In the wild, panthers are endangered. In the automotive world, Panthers will go extinct sometime in the third quarter of 2011, when the last Lincoln Town Car Executive L rolls off the line. If you think Panthers get a lot of lovin’ around these here parts, you should attend a convention of folks for whom those LTCELs are tools of the trade. Chances are that if you’ve used a limousine or livery service in the past 20 years, you’ve sat in the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car Executive L. That’s why it was big news at Limousine Charter & Tour magazine’s LCT Leadership Summit a couple of months ago when Ford’s fleet marketing manager, Gerry Koss, announced that replacing the soon to be dearly departed Town Car in Ford’s livery fleet fleet will be livery and stretched limo versions of the Lincoln MKT.
It made some sense. For all its ungainly proportions, the MKT has a lot of interior space. Koss pointed out that the MKT has more legroom, headroom, and cargo space than the Town Car, all valuable features to livery operators and their customers. Ford focus tested the MKT livery version with both of those groups, to, they claim, very positive response. Besides the extra space, all wheel drive availability in the MKT appeals to fleet operators in northern climes.
In addition to the standard livery version of the MKT, Koss said that Ford would be making a heavy duty version that will be provided to Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifiers for conversion to limos and hearses. The heavy duty MKT can be stretched up to 10 feet. Ford will start taking orders for MKT professional cars in 4Q 2011 with production beginning in Jan. 2012.
The limo and hearse biz is not too much different from the custom and performance market. The tuners have SEMA and Goodguys and livery operators have events like the aforementioned LC&T Leadership Summit and the National Funeral Directors Association annual show in Chicago.
That’s where Ford previewed a MKT hearse based on prototype heavy duty MKT that had been provided to Eagle Coach for conversion. After the show was over, the car was returned to Dearborn where it was spotted driving around and now it is on sale at an Eagle dealer. As you can see from the photos, it’s actually not a terrible looking car. I think it’s the best looking American based hearse conversion in a while, and possibly better proportioned than the original MKT.
First, before we get to the MKT’s styling, let’s face it, most coffin carriers of the past 30 years have looked kind of funny. Hearse rear ends grafted to downsized aero shapes results in vehicles that look like an engorged tick. The massive front end of the 1970 Cadillac Hearse that Paul featured around Halloween balances the larger rear end. Some feel that the best looking hearses were Cadillacs from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Cars were taller back then so the rooflines high enough to handle a coffin looked more natural.
The MKT already has a long, high roofline so the raised hearse roof isn’t much of a visual stretch. Also, the MKT has that awkward kink in the beltline. On the stock MKT to my eye that raised haunch clashes visually with the gracefully declining roof. Though the roof of the MKT hearse is raised, it rises naturally from the pitch of the windshield and then it flattens out quickly. Think shooting brakes and sport wagons. It even has a a spoiler and a quasi Kamm back.
The Eagle MKT hearse looks to be stretched in the middle and also the rear haunches are extended. That really improves the look of the MKT’s beltline, and also works very well with the long, flat roof. Even the large and often criticized grille (the baleen look can work – see the MKR concept car) is balanced by the increased bulk. It’s not perfect, the side glass doesn’t quite work, but overall I kinda like it. Almost sporting looking, for a hearse.