In the magical half-fortnight festival of full-size Fords known to all and sundry as Panther Appreciation Week, the most fortuitous things can occur for the True Believers. The obstacles before our durable front suspensions are laid low and the rough path is made smooth before the live axles of our minds, which is how I found myself rolling through New York Tuesday afternoon in a 2010 Town Car Signature L.
“Something happened a few years ago,” my driver, Leo, said. “They ain’t as good as they was.”
“I can explain why,” I said, and I meant it. But first, a word about wheelbase.
The Panther platform has always been a relatively short-wheelbase car compared to the B-body GM cars and various German “D-segment” vehicles. The original Panthers came in two sizes:
- 114.3 inches. This underpinned the LTD/Crown Victoria and Marquis/Grand Marquis sedans and coupes, and was also used for the Lincoln Mark VI coupe.
- 117.3 inches. This was what you would find under Continentals/Town Cars, Town Coupes, and Mark VI sedans.
By contrast, the B-body (Caprice, Delta 88) was 115.9 inches and the C-body (Olds 98, Cadillac deVille/Fleetwood) was 121.5. Across the pond, the standard-wheelbase Mercedes S-Class was 115.6 and the LWB was 121.1. The Jaguar XJ6 was 112.2 inches. A BMW 733i was 110.0 inches. The kind-of-new-for-1979 Chrysler R-bodies (Newport, Gran Fury, Imperial) were 118.5 inches. Regardless of what the Panther player-haters out there say, Ford was right in the middle of the market.
Furthermore, the United States is a nation of owner-drivers. While it may be perfectly true that everything bigger than a Toyota Yaris is chauffeur-driven in India, China, or Russia, the vast majority of Town Car owners never sat in the back seat even once. If the Panthers were a little tight for rear-seat room, it didn’t really matter to their real-world demographic.
As the Panther platform entered its fourth calendar decade of production (!!) it became apparent to Ford that two of the three variants — namely, the Vic and the Town Car — were being purchased largely by livery operators. Those people wanted more room for the back-seat passengers, so Ford obliged. Since 2001, the Town Car has been available as a long-wheelbase variant at 123.7 inches. The LWB Crown Victoria is a 120.7 inch wheelbase car sold to taxi companies here and to private buyers in the Middle East. To my knowledge, if you want a LWB Grand Marquis you’d better start with a LWB Crown Vic and the relatively few parts which distinguish the Ford and Mercury cars. I can’t find any proof that there was ever a LWB Marquis.
Some livery companies in the New York area run both SWB and LWB Town Cars; I asked Leo the driver why this was so. His opinion was that the SWB cars held up better in extreme service. He did not venture an opinion as to why, but I would imagine that the SWB car is more rigid and therefore handles the miserable Manhattan roads better. He indicated further that the SWB car was much easier to park.
We then discussed this matter of recent declines in Town Car quality. Leo was careful to note that the basic mechanical bones of the Town Cars continue to be reliable to 300,000 miles and beyond. His gripe was with interior quality, parts falling off. His company runs cars 18 hours a day and there isn’t always a chance to make the cars look perfect before the next shift. He was emphatic that the 2008-2010 cars were the ones with the issues.
As any true Panther aficionado knows, the Crown Vic and Grand Marquis have been assembled in Ontario since 1992, but the Town Car was a product of the Wixom, Michigan plant. This changed on May 31, 2007, when the last Wixom-built Town Car rolled off the line. A few months later, production restarted in St. Thomas. The Canadian Town Cars are apparently not built as well as their Michigan predecessors. My personal Town Car is a product of the St. Thomas plant; we will see how the interior looks at 300,000 miles.
All LWB Town Cars have a center armrest in the rear seat which contain climate-control temperature, fan speed, volume, seek/scan, and “next track” buttons. There’s also a switch to move the right front seat forward out of Mr. Wall Street’s way. Presumably there are people out there who feel empowered to mess with the radio from the back seat. Your relatively humble author is not one of those people.
During my drive out to the Palisades, I wondered what could possibly replace the long-wheelbase Town Car in the livery biz. Interestingly, Leo confounded one of the Internet’s favorite chestnuts of received wisdom by indicating that he had seen the invoice for five Signature L Townies purchased by his firm. They were $47,000 each including tax, so figure the “deal” was $44K. That’s well below the $52,195 MSRP of the vehicle, but far about the $30K number knowingly repeated by teenagers on Web forums. What can you get for just north of forty grand that will run for well over a quarter-million miles, can be serviced by (un)trained monkeys, and is capable of hitting a New York pothole at 70 miles per hour for eighteen of those hours every day? I suggested to Leo than a full-sized SUV might be able to do it.
“You know,” he said, “I like those new Suburbans. We got some. Nicer than this inside. Ride better, even. Super nice. Let the guys drive ’em for six months. Then they fall apart. Don’t seem like it would be that way. But they don’t last.” The Panther has lasted, in one form or another, short wheelbase or long, since 1979, but its time is up.