Richard Bennett’s Brougham Society #2.
The Lincoln Continental Mark VII once had a BMW turbodiesel
Even before Volkswagen’s 2015 emissions scandal quashed America’s taste for diesel-powered engines in passenger cars, automakers had a hard time selling them stateside. Small diesel engines might be super popular in Europe, but Americans are wary of them, especially after a run of woefully lackluster cars in the 1970s and ’80s amidst the oil crisis. One of the short-lived offenders was the Lincoln Continental Mark VII, which for the brief spell of 1984–85 offered a BMW-sourced 2.4-liter turbodiesel straight-six. People did not like it.
GM made the brave (read: foolish) choice to convert its gasoline V-8 engine to diesel in order to help improve fuel economy and comply with regulations. Right out of the gate the small-block-based diesels experienced legendary reliability and performance struggles. Ford didn’t want to touch that strategy with a 10-foot pole for its new-for-1984 Continental Mark VII. Thus, the “European-designed” 115-hp BMW diesel, from a brand that was known to produce solid and reliable engines. The oil-burner was good for a combined 24 mpg, compared to just 16 mpg for the gas V-8.
Ads promoting the Mark VII pitted it against models from Mercedes-Benz, claiming “Mercedes now has something it hasn’t had before. Competition.” The notion that Mercedes is JUST NOW competing against a BMW inline-six is, yes, silly. But the Bimmer engine is especially strange given that the Mark VII was actually competing against the BMW 633CSi/635CSi, as well as the Mercedes 380SEC.
Although the power-sapped 5.0-liter V-8 wasn’t a stunner itself, Lincoln abandoned the BMW diesel project after the 1985 model year. Final production numbers for this cross-continental (pun fully intended) variant aren’t available, but most estimates range from about 500–1500 total units. They’re rare but hardly collectible and prices vary from roughly $1500–$10,000.
Based on the Ford Fox platform, the Mark VII was fairly well received when it came out in 1984. The aerodynamic styling and lighter curb weight improved efficiency as well as handling, but Lincoln didn’t really hit its stride with this big Continental two-door until 1986. That’s when the new 200-hp V-8 for the fancier LSC trim arrived, sending the Mark VII onto Car and Driver’s vaunted 10 Best list.
The BMW/Lincoln diesel experiment wasn’t terribly memorable, but it is a good reminder that car companies were willing to get creative during the oil crisis. And if weird is your favorite flavor, a BMW-powered mid-’80s Lincoln might get those strange taste buds a-firing.