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Even a big Continental Mark VI can be a good-mileage gas saver

Who says a luxurious automobile has to be a discredited gas guzzler? Take the Lincoln Continental Mark VI, for instance. At $20,419, the Cartier-outfitted car is a "dream boat" par excellence. Whether it's worth the cost, who can say.

The Cartier-designer option alone is priced at $2,031.

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Indeed, any car's worth to a motorist is an individual sort of thing. First, he has to have the money or be willing to go into debt for it; and second, he has to be willing to plunk that much cash down on the barrelhead for individual motorized transportation.

But as for the mileage on the road, that's a subject that everyone can relate to.

On a recent trip from home to the office, for example, for one brief instant I was getting an incredible 118 miles to a gallon of unleaded fuel. In a Continental Mark VI 2-door coupe with an electronically fuel-injected 5-liter V- 8!m

Obviously, it wasn't any kind of true figure and I didn't pay much attention to it because I wasn't even stepping on the gas pedal at the time. Instead, I was loafing along a quiet avenue at maybe 35 miles an hour -- coasting might be a better word.At least, the engine was still running.

But that's what the computer readout on the dashboard said.

A more realistic -- yes, believable -- figure is the 22.1 averagem I chalked up on the entire 27-mile trip from my own driveway to the office garage.

Come to think of it, that's a very high figure indeed, given the weight of the car -- some 4,000 pounds plus -- and its dimensions. Even some of the cars that weigh 1,000 or 1,500 pounds less don't do much better.

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I stress that figure as an average. In city-type driving, on the other hand, the figure falls into the 15 or 16 mpg category -- a bad figure, indeed, given the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard in 1981 to 22 mpg.

In fact, at some points -- going uphill naturally -- I was getting no more than 4, 5, or 6 miles per gallon of fuel. But that didn't mean much because the engine was under undue strain at that brief moment.

On the highway, though, the story is quite different.

One motoring magazine reports a 23.5 mpg average on a 75-mile test run with the Continental Mark VI.

I do admit that I used a feather-light touch on the accelerator pedal and had to stop no more than a half dozen times for stop signs or traffic lights.

The point is, Detroit automakers have done a quite remarkable job in increasing the mpg in many f the larger-size cars over the last few years and the Continental Mark VI proves it. Obviously, they still have a long way to go.

Right now, on US highways, are tens of millions of low-mileage cars which will gradually be replaced over the next few years by either higher-mileage Detroitbuilt cars or imports. This is why domestic carmakers remain bullish on the longterm outlook for automobile sales.

Simply, there are so many cars out there to be replaced.

"Of the total car fleet on the road in the US," reports Louis E. Lataif, Ford division general manager, "about 40 to 50 million are legitimate gas guzzlers -- 14-to 15-mpg cars." Detroit automen have long squirmed over the use of the term gas guzzler m -- but that was Mr. Lataif's description.

By contrast, the CAFE figure for GM cars today is about 23.1 mpg.In other words, the sales-weighted, mpg average of GM'S entire output of automobiles is 23.1 miles per gallon. Some of the cars are much higher and others lower.

Ford Motor Company is a whisker behind GM at 23.

By the mid-1980s the domestic CAFE figure will probably exceed 30.

When Detroit launched its massive mileage catchup program a few years ago, a program which will see GM alone spend some $40 billion by 1984 and the entire US automotive industry about $80 billion, it had a dozen Mt. Everests to climb. It already has climbed more than half of them and ultimately will be pretty close on a par with the imports.

It can't come a minute too soon by Detroit's way of thinking.

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