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Ford diesel Mark VII: aerodynamic example of futuristic styling

To widen the appeal of its upscale Continental Mark VII, Ford now offers a German-bred diesel - a 6-cylinder, 4.3-liter job by BMW. Admittedly, this may not be the best of times to market a new diesel, given the rising price at the fuel pump and the premium cost of the engine itself. While gasoline prices drop because of the glut, diesel prices are climbing. Still, Ford has high hopes for its dieselized Mark VII.

No one expects a ''tire burner'' when he drives a diesel, but the new engine does a good job in bridging the obvious high luxury of the Mark with the expected fuel economy of an oil burner.

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Takeoff from a standstill to 60 m.p.h. takes on the underside of 14 seconds, but it's a diesel, remember.

The car will deliver commendable mileage in city-type driving, but out on the highway the figure moves up fast. The turbo shines best when the speed of the car reaches 35 m.p.h. or more, but that's not unusual with a turbo-charger, gas-fueled or diesel.

The BMW engine is actually very smooth and the sound inoffensive.

Interestingly, the engine came about as an original joint venture between West Germany's prestigious Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) and Austria's Steyr-Daimler-Puch. Although the merger itself fell apart, BMW opted to go ahead with the engine on its own.

Later, when the Ford Motor Company derailed its PROCO (programmed combustion) engine program, it was in the market for a high-mileage engine for its Marks and Continentals. Soon Ford and BMW had a deal. BMW just didn't require the full output of the engine factory for itself.

Thus, chalk up another marriage of an American-built automobile and a foreign-built engine.

The bottom line is either: (1) you like a diesel engine; or (2) you don't. Given the respectability that Mercedes-Benz has given to the diesel, no one has to apologize for taking the diesel route, even in a high-dollar luxury car. In the depth of the fuel crises in the 1970s, however, Rolls-Royce denied it would even consider a diesel engine, let alone offer one.

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No matter. A diesel simply provides one more option to the car buyer.

The Mark VII is an aerodynamic example of the Ford Motor Company's futuristic styling at its best. After a last-minute nod from the federal government, the car even has aero headlamps, a design nicety that will sweep the industry over the next few years. The lamps add a delightful European touch in an area that had long been bound by rigid rules that were unforgiving and out of date.

The overall style, as a result, is clean and smooth. With the $2,000 LSC (luxury) option, the suspension and ride are sharply improved. The Continental Mark VII, at 3,625 pounds, is a fairly heavy car by today's standards. Wheelbase is 108.5 inches. Base price of the diesel version is $23,454, a premium of $1, 235 over the gas-engine Mark.

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