By on April 16, 2012

Mike writes:

Good morning Sajeev.

Ask (for Piston Slap questions) and you shall receive. You are under no obligation to publish this assuming you receive more interesting material.  Thanks for doing what you do.

You may remember me as one of your fellow Lincoln Mark VIII enthusiasts.  The sway bars rock, and for now, I’m still running the OEM HIDs in my 2nd gen, hoping you find an aftermarket solution you deem adequate, and spread the word when the time comes. Although I do now own a pair of Doug’s delrin adapters, just in case.

But this isn’t about that car.  Oh yes, it’s the Panther!


I am the proud owner of a 1986 Lincoln Town Car, that I bought in 1997 with about 160k miles on it.  It now has 330,000 miles on it and the Minnesota winters have not been kind.  This has been my do-all vehicle, as well as my winter vehicle, for a number of years now.  It is equipped year round with snow tires. I tow with it, I haul lumber in/on it, it takes me canoeing camping, and bicycling.  Or it did until a couple weeks ago, when I blew a brake line.

That in and of itself would not be a big problem, but here is my concern.  Last winter, all of the fuel lines went.  (send, and return.)  they’ve since been replaced.  Everything underneath the car is a large, indistinguishable ball of rust.  The power steering leaks. Badly.  The transmission is reluctant to engage after coming to a stop sign in cold weather (until things warm up.)  I guess I’m just at the point where I wonder if it is time to let this one go.  The mid ’90s Town Cars can be had for 2-4 thousand on craigslist locally, or if I really want to go crazy, I could get a loan and pick up the W12 Phaeton I’ve been eyeing up..

I am leaning strongly toward dropping it off at the shop and let my mechanic so he can at least take a glance at it. We have an understanding.  If he tells me to “run away!”  I will.  If not, I Assume it will be a couple hundred bucks for a new line from front to back. that’s still better than a couple thousand for a new used car with “unknown” problems.  But in the end, I’m still driving a rusty, ’86 Lincoln.  At least when the next thing breaks, I still have my trusty ’72 Jeep Commando as a backup.

Why yes.  Those *are* 8′ 2x4s in that last photo…

And if you ever find yourself in Minnesota, I’ll buy you a beer.

Sajeev answers:

I do quite enjoy talking to a member of the Lincoln brotherhood, so it’s all good. I still need to make my old-to-modern HID conversion adapters. One day I’ll get them machined and ready to sell.  It’ll never make money–which is depressing–but I probably have no other choice. Because these cars were (almost) the first to have HIDs in the USA (a few 7-series BMWs from 1994-ish did have them) I really want to do the conversion for all of us…but there’s no time right now. Damn these labors of love!

Anyway, about the Panther…the indistinguishable ball of rust, as you so eloquently mentioned.

Cars in this situation are ticking time bombs: at some point it will be painfully obvious that it’s time to move on. I am not entirely sure you have reached it.  But you will.  I suspect a large rust hole in the floor board or a failing DOA gearbox (AOD, get it?) is in your future.  Probably not your near future, but it’s gonna happen.

When will your Town Car die a rusty, crusty death? Whenever it does, I will be watching this video and will pour one out for a fallen automotive soldier.


And I’ll do my best to sing “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city” without offending Mr. Bobby Bland. Because this Panther most certainly did you right, son.



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10 Comments on “Piston Slap: An Indistinguishable Ball of Rust?...”

  • avatar

    All of the brake lines should probably be replaced, I went through this with my 93 F150, one would fail, then another….
    A car like this needs to be maintained by it’s owner. If you are paying mechanics for all your repairs it’s going to be more expensive than it’s worth. Obviously transmissions are a bit over the top but exhaust and brake work are doable as are other repairs.
    At 330K I think you got your money out of this ride, might be time to move on.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, if someone doesn’t have the tools and ability to do the work, it’s time to move on with a car like this, otherwise it will nickel and dime him to death over the next 2-4 years and chances of having it by then are not good anyways. Get the salvage yard price out of it and put it towards the next beater.

      Note: realistically, you’re going to need to do full steel and rubber lines as well as cylinders and possibly drums/rotors just to make the brakes safe, weld patches in the floor, clean out rust holes where they have formed and weld fresh sheet metal in those, as well as finish them with anti corrosion sealant (most likely from a marine store for the good stuff), then you’re having transmission problems and various leaks are starting to pop up, and with that many miles, while you’re fixing the little things, you are hoping a major thing such as a failed main bearing doesn’t take it out. Just not worth it at all financially at this point.

      I would look for a late 90s panther platform, or, if you really want to be sacrilegious you can often find a mid 90s Lexus LS400 for around 5 grand.

  • avatar

    I just replaced the brake lines on my Contour SVT. Water was getting trapped underneath the rear subframe against the lines. $60 in parts, $950 in labor (including 4 wheel alignment). The brake lines would be easy to replace on my car if Ford hadn’t thought fit to run them underneath the subframe. The car is otherwise rust free (less a little bit of surface rust on the bottom of the doors).

    It just depends how easy those brake lines are to get to. Cheap parts but labor could kill you. Couple hundred bucks to give it another 6 months or 2 years isn’t bad, if that’s all that it is.

    I’m not being a hypocrite; my car is rust free and running great and a daily driver; this TC has been ridden hard and put away wet. Despite a soft spot in my heard for ’86 Town Cars (mom had one for 10 years – I partially learned to drive on it and had great fun in high school tooling it around), I think it might be time to turn this one into a new Kia, or wherever the scrap metal goes.

  • avatar

    Sounds like it’s time to put this dog down.

  • avatar

    If the repair is cheap enough, relegate this one to back up to the back up duty and buy yourself something nicer and use the Linc for winter driving and home improvement runs. :)

  • avatar

    Yeah. She used to look that good… *sigh*

    Since submitting the e-mail above, I followed my own advice and brought it to the mechanic. The bill for a new, stainless line came to within a few dollars of the $200 that I expected. He assured me that the remaining brake lines are equally rough, but still holding.

    That relatively inexpensive fix got me reliably through the rest of the winter. I now have the ’97 Mark VIII out of storage, and will be driving it much of the time instead.

    Although I do perform most maintenance myself, I tend to leave the under-car stuff to folks with lifts. The brakes themselves are well maintained, as are any of the more routine mechanicals for a car this age. (alternator, heater core, water pump, radiator, fuel pump, hoses, belts..) it’s all been replaced. Even the rear axle shafts were replaced a few years back because they were worn to the point where even the “replacement” axle seals, wouldn’t seal.

    I’ve always said that the car has is incredibly reliable, but I continue to drive it under the assumption that at any moment that could change. Likely catastrophically.

    The thing I just can’t “fix” is the rust.

    I recently got a line on a ’97 Town Car in about the same color, in Texas. Is there anything I need to watch out for there? I’ve heard about a plastic intake manifold being a problem but I’ll bet I could source a nice metal replacement from any number of places if needed. Having two 4.6L engines of the same year (albeit with different heads) has a distinct appeal as well.

    Thanks everyone. Your thoughts and ideas are appreciated. I’m sure it is easy to see that I’m fond of this one.

  • avatar

    If a $200 brake line repair made you think twice I don’t think you are ready for the maintenance costs of a Phaeton W12. I’m not sure ANYBODY is ready for the maintenance costs of that car.

  • avatar

    Get that 97 or maybe try for a 2000 TC.

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