By on October 28, 2011

 

George writes:

Sajeev, I enjoy TTAC and your writing. Okay, I succumbed to the blandishments of you Panther lovers (and to fond memories of my father driving his Fords and Lincolns), and bought a 1996 Lincoln Town Car Cartier.  The car has about 143,000 miles on it, all in North Carolina.  The previous (2nd) owner was reportedly a little old lady, and because of the condition of the driver’s seat she could not have weighed much more than 90 or 95 pounds. It is well taken care of and straight.

The TC has a clean Carfax, and I purchased it for just under $3k. It appears to have every single option offered that year (including the phone) except a sunroof, and I’m not sure a sunroof was offered on the Cartier. (It was, so sorry! – SM)

My mechanic says it appears to have been well taken care of, and since I plan on keeping it for 5 to 7 years I am happy to put another $5k to $7k in the car, which means for under $10k I get to drive a true luxury car that gets almost 26 mpg on the highway.

After about $4.5k it has a bunch of new stuff including driver’s door hinges, all fluids and filters changed, suspension, window lifts,
headlamps, plugs and wires, Michelins, a real spare tire, a full (2-day) detail including steam cleaning the engine top and bottom, and adding iPod and aux-in ports in lieu of the 10-disk CD changer (which I’m leaving in the car).  One of my goals is to leave the car as stock as possible, while making it as safe and as reliable as possible.

I drive 10,000 to 14,000 miles per year, which may include a round trip to the Rockies every year or two. The car gets almost 17 mpg in town (16.8), and 25.5 mpg on the highway at 65 to 70 – this is a true slab cruiser and it seems to love cruising for hours.

My questions are:
– What kind of mods and specific parts/systems should be upgraded to
achieve my goal of making the car as safe and as reliable as possible?
– Should I keep the air suspension or go coils
– What systems do I need to be especially vigilant about?
– What kind of tire pressure is optimal so that instead of feeling
like I’m driving a very warm marshmallow it feels like a regular
marshmallow?

This is a true luxo barge and it puts a smile on my face when I look at it and when I drive it.  It is also putting smiles on many other faces – I can’t stop myself waving and smiling at other drivers and pedestrians….

(I wrenched when younger but no more – my interests now are pretty much confined to running my business and making life miserable for my competitors, all of which I enjoy immensely. I tell my family and friends I have retired as I do what I want every day and hope I can keep doing it until I die.)

Sajeev answers:

And I also hope you can do just that till the end of your days, my good man.  I feel the same way about this Piston Slap gig, even if I don’t (technically) own a Panther of my own.  But it sounds like you have the perfect ride for your ideal life.  You lucky duck!

Question 1: new shocks are first on my list, preferably some upgraded units like Bilsteins.  Upgrading the swaybars is optional, but it might seriously defeat the purpose of owning a Cartier Town Car. Next up is a large, aftermarket transmission cooler.  From there, I’d get some 16” Cartier (1997-2002) chrome wheels to do the big brake swap from the later model. Depending on the condition of the transmission, doing a J-Mod will make the ride a lot more entertaining with less wear and tear. Lastly, getting an SCT reflash on the computer will speed up transmission shift logic and net you anywhere from 10-25 more ponies too. Oh, and if the plastic intake hasn’t been changed to the aluminum-plastic redesign, DO IT NOW!

Question 2: Air Suspension rocks, and Lincoln’s setup is disturbingly cheap and durable.  Ever priced a replacement system for a Lexus LS or anything European? The Lincoln’s bags (Ford parts, not the cheap remans) only last 10-12 years.  So replace the bags every 10 years and things will be just peachy. You can replace the three wear points (bags, air compressor) for probably $600 or so, and it’s quite easy to do in your own driveway, if you were so inclined.

Question 3: Vigilant? Are you serious? This is a frickin’ Panther chassis! The only things to be vigilant with a “Fat” Panther like your Cartier is to make sure your friends/family don’t cut-scuff-mar the soft touch materials: because these truly are land yachts that go toe-to-toe with other luxury cars from that era.

Question 4: Sounds like you need rebuild the suspension.  New shocks like I said before, maybe replaced the fatigued coil springs too.  This is a 15-year-old car with well over 100,000 miles, after all.  If you want a Panther that doesn’t fit the stereotypes of old American Iron, do this and forget about air pressure in your tires.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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17 Comments on “Piston Slap: The “Fat” Panther, The Self Aware Man...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Sweet. For that body style of Town Car my two personal favorites are the Cartier edition and the Jack Nicolas edition.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    Hey George – pics or it didn’t happen!

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    If you want to firm up the handling the biggest and best thing to do is the tires but you’ve already purchased tires that will get you through the next 6 years.

    If it still has original shocks I’d go with the KYBs I’ve been happy with them on my Panthers.

    Do not destroy the car by putting steel springs under the rear, it hurts both the handling and ride. The air bags will last 20 years and 250K or more. Most of the time when they leak it’s not the bags leaking it’s the 50 cent O ring that seals the valve to the bag.

    For tire pressure it depends on what exact tires you put on and how you roll. If it’s just you run the fronts at the spec on the decal and the rears 2-3lbs under. That rear spec is for a fully loaded car and you will wear out the center of your tires running them at the spec pressure and only the driver.

    The only thing to be diligent with is up keep of the body, it is a Panther after all. The 2 things you can do to keep it happy. 1. use Motorcraft 5-30 like is says on the oil cap (not the 5-20 currently recommended) and Motorcraft oil filter for the oil changes. 2. Make sure it sees WOT regularly. People who don’t use WOT on a regular basis often have problems with the EGR passage clogging up, which will lower MPG slightly and eventually set a code and turn on the CEL.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    So are you in for $7500 total, on a ’96 with 140k??? Maybe its because I live in FL and these things are a dime a dozen down here, mint blue-hair specials are always for sale cheap, but I think that sounds like crazy money. I know you guys love your panthers, but you could have gotten this:

    http://tinyurl.com/42kfo3r

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    What a great car, I envy you :)

    Can we see some pics???

  • avatar
    crinklesmith

    As the owner of a daily driven 97′ HPP Grand Marquis, I’ll add a few supporting comments.

    If the front coolant crossover passage on the intake manifold is PLASTIC, you need to replace it with an OEM or aftermarket (Doorman) intake asap. Yes, it was mentioned already, but it WILL FAIL, until you replace it with the aluminum unit. The plastic crossover will crack, and blow all your coolant everywhere except where it’s supposed to be. If it’s aluminum, and the rest of the manny is plastic, leave it alone. Also, replace the heater core return line just below the manny when you do this, and the water pump as well, it’s easy access while the manny is off.

    The 4R70 is a strange transmission. It will run for 400,000 miles, yet feel like it’s only 10 miles from destroying itself the whole time. This link is your tranny bible. http://www.tccoa.com./articles/tranny/index.html Read everything you can. I did the J-mod on mine. This involves porting the valvebody metering plate for faster accumulator and clutch fill and exhaust times, replacing accumulator springs, and updating parts to provide a faster, more precise shift. I did the minimum J-mod port on my plate, updated to a 2.7 od servo, and installed accumulator springs from a Mark VIII as well as a reflash unit from Blue oval chips, and it totally changed the character of the transmission. Were talking seamless upshifts, WOT, if you couldn’t hear the rpm drop, you would have no idea a shift had occurred. Also, no harshness at part throttle, really amazing. The AOD based trannies suck until their set up right, but once they are, their fantastic. Also, drain your tranny fluid (You are one of the lucky ones who has a converter drain plug, no power flush needed!) and replace it with Mercon V. The 4R70 uses a pulse width modulated converter clutch to slip the converter at all times, it never truly locks up. The clutch will chatter unless a quality Mercon V fluid is used. Change fluid every 30k miles. And yes, add at least a 20k lbs GVWR tranny cooler, the 4r70 runs HOT!!! It’s a good tranny, just needs a little tuning from the factory.

    Also, you will have a water leak on your driver side doormat every time it rains. This comes from the throttle cable firewall junction boot. Smear some sealant on the engine side of the firewall boot, no more leak. While your under there, go to the passenger side, and smear some sealant under the evap drain port, sometimes they leak as well.

    At least one window regulator will fail once a year. Deal with it.

    Alternator charge voltage below 13 volts at idle with lights on? Pick up a set of brushes and a regulator at your local parts store, spend under an hour installing, and enjoy 14+ volts of charging power.

    Change the fluids on time, use a good treatment on the weather seals and exterior rubber, and wax it once a year, besides that, drive the damn thing, and look forward to 400,000+ mile service life.
    The mod motor will run forever if you change the oil.

  • avatar
    chug

    I’m a friend of George, who asked me to post this link to pics. It is a beautiful car if you like big American cars. Very comfortable. (The guy in the photo is another friend of George’s from New Orleans.)

    Not sure which of these links will work.

    https://picasaweb.google.com/116842529844992604370/1996LTCC?authuser=0&feat=directlink

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Between you guys and the several other car fora I hang at , Panthers are highly regarded. Mebbe when my E 28s die…

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Excellent move with the fat Panther. I do think that at today’s ordinary interstate highway speeds of 80 to 90 mph in traffic, the unmodified Panther’s wallow is actually mildly dangerous. It is like driving an 18 wheeler at high speed. You really have to look ahead and do defensive driving. Stiffer aftermarket sway bars fix this for about $600 USD all in. You lose just a wee bit of the easy chair ride, but it is nothing like the rough cop car ride. Good tires help too.


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