make a small copy of a T bird?

    I think this car looks great as is, and would have been a welcome entry, for a sporty option in a luxury brand. It looks like a Lincoln. If anything, dont make it smaller, make it larger. Thats what destroyed that company, all the cars became expensive hondas and failed and now all they sell are copy-cat SUVs until they eventually fold, which is likely coming. If youve been to a dealer in the last couple of years you know what I mean, its like a funeral parlor.

    Cadillac did the same thing, they dont have one real luxury car, its all versions of performance cars. I get it, people want nice sporty cars too, and they do seem to perform well, but the interiors are CHEAP looking. I dont have a problem with having a smaller, sportier option in your offerings, but a luxury brand used to mean plenty of elbow room, a big powerful V8 to take command of your driving experience, sofa seats you would be happy to sleep in and a ride that felt like riding on a cloud. I dont know any American manufacturer today that still does that, which is why we dont have any real luxury car options anymore.

    Sajeev I was waiting for you to address this car.

    To be honest I love this car. It could have been what the T Bird failed to be.

    The price could have supported higher quality interior and a Mustang V8.

    Ford has tried to make a new Lincoln but too often they just end up with a fancy Ford. This could have made a positive statement that could have flowed into a similar styled sedan they canceled.

    The Lincoln truck thing just never works.

    I am glad you enjoyed this, I too was hoping this would surface one day so I could indeed write about it.

    I share your sentiments, but I doubt Lincoln would get the budget to slap in an Aviator style DOHC Modular V8, considering how rough the DEW98 platform was going already. But maybe that was in the cards, if the whole project got the green light. I heard that there was a Ford skunkworks team back then with Lincoln LS that had a DOHC Modular V8 and a 6-speed manual…so who knows!

    I was involved with Ford skunkworks at an outside contractor during that time but was not involved with a DOHC in Lincoln LS. The Lincoln LS that I was involved with was a SOHC 4.6L Supercharged manual trans. (~360hp) That took a lot of work to make it work. The budget wasn’t there nor timeline to fit a properly sized radiator and fan system so it overheated and heard later on that there was durability issues with half shafts on the stock independent rear end. It also required a bulge in the hood that would have never been allowed in production. Exhaust heat, fuel system, DEW98 had a completely different wiring and network architecture than other Ford mainstream products. There were a lot of challenges, and no production path. It was a DOA program before it drove off the lift. I was on the build team for a bunch of proof of concept management rides where we put supercharged engines in them. Some had teeth but didn’t go anywhere. Some like Crown Vic……DOHC won out over SOHC supercharged and became the Marauder. All of them eventually ended up crushed into a metal cube. The cars we started with were already on the way to the crusher when it gets saved for a brief period to answer the question of what if.

    OMG!!!! That’s right! I remember a blown SOHC Lincoln LS, I now remember that car vividly!

    Thank you for sharing your insights, as I only assumed making a Mod motor work with a DEW98 woulda been a nightmare. Now we know it woulda never worked with the Mark X, especially considering its uphill battle with a carryover 3.9L powertrain.

    I find it attractive too. Esp the rear. We never got the Lincoln here in S Africa, only German, UK and Australian Fords

    I think the Lincoln truck thing can work great, if they would LEAN INTO IT and stop just putting stickers on a cheaper Ford and doubling the asking price.
    I know the Blackwood was defeated by the Cadillac EXT, but I have owned several Blackwoods, myself and my wife have walked away from two different BAD wrecks in them thanks to drunk drivers, and I think its the best truck ever built. In fact I am thinking about buying another one now. The caveat is its only good if you dont want it for a utility vehicle but instead a family vehicle (which I know is there the complaints come in). Thats the buyers mistake in my opinion. Its a Lincoln, honestly. I have a 1976 Ford truck I can put through the wringer and it doesnt mind, so the Blackwood was something I can take the wife out to dinner in, or drive across the country in comfort, and it was a very different experience and was a unique vehicle. The price was an issue when new and of course its a niche market so the Blackwood went too far and the LT didnt go far enough, doesnt mean it cant be done right because Denalis sell well and so did EXTs. In the end, I think they did a great job with the Blackwood personally. The LT on the otherhand is a rebadged F150,… why wouldnt I just buy a nice F150? Too close in my opinion. If I am buying a Lincoln, I want a LINCOLN.

    How does that go? “Of all tails of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been’.”

    I always liked this car, a lot. Like so many show cars it didn’t see the light of day, but this is one that was close, which made it all the more bitter that it didn’t. C’est la vie. 🙁

    I looked good from the front and with the top down fine but with the top up it got a little weird. It could have been interesting but Lincoln does not seem to know how to do that kind of thing for a long time.

    There are several interesting articles in the Lincoln & Continental Owner’s Club magazine (a wonderful publication, news-stand quality) on the former automobile designer who owned this car for many years, possibly ’til this sale. It may be in better condition than we think. I am not at home to dig through my “Lincoln & Continental Comments” stack, but our Lincoln hero Sajeev may be able to do so.
    The Mark X was a great-looking car and certainly could have sold in some numbers, maybe enough to justify the cost when shared with the Thunderbird, LS, and the Jaguar S-Type, all from the same platform.

    Hey Bobo, sadly this Lincoln hero doesn’t have any LCOC back issues. I officially joined the club only recently. But thank you for chiming in, as I always hoped more enthusiasts care about the Mark X as much as I do.

    If you unearth anything interesting, maybe we can use it for a Part II when the Mecum Auction ends. You can email me @

    I think the Mark X, the Thunderbird and the Lincoln LS all could have been raging successes had Ford built them on the Fox or Panther platform with Ford engines. The T-bird’s flaws would have been easy to forgive with more power and an optional manual (and a LOT less Jaguar complication). The LS idea was ‘let’s remove rhe only good thing from Jaguar-the body-but we’ll keep all the wonky fragile parts, and wrap them in a body that looked like a large Galant!’. (The LS’s body, too, could have been forgiveable had the rest of it run like, and held up like, a Marauder). I think Ford made a huge mistake trying to incorporate Jag’s engineering into anything other than Jaguars. The only reason the T-bird isn’t a BHPH/junkyard dweller is the fact that very few owners drive them enough for them to break and get sold off like every single LS has.

    If the Thunderbird & LS would have been built on the Fox or Panther platform, they would have had to reduce the price a lot and the press would have still been laughing today with its solid rear. I have a feeling that you have never driven a DEW98 based car. Having owned a 2002 Thunderbird for 20 years and many Fox & Fox 4 Mustangs over the years, they don’t drive anything alike. The MN-12 platform would have been a better choice but it was gone by then.

    I cannot add anything relevant to a conversation about Continentals or Marks, but the quick references in the article to the Mark LT and Blackwood reminded me of how ridiculous I thought it was that Lincoln (one of the epitomes of luxury automobiles) would produce a pick-up truck. Oh, I know, Cadillac brought the Escalade to us, but I didn’t think very highly of them either. Must be my blue-collaredness showing, but trucks in my world were made to haul fenceposts and bags of concrete, etc.

    The sad irony here is that such a car would make for a perfect entry into the bespoke EV arena, a la the Cadillac Celestiq. Make Bespoke Ultra-Luxury Great Again!!

    There was a supercharged version being planned as the 50th anniversary special edition. The Jaguar engine was used. It was cancelled because he decision to curtail the Thunderbird. The concept car is now in a private collection.

    Now, that’s so much nicer than the Thunderbird. I tried to “love” the retro bird but couldn’t get passed the “J May Volkswagen taillights”. I would have written a check immediately for the Mark X………….

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