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Lincoln LS

    On today’s Throwback Thursday, we lament Ford’s lost state-of-the-art chassis used for the Lincoln LS and Ford Thunderbird (and Jaguar S-Type). We first drove one in June 1999, and then finally bought a 2006 model several years later (currently doing fine with 22k miles). The LS was also a favorite rental car on business trips and our editors have put many thousands of miles on Hertz rental LSs over the years.

    We’ve written about the LS many times and note that even given the 2015 Mustang and it’s new IRS, the Lincoln LS still has the most advanced chassis ever designed by Ford (SLA fr/rr suspension, aluminum intensive). Will there ever be a rear wheel drive chassis this sophisticated from Ford again? We’d have to doubt it… the justification for a 4-door rear wheel drive chassis doesn’t currently exist. And that’s too bad, because it’s exactly the type of halo car Lincoln needs.

    Here’s our first impressions of the first model year Lincoln LS, hours after driving one at our local Ford dealer:

    June 19, 1999

    “WOW – this is a great car!” 

    I recently had the opportunity to test drive a new Lincoln LS V-8. What was I doing test driving a Lincoln? Not only was I looking for a serious daily driver (allowing me to park the Cobra in the garage), I was very curious about how the new chassis stacks up since it will also be the basis for the upcoming new Thunderbird!

    The view from the LS drivers seat.

    I had seen the car before at auto shows. I was stuck yet again by how different it looks in person from published photographs. For example, in the photos you can’t see that the subtle character line on the bodyside wraps around the front of the car across the headlights. The rear quarters of the car look particularly handsome in person. This is a very sharp-looking car!

    I wasn’t completely comfortable with all of the elements of the styling. I’d like to see the Lincoln stylists design a much more subtle grill. As customers, we aren’t so ostentatious that we need a warrior’s shield to lead us down the highway to our daily battles. And the gaudy chrome frame surrounding the rear license plate is completely out-of-place on a sports sedan. I know Lincoln can do better and this. It’s one place where Ford will hopefully apply some perspective from J. Mays. Ford’s recently hired ex-Audi designer has his work cut out for him here.

    The state-of-the-art chassis makes extensive use of lightweight alloys. It features aluminum crossmembers, control arms, uprights, and differential. The LS has front and rear subframes carrying a fully independent SLA suspension, coil-over shocks,  and 4-wheel vented disc brakes. The anti-dive and anti-lift geometry of the rear suspension is patented. There are three crossmembers: the first packages the radiator and cooling components (which contributes to a more-efficient assembly process), and provides the leading attachment point of the lower suspension arm. The second carries the rear attachment point of the arm, and supports the engine. The third supports the transmission. This is expensive componentry, but Ford has spent the necessary development and manufacturing dollars to build the car the right way. The results show.

    The front overhang of the car is very short and contributes to both an aggressive stature and the impression that the front wheels are “leading” the car forward. It also sets the engine well back in the chassis and helps provide a nearly perfect front/rear weight balance. There is very little wasted space under the hood.

    Ford 3.9 liter DOHC engine, a variation of the Jaguar 4.0 liter engine.

    The V-8 model has an exceptional weight distribution with approx. 52% over the front wheels. While this doesn’t mean the current LS can attain better lateral acceleration numbers than the latest SVT Cobra (because it can’t with the 3.9 and pedestrian tires), it does mean that this chassis provides superior driving dynamics and has a far greater poise and balance than the current Mustang chassis.

    Under the hood – with frame rails wide enough for a Modular 4.6

    The LS is full of interesting little innovations – such as the ability of the electronic key fob to roll down the power windows and open the sunroof with a second press of the unlock button. This will be a great help in cooling the car on very hot days. Also noteworthy are the folding rear seats, easily released from inside the trunk (without forcing the owner to climb into the trunk to push a release in the back of the seat – as in the Taurus).

    To contribute to the weight balance, Lincoln mounts the battery in the trunk. This fact has been reported before, but this is the first time you’ll see an actual photo of it. I had expected to find a small BMW-like battery, but instead discovered a full size (and full strength) battery. The cover to the compartment that holds the battery and spare is nicely designed; it doesn’t use the usual piece of particle board that Ford owners have had for years.

    LS trunk mounted battery, full-size spare, and distribution box. This is an important design feature that contributes to the excellent chassis dynamics of the car!

    The driver’s seat was a disappointment. I’ve driven many different BMWs in the past, so I had high expectations for the LS. These seats could be better. To the credit of Lincoln, the seats appear to use a very dense foam that is good at holding the driver in place (this is also a change in the ’99 Cobra seats). On the plus side, comfort was excellent and I believe that I would still be comfortable after a several hundred mile drive.

    I took the car through the same countryside route that I had used to test my ’99 Cobra when I took delivery of it in March. The first thing you notice is the total absence of unnecessary noise and harshness. This doesn’t mean the LS is loaded up with sound proofing like your Father’s Lincoln (and your Grandfather’s before it) or that the controls are numb. The LS chassis was designed to be inherently solid and exceptionally tight. This translates into much more precise handling without the requirement of stiff springs or dampeners. That in turns means the wheels are free to follow the contours of the road and provide even better grip. This is a lesson the best European manufacturers learned a long time ago and it’s great to see a North American manufacturer finally implement it.

    The LS took the turns very quickly, with a sophisticated and confident disposition. The LS corners flatter than any factory Cobra to date, has no appreciable brake dive, and has excellent steering. As one magazine reported recently, the steering is “almost surgical in its precision”. And that’s on the standard all-season tires – not the performance tires that would be standard on a Cobra. The new Lincoln is better poised than the ’99 Cobra, the pinnacle of the current SVT line.

    The new 3.9 liter DOHC V-8 engine provides adequate performance. While I wasn’t able to drive an example with the new SelectShift (brand name for Ford’s first automatic you can manually shift) automatic transmission, my 5-speed “conventional” automatic example worked very well and shifted smoothly at the appropriate points. The engine itself is exceptionally smooth, much more so than a 4.6 DOHC engine. 0-60 times felt to be about 7.5 seconds.

    Future of the DEW-98 Chassis

    The upcoming T-Bird (concept photo shown here) is built on a shortened LS chassis utilizing the same components. The T-Bird concept is reported to be 184 inches in length. It also uses the 3.9 (according to Automobile mag, in a 270-horse version).

    2001 T-Bird prototype, as debuted at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January 1999.

    Back to the LS

    So “bravo” to Ford for the new DEW chassis!

    My recommendation? The LS is a great car – it will be very successful and will take Lincoln in a new and fresh direction. I was overall very impressed and would highly recommend this car. Don’t take it without the sport suspension!

    I’d like mine in dark red!