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That time Lincoln built a land-speed Mark VIII and set a 182 MPH record at Bonneville

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Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions.

They should have returned to Detroit with a hero’s welcome. Instead, Lincoln brass essentially buried their employees’ accomplishment – setting a 182 MPH record at Bonneville in a pretty much stock Continental Mark VIII – to focus on the car’s luxury. A quarter-century later, however, the car still exists and will later this spring make its way to auction.

Aside from a rollcage and hoodpins, the Mark VIII looks fairly untouched, inside and outside and under the hood, which was, more or less, the point. The Mark VIII, as luxurious as it was, also had some performance bona fides: Lincoln chose to build it on the FN10 platform, a full-size aluminum-intensive version of the MN12 front-engine, rear-wheel-drive platform that underpinned the Nineties Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar, and powered the Mark VIII with a version of the recently released modular 4.6L V-8 that increased compression from 9.0 to 9.8 and in turn cranked the power output from 210 horsepower, as found in the other full-size cars at the time, to 280 horsepower.

In addition, the Mark VIII featured a slick profile and an air suspension programmed to lower the car by 20 millimeters at highway speeds and, in turn, decrease the coefficient of drag a little bit, from 0.34 to 0.33. While far from groundbreaking just a decade or so afterward, in the early Nineties those figures largely were the domain of sporting cars like the Toyota Supra and economy cars like the Geo Metro.

Thus, as Lincoln engineer Jerry Wroblewski recounted years later for, Mark VIII program manager Jim Kennedy decided to take the car racing at Bonneville. Their goal: the 163 MPH unsupercharged gasoline engine class 12 (D-Stock) record then held by Infiniti’s Q45.

While Infiniti’s preparations for setting that record reportedly only went as far as removing the stock speed limiter, Kennedy ordered a top-down optimization of a pre-production Mark VIII – one that, technically, had a VIN from a Mark VII. The all-aluminum 4.6L V-8, as Wroblewski wrote, “was truly a stock engine. There wasn’t enough time to put together a highly modified engine.” Some blueprinting and removing the catalytic converters bumped total output up to about 290 or 295 horsepower.

The Mark VIII’s 4R70W four-speed transmission included overdrive, but Kennedy’s team chose to lock out fourth gear and run it in third – direct drive – to eliminate driveline drag. To compensate, they swapped the rear axle’s stock gears for a set of 2.47s.

Other than that, the Mark VIII got a set of Goodyear GSC tires from the Corvette, a tweak to the air suspension to allow it to sit another 25 millimeters lower at speed, some belly pans and engine bay air deflectors, and a full rollcage complete with halon fire extinguisher system. The entire stock interior remained, as did the stock sunroof.

The two-month crash program, which included speed trials at Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds showing the car would be good for 175 MPH, culminated in the 1993 trip to the Bonneville Nationals. According to Wroblewski, early runs on Bonneville’s short course with long-time racer Holly Hedrich at the wheel netted speeds in the high 160s and low 170s. Removing the side mirrors helped a little, but after reviewing the data gathered during those runs, Wroblewski and the crew realized that the Mark VIII was still accelerating as it came out of the traps, so they asked permission to use the adjacent long course, which would theoretically give the car more time and space to reach its maximum speed. On the first long-course run, it notched a speed of 178 MPH.

“So, this time we pulled the rear brakes off and went back to the long course,” Wroblewski wrote. “It was starting to cool off some since it was getting later in the day, we knew that would help. The car finally crossed the 180 MPH mark, running a 180.794. This time we knew we had to get it turned around and back in less than an hour. We looked over the data from the run. The oils were hot. The transmission was over 250F; the engine oil was over 275F. I looked at the other calibrator that was there with me and we agreed, send it back down the track. The oil is hot, hot oil is thin oil, less parasitic drag. Also, it was starting to get kind of dark and cool. This time the car ran 182.694 on its one-way pass for a two way average of 181.717 MPH.”

Kennedy and Wroblewski’s team celebrated by splashing the record speed on the side of the hauler for the trip back to Michigan. They were greeted, however, with silence from their superiors. “They did not want Lincoln to have a ‘racy’ image and refused to use any of what we did out at Bonneville in advertising,” Wroblewski wrote.

Indeed, copywriters behind the brochure for the pseudo-performance limited-edition LSC option package for the Mark VIII that Lincoln debuted midway through the 1995 model year, while it benefited from a 290hp version of the 4.6L, made zero mention of the Bonneville record and seemed more focused on the luxury aspect of the package.

Nor did Lincoln officials support other attempts to enter the marque in motorsports at the time. As wrote, a brief effort to enter the Mark VIII in NASCAR in the mid-Nineties ended with a similar admonition from Lincoln.

Since then the Mark VIII has spent some time in museums and private hands and accumulated less than 7,000 miles. Next month, it will cross the block as part of Mecum’s Indianapolis auction, where it is expected to sell for $20,000 to $40,000.

The Mecum Indianapolis auction will take place May 15 to 19. For more information, visit