The Truth About Cars » panther appreciation week The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +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 » panther appreciation week The Red Marquis, The Redheaded Girl, and the Red Mist Thu, 23 Sep 2010 14:30:03 +0000

When my father arrived at the accident scene, I was huddled in the back of Mom’s Nissan King Cab 4×4, head between my knees, just about managing not to cry. My sixteenth birthday present, a slick, five-speed Datsun/Nissan 200SX hatchback, was broken nearly in half and skewed across the middle of Ponset Street. The parked car I’d hit, a Nissan Stanza, had been launched up the curb, past two houses, coming to rest in the lawn of the third house down. We didn’t know to call it drifting back then. We called it powersliding, and I’d been determined to master it on my first legal day behind the wheel. I’d been doing nearly sixty miles an hour, full opposite lock, in some vague control of the two-tone Datsun, when I realized that it was legal to park a car right where I was headed, and that somebody had done so.

The old man appeared in the window of Mom’s truck. I couldn’t look at him.

“You okay?” he inquired.

“Yes, Sir.” There was a pause.

“Don’t expect to drive again. No time soon.”

“No, Sir, I don’t.” And, in fact, it was a year and a half later before I got another car. That car was a 1980 Marquis Brougham Coupe. Blood red on the inside and out. White Landau roof. Two thousand, two hundred, and ninety-nine dollars was what Dad paid. There wasn’t a straight panel on the car, and it ran down the road as crooked as the dealer who called it “a clean, two-owner example.” Maybe we got ripped off, but without the Marquis I wouldn’t have known Tanya.

That summer of 1989 I was recovering from a broken neck and crushed legs suffered in a bike accident. I was six foot two, down from six foot three thanks to leg surgery, and I weighed one hundred and twenty-five pounds. During the day I worked downtown at David Hobbs BMW, driving the parts truck and eating the forty-nine-cent hamburgers at the McDonald’s down the street. When the day was done, I drove to the housing projects on the West Side of Columbus to hang out with my old BMX pals who lived there. We’d drive around, look for trouble, look to meet girls.

I met Tanya at a dance club on Sullivant Road, next to a meat packing plant and a refinery. The clubs didn’t care as much about age then. She was five foot eight. Red head. Big eyes. Neither she nor her body possessed the slightest bit of naivete. She danced with me, told me stories in her rural Ohio accent. Lived in a thirty-thousand-dollar house with her grandparents. Mom and Dad were long gone. She was out of school, working at a Rax fast-food joint. No plans for the future, not really.

Well, I couldn’t bring her home to meet my folks, but I could just not go home myself, so that’s what I did, night after night, taking her out for dinner, parking somewhere, dropping her off to the waiting grandparents, then sleeping on a floor in somebody’s subsidized apartment before returning to work in the same clothes. Mom left messages for me with my friends. Dad said that when he came back from New York he wanted to talk to me. He reminded me that I was leaving for school in a month and that I had promised to save my paychecks for my expenses.

The Marquis had problems. The Variable Venturi carburetor wouldn’t run much more than thirty minutes at a time without stalling out and requiring a cool-off. Nobody would fix it. The Mercury and Ford shops in town wouldn’t work on VV carb cars. The fuel tank was full of dirt and I learned how to change a filter by the side of the road. Kept two spares in the glove compartment, along with the wrench and flatblade I needed to change them out.

Tanya was free with her body, as much as I expected her to be anyway, but her soul was locked somewhere I couldn’t reach. She wouldn’t take any gifts. Wouldn’t admit to being my girlfriend. She told me to stop coming in to Rax to see her. She said she and I weren’t traveling in the same direction. Said that I should go to school and never think about her again. The dome light in the Marquis didn’t work so I didn’t see her face when she got out, closed the door, and ran up the steps to her house that last time. I know she was covering her eyes with her hands.

I was driving down the dark two-lane home to the suburbs when the alternator light went on and the big Merc came to a halt by the side of the road. No further to go. And before I knew it, I was beating that shiny plastic wheel with both hands until there was dark red blood on the bright red velour. I screamed and screamed but there was nobody to listen. I opened the glovebox for a replacement fuel filter and realized I’d used my last one two days back. Curled up and went to sleep on the passenger floor. In the morning I walked to the auto parts store, bought a filter, and fired up the 302 again. Might as well go to work.

Old McKinley Road by the Columbus quarries is marked forty-five but I was running that Marquis at eighty, full-throttle in the empty oncoming lane, steaming past traffic with all the fury I could muster, thinking about that girl and my job and the mess I’d made of my life, when a pickup truck pulled out from a side road and faced me head-on. I stepped on the coupe’s brake pedal and she turned right around, locked up on all four corners. I entered the ditch at full speed backwards. Took my hands off the wheel and folded them across my chest. This was more a time for prayer than for further steering.

I saw the pickup flash past my drivers window and then the Marquis bounced backwards out of the ditch. Spun a few times. Came to rest in the middle of the road, facing the right direction, straddling the double-yellow. All the traffic around me was stopped. I waved apologetically at everyone and continued to the dealership. A BMW 528e followed me all the way in. He’d seen the big roundel on my back window. He went in and complained to the service manager, who listened to the story and smiled in polite disbelief. Didn’t matter. I had already turned in my notice. Worked my last two weeks. Saved every dime. Sold some stuff. “Go to school,” my father said, “and forget about that tramp.”

It was nineteen years later when I walked into a hair salon and this sassy redhead bounded up to take my name. Five foot eight. Big eyes. Neither she nor her body possessed the slightest bit of naivete. And her name wasn’t Tanya, but I didn’t expect it to be. She rides in my Town Car as careless and free as I could want. It’s okay with me. In real life not all the loose ends wrap up nice and tight, and that’s okay with me, too.

In memory of Gordon Baxter.

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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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