Panther Appreciation Week: The Way We Roll Now
This is my 2009 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited. I bought it from Josh Lewis, the long-haired North Carolina socialite who runs Raw Autos.
This is “Panther Appreciation Week”, where I (and perhaps *cough* Sajeev *cough* others) will discuss our history with Ford’s perennial little big car platform and the many ways in which it has had an impact on American car culture. I will start, by talking about what the Town Car means to me.
In the spring of 1982, I was living in the heart of Upper Arlington, Ohio. I’d grown up on the East Coast and was alternately fearful and contemptuous of the children around me. In the “day schools” surrounding the cities of New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston, children were relentlessly drilled in etiquette, verbosity, academic excellence, pushed ahead as quickly as the system could take them. I was eleven years old in the eighth grade; had my father not put a halt to the process, I’d have already been a high-school junior, which was our educational consultant’s straight-faced suggestion.
My classmates were three years older and a foot taller than I was. Loud, bumptious, casually racist, mostly stupid beyond anything I’d imagined would be possible. Our school had one computer — a TRS-80 Model II — but they’d also left it unsupervised and available to whoever could fight for it most effectively. I convinced my parents to let me take a few months of Kenpo from a rather terrifying fellow named “Jay T. Will”, and eventually managed to get in front of the terminal long enough to learn BASIC and the Radio Shack assembler. In all other respects, my new life in the Midwest was fairly miserable.
My father was not a sentimental man, nor was he terribly interested in the affairs of children, but even he could see that I was extremely discontented. His solution was to take me out in the early evenings, to tour the car dealerships and obscure restaurants of Columbus. We would fire up his Sky Blue 1982 Town Car Signature Series, complete with blue velour interior and “Premium Sound” door speakers, and roll quietly down the streets of a city that had mostly closed its doors by six o’clock. I could barely see over the doorsills. The power windows had a fantastic feature: when you pressed the switch the vent window would drop first, followed by the main window.
“Stop doing that,” my father said.
The “old man” (he was thirty-six) commanded the instant respect of car salesmen everywhere; perfectly fit in an era before it was popular, he was just making the transition from Calvin Klein and Yves St. Laurent to this new fellow, Giorgio Armani. He did not dress casually away from the Salesian Boys Club where he played basketball in the late evenings. He was the product of Notre Dame, the Marine Corps, and New York society. As we pulled up to a dealership, be it the MG shop that was in the process of closing or the chandelier-lit Buick/Rolls-Royce cathedral in the middle of Downtown, I could see men throwing cigarettes into their trash cans and hopping up from their desks.
Dad would tell the men, “We’re just looking,” saying “We” specifically to cover me with his aegis, for I was already in the cars, opening the hoods, looking under the dashboards for interesting wiring. In this era children were still expected to shut up and stand behind their parents. Rarely did anybody mention that perhaps I shouldn’t be doing this stuff. Once I took a Mercedes 380SL out of Park, just to learn about the then-unusual shifter configuration; it began to roll softly across the dealership carpet. The salesman began to shout; my father stared him down and I got the Benz stopped before it bumped the ever-present metallic-red 240D that made up the bulk of their inventory.
These were the good times for me. I knew that every few days I spent listening to my idiot teachers misinterpreting Western history or playing the trumpet in perhaps the most atonal school band ever assembled there would be a blissful hour among shiny new Porsches, Datsuns, or Oldsmobiles. My most vivid recollection from those days is of a white Camargue surrounded by actual velvet ropes; a car that was at once beautiful, repulsive, and bewildering.
Our rides were quiet; I knew better than to bother him with endless chatter about computers or my various little collections — pens, Atari cartridges, models of World War II tanks. There was no phone to interrupt us. Dad was a man of relatively few words. He would lay out the dealerships within his available travel radius for the evening, I would pick one, and he would pick dinner without consulting me. When we returned home he would read the newspaper and fall asleep in his recliner.
This was the American Dream, the life to which we were all told to aspire. I knew early on that it wasn’t for me. I never really wanted a house in the suburbs or a Town Car. I have them both now, perhaps because they don’t mean to me what they meant to others, or perhaps because I wanted them more than I thought I did.
That Sky Blue Lincoln lasted barely two years in the driveway next to our yellow MG Midget and Mother’s Cutlass Supreme. Dad could sense that the Town Car didn’t command the respect it used to. He switched to a panoply of Bimmers, Jags, Audis, and multiple Infiniti J30s. American cars were old news, and he never owned one again.
I called him a few weeks ago. “Dad. I sold my Audi. I’m driving too much. Bought a Town Car.” There was silence on the other end of the line, but I am used to that. Then,
“A Lincoln Town Car.”
“I had one of those, when you were young.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“They don’t seem much different.”
“You sold your Audi.”
“Sounds very fiscally responsible.” This phrase, rarely used by him in connection with me or my activities, implied approval.
“I think I will enjoy it.”
“I think you will, too.”
And I will.
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