The Truth About Cars » crown victoria The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » crown victoria Piston Slap: SHO me My Next Car? Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:01:42 +0000 (photo courtesy:

(photo courtesy:

Bob writes:


Thanks for all the wasted ti…,er reading enjoyment you and TTAC provide. My Q has to do with “plan on keeping, or start looking for a replacement?”

Bought my ’93 SHO in 1996, a 5-sp w/28k miles. It just rolled over 140,000 (I’m an over-the-road truck driver). Has been a great, fun car. Only major problem was a radiator leak & attendant CPS failure.

Downers: Headliner and driver’s seat uph need replacing. Clearcoat peeling. Worried about parts avail, transmission (no problems so far, but “maintenance-free ATF?”). Still has original clutch. Car is 22 yrs old. Etc…

Upside: Just had front susp renewed, doesn’t burn oil, still drives great. Etc…

So: used Crown Vic, or used Miata, when the time comes?

Sorry this is so wordy/rambling, but hate to think of you & that cymbal.

Sajeev answers:

Oh yes! The Edelbrock cymbal is still on my drum rack, but I’ve had no time to “work” on it.  And that’s thanks to folks like you!

You have a two-part question, and the first answer is you need a newer car.  While an SHO has a tricky motor (timing belt and valve lash work every 60,000 miles IIRC), any old Taurus won’t be relaxing and reliable: it will always need work, even if it may never leave you stranded without days/weeks/months of advance notice.  You’ll shell out big bucks on the paint and clutch alone.

About your next ride: some will consider the Miata vs. Crown Vic suggestion as insane, but I get it. The SHO is almost halfway between in size, number of cylinders, etc.  And when you’ve already done the middle ground, it’s now time to go to the extreme!

Question is, which extreme?

I’d go for the Miata if you can keep the SHO around to carry people/cargo.  Depending on where you live, a FWD sedan with a solid roof helps in bad rain/snow. If you go Crown Vic, the SHO is pointless.  Which is a problem.

Think about it: the SHO is essentially worthless and the next owner is likely to kill it.  I reckon it will be Chinese scrap metal less than a year after the sale.  Not cool: cars with intrinsically fantastic yet obscure design like the Taurus SHO deserve to live. Having owned this car for almost 20 years now, are you dumb enough to see it my way? To restore this future classic?

If so, you will also be dumb enough to buy a Crown Vic to make a collection of cool yet understated American sedans!  And for those that find this notion silly, I suggest watching this video about 10 times.

Click here to view the embedded video.

What was that about not wanting a collection of Ford sedans? #pantherlove

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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A Primer On SLAB Culture Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:55:18 +0000 title

This well-traveled Houstonian thinks his town is Pistonhead Nirvana, proven every month via fanboi scale and diversity at Cars and Coffee gatherings.  Or with every 1000+hp racer on at Texas2k, every shoestring budget’d LeMons racer and Art Car fanatic: it’s all here. Except there’s nothing like Houston’s SLAB culture.

A confession: I know automotive subcultures, no matter which socioeconomic population nurtures it, always raise the ire of outsiders. My response?  Every generalization about SLABs applies to anyone building a custom, race or show car. We are all the same, deal with it.   


Like most automotive hobbies, the Houston SLAB scene starts with the belief that the factory’s work needs improvement.  While spec racers turn a depreciated hulk into a track beast, the SLAB rider takes a slice of unloved Americana, bringing it back to a time when Japanese cars were cheap rust buckets that’d never threaten General Motor’s existence! I mean, look at our grilles and look at theirs, right?


A car that traces its roots back to the 1970s Pimp Rides is necessary to make a modern SLAB: Camcords need not apply. Any Blaxploitation movie gets you up to speed on Pimp Rides, but the Houston SLAB scene uses them as a springboard to something new.


Depreciated American luxury cars are the norm: Cadillacs, Buicks and certain Oldsmobiles are preferred.  Lincolns/Panthers and Chryslers are cool too, even Jaguars and Quattroportes pull it off vis-à-vis distinctly luxurious proportions.  But don’t break your budget on the ride, GM’s W-body is one of the most common platforms for good reason, as costly modifications are necessary to pay homage to the Pimp Riders while advancing the game:

  • Massive stereos, some are IASCA worthy with a little tweaking.
  • Kitted out power popping trunks, slathered in custom vinyl and personalized phrases in neon/mirrors.
  • Wire wheels much like the Cragar units supplied as OEM for Cadillac in 1983 and 1984, except replacing the fragile tin content with 100% steel. Texan Wire Wheels sells them as “83s” and “84s”, seemingly cornering this niche market.
  • Vogue tires in new sizes for new cars, naturally.
  • Replacement steering wheels, usually with wood grain rims.
  • Candy Paint, just like any vintage rodder.
  • Reupholstered interiors, taking advantage of the latest trimmings on the market.
  • Aftermarket HID lights, custom LEDs, Lambo doors, flat panel TVs and anything else you’ll find in the custom car scene.
  • Oversized brand logos, like the tailgate emblem from an Escalade.
  • Lowered suspensions (often aftermarket Air Ride) for obvious curb appeal.

That stance is at the SLAB’s core: it’s a sweet American luxury sedan ridin’ close to the curb.  Close to the concrete, up against the “slab”…hence the name. Some suggest that SLAB is an acronym for Slow-Loud-And-Bangin’ but that definition seemingly came later.


But the wheels make SLABs so eye-catching: references percolating through Houston’s music, Houston’s culture.  Originally a re-pop of those Cadillac rims from 1983 and 1984, some are fed pro-baseball grade growth hormones to extend the hub far beyond Cadillac’s factory specification.  Ordinary wires have “pokes” while insanity ensues when you go “super poke.”  While not sure of their origin, odds are that having more poke comes people’s need to out-do each other. Like everything else in this world!

IMG_1759Your taste in poke is subjective, but they are all known as swangas and elbows.


Elbows are when the hub and spoke of your wheels “poke” out of your body just like your arm’s elbow when perched atop the door sill.  Makes sense, but Swangas?


Again, not sure: it’s connected to the organized dance that multiple SLABs do on an open stretch of road.  It’s like watching racers warming up their tires during pace laps.  It’s infectious: even the cops do it.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Here’s what I saw at the first annual SLAB Parade, put on by the Houston Arts Alliance.  This cow town’s been good about supporting the art scene, especially our Art Cars and our screwed and chopped Rap artists.  While H-town Rap is a “thing” for the likes of Jay Z and Justin Timberlake, Detroit has yet to embrace Houston’s re-branding of their Camry prey/Rental Car fodder and their highline euro-wannabes. Aside from the Chrysler 300, of course.

So welcome to the Third Coast, the coast that actually likes American cars. How they were: with real names, impressive proportions and maybe even SLAB hugging overhangs, too. And the people who make them?  They are no different than other car nuts.


No doubt, Houston is the best place to be a car fanatic, mostly thanks to our diverse population.  Love it or hate it, hopefully you enjoyed seeing this slice of Automotive Americana while I avoided the pitfalls of a milquetoast overview of an automotive sub-culture. Fingers crossed on that last part.



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Hammer Time: The Rise And The Fall Of The Panthers Wed, 06 Nov 2013 14:08:38 +0000 cv

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.

crown vic

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.

crown vic2

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.

Copy this url: This guy did a wonderful job on his road warrior.

Copy this url: This guy did a wonderful job on his road warrior.

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!”

BZR Edition

BZR Edition

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.

Picture Courtesy of

$700 down, $60 a week, 24 months.

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.

No, the hood latch isn't on the side. Keep looking!

No, the hood latch isn’t on the side. Keep looking!

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.

old dog

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?


]]> 145
Piston Slap: Travel Well, Work Well? Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:54:03 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC commentator wstarvingteacher writes:

I have been lurking on this site for at least three years. Comment some but mostly subscribe without commenting. I have been spending some time thinking about what I’m going to buy for my “jack of all trades” second car. Life changes so your needs change also.

I live on five acres just north of Houston. I have had a standard cab pickup that I like a lot more than I ever thought I would. The problem is that we have a need to send my Granddaughter off to school in another state. She said she wanted to buy my truck and with some trepidation I agreed. Now I have to replace it. I think I needed to anyway. Have grown tired of stolen spare tires and tools so I need something with inside storage. I figured a king cab truck would work as would many SUVs. Thought about a minivan but it seems they all have fragile transmissions. I tend to keep cars a long time.

Just to complicate things my wife has a car with a CVT transmission and a trailer hitch voids her warranty. Because of that we need to take longer trips in mine if we need to take anything (canoe etc) along. We will be taking an increasing number of trips. Therefore, mine needs to get over 20mpg on the highway and be able to tow 2000 lbs, (bare bones minimum) locally or highway. I am getting to the age where my eyes dictate I pay others for most of the work I do on vehicles. Therefore, dependability is very important.

I owned Lincoln Town Cars in the past (5.0 models) and they did all that I asked very well. I will have about $6k to spend on this second vehicle. Having a huge trunk while getting over 20mpg and being able to tow over two tons is a strong combination. I know that the Panthers run a long time and there are lots of parts. I also know that the CV(PI or no) and MGM frequently show up for low dollars. My truck will disappear next month and I can get hay or whatever, delivered for the short term. I guess my question(s) is/are:

  • What years panthers should I avoid for known problems such as spitting plugs and plastic intake manifolds?
  • Am I just looking at the panther because it worked for me in the past? Am I missing a good working, long lasting, cheap to fix, long trip vehicle that can work?

Seems like some vehicles travel well and some work well. I can’t think of anything that does both as well as a Panther. I think it is probably the last second car I will buy. Has to last for about 5 years when we will buy another first car.Hope the B & B will see this as fit to chew on for a while!

Sajeev answers:

So you want something that’s durable, gets over 20+ MPG highway, and can tow at least 2000lbs on a somewhat-regular basis. I can hear the Panther Haters among the B&B cringing already. If they even bothered to click on this article…but I digress.

There’s a chance that a minivan (if maintained right) or similar unit-body CUV with a V6 could fit the bill for both towing and efficiency, but they are a bit risky for a long-term owner. You could bite the bullet and buy a real body-on-frame truck or SUV, but they are rather expensive/valuable here in Texas. And their fuel economy stinks, even the compacts/mid size models with the necessary V6 power for your requirements.

Which begs the question, how could you NOT get a Panther? Set the cruise control to 65 mph and you can break 25 MPG, my best is 27 MPG with the A/C off on a 2006 Townie with an aftermarket computer tune. Add a big transmission cooler + trailer brake controller and it’ll safely tow just about any load implied by your letter.

I recommend getting a 2003+ model (doable with your budget), as they come with non-explody intake manifolds, better steering/suspension, hydroformed chassis bits and most will be new enough to avoid excessive wear and years of neglect.  The big brakes came in 1998, so you are set there. I don’t believe the 2003+ models ever spit spark plugs, that was a problem with congested Ford truck engine bays, sloppy tune up work (i.e. not a problem when carefully installed) and a different cylinder head design.

Go ahead and find the Panther with the most service records you can find.  It’ll travel better than anything else, and it can work hard when needed. Man, I miss not seeing this platform in new car showrooms/rental car lots: it really did it all, even with complete and unrelenting neglect from its maker.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

]]> 63
Piston Slap: Say “Audi 5000″ to your Tow Vehicle! Mon, 16 Sep 2013 12:17:44 +0000

TTAC commentator Trend-Shifter writes:

I have a 1984 Audi 5000S Avant that is used as the wife’s car and our traveling/towing vehicle. Here is my dilemma…

  1. The air conditioning works as designed in 1984 (still using R12) but it is not to the standards of a modern “Merican” car. It is only comfortable at freeway speeds and without too much sunlight in that expansive greenhouse. The wife complains loudly all summer!
  2. The engine is only 110 horsepower. So when the air is turned on it dramatically impacts drivability. If I pull any kind of grade I need to turn the air off as not to impact drivers behind me.
  3. Right now I tow my jet ski with the car. It pulls it great at any speed as long as the air condition is off. (Refer to item 2, Wifey is not happy when the air is off!)
  4. I also have an 18 ft boat that I will need to tow in 2~3 years as my Grandsons get of age.

So based on the fact that the Audi 5000 Avant will not pull the boat, I think my best plan is to replace the Audi 5000 Avant in the next two years to fix all the problems I identified rather than modify the air conditioning or the engine.

I have looked at various SUV’s for towing. I want just real RWD, not some wannabe FWD disguised as AWD. The big ole freighter SUV’s are really expensive, not good at high speeds, and suck a lot of fuel. So I started to lean towards a 2006~2009 Cadillac SRX with the Northstar V8. (engine issues resolved in 2005) I think a 2000~2010 low mileage (under 40,000 miles) Lincoln Town Car is the best choice for all my problems. (Can’t handle the Grand Marquis & Crown Vic styling)

The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs. A set of plus wheels, Michelin Pilot Sports, and a transmission cooler should complete the package.

Does this sound crazy –OR- crazy as a fox (I mean Panther). If you agree, what years are the best?

Audi 5000 pair

BTW… My other car is also an Audi 5000. It is an 1987 Audi Quattro. (I drive it 110 miles round trip everyday to work on the Deeeetroit freeways) So the RWD Lincoln can sit in the garage on those snowy days.

Sajeev answers:

I’m impressed with your Audi 5000 collection (sorry I couldn’t do a Vellum Venom remotely) but I had no clue der avant was a tow vehicle! Good to hear this rig is saying Audi 5000 to THAT job! And your wife has the patience of a Saint to put up with situations that inhospitable for 110 horsepower. But I digress…

“The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs.”

I found this quote interesting, as I should also find it appealing. So you need a tow vehicle for bulky things, but you want one with a design aesthetic as your 5000. Longer, lower and wider than an ordinary truck?  More fuel-efficient too, right? So why not?

This is a fool’s errand. You WANT a bigger and taller nose/face when towing to punch a bigger hole in the air for your trailer! A Panther can do the job adequately, but it will struggle more because the boat will make it its bitch. I’d recommend a full-sized conversion van to maximize the size of the hole punched for that 18ft boat.

Not that you NEED a conversion van to punch an adequate hole for a boat that small, but why the hell not?  SUVs and real pick-em-up trucks lack the aero of a van, are overpriced, and vans are so frickin’ great for road trips. Keep the 5000 Avant for your wife’s normal commute, buy a nicely depreciated custom van for towing.

A 1994-2003 Dodge Ram Van, 1996-present Chevy Express Van and the 1992-present Ford Econoline are the proper successors to your Audi 5000 tow vehicle.  Find one with a towing package and the options you’d like.  I’d go with a mid-90s Econoline for it’s most Bauhausian Styling to appeal to your Audi-conscious style, get it with the torquey (but thrifty!) 4.9L big six, modernize/upgrade the brakes/wheels/transmission cooler for light towing duty and lose the conversion van paint job for a stark, Germanic gun metal gray. Yummy.

A perfect machine for one’s Piston Slap pragmatism and one’s Audi 5000-worthy Vellum Venom demands.

And for you Best and Brightest peeps who thought I’d take the Panther Love bait: I never did, son!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.





]]> 122
Jalopnik Gets On The Panther Love Bandwagon Mon, 02 Sep 2013 23:17:38 +0000 specpanther

One thing you can say about our friends at Jalopnik: they’re never too stubborn to adopt a fun idea when they see one. Whether it’s “driving like an automotive journalist” or racing coverage, they cover whatever the readers want and never worry about whether it fits in with some “mission”. That sounds a bit stroppy of me, but I’m being sincere. Too often in the World O’ Blogs, people refuse to serve the reader’s clearly-expressed interests because they’ve decided that they are too good to do so.

Long-time TTAC readers are familiar with the concept of Panther Love, invented here on TTAC by our own Sajeev Metha and subsequently expanded into Panther Appreciation Week. Our Panther Love roots stretch back twenty-three years. We’re not new to the game. But Jalopnik’s Travis Okulski is new to the game, and he’s taken the time to formally propose what various club racers and track rats have long discussed over beers at the end of the day.

Spec Panther Is The Next Great Race Series That Doesn’t Exist is the title of the article, and here’s the relevant section:

For instance, LeMons is becoming a BMW E30 playground. It’s the car to have. If you buy something else, you basically need to resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be winning the race. You’ll just be out there to have some fun.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having fun and being creative with your car design. A lot of casual club racing is the fun. But I’m very competitive. I want to be on pole. I want to win overall. And I’m not the only person like that.

I’ve just moved to Manhattan so I’m also increasingly impoverished. That’s where Spec Panther comes in.

There’s some fun to be poked at Travis here. The E30 does not rule cheap-car racing; your humble author just won Buttonwillow’s Chump Car event in April in a Neon. Second place was a Rampage pickup. And it wasn’t like nobody brought an E30. But from a distance I can see how it looks that way.

Mr. Okulski’s assertion that he’s a competitive racey type of guy while your average club racer is “casual” is also kind of funny. Memo to anyone who has never participated in club racing: it’s full of people who will cheerfully put you in the hospital for a plastic trophy, self included. It’s full of people who work every night of the week for a year in order to field a midpack Miata, because that’s the very best they can do. Trust me: people want to win and almost everybody is trying as hard as they can to make it happen. You can also trust that should a Spec Panther series happen, it would be dominated for years by people who already hold racing licenses, the same way most winning ChumpCar and Lemons teams have a full roster of people with racing experience in faster series. The idea that some hipster in Manhattan is going to spend a couple evenings building Queen Latifah’s Taxi in a closet-sized garage while listening to the Flaming Arcades or Ra Riot Weekend and then triumph over Pratt&Miller’s 550whp seam-welded ’79 LTD Coupe with A-arms all the way round — well, it’s very high-concept, but it’s unlikely to happen.

This is why we shouldn’t let children watch stuff like Turbo or Cars. In the real world of racing, God is on the side of the seasoned engineers and the big budgets.

Regardless, should Spec Panther happen, I imagine that TTAC might field a team. Offhand, I think the best Panther would be the aforementioned ’79 LTD Coupe, primarily due to weight (3600 pounds to start, a quarter-ton lighter than the modern P71s) and because it fits a 351. Mod-motor tuning is far from a marginalized activity, but the book on tuning Windsors has been written in blood. Weld up a kick-ass Panhard bar, install a T5. Seam-weld the bitch. The resulting car should weigh 3300 pounds and spin 425+ at the back wheel. Woe be to anyone trying to keep their Cayman S in front of the thing.

So yes, Travis, your ideas are intriguing and we wish to subscribe to your newsletter. But dare we suggest that you try out some club racing first, just to see how “casual” it really is? And take it from a former Marquis owner: work on your shoulders and biceps. When the power steering goes out in one of these things — and that’s guaranteed to happen in a race — it’s all hands on deck. See you at the track!

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That Police Car In Your Mirror May Not Be A Car, Police Package SUV Sales Up Wed, 21 Aug 2013 12:00:23 +0000 gallery_974x548_full

As police departments across the United States start retiring their Ford Crown Victoria P71 Police Interceptors, now that those out of production vehicles are reaching departments’ mileage limits, it looks like they are replacing at least some of them with SUVs, not sedans. Though the end of the Crown Vic has been mourned by law enforcement officers and car enthusiasts alike, both groups looked forward to the new police package sedans being offered by the domestic automakers. Ford brought out the SHO Taurus based Police Interceptor sedan to replace the Crown Victoria, General Motors is importing a police only Caprice PPV with rear wheel drive from Australia (while continuing to offer a police package for the FWD Impala) and Chrysler sells pursuit Chargers. Police department purchasing officials, though, are apparently opting to buy SUVs instead of the new cop cars.


The influential California Highway Patrol has added SUVs to their fleet, replacing some sedans, and the Nevada Highway Patrol is predicted to do likewise. Jonathan Honeycutt, Ford’s fleet brand marketing manager said that it’s not a fad, “This is where the industry is moving.” Demand from government agencies for police package SUVs has been growing faster than for sedans. Officers like the additional room that utility vehicles generally have, compared to sedans. As electronic equipment installed in police cars has proliferated, space has become an issue for police officers, who also have to wear a lot of gear on their persons.

When Ford replaced the Crown Vic PI with the Taurus based Police Interceptor, they also made a PI package available on the FWD based Explorer, expecting the SUV to account for 30% of police fleet sales. In recent months, though, the numbers have flipped and the Explorer PIs are currently almost 70% of the mix. For the year, the police Explorer is outselling the police Taurus, 7,288 to 6,046.


In addition to the Caprice and Impala sedans, GM offers a police package on the Tahoe SUV and a GM spokesman told the Detroit News that it expects to sell more Tahoes than the 13,000 the automaker sold last year. Chrysler offers the Durango SUV as an alternative to police forces as well as a special service package Ram pickup but it hasn’t released sales figures yet. Ford released their police fleet sales in connection with their announcement that police fleets can now order their Interceptor SUVs with the 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 engine. That option is expected to boost Explorer Police Interceptor sales even greater. While LEOs may appreciate the extra room, those responsible for purchasing decisions will appreciate better gas mileage.


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Piston Slap: Mali-blewin’ over Tight Panther Legroom? Tue, 13 Aug 2013 11:47:16 +0000

Joshua writes:

I am coming out of the throes of a mid-life crisis that caused me to replace a workable Mazda 5 several years ago with a sleek-looking Honda Civic coupe. Now that my boys are getting older, rear space room in the Honda is starting to become an issue, so I am looking to trade off the Honda for something with lots of rear seat space for hauling around the family, friends and clients.

After doing research, the two most viable candidates seem to be a 2012 Chevy Malibu LTZ with a V6 or a 2011 Crown Vic. Both would be about the same cost — $14 to 15k — and both would have about the same mileage — 35k. The last gen Malibu seems to be the only mid-sized sedan in my price range that actually has rear seat leg room sufficient for a 6 foot tall adult. It has more room than the last gen Impala, which I had originally looked at, but ruled out once I sat in the back of one with my knees jammed into seat back.

I have always wanted a Crown Vic or Mercury Grand Marquis, however, and now my living situation has changed such that I have a garage big enough to fit one. I also realize this will be my last chance to buy a low mileage Panther. So I am unsure of which car is the right fit.

Besides the looks, one of the reasons I bought the Honda was for the gas mileage. I commute 50 miles roundtrip to work each day in Southern California, so the 30 mpg it gets during that commute has been helpful. I am also used to the size of the Honda when maneuvering into parking spots and changing lanes on the freeway.

Given this, I have a feeling that the smaller Malibu might be less of shock to get used to when driving. I presume that mileage would be a non-issue, i.e., both the Crown Vic and Malibu will obviously get worse mileage than the Honda, but the difference between the Crown Vic and the Malibu with the V6 will be negligible, maybe a couple miles per gallon difference, and not enough to factor into the decision.

So, any thoughts that might help me out on my decision? Differences in reliability, etc.? Will I think I’m driving a big lumbering truck if i choose the Crown Vic? I haven’t driven one in 15 years, and that was my grandmother’s I would run errands in, so I don’t have a solid recollection of what it would be like as a daily driver. Thanks for your help on this one.

Sajeev answers:

Before we bore all the Panther Haters on this blog, let’s consider this: the Crown Vic’s rear leg room isn’t great, much less class leading.  But 39.6 inches is greater than 37.6 inches. However, neither of your choices is ideal.  Perhaps you should consider the Toyota Camry? It has a couple inches more, ya know.

Did I really just recommend a Camry over Panther Love?  Shut ‘yo mouth!

So anyway, the Crown Vic is the obvious choice. Just go drive one.  You like? Then you won’t regret.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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Piston Slap: Coming to Terms with an Old Soul Thu, 30 May 2013 12:00:43 +0000

Ross writes:

Several years ago a friend suggested to me that I had an old soul. I pretended to not understand what he meant even though I watched old television shows, saw old movies and listened to the big band sounds of the thirties and forties.

I’m beginning to come to grips with my old soul though and I need a bit of advice.

A few years ago I bought a 2003 Kia Rio sedan because it was the cheapest car available with the least mileage and most warranty left. I’ve taken the poor thing from 40k to 130k miles on the clock and its just about worn out. At the time I simply commuted to and from work but my job has expanded and I now have to drive about 500 miles a month to and from various stores on the interstate.

I’m now in a position to replace the car for about 3 grand and I’m leaning heavily toward a panther platform because it satisfies my old soul and because I want to be gently wafted along the highways of Texas without arriving at my destination pounded to a pulp by the drive. I prefer the styling of the Crown Vic, but the selection of Grand Marquis’ seems better and priced better in this market. I’ve pretty much discounted the Town Car as being too pricey and/or complicated for the same amount of use.

Most of the cars I’m looking at seem to be about mid ’90s vintage with about 100k on the clock. Is there anything specific that that I should look for as I shop?

Sajeev answers:

You always look for a stack of service records.  Always.

Aside from a stack of receipts and clean fluids (especially the transmission), the only big problem with Panthers are the plastic intake manifolds from 1996-2001: the replacement has an aluminum crossover tube from the thermostat (at the bottom of the radiator hose on the intake) and that means you are golden.  If not, you need a new intake, sooner rather than later.

Other problems show up in a vehicle this old: worn brakes, bad tires, busted/frozen shocks, fried speaker cones, dissolved window lift motor plugs (video here),  tune-up concerns, cloudy headlights, etc.  Luckily most of these problems, as part of Panther Love, are somewhat easy to fix and won’t leave you stranded.  You can fix these as time permits, while enjoying the ride.

I’d recommend the pre-98s for their superior interior/exterior design and fit/finish: I call them the Fat Panthers because of their “fat content” opposed to the thin and skinny beancounted models afterwards.  Just look at the Crown Vic’s rather expansive use of glass in the greenhouse. Even if it lacks the suspension and brake upgrades of the 1998+ models, this right here is a road car.

So is this really an old car?  Perhaps…it’s a spaceship like the Jetsons’ retro Mid-Century past, not from our future. But who gives a shit, enjoy and be proud of your Old Soul.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Hammer Time: What Recession? Thu, 14 Feb 2013 18:13:57 +0000

I live in a nice quaint small town called Powder Springs, Georgia.

The sidewalks are paved downtown and even partially bricked for artistic value. Thanks to a generous donation by the taxpayers. The streetlamps are ornate and well lit thanks to the same contributors.

The old closed down ACE hardware store is now the new police station. The old city hall has been replaced by the new city hall.  Even the vehicles that get too old to keep get replaced with shiny new ones thanks to American taxpayers far and wide.

How many miles do you think would it take to replace a car owned by the local city government?

How about less than 50,000 miles?

This 2005 Chevy Impala has all of 49,974 miles on it. Like any other vehicle that has the agony of driving in what many view as the smoothest roads in the country, this Impala is ready to be put out to pasture.

For some reason, this Impala wasn’t much loved in the city vehicle pool.  7000 miles a year for a non-police unit likely means that this ride didn’t have to go past too many closed down businesses to get to the Waffle House a mile down the street.

What? You want me to get interior pics? Fat chance on that. This is all you are going to see of a car that was made possible by you alone, Mr. John Q Public!

Yawn! You want me to write a description of this car too? Okay, fine then! I’m taking an early lunch after that!

Year Make/Brand Model VIN/Serial Miles
2005 Chevrolet Impala 2G1WF52K059385392 49,974
Condition Category
See Description Automobiles
2005 Chevrolet Impala Base SEDAN 4-DR, 3.8L V6 OHV 12V.2007 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor SEDAN 4-DR, 4.6L V8 SOHC 16V.2001 Ford Crown Vic info

I did mention it was a SEDAN. So as far as I’m concerned, my job is done here.

Here are a few other prized jewels for the offering.  I do have to confess that this is not anywhere near the worst presentation of government vehicles that I have ever seen. In fact, I do have to offer kudos for the lady who came back and answered questions about this vehicle.

But this does bring on an important consideration. If a state government is issued approximately 10,000 vehicles every year, wouldn’t it make sense to either…

A) Enact some minimal standards on how these vehicles are marketed so that the taxpayers get a fair return? I mean for cryin’ out loud, the 2007 Crown Vic Police Interceptor has only one picture. With all the time cops have to spend in those things, wouldn’t it make sense to at least open a door, sit in a seat, and click a button?


B) Let someone else do it. No, I wouldn’t encourage some gypsy auction company to come by and quick hammer the vehicles to a few of the connected locals (and Lord knows we have plenty of those.) The site is fine. It’s the presentation that needs work.



I don’t know about you guys but this one is on my short list. You can find the rest of the vehicles here. Please bid. I want my taxes to go down for once.

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More Mileage Champions & Mileage Midgets Fri, 14 Dec 2012 15:36:56 +0000  

Tens of thousands of vehicles are up for auction every week in nearly every state in this country.

With that much variety, you’re sure to find something interesting. A 30 year old Lebaron Convertible from the bad old days of Chrysler (now mine). A 38 year old Chevy stuck in the noxious funk of the malaise era (mine too).

And of course… an endless array of decade plus old Panthers. Sometimes they are taxis. Other times you find one that came straight from a livery service.

This one was among the later. 441,800 miles. No announcements on the block. So far as I know, all the major powertrain components are still in good working order.

The old Panthers used for taxis are always a bit more interesting because of the unique paint jobs that those entail. From borderline spastic lime greens. To bright oranges and reds that make the vehicles resemble rolling pinatas.  Of course, all important junior executives picked up from the airport require a Henry Ford black with heavily amortized sheetmetal encompassing the occupants.

These old Panthers have pretty much become the most popular taxis in North America for well over a decade. This particular one had the unique distinction of being put through 100k annual runs and then being put to transport stud status at the 200k mark and the 300k mark. Only to once again be put back to the duties of “Go fetch!” taxi service two more times.

You would think that it would be a courier car with that history. But the recent airport sticker dictates otherwise.



Will we see Panthers crisscrossing the airport baggage claim areas and nearby bus terminals five years from now? Ten years from now? Fifteen years from now? There is that nostalgic bone within nearly every auto enthusiast that yearns for the beauties of yesteryear to be available, new, today, and forever.

I am fairly sure that even the Ford family and the unrelated, but heavily propagated, Smiths of GM wouldn’t mind remarketing their old gas guzzling vehicles under a heritage brand. CAFE and DOT exempt of course. Not to mention a heavy army of lawyers.

Back to that Panther with the 441k… any cheap heavy duty vehicle that is easy to maintain will always get the taxi and livery businesses. Checkers, Carpices, and Crown Vics hae served as pure Americana incarnate with a slight wink to the age of our simpler machines. Heck,  a few of these rides along with a Eurospec W123 may even get our own wallets given a comfortable nest egg and low miles on the odometer. Fuel economy be damned!

Now the  other side of the coin features another type of gas guzzler.

A 2011 Mitsubishi Lance Evolution GSR with only 4473 miles.

Why would a perfectly nice vehicle like this wind up at a crappy, dealer infested auction?

Repo. For some reason, the buyer of the vehicle had either second thoughts, or unusual life issues, that made this vehicle a temporary fixture in their life.

Sometimes good folks have to deal with money issues. We all do at one time or another. Sometimes it’s a health issue. Other times there is that unfortunate byproduct of buyer remorse.

In this case, the prior owner of the vehicle took enough care to remove the catalytic converter before donating it back to the finance company. Such a nice fellow!  But at least he left the wheels behind which usually end up removed along with most of the interior and major sheetmetal components in a true screw job. I’m sure he/she/it was paying well north of $500 a month to finance this vehicle until that fateful day he took a reciprocating saw to one of the inner jewels.

Thank goodness he didn’t take that pretty little engine. That may represent Mitsubishi’s proudest moment since the days of the Diamond Stars.


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My Introduction To Panther Love: Inaugural Police Interceptor Road Trip! Fri, 25 May 2012 14:30:42 +0000 Back in 2004, I was doing a typical East Bay highway commute to my job writing software documentation. Ten miles each way in a Tercel (I had my choice of an ’85 wagon or a ’90 hatch), and the ever-increasing numbers of badly-driven SUVs on the Dreaded Nimitz were making me feel quite vulnerable in my little rice-burners. I needed a more substantial daily driver, and it damn sure wasn’t going to be an 8-MPG truck with 64-ouncer cup holders. What I needed, I decided, was an ex-cop Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor!
My first thought was to get an ex-CHP car, with only highway miles on the clock and much better maintenance than most local police departments perform on their cars. Plus, highway patrolmen don’t do much arresting, which means fewer gallons of urine and vomit emitted by cuffed-and-stuffed drunken back-seat passengers. California state vehicles get auctioned off once a month near Sacramento, so I headed up I-80 to check out some black-and-white P71s. Unfortunately, every P71 aficionado in Northern California knows that ex-CHP cars are less thrashed and piss-soaked than Crown Vics that spent their lives driving over Oakland curbs or chasing miscreants down potholed Redding alleyways. Late-90s cars were selling for upwards of $3,000, which was about a grand more than I wanted to pay. The K-9 cars, with their cool-looking hood louvers and extra-oversized AC compressors, were going for even higher prices. So, I passed on the CHP cars.
Not long after that, I went to a big car auction specializing in ex-government vehicles. Hundreds of Crown Victoria Police Interceptors were going under the hammer every couple of weeks; most of them were completely trashed city black-and-whites (complete with spotlights, push bumpers, and icky odors), and they were selling to cab companies for a grand or less. Right in the middle of all these cars, however, was a group of a dozen or so ex-San Joaquin County unmarked Police Interceptors. Every one was a ’97 model, none had spotlights or cages or antenna holes in the roof, all had decent interiors, and all were bronze or dark blue. They were going for $2,500 to $3,000 apiece, but one of the bronze ones had a big shallow dent in the driver’s door and the bidding was much slower on it. I was willing to go to $2,000, and my bid of $1,600 was the winner. Sold!
At just seven years old, this was the newest car I’d ever owned. The trunk was full of stuff, including a bunch of paperwork indicating that it had been driven by a San Joaquin County parole officer. I also found crime-scene Polaroids, Parolee Handbooks, and urine test kits. Everything worked, it drove very nicely, and I decided that I needed to take it on a serious road trip as soon as possible. At the time, I was a serious fan of the Oakland Athletics, having attended 25 or so games a year going back a decade. 2004 was the height of the Moneyball era, with the “big three” of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson pitching, and the A’s were locked a nail-biting September battle with their archrivals, the Anaheim Angels, for the division championship.
I’d been shooting photos at ballgames for a while (here’s Hudson in his rookie year), and I decided that what I really needed to do was pack up my homemade stereo camera (a pair of Konica point-and-shoots, loaded with slide film and mounted on an aluminum bracket) and take my new car the 430 miles down to Orange County and shoot some 3D slide pairs of the A’s playing at Angel Stadium.
That meant, of course, driving the same highway as so many of my Impala Hell Project road trips, with the destination just a few miles from where the Impala had put in so much work lowering property values.
So, a couple of days after buying my parole-officer Panther, after having put only 15 miles on it and with no idea about any mechanical problems this 130,000-mile car might have, I gathered up some of my A’s-fan friends and headed straight to Interstate 5.
The game started at 5:00 PM and we wanted to get to Angel Stadium in time to do some barbecuing in the parking lot, so we departed early in the morning. I was a little concerned about the lack of license plates, but I figured I could just show any inquisitive CHPs my auction documents. The drive went smoothly, the car was very comfortable for four occupants, and I became increasingly pleased with the superiority of the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. It was the kind of car that all the rear-drive/V8 Detroit sedans of the 1960s through the 1980s should have been.
The tailgate-party scene at Anaheim Stadium bore about the same relationship to the corresponding scene at the Oakland Coliseum as touring with the Pope does to touring with 2 $hort. I could make all sorts of Oakland-versus-Orange-County comparisons here, but you probably get the idea.
We ate a lot of sausages, drank a lot of beer, and threw a baseball around the parking lot. Then we headed into the stadium… where Mulder got lit up by the Angels and the A’s lost 6-2. In fact, this was the game that began the downward spiral for the ’04 A’s, leading to the team losing the AL West to the Angels by a single game. This ended a run of several postseason appearances for the team. I was still happy, though, because my new car had turned out to be even better than I’d hoped.
My ’97 Crown Victoria P71 remained my daily driver for several years; even after I picked up my ’92 Honda Civic DX, I still drove the Ford at least a third of the time. My Crown Victoria suffered from plenty of nickel/dime problems (including an average of one dead window regulator per six months and endless maddening Check Engine Light adventures triggered by flaky smog-control devices), but it never once stranded me. It managed to get 24 MPG on the highway (all Crown Victoria drivers claim 25 MPG, but they lie), and it served me well in many, many tailgate parties at the Oakland Coliseum (here we see it with the Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox in the foreground).
It made a fine 24 Hours of LeMons Judgemobile, and I brought it to most of the California races.
Then, while I was preparing to move to Denver in the summer of 2010, the Check Engine light came on again. The scanner code meant “Lean Condition, Bank 1,” and I just didn’t have the time or energy to deal with yet another chase-the-malfunctioning-low-bidder-smog-component game. So, I traded it to the Angry Hamsters LeMons team in exchange for a custom-narrowed RX-7 rear end for my Toyota 20R-engined Austin-Healey Sprite, with the idea that the Ford would one day be a LeMons racer. As it worked out, my ex-P71 is being used as a daily driver, and my Sprite is still in California, awaiting installation of that RX-7 rear. If I ever get another Panther— and I might— it’s going to have a supercharger and a manual transmission!

12 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - 1997 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 15 - Tim Hudson rookie year - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden Impala7-22 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 33
Requiem For The Last American Car Thu, 15 Sep 2011 20:12:25 +0000

[Editor's note: Today, at 12:25 pm, the very last Panther-platform Crown Victoria rolled off the line at St. Thomas Assembly Plant. Ryan Paradis, a.k.a. "86er," has the honor of eulogizing the beloved beast in his first-ever contribution to TTAC] 

It has become beyond trite by this point to say that, with the end of the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car, an era comes to an end. And yet it is thus: the last of the body-on-frame, rear wheel drive and eight cylinder engine passenger cars, once a species unique to North America, have now reached the end of an 80 year span that commenced with the advent of the 1932 Ford V-8.

Having transported generations of Americans through some of the nation’s finest decades, full-size cars like the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car are now an anomaly. While large V8-powered sedans made a comeback in the 21st century, the Ford Panther chassis was one of the very few full-size, rear-drive sedans that never left. And today we bid it farewell.

Let us be clear before we go any further: increasing CAFE standards will mean that, barring a phenomenal advancement in engine technology, all large cars in their current form will be phased out before long. New realities are coming that automakers will find impossible to avoid. At the same time, without vehicles like the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car, cars so steeped in our notions of a limitless frontier and freedom from tyranny (of the mobility and engine displacement varieties), we lose a potent symbol of the domestic industry’s raison d’être.

The Ford Panther chassis is a rolling respite from traffic anxiety disorder. If your only experience with one has been riding in a taxicab, or careening through city streets, you’ve been misled. Truth is, the Panther’s driving personality is far more sedate. While some cars vie for your down payment by touting driver involvement, the big Ford goes the other way, trumpeting maximum driver isolation. It regards the world around it as uncouth, bumpy and loud, and lovingly insulates you from the indignities of crumbling roads and the frenzied pace of traffic. Only when breezing along without a care in the world do these vehicles truly come into their own, not only transporting you to your destination in isolated comfort, but under the right conditions, even taking you into view of a past that is on the brink of being irrevocably lost.

Prodigious torque, smooth power delivery and the isolation of riding on (frame) rails will now become the sole purview of those who have signed the paperwork for a truck or traditional sport utility vehicle. Those loners, those holdovers clinging to a time that has passed them by, will now have to join that swollen cohort of automobile purchasers who have savored the qualities they continue to find rewarding, from a higher perch.

But I come not to praise the body-on-frame passenger car but to bury it. Aficionados of this type of automobile have had ample time through various stays of execution and luck to sample the last vestiges of what make North American motoring a unique island unto itself for the vast majority of the 20th century. Indeed, through various twists of fate, the body-on-frame passenger car has held on longer than it would seem it had the right to, and that in of itself is reason enough to observe its passing today with pride, solemnity and recognition of a notable landmark.

After today, the remaining holdover from a completely globalized design movement led by the world’s automakers remains the pickup and traditional sport utility vehicle. Can this segment, in particular pickups, remain the top sellers? Or will they too fall victim to changing tastes and new regulations that threaten their existence?

For now, the American Truck reigns supreme. Today, we honor what once was and observe the demise of the American Car. In truth, the Panther has no peer, no competitor. It is the last vestige of the American car. Let’s not kid ourselves; pretty much everything else is international in form and function.

A part of me hopes they put the last Crown Vic or Town Car in the Smithsonian, with an inscription on the plaque reading: “Once we built cars, and we were not ashamed.” But another part of me is OK with the notion that the passing of the last traditional American sedan will go mostly unnoticed. After all, it befits the nature of this car; going about its business day in and day out, stoic and laconic, its qualities unheralded except by those who came to rely on it for the past 33 years.

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New York: Federal Court Overturns Search on a Hunch Mon, 12 Sep 2011 13:12:37 +0000

Police may not pull over a car simply because two passengers are riding in the back seat, according to a September 2 ruling of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. On December 30, 2009, a trio of New York Police Department officers had a hunch that a passing gold-colored Ford Crown Victoria with New Jersey license plates might secretly have been charging for rides.

The vehicle broke no traffic laws, but the officers became suspicious because in the dark at 1:30am, the officers only saw dark silhouettes of people in the back seat — and nobody in the front passenger seat. At trial, the officers were unable to provide a description of the vehicle, or identify any unusual activity from its occupants. None had ever seen this Crown Vic before. Officer Trent Narra testified that he had a “hunch” that the car was violating the New York City Administrative Code that fines individuals who operate cab service on the side without paying the $686,000 fee for a taxi medallion.

When the car was pulled over, the three officers surrounded it. Passenger Devon Bristol did not wish to remain inside the Ford, so he began exiting the vehicle. He was not ordered to stay in the car. As he got out, Bristol brushed against Sergeant Eric Konoski, who claimed that he felt an object “consistent with a firearm.” Konoski then ordered Bristol to stop, tackled him to the ground, handcuffed and searched him. Konoski found a 9mm Hi-Point pistol.

Once they had the gun violation, the NYPD officers dropped all interest in the Crown Vic driver and ignored the question of whether it was an unlicensed livery cab or not. They did not even run a license or registration check. The court blasted the justification given for the initial traffic stop.

“By the officers’ own admissions, they had no way — based on their observations of the driver and passengers — of determining whether the car’s occupants were engaged in lawful activity or a traffic violation,” Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis wrote. “To permit the seating positions of passengers alone to create reasonable suspicion would expose many innocent travelers to near-random searches…. The officers further testified that Crown Victorias are commonly used as personal, not-for-hire vehicles as well… The court does not credit any suggestion that seeing a car from New Jersey driving in Brooklyn is anything but commonplace, and finds that even in combination with other factors the car’s out-of-state plates are innocuous.”

With the traffic stop suppressed, evidence gathered from the search of Bristol was ruled inadmissible. He was released Wednesday on a $10,000 bond. In footnotes, Judge Garaufis questioned the NYPD’s credibility in the case.

“Sergeant Konoski’s demeanor at the suppression hearing was defensive and his answers about his conduct before and during the vehicle stop were less than forthright,” Garaufis wrote. “The court was troubled by the officers’ coordinated falsification of their memo book entries, all three of which incorrectly gave the address of a nearby public housing project as the site of the arrest. Furthermore, Sergeant Konoski has been the subject of a series of departmental investigations into his conduct as a police officer, including his improper conduct with regard to searches and seizures…. The government has informed the court that the NYPD is currently investigating Sergeant Konoski and Officer Narra on charges that include entering a woman’s home without authorization, making improper memo book entries, and corruption.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 121k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File US v. Bristol (US District Court, Eastern District New York, 9/2/2011)


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Panther Appreciation Week: Wheelbase Wackiness, Wixom Wistfulness Wed, 22 Sep 2010 14:37:25 +0000

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.

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