That's right! This is part two of my ongoing odyssey of turning an old 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII LSC into a daily driver here in good old Europe. In my last article, I explained why driving an obscure American luxo barge over here on a daily basis is such a
great stupid idea, gave you a small history lesson about Lincoln and its endeavors outside of North America (not really much to write there...) and provided insight into why, of all the luxo barges available out there, I have selected the Mark VIII. This time I would like to tell you a little about some of the early events that lead to my current situation, how I got my first Mark VIII and what it was like driving the car in one of Europe's most iconic capitals, Vienna!
I believe most people would agree that the idea of actively looking and buying a car in a country that it was never officially sold in can present quite a challenge, especially if you talk about a vehicle like the Lincoln Mark VIII, a car that has never stood out by it's achievements, has never had any major roles on the big screen or was never part of general pop-culture. Europe has one of the biggest American car scenes you will be able to find anywhere outside of the United States, as events like the Power Big Meet in Sweden, one of the biggest meetings for American car culture on the planet where thousands of US car enthusiast gather every year, will prove. The reasons for these communities to exist are not exactly the quality or general superiority of cars made in the US though (ask anyone in Europe to rank manufacturers by the quality of their cars, and you'll find FoMoCo, Chrysler and General Motors somewhere between British Leyland and Igor who has built his own ride out an old bucket and two turnips). It is the idea that stands behind those cars, Americana, the romanticized mentality of the American people, the American way of life. It shouldn't surprise anybody that a classic Ford Mustang, Chevy BelAir, a brand new Chevy Camaro SS or even the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria you can see in every Hollywood movie represent these feelings much prouder than a Lincoln Mark VIII could ever hope to do. That doesn't mean you couldn't find the Mark VIII in movies or on TV, there are plenty of productions in which it played minor as well as bigger roles. But it never got as much time in the spotlight as many other cars had, which meant very few people in Europe knew about its existence, further limiting its appeal for enthusiasts and the import market, resulting in the low numbers of cars you can find online today.
And that's where my journey (and myriad of bad decisions) began. One day, while browsing the usual German used car websites as many on here probably do, scrolling through the fairly short list of available american iron from Lincoln, I found one vehicle that stood out from the rest. I already knew what I was looking for, so seeing a handful Mark VIIIs for sale wasn't anything unusual. This one peaked my interest though. It was a 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII in Champagne metallic with a saddle-tone leather interior and 101.000 miles in what seemed to be immaculate condition. And the best of it? It was located just 20 minutes from my home town! A clean, reasonably priced Mark VIII, of all places only a few miles from home, here in Germany? How likely was that? That's like winning the freaking lottery! Naturally, I had to check it out! Back then I was still working in Vienna, which meant I had to plan accordingly. The trip home right through the Czech Republic did't take much longer than 5 hours so it made sense to spend the weekend at home every few weeks. I used my first chance to see the car in person when I got back. It was located on a medium sized used car dealer lot specializing in BMWs. It wasn't the typical rundown sketchy dealer you might think of when it comes to 15+ years old luxury cars, even though the office seemed to made out of containers stacked on top of each other, painted in a nice shade of banana yellow. It was a tidy, professional place with decent sized repair shop and multiple rows of shiny, second hand BMWs. And a Lincoln. Now it was obvious to me that the dealer didn't exactly know what to do with this car. It was a trade-in from a customer that they simply had to take (later I was told that they just wanted to test the water, to see if they can make money with this type of specialty vehicles).
It was clear that it wasn't supposed to be there, that it didn't belong to the others, an unwelcome outsider, the black sheep among all those meticulously arranged models of Bavarian automotive perfection, excruciatingly standing there with its obnoxious proportions and tacky chrome everywhere in a sea of sensible 3- and 5-series, horrifyingly gaping at them as if it was ready to pounce and engulf them in its disgusting Americaness. Oh god get off me getoffgetoffgetoff aaahaahhhhhahhhhh...
It was tugged away in a corner in the back of the car lot under a few trees, almost as if they knew not a single sane person on this planet would ever show up and seriously consider buying this thing, which has been exactly the case up to the point I came through the door. Probably with a unsettling huge grin on my face. It was also obvious that the car has been parked there for a while, for at least 8 months as I found out later. I never noticed the ad before since the dealer actually listed the car as a Lincoln Continental, and not as a Mark-series which is a common issue with these cars and their unknowing owners (more on that later). So there I was, looking at the first Lincoln Mark VIII I have ever seen in my life. In person! Not just pixels on a screen, see it for real! It existed! Right in front of me! And I could touch it! Sit inside! Turn the key, hear the engine! It was right here, reachable, in it all its glory! And best of all, it was for sale! This could be my car, I could own this, I could really drive this car! This could by my car, I could really own this car!
Rational thinking was over.
Now since the car had spend the better part of the last year under the tree, its wasn't exactly in the prettiest shape. Nothing major, mainly dust and old leaves. I can also remember the driver side window being smashed, I cannot remember the story the dealer told me, but it wasn't exactly a big deal for me back then. The car wouldn't start either, the battery was flat, not surprising after being parked for so long, and the whole body was very low to the ground. No problem. After jumping the battery, the car had enough juice to start the engine. And what an engine it was. The sound of a mighty V8 might still be a fairly common occurrence in the US, considering that anything smaller barely would have cracked the 12hp mark in an american car. But for us yuropoor plebs, starting a car like that is an event. I still believe that Ford, GM and Chrysler have the best sounding V8 engines out there. There is a certain characteristic primeval rumble that only a V8 built by the big three can achieve. While cars like the E39 540i or Merc S500 are fantastic vehicles with fantastic top of the line engines, their stately engine notes are no match when it comes goosebumps-inducing, Peugeot-self-wetting, bone shattering V8 noise.
And so the Mark VIII didn't disappoint, the engine sounded incredible, considering this wasn't a custom built hot rod that had nothing but the manifolds as an exhaust system. A quick check of the million power options revealed that everything seemed to function just as intended, there was no rust visible anywhere and the airride quickly raised the car back to normal levels without missing a beat. It seemed to be in excellent condition and came with tons maintenance records. However, it wasn't the only Lincoln Mark VIII available.
To my big surprise, there was another one for sale in town, this time by a private seller who would set the tone for many future private sellers I would encounter on my journey. This second car was a black 1993 with higher miles but very similar equipment (all Mark VIIIs basically came loaded standard with the exception of traction control, a glass sunroof, a JBL soundsystem and an in-car telephone, among a few other things like the LSC package). It clearly was in worse condition compared to the other car, yet the damage was not as bad as the brain damage of the car's owner: The reason why he bought the car? He had a dream in which he saw it, later found it on the internet and just bought it, without any knowledge about these vehicles whatsoever. While the car was slightly cheaper and I preferred the black exterior over the champagne silver hue of the other Mark VIII, it was clear it would be the worse option, especially with the check engine light on and an owner who had no idea what he actually bought there. The Mark VIII sold by the dealer was the right choice.
I visited that dealer again a few weeks later. Since I couldn't test drive the car first time I saw it, I had to schedule another visit to make sure the car drove as nicely as it looked. Now I have to mentioned that at this time, I owned a '97 Mazda 626 wagon (with a 5-speed, what a pos!) and before that a '98 Civic hatch. While the Mazda wasn't exactly a small car, it completely thwarted in comparison to the Lincoln. It was a boat. It was by far the biggest car I have ever sat in (with the exception of a lwb Sprinter), with overhangs that only seemed to disappear somewhere on the horizon. It was also the first car I ever drove with an automatic. And surely the car with the spongiest brakes and numbest steering. But it was brilliant. As soon as I was on the road, I felt like a king. Adrenaline was rushing through my brain, partly because of the fear of crashing this tank into the next kindergarten. I was finally driving the car of my desires, the car I was dreaming of for years, the car that could soon be mine. I felt like everyone was staring at me, marveling at the beauty of these expensive, exotic shapes, carving through a landscape of VW Golfs and old Corsas. No S-class in the world could even hope to achieve the same level of attention this car would get. It was fantastic. But I had a job to do, I needed to concentrate. The car seemed to drive just fine, nothing out of the ordinary, with two exceptions: There was a pretty brutal transmission shudder between the second and third gear under mild acceleration. It wasn't there if you pressed the pedal down a bit further but it was quite worrying the first time I heard it. I tried to replicate it another time but couldn't so I kept it in the back of my head and kept going. As it turned out later, the shudder is a common issue caused by the torque converter when the automatic transmission fluid starts to break down. Not a big deal, fixed with a flush and refill with Mercon V, but still an issue nevertheless. There was also some wobbling going on in the steering wheel when taking fast turns, most likely caused by the tires. Apart from that everything was fine.
I returned the car to the dealer, mentioned the issues (obviously, the dealer wasn't aware of any of them, the wobbling was supposed to be caused by rusty rotors bla bla...) and told him that I will think about it. Of course there wasn't anything to think about. I had to have this car! I NEEDED THIS CAR!! This was around the same time I was about to accept a new job in the UK which meant unplanned expenses and moving to another country. None of this played a role whatsoever. It took another few weeks of eternal waiting before I returned to Germany where the Lincoln was awaiting (of course it was, noone else would buy it). I arrived at the dealer lot another time, haggled down the price quite considerably and told the dealer to get it through the TÜV-inspection. Once all of this was done, I signed the papers and bought the car.
And there I was, finally driving the car of my dreams. After years of fantasizing about owning a Lincoln Mark VIII, I could finally call one my own. Everyone (but my parents) loved the car and obligatory photos were taken. Coincidentally, I got the car the Friday before the Speednation weekend, a "Tuning Car Show" hosted every year on an old soviet-era airfield. This only meant one thing. Drag Racing! Since I just got the car and was still unfamiliar with a lot of things, properly drag racing in an automatic being one of them, and still had to return to Vienna a few days later, I didn't wanna take a chance and trash it. A couple turns at the drag strip against my brother's '98 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS (won all of them of course) and a few donuts have been enough fun in the new car for the weekend. Btw: If you ever need a car to spend a night in, chose the Lincoln Mark VIII. Super comfy seats, the passenger side folds down almost completely flat!
I returned to Vienna the next week where I experienced the car in a proper European-city environment for the first time. And what should I say? It wasn't too different from driving the Civic or Mazda! Naturally the car feels and is much larger than you might expect from a coupe, and of course it needs some getting used to get through some of the tighter gaps in the traffic, but it isn't different from driving one of the millions of SUVs, minivans and delivery vans that roam the streets in every single country of the world. People usually wonder how you are supposed to navigate any of those 3 inch wide footpaths that would lead you to the remote birthplace of He-Man somewhere in the ancient realm of Eternia. Well you don't. Or just do what FedEx drivers do in these situations every day to deliver their packages to the customers, which also happens to be option one. Poor He-Man will never experience the incredible joys of owning a ..nah, lets not go there. Parking wasn't too bad either. The Mark VIII has rather long doors which means you will have to squeeze yourself out of the car more often than usual. You will also have to look out for slightly longer gaps when parallel parking. However none of this was a real issue as soon as I got a better feel for the dimensions of the car.
(Not my car in the photo)
So if driving and parking the car in the city wasn't as big of an issue as people think it is, what's there to complain about? That really depends on you. Obviously, fuel economy can be an issue, especially if you are mainly doing your driving in the city. The EPA rated the 1993 Lincoln Mark VIII at
18 16MPG city/ 25 23MPG highway. Ratings differ slightly form model year to model year because of minor changes in the engine management setup but I mostly got the same numbers. While not comparable to a pile of miserable that are most older 4-cyl diesels (there I said it), these ratings are not bad for a 280hp V8 in 1993 and mostly similar to the ratings of much newer comparable vehicles from BMW or Mercedes. Paying the higher fuel costs was a price I was gladly willing to pay for such an incredible vehicle. Insurance premiums weren't unusual either. Since Lincoln Mark VIIIs and similar vehicles are usually driven by older owners that are more willing to take care of their vehicle compared a 18 year old bro that drives a riced out 1.4l Polo, only very few of these cars ever get involved in an accident. This keeps insurance costs affordable and the ownership of one of these cars within one's reach. The road tax is cheap as well. Older cars are still taxed by the emissions class and engine size in Germany. Since my Lincoln was still in the Euro 1 emissions class that would push the tax to around 700 euros p.a. when I got it, I simply bought an emissions data sheet from another Mark VIII provided by one of the big vehicle inspection companies for 300 euros which bumped up my car into the Euro 2 class, resulting in an annual tax rate of only about 300 Euros. Not a single change or adjustment on the car was necessary. Why this wasn't done much earlier by one of the previous owners, as it obviously saves you tons of money after less than a year, is not clear to me. I also do not understand why this confirmation of the vehicle being able to easily reach the Euro 2 emissions class doesn't automatically result in every Mark VIII being bumped into this better class, considering that the drivetrain is identical on every single one of them. My only explanation is that the government want's to rip off people that are not aware of the fact that they pay excessive road tax rates, as well as the inspection company ripping off owners who need a new 300 Euro certificate for every single Mark VIII, even though the data was sourced from only one vehicle years ago anyway (I will explain the methods behind this another time).
So life with the car was great. I enjoyed every single minute I was in the car, even though most of these minutes were spent being stuck in traffic on my daily commute through central Vienna. But this would soon change. After accepting the job offer in the UK (one of the best decisions I have ever made) it was time to pack things up and move again. The plan was to move on Friday, spent one or two days at my parents in Germany and continue the trip to Amsterdam where the ferry to Britain would wait for me. Since I planned from the beginning that I wouldn't stay for much longer than year in Vienna, I avoided buying any unnecessary furniture. I sold all the things I knew wouldn't fit in the Lincoln (and you would be surprised how much stuff can fit in there) and took off. Little did I know that things could turn into the absolute worst in less than a few seconds.
The summer was unusually hot and the weather could easily rival that of any California day, barely any clouds on the sky with temperatures in the mid 30s, something I wouldn't have expected to find in Austria. That had changed the morning of the day I was supposed to move. Friday was the first day in at least a month that would see rain that lasted longer than a minute and what started as a normal rainy day would soon turn into a monsoon from hell, with visibility on the roads close to zero over extended periods of time. So anything but ideal driving conditions. The trip home would take between five and six hours and lead me from Vienna over the Czech border and through Brno, Praha, the Czech country side and into Germany. I knew the roads pretty well, it was the same route I took dozens of times before, with my GPS making sure I took the right turns when needed. Now it might make sense to mention that the highway network in the south of the country wasn't exactly known for its state of the art infrastructure. The Austrian highway would soon end not far from the border, turning into a two lane country road for miles and miles on the Czech side, leading through small towns and villages, before turning into a highway somewhere south of Brno again. The highway network was well maintained around the bigger cities, but there were still sections in between where driving in the right lane would be seen as a method of torture by most developed countries. The pavement of these section must have originated from Soviet times, as the surface resembled that of Jeremy Clarkson's face much closer than a properly paved road. It would mean ultimate death to any shock absorber or steel spring. It was so bad that even the cloud like airride of my Lincoln couldn't handle it. So I just stuck to the left lane where necessary.
Even with the terrible weather and bad road surfaces, I made good progress and would soon be in Praha, which I have often seen as the last station before home. It was night by now but the roads were perfectly smooth and there was barely any traffic. After hours of relentless showers, the rain was gone which made driving a much less heart attack inducing matter. The rest of the trip back home would be fairly relax WOAH shit what's fuck fuckfuckFuckfuckfuckFuck-
FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FUUCK. This can't be real. This didn't just happen. This didn't happen. It didn't happen. I am not dreaming, I am not dreaming! Its not a dream. This really didn't happen. This really didn't happen. The radio was still playing the same music. Oh god. oh god shit, why? Why? Fuck. why? What happened, why me what happened fuck fuck fuck god fuck shit fuck, fuck!. The cars horn was blaring, smell of burned powder. Fuck god, no, why? Fuck fuck fuck. A minute passed before I was unbuckling the seat belt, grabbed the door handle and opened the door, I heard the crunch of metal when the door got stuck, I kept pushing and got out. Its not a dream, its not a dream. Its not a dream, it happened. It happened. Its dark and I am still on the same road. It really happened. I looked at the car. And there it was, in the center lane, in a trail of debris strewn across the the highway, lights flashing, the constant sound of the horn. I looked at it, the rear end was completely crushed on the driver side, obliterated, barely recognizable. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe what just happened to this car. I realized quickly that I was fine and the car was gone. From one moment to to the next, the dream was over.
Police showed up quick, they must have seen the crash, otherwise they couldn't have been there that quickly. A car that was driving not too far behind me stopped on the side of the road, the driver asking if I was okay. The truck that was approaching just a few seconds later simply kept going, squeezing through the gap between the center divider and the wreck that used to be my beloved car as nothing ever happened. When the police showed up, things went rather quickly. It was clear they've seen this hundreds of times before, and the highway had to stay open for the others. They cleared the road of debris, took measurements of the crash site and were about to begin asking questions. At this point it is worth reminding you that this happened somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the Czech Republic. There are barely any people speaking English or German there. However, to my surprise, one of the bystanders happened to speak German fluently, so he calmed me down (many swearwords could be heard in the czech countryside that evening) and allowed me to use his phone to make a few important calls. The police started to ask me questions, I took a breathalyzer test (which came out negative obviously) and the tow truck arrived. I took a seat in the back of the police car and arrived at the police station soon after to fill out forms. The tow truck was waiting outside. It was midnight by then so it was clear that I wouldn't get back to Germany before morning. We got to the tow yard late at night, where, to my surprise, I was provided with a guest room where I could stay over night. We agreed that the car would be towed home in the morning where we arrived the next day at noon, I paid the driver in cash (its very expensive to tow a car through half the country) and he set off on his long way back to the Czech Republic.
It was clear that the car was gone, which was one of the worst things that could have happened to me at that point. What was worse, I still had to show up at my new job just two days from now. The only thing I could do was sending an email to my new employer explaining that I wouldn't be able to make it in time because of an accident I had on my way there. Thankfully they were extremely understanding and we agreed that I should send them a message once I think I can make it over to the UK. I didn't want to waste much time, the Lincoln was stored in a corner of the local train yard belonging to a friend of my dad until we would decide how to proceed. I quickly started looking for a new car in the area that would be cheap enough to buy (this certainly was my most expensive weekend ever) and good enough to make the trip to the UK and be my daily driver there. I chose a 1993 Mazda Xedos6 V6 5-speed that was advertised for 590 Euros. I looked at a few other cars but this was by far the best option and proofed to be one of my best vehicle choices I have made (excellent car). A week later I was on my way to the UK, without my Lincoln, or a flat, but a new job and a bunch of great people to work with. It wouldn't be the last time thinking about these events.
As for the crash, I still have no idea what exactly happened. I checked out the crash site later on Google streetview. It was located in a long, continuous left bend just a few meters after a bridge, going slightly uphill. The road surface must have been slippery (I asked the police man on my way to the station whether they had any other accidents on this section recently, he told me they had three just on that day). There was also a curb with 90 degree corners for the rain water drainage every few meters between the fast lane and center divider. I must have hit one of those gaps when the rear wheels lost traction, launching the car across all three lanes rear end first right into the guardrail on the other side. The car rotated again and came to rest in the middle of the road. Thankfully nobody else was involved, otherwise things could have gotten a lot worse.
And there we are, the prologue of my odyssey. Lots of emotional highs and lows were had, but with a great new job and getting to know many new like-minded people, I could overcome the pain and start thinking about what was lying ahead. And as you could probably guess, it wouldn't take long before thoughts of owning another one of those cars would creep back into my head again. More about that next time!
Please let me know what you think! Things got a bit out of hand this time, I promise that the next article wont take 5 hours to read. ;)
Schaefft is the author of the Lincoln Luxo Barge in Europe series and founder of nothing. He's currently living in the north east of the UK (u wot m8?), owns an old Bmw and Lincoln and believes that everything that is written on the internet is true, especially Tavarish's articles on Jalopnik about how owning a cheap luxury car for the price of a potato is the only way of living. It took him way too long to write this article so you better read it to the end or else...