Panther Appreciation Finale: The Stairway To The Stars In An MGM
The activity board in my 2nd grade classroom was covered in bright paper, shiny border trim and colorful words: typical stuff from a teacher supply store. Words like “Wow!” and “Excellent!” to make light of an exemplary student’s work. But they were also adjectives for my latest automotive affection. A vehicle I hoped, for weeks, that my parents would surprise me in when the bell rang. That car was a new, 1984 Mercury Grand Marquis “LS” sedan.
The dream turned into a sad reality when Dad hastily bought a beige 1981 Chevy Monte Carlo with a K-Mart grade interior and an odd sounding V6. It was then when I understood that buying a flagship Mercury was out of the question after receiving a SBA Loan to start a business. But we obsessed over one Grand Marquis LS, a tu-tone gray sedan with a padded roof, cornering lights and the most wondrous seating material I’d encountered: velour, gathered and tufted.
Back to school: Chancellor Elementary was a minimalist red brick affair that was a cross between a hurricane bunker and a modern art museum. The interior had an ingenious solar system theme, with open-faced square rooms for semi-private reading in the library. A spiral staircase took you to the second level of rooms, known as the “Stairway to the Stars.” You could see the much of the school’s solar system from up there. The rite of passage was tough, but good children had their chance to read/dream in complete isolation. I’d visit to dream of cars that were as stylish as my school’s modern architecture.
The Countach. The Testarossa. The 959 and 928. And deconstructed clay models of Corvettes, S-class Coupes and 6-series BMWs filled my head while “towering” a full 10 feet above the library. But the Grand Marquis and its velour seating was part of that dream. Proving that this school was a place of childhood wonderment.
In the two decades that followed, Chancellor Elementary received a makeover: tan brickwork, a non-astronomy based interior and demolition of the much-loved “Stairway to the Stars.” But it’s still the same building from my childhood. And I’m the same kid I was before. I didn’t need proof, but now that my Chancellor-ites found me on Facebook, I know our lives changed…but we’re still the same people.
We’ve adapted to our circumstances, and learned from our mistakes. While I may never lust for a central-fuel injected 1984 Grand Marquis Sedan in print, I do have a soft spot for the Coupe, especially the 1986 model and that port-EFI 5.0 liter V8. And with an eBay auction forwarded to my brother, he felt a similar nostalgic twinge. Enough so that a $2300 low ball bid won him a 1986 Mercury Grand Marquis “LS” Coupe in amazing condition. A quick trip to Dallas and it was home. The Coupe was ours.
With the Grand Marquis sedan on my mind and the Coupe in the flesh, I am still a child-like dreamer. Now with a bad case of analysis paralysis: like configuring a host of (theoretical) 5.0 Mustang modifications done on the cheap. Or perhaps buying a junked 2004 Marauder for a frame swap? But clarity arrives, and first on my mind is fixing the non-functional buttons on the Mercury’s Tripminder computer. It’s amazing how a modicum of wisdom, a blade screwdriver, a 4mm socket and a slip of sandpaper can make the task easier done than said.
While the Coupe has a storied past from its recently deceased owner and his grieving widow, the paper trail of service receipts explains the remarkably average performance amongst modern cars on urban roads. Nobody cranes their neck in admiration, and there’s no driving condition too challenging for the Coupe’s now legendary powertrain. The brakes are strong, tires fair and the styling isn’t terribly elegant or offensive. Is there any doubt as to why the Panther Coupe’s niche died 24 years before the Sedan?
But it’s still a classic Detroit coupe: long hood, big trunk and a rear seat made for people without feet. But the Coupe is smaller elsewhere. The new Taurus towered over me, like a kid walking up the “Stairway to the Stars” with a prized library book.
And the more I re-connect with my childhood friends, I see we redefined ourselves: driving late model CUVs, SUVs, sedans or luxury vehicles. So I’m proud to proclaim myself a Grand Marquis Coupe, not the Sedan. Perhaps one day I’ll be a Mercury Colony Park wagon too, if you catch my drift.
The problem? Those leather seats. I cannot undo my school’s architectural changes, it’s too late to do myself a solid and date the girls I was too shy to stare at, but I would kill for a set of those unforgettable velour thrones in this coupe.
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This girl deserves a 4.6 DOHC Lincoln V8 or Explorer GT40 5.0 swap asap! You can find either motor for $150 at salvage yards. Add a high stall and a shift kit for icing on the cake! Do eeeit!
The old ones do ride nicely.