Or, as the car buying public knows them, the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car? Sure, I was aware production had ceased, and thought little of it, until a fellow auto journalist made a remark online-he rented a Town Car for the weekend, just for one last go. Which got me thinking, is this car, which had basically faded into obscurity and was obsolete a couple decades ago going to be missed? And if so, by who? These cars were Everywhere in North America, and I imagine it would be tough to find someone without some memory of it.
But what a run the Panther platform had. Introduced as a 1979 model, the Panther platform was in use longer than any other platform in North American automotive history. When introduced, buyers could chose between coupe, four door, and station wagon body styles. But as buyer’s preferences changed, the coupe was dropped in 1987, and giving way to minivans and SUVs, the wagons were abandoned after 1991, leaving just the four door sedan. The Panther leaves a legacy of ‘lasts’, such as being the last body-on frame rear drive sedan built in North America, the last American car with functional vent windows (optional until 1989), and the last American car with a carburated engine (1991).
No, the car left little or nothing to the driver with an enthusiast bent, but I know you readers will call me out if I fail to mention the Mercury Marauder, pictured below.
In that respect, the Maruader stands out. Ditching the bench seat and column shifter for a pair of leather bucket seats with a console mounted shifter, full set of gauges, tweaked bodywork, 18″ wheels and a 4.6L V-8 with dual exhaust sending 302hp to the rear wheels, the Marauder was a true modern day muscle car. As much positive press the glossy mags heaped on the car, and cheers from car nuts everywhere for Mercury to have the guts to build this car, sales never met expectations. Between 2003 and 2004, only 11,052 Marauders were built. It goes without saying this car is destined to be a highly collectible car.
As sinister and cool as the Marauder was, and as profitable and popular the rest of the cars were, the Panther cars died a slow death, and no one really noticed, or cared. After 2007, Ford stopped selling Crown Victoria’s to retail customers, since only 5% of total sales were winding up in people’s driveways or garages-the rest were rental cars, police cars, or fleet cars. The last Mercury Grand Marquis for retail was built in October 2010 after Ford shuttered the brand. The last Lincoln Town Car was built in August, 2011, but the very last Panther, a Ford Crown Vic, rolled off the assembly line in Ontario on September, 15, 2011.
These cars looked old, even when new, and the older generations bought them in flocks. These cars were big, comfortable, affordable, and damn near bulletproof. But these cars have left a mark on North American car culture that cannot be overlooked. Consider this-the Ford Country Squire was the basis of Chevy Chases’ car in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’. Yet few TV characters ever looked so cool and sophisticated as when Carrie’s love interest, “Big”, climbed out of a highly polished Lincoln Town Car in mid-town Manhatten, black with black tint windows in the cable TV series ‘Sex In the City’. Opposites indeed, but both cars, Panthers.
As for me, I bid the Panther adieu. But more in a ‘Thanks for the memories” sort of way. Back in college, my roommates and I all pooled our money to rent a car to drive from our campus in Lancaster, PA to West Palm Beach, FL for Spring Break. When we booked the car, I asked what were were getting. It would be a Mercury Grand Marquis, which we all would affectionately call ‘Marquis de Sade.’ Trouble was, at the time I was the only one old enough to drive a rental car, and I drove, non-stop. We stopped for gas, and a much-needed break for food at South of the Border in South Carolina. And how tempting the tiny hotel rooms, cheesy as they were, looked. Amtrak’s signs on I-95 ribbing me for not taking the auto train to Florida were of no help either. But armed with a Sony CD Discman with cassette adapter (now I’m really dating myself) we had the tunes to soldier on.
Yet red-eyed, road fatigued to all hell, nothing was better than leaving behind snow-covered Lancaster than to finally park that Grand Marquis with a cold six-pack of beer in hand while we all collapsed at a warm West Palm sandy beach. And that’s what made the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis/Town Car great cars. Not because they were sexy, handled great, or were fast. But because I could drive over 1,100 miles in one sitting for 18-19 hours straight, and the car never once complained. Yes, I was 22 years old at the time, and could never replicate that drive regardless of what I was driving, but you get the point.
On that note, I’ll leave it to the rest of you to comment. If you have a story to share about these cars, let’s hear it!