1979 Lincoln Versailles: Compact Luxury

Jayson Coombes

I’m one of those people who likes—in some cases, loves—cars that most folks love to hate. Cadillac Cimarrons, Mustang II Ghias, Plymouth Volate Premier woody wagons. Yep. Love ’em. And Gremlins, and Matador Barcelona sedans. And the Lincoln Versailles, that late-1970s “luxury compact” that 99 percent of internet know-it-alls love to hate. Be warned. This is not going to be a column full of cheap shots and Granada references. Buckle up!

1979 Lincoln Versailles headlight
Jayson Coombes

The Versailles was a step in a new direction for Lincoln. Until its appearance as a 1977 model, all Lincolns were big. Really big. True, the Mark III, which appeared in 1968 as a ’69 model, was based on the Thunderbird, but it was still pretty good sized. And imposing in its own right. But the Versailles was a different type of Lincoln.

1979 Lincoln Versailles rear badge
Jayson Coombes

And yes, let’s get it out of the way: It WAS based on the “premium compact” Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch. But so what? Plenty of luxury cars were—and are—based on more prosaic chassis. The primary issue was that it still looked so much like a Granada or Monarch—at first.

1979 Lincoln Versailles cover badge
Jayson Coombes

Of course, the Versailles came about due to the appearance in 1975 of the all-new 1976 Cadillac Seville, the first small Cadillac. Now there’s another car that armchair enthusiasts love to claim is “just a Nova.” Psst. It’s not. But let’s not get into that today, shall we?

1979 Lincoln Versailles rear three quarter
Jayson Coombes

But yes, partly due to Cadillacs and Lincolns getting so super-sized by the ’70s, and also partly due to increasing interest in luxury European imports, both luxury makes decided to offer a smaller car. Smaller, but still with all the luxury trappings: power everything, full- or landau-style padded vinyl roofs, wire wheel covers, opera/coach lamps, velour or leather seating, and anything else commonly seen on domestic luxocruisers at the time.

1979 Lincoln Versailles interior front seats
Jayson Coombes

Despite its Granada origins, Lincoln offered a lot of interesting additional features to the Versailles. It was the first U.S. car with halogen-sealed-beam headlamps, four-wheel power disc brakes (at a time when many domestic cars still had front disc/rear drum braking), and a programmable garage door opener built into the driver’s side sun visor. By the way, do you know what U.S car was the first with basecoat/clearcoat paint? Yes, it was the Versailles!

1979 Lincoln Versailles interior rear seats
Jayson Coombes

Sales were initially tepid. Price was likely a factor, as the initial ’77 model started at $11,500 (about $58,409 today). That same year you could get a new Continental sedan—a car that was MUCH larger and roomier and imposing—for $9636 ($48,942). Sales were 15,434, and 1978 was even worse. The price was bumped to $12,529 ($59,146), and only 8931 were sold.

1979 Lincoln Versailles emblem vertical
Jayson Coombes

But in 1979, some money was spent to spruce up the Versailles and make it more distinctive. The biggest change was the roofline. Initially identical to Granada Ghias in the suburbs and plain-Jane versions in government fleets, it was made more formal for ’79 with a fat C-pillar and a new standard Cavalry twill vinyl half-roof. An even-thicker padded coach roof was also available as an option. This immediately made the Versailles look more like a separate entity, though of course the basic body and 109.9-inch wheelbase remained unchanged.

1979 Lincoln Versailles rear spare tire lump
Jayson Coombes

The 1979 Lincoln Versailles had a base price of $12,939 ($54,842), weighed in at 3684 pounds, and 21,007 were built for the model year—a healthy improvement from 1978, when less than 9000 were sold. All came with Ford’s robust 302-cubic-inch V-8, with a 4.00 x 3.00 bore and stroke and 130 horsepower, and SelectShift automatic transmission. Standard equipment was ample and included automatic climate control, AM/FM stereo with 8-track player, forged aluminum wheels (yes, the wire wheel covers were extra, as seen on this example), cruise control, and a Cartier-signed electronic digital clock.

1979 Lincoln Versailles front
Jayson Coombes

The new roofline was likely the biggest reason the Versailles’ nearly tripled its sales numbers over 1978. It now looked much more like a Lincoln. But it was still pricier than the big Continental sedan and coupe, which based at $11,200 ($47,483) and $10,985 ($46,571), respectively. The Mark V personal luxury coupe was the only model with a higher base price than the Versailles, at $13,067 ($55,398).

1979 Lincoln Versailles pillar
Jayson Coombes

It was a great sales year for the Versailles, but it didn’t last. In 1980 it was virtually unchanged except for a couple of new colors and a base price increase to $14,674 ($54,812). The drop may have been partly due to the Continentals and Mark being downsized and now being much closer to the Versailles’s size. At any rate, only 4784 were built for ’80 and it would not return for 1981, though the Fox-body based 1982 Continental would essentially replace it in size and position in the Lincoln model lineup.

1979 Lincoln Versailles interior front side
Jayson Coombes

This particular Versailles, finished in white with an amazing aqua velour interior, was seen by my friend Jayson Coombes at the LCOC Eastern Meet held in Knoxville, Tennessee, in June. I loved the color combo and its seemingly showroom condition. As Jayson related, there weren’t a giant amount of cars there, but they were all quality cars, and he saw some extremely nice stuff.

1979 Lincoln Versailles front trim
Jayson Coombes

In addition to this Versailles, there was a gorgeous 1968 Continental sedan, 1949 Cosmopolitan fastback sedan, Fiesta Red ’64 Continental convertible, and more. I expect at least a few of those other show entries will appear here sooner or later.

As always, I’d like to thank Jayson for allowing me to use his photos. You’re a gentleman and a scholar!

1979 Lincoln Versailles dealer decal
Jayson Coombes



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    I believe Lincoln figured if Cadillac could price the Seville as the second most expensive offering just below the gargantuan Fleetwood Limo/9 Passenger Sedan that they could price the Versailles likewise. However if you were in a Lincoln showroom in 1977-1978 the difference in not only size between the not downsized Town Car and the Versailles was night and day. Not to mention the traditional Lincoln customer, much like Tom, demanded area wide velour and 20 feet steam to stern. As Tom pointed out with the new for 1980, Introduced in mid calandra year 1979, downsized Town Car the Versailles looked more at ease, and sales improved as Tom said it did not look so much like a fleet issued Ford. Great car Jason found, and from Grand Rapids, guess it was not driven in winter.

    Wonderful articles and photos , thank you. Good choice for a review. And thank you for offering “the unloved” for special mention. Traditional American cars have been replaced by tiny jellybeans and cubes, so “the unlovely” stand out now in a different and ever better way.
    And thanks for the hat tip to the “woody” Volare wagon.

    Thank you for mentioning the new roof for 1979. I described this change to someone once and they thought I’d lost my mind.

    The 1977 Versailles could be had with a 351. Things under the hood were crowded, making them hard to work on. Generally, they were reasonably reliable-typical wear items, driveability issues common to the era, honeycomb catalytic converters that would melt internally-was pretty much it as far as problems. And power steering control valves. The Versailles (along with its Falcon/earlyMustang/Maverick/Granada relatives) used a power assist system attached to the steering linkage. When the control valve went bad, it would power back and forth (left/right) without steering input from the driver. The more slop in the linkage the worse it was, to the point it was tough to keep the car in a single traffic lane. Thankfully a simple and relatively inexpensive fix, once properly diagnosed.
    I was a young, “sophisticated car” snob back then, and wanted nothing to do with the Versailles and cars of its ilk. Now I recognize how cool they really were.

    The formal roof of this Versailles adds much to the elegant look (much like the 80S RWD FIFTH AVENUES). Once was a passenger in a Versailles and found it comfortable and smooth. But for me the larger Town Cars were much better in size and OTT excess. Have had 78 Town Coupe, 89 Signature, and current 2007 Signature Limited. Last of the TRADITIONAL American Luxury sedans! LINCOLN…what a Luxury car should be!

    Cool Looking Car I Had The Pleasure Of Owning A 1978 Lincoln Versailles White On White Purchased At The Lincoln Dealership In Torrance California In 1985

    That interior would make me smile every time I got in it. Love it. A 2 door version with the front end down about 2.5 inches and the back about 1.5 inches… that would be cool.

    Selling Lincolns in the early 70’s was easy. When the Versailles came along, many saw it for what it was…A gussied up Granada. Until I read this article did I realize it looks as if Lincoln lifted those headlamp doors directly from an 80’s Chryco 5th Avenue or a Dodge Diplomat. Maybe it was the other way around seeing as the versailles debuted before the slimmed down 5th Avenues.

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