In Defense of: The Lincoln Town Car
The “tumblehome” is the narrowing of a car’s profile from its beltline to its roof. This design trick creates a sleek, visually trim appearance without losing interior space. The tumblehome was once a hallmark of American automotive design, gracing evocative machines like the Plymouth Barracuda, Buick Riviera and Ford Thunderbird. In today’s Minivan-esque sedans and family-truckster CUVs, it’s hopelessly out of fashion. Now that Ford’s axing the Lincoln Town Car, it time to ask: should Detroit let this proud, once popular design tradition go quietly into that long good night?
Born as a separate model in 1981, the big Lincoln earned its crust as a pillow soft luxobarge, complete with a waft-compatible 5.0-liter V8. In 1990, the Town Car lost its angularity and gained [rear] air suspension. In '95, the interior received a much-needed makeover. In '98 and and '03, more cosmetic tweakery attempted to keep the flame alive. In the last four years, it's been flickering.
The last 2007 Lincoln Town Car rolled off the Wixom, Michigan assembly line on June 1. Ford's moving production to its St. Thomas, Ontario, Assembly Plant, where The Blue Oval builds the equally iconic Crown Victoria and it’s (over-priced) sister, the Grand Marquis. Come 2009, the formerly American-built Lincoln-branded keeper of the Yank Tank flame will either meet its Motown maker or get a sorely-needed reskin.
This do-or-die decision comes as the people in charge of writing Ford’s 104-year history are busy drafting Chapter 11, as The Glass House Gang try to sell a range of cars without a shred of American swagger. MK-what? Life on the Edge? Born again Taurus? Have you driven a Ford lately? Forget about tumblehome. It’s tumble down.
Obviously, I come not to bury the Town Car, but to praise it– even though our own William C. Montgomery calls ye olde Panther chassis “a relic of a bygone era when big clumsy sedans were the cultural SUVs of the highway.” Even though the old fogies at LincolnsOnline have turned against the current, beancounted Town Car.
Fair enough, but the Lincoln Town Car is also the automotive embodiment of what’s been right with American automaking since the Eisenhower administration. It’s a large-and-in-charge machine with endless comfort, stateside style, mechanical reliability and time-tested (and how) durability.
Not convinced? Plenty of people are. In fact, the Town Car’s been a FoMoCo cash cow for over twenty years. In 1985, Lee Iacocca noted that the model netted Henry's mob over a billion dollars annually. While Ford was in its [first] pre-Taurus dire straits, it was the venerable Lincoln Town Car that kept them afloat.
Ironically, the Town Car’s financial success sealed its fate. Ford siphoned-off the model’s $10k-per-unit revenue to purchase a Jaguar-shaped black hole and an English off-roader company, and then starved the Town Car of development. Is it any coincidence that Ford’s and Lincoln’s sales declined as Toyota’s and Lexus’ rose?
When the rest of the world abandoned the body-on-frame sedan, the big Lincoln soldiered on, still banking profits for the company that spurned it. Its customers have remained faithful, even as Ford pursues an ill-advised agenda of world car synergies.
In short, preserving the Town Car isn’t about a bunch of nostalgic pistonheads embracing the last American land yacht. It’s about Ford’s seizing the chance to invest in a proven nameplate with a proven long-term revenue model. With some creative engineering, a new Town Car could return both the model and marque to major glory.
There are plenty of reasons why a re-engineered Town Car could provide a base from which to revive the entire American big car genre. For one thing, it could embody distinct and distinctive American style.
Pundits said the Chrysler 300C marked the return of the great American sedan. It did (selling well) and it didn’t (no one moved the ball forward). A new Town Car could lift the styling from the 2002 Continental Concept, complete with suicide doors (cough, Ford Flex), and boldly go where gangsta Cs and gussied-up Camcords fear to tread.
For another, Americans love to waft. While it’s hard to defend a 29-year-old automotive platform, it’s not impossible. The Town Car [still] represents the quintessential straight-line style of motoring. Ditch the Panther’s rear solid axle, install the Explorer’s slow-selling 292hp V8, add a six-speed slushbox and the new Town Car could make some serious imperious progress.
Of course, this is all fantasy. Dearborn's current management team insists that a Volvo-based Ford with the Taurus/Sable/MK-whatever moniker on the trunk will save the company's skin. More absurdly, The Blue Oval Boyz continue to believe that throwing money at Jaguar’s problems will pay off. Does Ford need a better Volvo-Taurus? Should they ditch Jag? Sure. But the Lincoln Town Car should be part of the way Fordward.
Saving the Town Car isn’t a moral obligation; it’s a brand faithful growth strategy in an increasingly competitive market. To think that Americans loyal to the last rolling tribute to the American Sedan will praise the Town Car’s un-American (alphanumeric) replacement is a sad, twisted joke. Following the Lincoln brand’s badge-engineered downward spiral, this joke only brings smiles to your local Lexus dealer.
Even in neglect, nobody does the American sedan better than the Lincoln Town Car. And nobody ever will.
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