By on September 24, 2010

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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67 Comments on “Panther Appreciation Finale: The Stairway To The Stars In An MGM...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    There are some childhood dreams you just have to make come true.  Even as a rational adult who knows that nostolgia is sweeter than reality.  Sometimes you still have to have your “wayback machine.”

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    This is a welcome escape from the modern day vehicle. Back then you could order these types of cars most any way you wanted. Coupe, sedan wagon, 2-4 engine choices on average, 5-6 interior color options, 2-3 different trim levels with leather an option on the top version, wire wheels, hub caps, alloys, 14″ or 15″ tire choices and any bewildering combination of option choices your little heart desired. This is when cars really had interior room and comfortable lounge seats. This is when you had a real trunk too and actual rear seat stretch out room. Road noise. What road noise? The engines didn’t need 250-300 HP to motivate them they had V8’s that made real torque that barely turned on the highway and lasted 200-300 K with routine service.

  • avatar

    I forgot they offered this car as late as 1986. Even easier to forget: the coupe versions of GM’s front-wheel-drive C-Bodies.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Oh god yea.  Talk about rarities.  BTW I prefer the rear drive Delta 88s, but the FWD Delta 88 coupe with aluminum wheels and 3800 is pretty freaking attractive.  Saw a black one with a red velour interior on eBay a few months back.  Raised white letter tires were on the latice style factory aluminum wheels.  Very sexy.

    • 0 avatar
      majo8

      I’ve always liked the 86-88 Buick LeSabre coupes — simple lines in a full size package.  In my eyes, the slightly excessive front overhang is the one bad feature.
       
      Make mine a T-Type.

    • 0 avatar

      Those are the H-Bodies. The C’s were the Electra, 98, and DeVille. The H’s were much prettier, since they didn’t have the C’s formal rooflines.

  • avatar
    Banger

    MY GOODNESS, THE MEMORIES!
     
    My grandparents had a same-generation (not sure of the model year, but it had to be within a year or two of this example) sedan GM LS back when I was a wee young ‘un. It was almost a “powder” blue with the dark blue landau top.
     
    Those dash gauges were always one of the coolest things about it, to me. All squares, no round ones. It didn’t hit me until much later in life how the speedometer surely could have suffered inaccuracy at the outer corners.
     
    Their GM had the legendary dark blue velour seats, too. I can remember well the entire family piling into the GM and taking trips hither and yon in relative comfort– something we’ve not done since. Because the parade of Nissan Altimas, Toyota Camrys, Dodge Stratuses, Mazda6s, Subaru Legacies, etc. just haven’t had that kind of capacity. Doesn’t help that I’ve grown a couple feet taller and 125 or so pounds heavier in those years, either, but that’s what growing up does to you.
     
    One memory sticks in my head most about the grandparents’ GM LS. We were riding down some dark, twisty two-lane. Can’t remember where we were going, but I do remember there were at least five of us, if not a full six, loaded in the car, with me sitting center on the front bench. I had found myself slipping down on the velour seat throughout the ride, probably because Grandpa preferred his driver’s seat canted slightly forward. (thigh support? What’s that?) Maybe it was to help with his knees– he had debilitating arthritis pain from his life’s work in the masonry trade. Carrying around 12-inch block on scaffolding your whole life will bring hell on your knees.
     
    Anyway, it was late, and I was drooping off to sleep. I woke up, barely, from discomfort because of my awkward seating position, which I had slipped into over the last several miles, I’m sure. Absentmindedly, and sleepily, I grabbed for something to pull myself up by.
     
    Screeeeeeeeech! I had grabbed the steering wheel. Too sleepy to realize I was still riding in a moving car and/or the enormity of the consequences of grabbing said wheel. I might have been five years old at the time. Thank God Grandpa had a firm grip on the wheel and a sure foot on the brake, or else that might’ve been as old as I ever got. He kept it in the road, but not until I had succeeded in scaring everyone half to death. And suddenly, my sleepiness vanished. Trauma is a great alarm clock, it turns out.
     
    Grandma and Grandpa traded that old GM LS for a 1994 Subaru Legacy. It was a fun little car to drive– and I did get to drive it a few times, as I turned 16 while they had it– but it didn’t have the people-hauling capabilities of the GM LS, nor was it anywhere near as stylish, to my eye. The GM LS had a bold, angular look that signaled strength. The Sue-Bee had…well…rounded corners. Just like every other little Japanese compact of its day.
     
    I miss Grandpa and his big, American cars. Equally memorable was the mid-80s Buick Park Avenue we took to Florida as a family. The digital pushbuttons on the A/C never failed, and the air was cold like only an American car seems capable. But that is a story for Park Avenue Appreciation Week.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “an odd sounding V6”

    Interesting choice of words. That Monte Carlo V6 was most likely the Chevy 229ci, chopped down from the 305 V8 and with the odd-fire beat that comes from using a V8-style crankpin setup.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I think the oddest engine offered in that platform (for Oldsmobiles) was the 260V8!  What a tiny little V8.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it was.  And it was a terribly crude little motor, even by an 8 year old’s standards.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I loved the 260 Olds in our 79 Cutlass SB. While low on power, great torque for Houston and Baton Rouge driving and for lazy cruising down I-10, I-35, I-45, and I-20. Nice sound (V8) with a true-dual setup. My dad had that car from 79 to 02 when they moved to Utah. Sometimes I miss it (often, actually) because every other 79 Cutlass I see is crap, would have been just fine up here in Boise. 

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      260ci is 4.26 liters. Only small by the standards of the ridiculously oversized V8s the domestics used in the early ’70s.

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      That 260 V-8 engine made sense in a 3400-lb. Cutlass; it was a bit smoother and more powerful than the 3.8 V-6. But it was godawful in a 4100-lb. Delta 88. Trust me; I know from experience. Does anyone know why Olds did such a crappy thing?
       

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Desperate attempt to meet CAFE and while still offering a V8.  Not actually a horrible idea but almost impossible to make a reality with the technology of the 70s. Now about 15 yrs later Lexus was able to produce a sweet 4.0ltr V8 buy using state of the art technology.  If GM had the sort of tech that Toyota had, or had attempted a small V8 many years later… Oh wait they gave us the Northstar, never mind.

    • 0 avatar
      Jordan Tenenbaum

      I had an `84 Delta 88 Royale with the 3.8 V6.  Honestly, it was fine in traffic, but things got a bit wheezy trying to maintain 80 with traffic on I90.  It weighed closer to 3700lbs with the V6, IIRC.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Cool car, Sajeev.  I had almost forgotten about the 2 doors.  You have a chance to do what I always wanted to do to my 85 Vic – get some decent power out of the engine.  I always suspected that an engine with Mustang GT level power and perhaps a slightly shorter rear end would go a long way towards overcoming the miserable AOD transmission.  That immediate lockup when shifting into 3rd was too much for my stock engine to overcome.  Also, a proper big american car needs to be able to stay in overdrive while climbing a moderate grade at 70 on an interstate, dammit. 
    Also, here is one vote for the leather in your car.  My 85 Vic had the velour.  On the plus side, once you were in the car you were glued to your seat.  However, my car had neither the power or handling to make this really necessary.  On the minus, it was a real pain sliding in and out of the seat.  When you were halfway onto the seat, that velour would grab your pants like velcro and you had to kind of hop your butt the rest of the way into the seat.  The velour looked nice and wore like iron, but I always wished mom had popped for the leather.
    Finally, the dash looks a lot like my 86 fox body Marquis wagon.  Those silver guages lit up bright green at night and looked a lot better than the Ford CV instrument panel with its ordinary black ribbon speedo.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Sajeev, did you try the trick with the instant-mpg function in your trip computer?  Turn it on, get up some speed, and lift the throttle … and look for huge mpg numbers … would love to see a pic of what number your reached before the display started blinking…

  • avatar
    lastwgn

    Well, I cannot help myself.  I have been enjoying this website for a long time, and finally had to register and comment.  I have the velour seats in the Colony Park you are looking for!!

    It has been an interesting ride to say the least.  Moved with my wife and three daughters from Iowa to Minnesota in 2000.  A land filled with beatiful lakes, trees, parks, and woods.  Oldest daughter was in 3rd grade at the time, and decided during the winter to purchase a Coleman folding camper.  First order of business was a tow vehicle.  The Taurus wagon would not be up to the task, but my wife had no interest in an SUV as a daily driver, and I had no interest in the expense of an SUV to replace the wagon. Older used SUV’s were not a bargain either.  Found a red 1989 Country Squire over the winter for about $2,000.  With a full factory tow package it appeared to be in good enough shape to serve as a camping tow vehicle, but also provide me a platform to engage in a restoration/rejuvenation project.  When I started to tear into it in the spring and throughout the summer of 2001 I found out that it was more worn out than I cared to deal with, but it served the tow vehicle purpose well enough, just wasn’t very pretty. 

    The following winter, Feb of 2002 to be exact, went with my wife to a furniture store that happened to be next to a Lincoln-Mercury dealer.  As we approached the furniture store, at the back of the lot I spied THE car.  A showroom condition 1991 Colony Park LS.  Light crystal blue, dark blue velour interior.  All the necessary bells and whistles, and only 51,000 miles.  It was as rust free a wagon of that vintage as you will ever find.  Still had the auto armor decals on the window from the dealer rustproofing.  I checked over the list I had put together to fully restore the red bomb and figured it would take about $6,500.  Went to the Lincoln-Mercury dealer.  They took the Red Bomb plus $2,500 and I now had my completed restoration project.  A net of about $4,500 for a showroom condition classic.  I quuickly installed a 6 disc CD changer in the rear quarter storage well. It operates through the premium sound system with a remote that is neatly hidden in the ashtray so the system provides the convenience of modern sound but is completely hidden from view.  Fuel injection and a driver’s side airbag even!  Modern conveniences but with a total old school look. 

    It is now over 8 years later, and the LASTWGN (as the license plate reads in observance of the last model year of the classic Ford wagon) has been shown at the Ford Centennial celebration at Dearborn in 2003, has been happily towing a pop-up camper 3 or 4 times each summer, has been down and back to Disnery World three times, and remains showroom clean on the inside and rust free on the outside by staying tucked away every winter.  All three return trips from Florida the car ran non-stop from Orlando to the Twin Cities.  An average of 29 hours with nary a hiccup.  At an average speed of 75 mph, all three trips averaged 21 mpg.  No chance of doing that in the typical Suburban.  And what would be the fun of driving the same SUV as everybody else? 

    Every time this car gets pulled out it gets smiles and thumbs up.  The color, light crystal blue, really sets off the chrome trim of the Mercury.  There is no comparison between the high class look of the chrome/woodgrain surround molding of the Mercury versus the wood surround of the Country Squire.  (I dare you to find a Squire that does not have the clear overlay peeling off the molding).  The other head turner for this car is the set of Keystone Klassic rims that I installed with a quality set of whitewall tires.  The right rims – and these or Cragar SS are really the correct period rims for the panther – make it look like something way beyond the old grocery getter.  Put up the dual facing rear jump seats and take the kids out for ice cream and every body over age 35 points to out the car to their kids, and with a smile says something about their own childhood.  It is a rolling piece of Americana. 

    The LASTWGN now has over 101,000 miles on it and it still runs like new and has a rust free showroom shine.  It has now taken the oldest off to college, and this spring it went to Wisconsin with me to collect and tow home a 1983 Mazda RX-7 from its original owner.  Oddly enough, I picked up that 54,000 mile showroom condition gem for the same tidy sum of $4,500.  Nice little collection for not a lot of money.  After I brought home the Rex, I planned to put the LASTWGN up for sale on e-bay.  The family would not allow it.  Apparently it has sentimental qualities and has become a family heirloom.  So I think I am now stuck with it. I keep telling the girls that some day I will turn it into a true hot rod.

    By the way, Sajeev is right.  The velour is awesome.  And kids that get into it for the first time are amazed at the existence of such a soft and comfy fabric.  All they know is sterile leather. 

    • 0 avatar
      Philip Lane

      My grandparents had a 1991 Colony Park LS just like that, in that same color, the last in a long line of Mercury wagons they owned, going back to a 1969 Colony Park. It was their sixth, yes sixth (’81, ’83 ,’83, ’87, ’89, ’91), panther wagon, all Colony Parks. It was certainly the best looking, and the one they kept the longest, though they held on to it only because no replacement existed.
      It was not their last panther. it was replaced with a 1997 Grand Marquis and later a 2003 Town Car, because my grandfather said he had always wanted a “Continental.” He never called them Lincolns. Despite having the means and being rather successful, he always felt that a Lincoln was above his station in life. Somehow I always admired that as a relic of a time gone by.
      i never caught on to the panther bug, but as I get older, I’m beginning to see the appeal of an older vehicle that a trained monkey can wrench on. A Crown Vic coupe just turned up for sale near my parents house, in a hideous medium brown color with a beige half-vinyl top. It’s clean and rust free; i want it.

  • avatar

    Here’s a pic of  Sajeev’s elementary school:
    http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/profile-ak-snc1/object/406/82/n2256069644_35232.jpg
    And a pic of a more macho Detroit coupe in front of Chancellor Elementary…
    http://temp.corvetteforum.net/c4/doctorv8/1978markvmine3sidecropped.jpg

  • avatar
    obbop

    “That 260 V-8 engine made sense in a 3400-lb. Cutlass”
     
    Wonder how it compared with the 260 in the 1st 64-1/2 Mustang?

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    Funny what you remember as a kid.  For me, a distinct Panther memory is witnessing a 4th grade classmate’s father bury his brand new 1979 LTD (not yet a Crown Vic) into someone else’s rear end in the dropoff line. I also remember traveling in serene, plush comfort across the Carolinas in an uncle’s LTD that same year.  What struck me was how much more comfortable those velour seats were than the sticky vinyl ones in our 1973 Country Squire.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    So beautiful!!! I don’t suppose I could talk you into doing some large size pics of it that we could download??? It would make a really nice desktop pic :)

  • avatar
    skor

    This calls for some music:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSYXGLgDrlY
     
    If you’ve got a CV:
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp8F27nPiOQ
     
    Who’s ever going to write a song about a Prius?

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    Panther week is almost over and NO article on the coolest Panther ever made-the Marauder??? WTF????????? Love those Auto-Meter gauges….

  • avatar
    th009

    Clearly beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • avatar
    ajla

    $2300 for this?!

    And before this you got a Fleetwood 75 for $1?
     
    Sanjay and Sajeev, you are lucky sons of a gun.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    retrochad has a fleet of Grand Marquis and a Town Car. He has videos of various repairs and tinkering, plus vintage school buses and electronics. Highly recommended. http://www.youtube.com/user/retrochad

  • avatar

    My favorite Ford from this year was the one I convinced my father to buy: the Mark VII LSC, in Charcoal with black leather interior. Is anyone keeping these in the condition of this MGM?

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    No comparison. The Ford motor was pre-missions and totally unrestricted. The Olds was completely a smog motor. Did it ever make more than 120-hp in stock?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    My dad had a biege-ish-carmel-ish ’81 CV 4d with a 4.2 V8, boy was that thing slow and when you pushed it, it made such an unusual noise that my buddy Ken called it the “Electronic Shriek Mobile”

    His other CV 4drs, a ’79 (triple maroon-ish) seemed faster, and his ’83 (some kind of gun-metal blue w grey interior) was faster by far.

    Materials and build quality seemed to improve with each successive CV as well.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    That’s a very stately looking car.  Making a Mercury seemed to make sense….
     
    Nice score!

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Sajeev, that’s really neat seeing one of the coupes again. I can’t tell you the last time I saw one, it must have been back in the ’90’s. When I first saw the “teaser” photo for this post, I saw that it was the C pillar of a coupe and I thought, this will be a rare treat; and it was.
     
    I’ve always liked the early Panther (79-88?) GrandMa’s better than the later ones (88?-91), they just seemed cleaner or neater. The later ones got the aero tweaks with the tucked in bumpers & etc., but it never seemed quite as a complete design to me. Something about mixing the decidedly squared off motif of the original design with the slightly melted looking aero parts just didn’t quite work out.
     
    Either way, nice car!

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      @geozinger, “GrandMa” — now that’s apropos given the buyers’ average age!

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for your kind words! I’ve only seen Coupes in junkyards, and most aren’t this clean.  Finding this car was pure luck, but I’m glad it happened.
      And FWIW, I also refer to MGM’s as Grandma-R-quis.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      No, thank you Sajeev. I grew up in a Mercury family, and owned several Mercurys in the ’80’s, although they were mostly Fox bodied Capris, not the GrandMa.
      About 10 years ago, I picked up a 1991 Grand Marquis GS as a commuter car (my commute was only 7 miles). Unfortunately, it was not was one of my better purchases. When the car ran, it ran great. It was the spiritual successor to the ‘womb’, our 1977 Olds Delta 88 Holiday coupe, called that because when you turned on the air and turned up the tunes, you were encapsulated in your own little world.
       
      When the GrandMa broke, it was freakin’ expensive. It broke often, motor issues, trans issues, A/C unit, etc. Between that and a Topaz that was even worse, I lost my passion for Ford products. I would like to have another Fox body 5 liter something again, someday.
       
      But like I said, I still like these old beasts and am happy to see someone else has the same bug I did.

  • avatar
    portico

    Here is an interesting Ford training video for the 1993 Crown Vic.  Notice the large and opitional 10 change cd player that can be mounted in the trunk. Also, please enjoy the optional huge cell phone compartment and of course the stylish new grille. Enjoy! 

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      I have one of those ten-disc changers sitting in my garage that I can’t even give away! I wish I could get rid of it, it’s in the way.  It was made for Ford by Sony.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Is the Panther love fest over yet? I must be missing something, but I just don’t get the adoration heaped on these things.

  • avatar
    Monty

    IMHO, the coupe is the best looking panther – the two door style suits the wheelbase much better than the 4 door or wagon.

    A friend of mine had a similar vintage MGM 4 door, and it had the absolute best HVAC of any car I’ve ever ridden in. It was even better than my ’78 Gran Fury Sport.

    Sadly, the coupes are almost non-existent now, but if I could find one in the same condition as Sajeev’s, I might even be able to convince Mrs. Monty to let me buy it. There are few cars that are as nice for extended highway cruising on longish trips.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    These are fantastic cars for long highway road trips.

  • avatar
    tklockau

    Great post, and great car, Sajeev.  I’m torn between all the 240 and 740 Volvos my parents had when I was a kid, and the ’77 T-Bird, ’77 Continental Mark V, and 1987 Continental my grandparents had.  I have had nothing but ‘lightly used’ Volvos since I started driving, but would love a nice Mark, Continental or Town Car, not to mention a ’90-’92 5.7 litre Cadillac Brougham or ‘basket handle’ ’77-79 Thunderbird.

  • avatar
    sastexan

    I loved the “Ride Engineered” badges on my grandparent’s ’78 and ’84 MGMs.  I don’t know why even as a kid it impressed me.

  • avatar
    IronEagle

    What a pretty automobile! Very classy!

  • avatar
    IronEagle

    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!

    • 0 avatar
      IronEagle

      Since I can’t seem to make editing work I was also going to say get the a/c upgraded/recharged, new carpet, dark window tint and a nice after market sound system to make it perfect IMO.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    The old ones do ride nicely.

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