Versailles. A 67,000 square meter palace--residence of the most lavish of French kings and queens--full of silver furniture, trap doors, and home to one of the world's largest gardens. With such a wild reputation, one would expect a car with the name of Versailles be an over-the-top, extravagant vehicle, of Maybach proportions. But it wasn't.
In the mid seventies, times were tough for the American automakers. The 1973 oil crisis was still resonating across the country, and fresh, fuel efficient mid-sized luxury sedans were being imported from Germany's finest. At this point, America had nothing to compete, and it seemed as though they could only make behemoths.
General Motors was the first to enter the mid-size market, with the Cadillac Seville. By 1977, a collective 100,000 were sold--and Ford got jealous.
Enter Ford's offering, in the form of the Lincoln Versailles. Essentially a rebadged Ford Granada, the Versailles took the bland sedan and added a new grill, trunk and paint finishings. Along with the Mercury Monarch, the fraternal triplets shared a 135hp V8 capable of pushing the car from zero to 60 mph in around twelve seconds.
The one element the Versailles kept true to its royal namesake was its paint. The Versailles was the first car to offer a factory standard clear-coat paint job, and almost every Versailles was given a "dual shade" (two-tone) paint job, an 80 dollar option.
With flashy, long-lasting paint, the Versailles would later become the perfect drug dealer's car. Lincoln wisely anticipated this, and proudly displayed in its 1977 press release that for only 416 dollars, the Versailles' front seats were capable of reclining to a position now known as the "Gangster Lean."
But while it proved to be a great used car (for drug dealers), the Versailles ended up being too similar to the much-cheaper Monarch and Granada. Lincoln sold less than 5000 in 1980, and decided to discontinue the car.
Still, some saw an appeal in the Versailles. To help me see the light, I sought the advice of James Hank, a dedicated Versailles owner who operates LincolnVersailles.com. Hank, who to this day owns an immaculate 1980 Versailles, said he originally purchased the car to honor his father.
"He loved cars, especially Lincolns," Hank said. "With 5 kids, we could only afford Mercuries. I remember in 1977, he purchased a Mercury Monarch, but really wanted the Versailles."
Hank reminded me of a couple other noteworthy features the car brought to the market. The Versailles was the first American car to use halogen headlamps, and the first to offer a built in garage door opener, something many cars don't have to this day.
I still don't think I'll ever find myself longing for a Versailles, but Hank's quest to finally purchase the car his father couldn't is something every car lover dreams. And to some, obscure is exactly what they're looking for. Hank says he enjoys the controversy and the attention his car gets.
"Mustang owners drool over the car's four wheel disc brakes and nine inch rear end."