By on November 15, 2010

Dan Joseph writes in:

How do I choose which Panther to start with? The 2002 Grand Marquis I was looking at (and loving on) sold before I could make it to the car lot on Saturday. Now I’m struggling to decide between a 1996 Crown Vic and a 1991 Lincoln TC. There’s also a 2003 CV, plus a few CVPI units that tempt me. The main issue is a new baby (12 weeks) that has a car seat that pushes mama into a claustrophobic area in the back of her Saab 9-5. Wider car, here we come.

I’d go for an Interceptor… but then, I’m hardly TTAC’s Panther authority. So let’s hear it, Pantherphiles: how should Dan begin his very own love affair with the classic American rear-drive chassis?

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23 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Panther Love For Beginners?...”

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    I vote Interceptor. Can your wife be claustrophobic for a bit longer? Buy an Interceptor and put in the interior bits from a Grand Marquis or Marauder. The other alternative is to find a former rental Grand Marquis, check your local Ford dealer they probably have a few!

  • avatar

    Between the 96 Vic and the 91 TC, I would take the Vic.  The Town Cars have lots of extra toys like air suspension and automatic temp control a/c, stuff that breaks when it gets old and is expensive to fix.  The Vic is simpler with less to go wrong.  Also, any Ford before 94 still uses R-12 a/c refrigerant, unless it has already been converted to a R-134 system.  The R-12 is hard to find and expensive when you find it.  You can avoid this whole issue by going 94 on up.
    I am told that either 99 or 2000 there were substantial upgrades to steering systems and frame stiffness, but I have no firsthand experience here.  My expertise is with a 93 Crown Vic LX that I bought from my mother about 5 years ago at 63K miles, and has provided about 50K largely trouble and drama-free miles since.  My advice is to let it idle for awhile and check the exhaust.  Some of the earlier cars have oil consumption issues. 

  • avatar

    From the few clues I can glean here, it looks like Dan is looking for a Panther on a budget, and/or his tastes lead toward the more traditionally oriented ride and handling from the pre 1998 and 2003 upgrades.

    With a car seat, however, I’m uncertain as to which year LATCH became regulation equipment. 
    All I know is to stay away from a CVPI: rode hard, put away wet, what else can be said?

    You want something reliable to get you and the whole family to your destination.

    • 0 avatar

      LATCH was required in 2002, but the top tether anchor isn’t hard to install and the lower anchors aren’t required as you can, if you take care and have your work inspected, use the seat belts.
      What you should do, though, is invest in a model with side airbags if safety is a concern.

  • avatar

    how should Dan begin his very own love affair with the classic American rear-drive chassis?

    By holding up his hand and yelling “Taxi!”?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Yeah no cop cars for guys on a budget where they expect the car to be their primary ride.  I’d think about a PI but only if I wanted to hone my mechanic’s skills and had a back up ride.
    Dan hasn’t said anything about budget.  From my experience a CPO model can be found on Auto Trader for right around $12,000.  I say get the newest year with the lowest miles you can find.  Go with a Crown Vic or “base” model Grand Marquis without the electronic climate control.  Later on if budget permits its not that difficult or expensive to upgrade.  Heck even a set of HD Bilsteins could make it feel like a cop car.

    If budget is a concern “babied” 2003-2004 models with low miles seem to be not that hard to find for much less than $10,000. Cheaper if they’ve got gawd awful padded roofs and luggage racks. But hey remember when your on the inside you don’t have to look at the outside, lol.

    • 0 avatar

      Nah. I bought one from the State of Colorado a few years back…it had right at 100k miles, and I paid $2400 for it.  The car was in very good condition mechanically.  I ended up putting 30k miles on it only changing plugs and tires.  Of course YMMV, but cop cars are generally going to be well maintained and still last well beyond their duty years.  This is why taxi companies buy them. 

  • avatar

    The ride and handling of the 2003 CV is going to be miles ahead of the 1996 CV and especially the 1991 TC. If cost is no object, go with the 2003 model.

    CVPIs can be hit or miss depending on the agency that had them. If you want to go the CVPI route look for one from an agency that has takehome cars, where the vehicle is assigned to a specific officer and not in a pool. It’s more likely that something will have been fixed as soon as it broke when the car was assigned to a person who had to drive it every day than if it was assigned to nobody in particular.  

    Also look for one with the “undercover” package that gives you the upgraded civilian interior with carpet on the floors and cloth on the seats instead of vinyl, a chrome grill instead of black plastic, and “Crown Victoria” exterior badging instead of Police Interceptor badges. You’ll still get the “cop tires, cop suspension, and cop motor,” as well as dual exhausts and heavier duty alternators. Those cars will have been assigned to detectives or supervisors and (generally speaking) will have led a much easier life than their patrol counterparts. No pursuits, no idling for hours on end, (usually) lower mileage, no history of stinky perps with various communicable diseases being shoved in and out of the backseat that you plan to put your newborn bundle of joy into.

  • avatar

    Well, I’m going to be a wet blanket and say that a family man with a wife and a young child shouldn’t buy a car whose basic design dates back 3 decades.

    Before 2003, no side airbags of any type were available, and they were optional for front seat occupants in 2003-08, but good luck finding any so equipped.

    Even with side airbags, here’s how they perform in side impact crashes:

    And without, it only gets worse: (Remember that the rear passenger does okay only because the test is set up to maximize the danger to front-seat occupants.)

    If you want a big safe Ford or Mercury, go with the pre-2010 Taurus or Sable (the current model has poor visibility).  I think the 2008-09s would be the most desirable, with standard side airbags and stability control that was standard in ’09, optional in ’08.  These cars have way more room inside than a Panther.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      For 2003 the frame was completely redesigned of hydro-formed steel and rack and pinion steering.
      I like the D3 platform BTW too and they are cavernous inside.  The Fivehundred and Montego/Sable have crazy steep depreciation BUT… it’s hard to replace that BOF, RWD, V8 feeling.  Remember Jack Baruth drove a D3 Sable and a Town Car while auditioning cars.  What did he choose?  Town Car, Baby!

    • 0 avatar

      True ‘dat about the new frame, but the body was essentially just shoved off that frame in the side impact tests.

      Besides, he’s coming from a Saab 9-5, so rwd V8 power is something he’s presumably not all that familiar with.

  • avatar

    Budget is the main concern, but if you have 10k to play with, I’d go for a 2-5 year old Grand Marquis LS or Town Car. I’d go cheaper (2003-2005) and budget for Addco bars and bilstein shocks for more fun, of course.

  • avatar

    You should go for 2003+. They are much better.  We put our child in the middle of the back seat–I thought it was a pretty safe place (never had to test it, thank goodness).  I think 10k will buy a pretty nice 2004 or 2005 GMQ LS.

  • avatar

    I have been reconsidering here.  Don’t do it.  Everybody here knows that I am a bona fide Pantherphile, but Don’t do it.  You have one kid.  The statistics say that you will have another.  This is where you get a minivan.  (insert collective gasp from the B&B here.)
    After my first post, my mind eventually went back to a time when I had 2 in car seats and an 85 Vic.  We took a trip from Indiana to Texas.  Miserable trip.  Someone needs a diaper change?  Find an exit, stop the car, get out, open trunk, get diaper bag.  Somebody hungry?  Find an exit, stop car, open trunk, get snack bag.  Somebody crying?  Find an exit, stop car, get out and move car seats so mom can sit in back with the crying youngster.
    6 months after that trip I owned a Ford Club Wagon.  Now, this may be overkill, and gasoline isn’t $1.25 a gallon anymore, but you get the idea.  You need something that has all your stuff reachable, where you can have that third row for lots of seating flexibility, and the eventual ability to take other people for a ride while leaving your car seats attached.
    You are of course free to disregard this advice, but you will soon prove to yourself why nobody with kids drives a big sedan anymore.  If you can live with a sedan, a midsizer is fine.  If you need more space (and you do) the Panther gives you very little additional utility.  You can get a really nice Town & Country or Grand Caravan for $10k.  Find a well-maintained unit owned by somebody older, and you will have a really nice ride.  Your wife will love you for it.

    • 0 avatar

      Man speaks the truth!  Also consider a 2005-up Freestar or Mercury Monterey.  Very underrated minivans.  Wife traded out of a 2002 Mountaineer for a Monterey after our kids were about 3, and swears she will get another minivan when the Monterey is put out to pasture.

  • avatar

    I think some of the posts submitted during “Panther Week” captured why I think the answer should be “get real”.
    I remember riding in a ’79 LTD–one of the earliest Panthers out there–and thinking that there wasn’t really enough interior space to justify the vast exterior. I also thought it wallowed and hobby-horsed like a small, sporty river barge in a moderate gale. Even to me as a kid I would have chosen the Olds 88 or Caprice from the same vintage. The LTD left a taste of stale peanut butter in my mouth. Insipid, I might call it.
    Fast forward 26 years. My in-laws had just purchased a brand new LTC, paid for with cash. FIL invited me to take it around the block. Well, now this was a very quiet, very leathery small sporty river barge, It immediately reminded me of that ’79.
    The Panther is a commercial car best left to the police and livery. It’s just not that pleasant a car as a daily driver to sacrifice anything for, much less the latest safety stuff or even a few miles per gallon.
    Of course, YMMV.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    Do not buy any Panther older than 1995 MY no matter how nice a shape it’s in.
    Do not buy any Panther that was previously used in LE no matter how nice a shape it’s in.
    Everything else is fair game. Did someone already post this link? If not, check it out.

  • avatar

    I upgraded the A/C on my ’73 Galaxie to R-134 with some supplies from my local auto parts store – I just recharged it every spring for the 4 years I had the car.  I don’t see why you couldn’t do the same with a 93 or older Panther – just put a sticker near the a/c compressor that tells the tech that it’s been upgraded.

  • avatar

    Well here’s a thought, how about a Crown Victoria LX with the Sport package??? As I recall it came with the better suspension, full leather, center console with floor shifter, aluminum wheels and body-colored grille.
    And chances are, if you can find one, it won’t have a carriage roof glued to it…

  • avatar

    Whichever Panther you choose, if it’s from the early 2000’s be sure that it has had the intake manifold replaced under warranty. The original plastic ones disintegrated. Don’t ask me how I know.
    As I’ve repeated over and over, my P73 (non-cop) 2000 Crown Vic has been, overall, the best car I’ve ever owned–and I’ve owned many different cars since the mid sixties.
    Maintenance is inexpensive. Parts are cheap and plentiful. Repairs are relatively easy. Except for one of the spark plugs, it’s easy to work on.
    Insurance will be cheap. No one steals them. However, if you live in any area that gets snow, you will want winter tires. Four of them.
    All my friends, and my son’s friends are always gobsmacked at how competent and sure-footed the CV is on the road. The secret? Something like Triple-Treads–good tires.
    As for an Interceptor–a P71, DukeBoy knows of what he speaks. Take his advice.

  • avatar

    If I had a choice between a 96 CVPI or a 03 or newer CVPI, I’ll go for the 03 or newer version, due to the redesign of the rear suspension (moving shocks outside of the frame rails, upgraded Watts linkage and flush mounted wheel rims making the 03 more forgiving at the limit handing, whereas the 96 will oversteer earlier causing the rear end swaping ends with the front. 03’s is also the only car that can withstand a 70mph rear end impact without fuel leakage.  Some of the newer CVPIs have ballistic panels installed in the front doors to prevent handgun, shotgun, and some rifle rounds that can penatrate the interior.  More horsepower – 250 vs. 210, Bigger tires, 16 inch vs. 15 inch.  And for reliablility, I have seen the CVPI’s in junkyards that have 350,000 to close to 500,000 miles on the odometer.  The last year for the CVPI will be 2011 so you have some time to find one that you like.  Good luck on your P71 search!

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