When you think of a cop car or a taxi, chances are this vehicle will pop in your mind.
Now think of the cars that old people drive. No not Camrys! Get that thought off your mind right now mister!
Well, come to think of it, that’s a big part of the problem. If any car out there is stuck in the netherworld of wholesale heaven at the auto auctions, it’s this one.
This morning I was looking through an endless array of old Crown Vics that had been used as donor cars for the local government fleet.
The prices seemed right. $200 for a parts car. $500 for a whole car with higher miles. $1500 for the cop car of your dreams. The numbers all seemed wondrous to a car guy like me who buys cars wholesale nearly every day of the week.
Except there’s a problem on the demand size of this equation. These cars don’t sell well anymore. Even the best of them have trouble getting so much as a glance from the general public.
Why? Well it may have a bit to do with the price of gas. Or the fact that cop vehicles go through an ungodly amount of abuse, even here in the South. Or even that those who need a car still won’t take one with rear vinyl seats, and more holes and exposed wires than a redneck version of a smoking KISS guitar.
But it’s even more than that when you look at these cars from a retailing perspective. The truth is that every portion of the population has a great excuse not to buy an old school full-sized car.
Young people are too broke to own one. Whenever I get a sharp looking one at my lot, young black males are surprisingly the most common gawkers. The Oldsmobile 98′s and Caprices that were all the rage 15 or so years ago for this enthusiast demographic, were replaced large with Crown Vic Police Interceptors, from the mid-2000′s up until about a couple of years ago.
Crown Vics were cheap, plentiful, not an SUV (which is what mom and dad usually drove), and reflected a bit of toughness thanks to the cop car rep and the utilitarian nature of the beasts. The interiors may have been given the unfortunate overload of cheap, amortized plastic and vinyl materials. But everything from the thunkishness of the door closing, to the Mustang sharing V8 under the hood made these cars a hot commodity.
You could seat five, haul as much stuff in the trunk ans you wanted to, and, if you were out just cruising around, fuel economy was bound to suck no matter what car you used. So throw in a dirt cheap price and a penchant for withstanding the worst of road, and Crown Vic Police Interceptors became quite popular. That is until young people became too broke to own and insure one.
The older family car, whether it’s an extra one or shared, has taken over this market.
Middle aged people? Some liked em’. But the good credit folks are usually looking at the newer stuff, and the bad credit folks don’t want a V8. They will buy a V6, or even an SUV. But a V8? Too much. Even the Grand Marquis, which had once represented the right mix of luxury and space for many of these folks, has now gone into the unmarketable firmament of, “Too big! Too old! No V8!”
Old people have, by and large, been herded onto the four cylinder compact and mid-sized buffet thanks in part to the prior gen Toyota Camry which offered the unusual combination of an easy to drive car with the interior space of a full-sized car and a four cylinder under the hood. Luxury to this group means never breaking down, 30 miles per gallon, and as few buttons and knobs as possible.
Along with 20 to 30 Camry alternatives, the market now offers cars that usually have more interior space than the Panthers, better lumbar seat support, and unbeatable fuel economy for a monthly payment that feeds in well with the monthly retiree check. For a low sub-$300 payment in many cases, that fixed income buyer can now have a new car instead of a 10 to 15 year old relic that averages 15 miles per gallon around town. Even the formerly credit challenged among them can line right up and get their spoonful of modern transportation.
The Panther cars may no longer work in the marketplace. But they still remain a personal favorite when it comes to operating a used car dealership. I have financed a ton of these vehicles over the years to folks who didn’t have access to the new car buffet. Five years ago, a customer would be overjoyed with getting any Town Car, Grand Marquis or Crown Vic with leather for $1000 down. These cars had earned their bulletproof reputation, and a lot of folks who were trying to get out of their family SUV or minivan found these cars to be an outstanding compromise between the unibody sedans with minimal grunt, and the full-sized SUV’s that consumed gas like a modern day BMW eats fuel pumps.
They were great cars to finance because once you put them on the road, they stayed there. Yes, I had to repo a few. But true to their reputation, these cars could handle the worst of customers and still be given minimal reconditioning before they were put back on the road.
I fondly remember a 1995 Lincoln Town Car (<— old Hammer Time) that I bought for all of $1600 that I took up to Jersey (<— another old Hammer Time), and then put out on the note four times before selling it for $1500 cash (<—- boy did I write far too much about this car back in the day!).
The car got scraped on the sides. Nearly all suspension parts replaced. The antenna broke. The headliner fell down, twice. The window regulators were cheap pieces of plasticized under-engineered garbage, and the car had an alarm system that sometimes seemed to have a mind of it’s own.
Oh, and it only came with a cassette until I repoed it for the second time.
I named the car Lucky.
Lucky was the least popular car at the lot. But if someone had only $500 to their name and a credit history like Donald Trump, then the customer could either have Lucky with a leather interior, or their sneakers in rubber.
Lucky was popular. So were those other Panther vehicles for a while at the $500 down level. A Grand Marquis was 90% of a Town Car, and it sold for 60% of the price. The Town Car was… well… often times harder to sell than the Grand. Even for the same price. The last Town Car I sold, a 2000 model Signature Series, spent all of five months at my lot which is longer than nearly anything I have sold over the past five years with the sole exception of the famed Barnacle Bitch (<— expensive car from hell!). A 2002 Mercedes S500 bought for $5000 under rough book right after the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
They both had the same problem. The customers had already gone elsewhere and the ones that were left, couldn’t afford to keep the vehicle on the road. So I spared them of that misery that comes off from biting off far more debt than you can chew, and shucked the Barnacle off to a cash customer during tax season.
That 2000 Town Car with the burgundy paint and tan interior was the same exact deal. The car was an absolute creme puff and had been dealer maintained since day one. A great ride. The used car sales manager at the nearby Ford dealership even put it in their fleet for a year before he retired and got replaced with a guy who was 40 years younger.
So I bought it, and got to driving it around for a bit. In all honesty, I never warmed up to the car. Eventually it got sold to a lady whose late husband had owned… a Ford dealership. She wanted to relive the old days and within a week of buying it, she wound up painting the poor thing a ghastly silver. Her living at home son had also convinced her to throw Flowmasters onto the thing.
What a waste.
It was a sad ending for an unpopular car… but ever so reminiscent of what happens when a car’s core audience moves on to other rides.
You either get folks who are true hardcore enthusiasts. They may consider themselves clever ones since they almost always buy the so-called cheap price car that comes loaded with those things they value. On paper, many of these guys seem to find their edge in a marketplace where popular cars go for a premium.
But in truth, most of them are picky, cheap, mechanically inept, and they honestly think you give a shit about the car you’re selling when you really don’t.
They tell stories about these cars. Endless stories about trivial opinions about old junkers that have already been recycled into Chinese washing machines.They are stuck in nostalgia-land which is fine,until you get subjected to the seventh story about the rolling piece of mediocrity in front of you.
You listen, and then eventually in the back of your mind you say, “Look. either buy this fucking car or leave me alone. I really don’t care about the fact that your Aunt Ethel had one of these 20 years ago.”
Then there are the broke ones… who are completely oblivious to the realities of the marketplace. They will piss you off by ogling the car and then saying, “I love these things, but they eat too much gas. Do you have a Toyota or Honda with leather?”
“I do… but they are a thousand down. I have about four of them with cloth that are around $700 down.”
“I really want leather but I only have $200 to $300. I can catch up on the payments?”
“Okay. When do you think you’ll have $1000?”
They will first tell you a week. Then a couple of weeks. A few minutes later it will turn into a month. Then finally you’ll see their bank statements or utility bills which are riddled with negative balances, overdraft charges, and late fees.
These folks are not bad people. Most of them are nice. They are just used to living beyond their means and you don’t want them as customers.
As for Panthers? They’re nice in a way that any old dog car can be endearing and lovable. But in the end I’ll stick to what sells, and old dogs don’t sell.
Which reminds me… I still have two at my lot. Want one?