Twelve hours a day, Ed Latney steers his Metrobus through Washington traffic, working overtime to ferry all those mass transit converts he has picked up since they abandoned their cars in the energy crunch.

But after work, Latney parks the bus in a Wisconsin Avenue lot and climbs into the cavernous, cushioned comfort of his 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V for the three-mile drive to this home in Southeast.

He bought the cream-colored gas guzzler just last week.

As other area residents are dumping their fuel-thirsty sedans for 30-miles-to-the-gallon compacts, many big-car drivers are hanging onto their luxurious cruisers -- or buying new ones.

Oly Flaa, sales manager for Coleman Cadillac, said business this month is up 20 percent from sales a year ago and that people already have forgotten those long waits to buy gasoline.

Latney said he loves the luxury of his big Mark V, works hard for it, and "nobody should be able to take that away from me."

He's not alone:

J. J. Wineburgh, owner of an exterminating company, didn't buy one Lincoln this year. He bought two -- then ordered a 1980 Continental in June that is scheduled for delivery in six weeks.

Herbert Woodward, owner of a Shell station, traded in his five-month-old, two-door Cadillac three weeks ago. He bought a four-door model instead.

"When I see accidents on the road in them small cars, that's the answer," Woodward said.

Al Steele, president of Falls Church Century Mortgage Co., traded his 1978 model two weeks ago for a 1979 Cadillac Seville, which he called "the most expensive American car made. If you parked it next to a nice foreign car, you wouldn't be embarassed."

Smaller, more efficient cars may get 28 to 43 miles per gallon. The big cars generally get 13 to 18.

But the drivers of the luxury liners -- the Lincoln Continentals and Mark Vs, Cadillac Sevilles, Fleetwood Broughams and the like -- say they want the comfort, safety, status and smooth ride they believe the classic big cars offer.

"I like the way the seat touches my behind," said Wineburgh, president of Allied Exterminating Services Inc. "I think I've worked for it. I buy American cars. I remember Pearl Harbor. I don't want to drive one of those little midget things. That's for those . . . rascals over in Japan, not me."

Steele, the mortgage company executive, said he wouldn't want to give his clients rides in a small car "and let them sit with their chins on their knees."

And his Seville is a status symbol, Steele said. He added: "My wife owns a Pinto station wagon. It's find for the housewife who takes it back and forth to the grocery store, but I wouldn't want to take a trip in it or drive around town in it."

Sales people don't necessarily agree on the relationship between gasoline and big-car sales.

Flaa at Coleman Cadillac said his sales are double what they were last month and running ahead of what they were a year ago primarily because of "the availability of gasoline. And people, they've already forgotten the fact that they waited in line for gas a month ago."

But Brooks Honeycutt, general sales manager of Brown Lincoln-Mercury said his customers "don't care about the gasoline crisis. The people who have big cars, they couldn't care less about the price of gasoline."

Some luxury-car owners say the mileage they get isn't really all that bad.

Donna Fulghum, a middle-level manager for a major multinational corporation she didn't want named said she bought her Seville a year ago and gets about 15 miles to the gallon.

Fulghan said she uses a car pool to get to work, and "it's not cost-effective for me right now to trade my Cadillac just because another car gets 10 miles to a gallon more. . . . I don't consider my Cadillac to be a larger car; I think of it as more of a compact."

Other owners said trading their big cars for smaller, more fuel-efficient ones would be too expensive.

A Washington physician went shopping last month for compact cars and offered his 1977 Cadillac as a trade-in. But an Audi dealer wanted the doctor's Cadillac plus $7,800 for a fully equipped compact, so the doctor traded his 1977 model for a 1979 Cadillac -- and paid $5,500, he said.

"What are your choices? Trade in what you've got and [you'll] take a bath," said mortgage broker Phillip Coble, another Cadillac owner. Coble traded his 1978 Cadillac for a 1979 version of the same model, his fourth consecutive one. Coble said he stuck with Cadillacs for one reason: "Comfort."

"We only go around once," he said.