By on May 25, 2011

TTAC reader Turtletop writes:

Sajeev:

I have a good friend who’s looking for his next chariot. I’ve wrenched on his cars for years now and am the one he calls when he has auto-related questions. He’s a tall and solid man, looking for a nice, comfortable and reliable ride that he fits into without bumping his head.  After a long chit-chat, I suggested a Grand Marquis as a possible choice.  Though my friend is averse to American iron after some bad previous experiences, I think Panthers are on his radar now.  Problem is, I haven’t enough direct experience with them to offer confident recommendations on what to look for, and I don’t want to steer him wrong.

Fortunately, I know just the man to talk to!  Thus, my inquiry to you.

What are the variables to consider when searching for a used Panther? Are there any particular engines, transmissions or model years that you would recommend over others, or avoid completely? Thanks for your consideration!

Sajeev answers:

Variables?  You wanna talk variables?

My friend, let me tell you: the people behind the Panther are a case study in Continuous Improvement, contrary to what homework-averse journos say to (indirectly?) placate Dearborn’s intentions to erase their insanely profitable heritage. It’s less of a VW Beetle and more of a Toyota Corolla. More to the point, this isn’t a re-skinned Mazda-Fusion or Volvo-Taurus. Relatively speaking, those platforms are engineering hackjobs: the Panther’s been a “custom” machine from day one. Hence why it must die.

I swear, if this was an F-150 or Mustang, nobody would bat an eye at Panther Love. And we’ve danced around the subject several times, here and here.  Maybe I should spout off the trouble spots/concerns/changes I remember from day one: as detailed yet concise as possible. So here goes:

1979: While a clean sheet design from the start, the ownership problems centered around its malaise-era emissions controls. Too old to be considered a daily driver today anyway, the 1979 Panther’s problem was their second generation emissions control systems (EEC-II) and variable-venturi carburetors on the 5.0L V8.  While the optional 5.8L was better, these cars are still nothing to write home about, considering their General Motors competition at the time. It truly was the dark ages of electronics and emissions.

1980: The Lincoln Continental (and Town Car) joined the Panther Club while Ford’s automatic overdrive (AOD) transmission debuted this year. While not as terrible as Chrysler’s Ultradrive cog-swapper in their premium sedans (years later), the AOD was a shameful design until a few modest internal upgrades arrived around 1988.  And even then, they were a dog in terms of performance and were only moderately reliable in the long term. The more I learned about the AOD when building my own hi-po unit, the more I wondered why Ford didn’t let GM make their transmissions, like they did with the Saginaw power steering pumps.

1981: Under pressure from a supposed Mid-East Energy Crisis II, Ford was deluded enough to shrink down the 5.0L with a 4.2L gas sipper(?) as standard equipment.  Combined with 1980’s AOD tranny and 1979’s electronic-emissions goodness, this year is a triple threat if you don’t check under the hood. Again, a moot point for a Panther Buyer’s Guide in the year 2011.

1982: All new was the deletion of the 5.8L motor for anyone but Cops and non-US citizens. Also the Continental abandoned the Panther Chassis to be reborn as a Fox.  And now the Town Car name takes center stage. More to the point, nothing happened this year.

1983: The 4.2L was mercifully executed, and the 5.0L was topped off with Ford’s EEC-III computer system and central fuel injection.  While 100% awesome when it worked, and it worked quite well…I will let any of the B&B’s veteran wrenchers describe this system when it fails. I own an EEC-III powered vehicle and I refuse to comment.

1984: EEC-III, obviously a stopgap measure, was tossed in favor of Ford’s surprisingly world-class EEC-IV system.  Even with only two fuel injectors and 140 horses coming from 5.0 liters, that’s an impressive upgrade. Too bad the Lincoln Mark series abandoned the Panther for the Fox, continuing the trend to “MK” branded Lincolns parking themselves on non-Lincolny chassis.  But I digress…

1985: Nothing terribly important, except the Town Car got a slick new taillight treatment and a slicker front bumper/fender/grille. Wait, that’s pretty impressive.

1986: Sequential Port Fuel Injection and a host of internal upgrades (metal timing gears, roller camshaft) made its debut, albeit with far less power than the flagship application in the 5.0 Mustang and Lincoln Mark VII. The Panther is starting to surpass its GM competition, and it’s getting a reputation for being stupid durable too.

1987: Focus on last year’s improvements. That’s what Ford did.

1988:  Significant outside refreshing put the Panther Ford/Mercury more in-line with the Taurus/Sable (as if) but nothing significantly different inside or under the skin. Oh, and they killed the Panther Coupe, a couple of years after GM did the same.

1989: Consider this the moment when old people finally embraced technology: according to www.grandmarq.net, all Panther’s now have a Check Engine light.

1990: The Ford and Mercury received significant interior upgrades, while Lincoln went nuts with a complete redesign.  This was the era of the “Fat Panther” when Ford invested heavily in luxury and technology with this platform. From a buyer’s perspective: many trim bits to the 1990 Town Car are completely unique, so don’t bump into one.  You will send it to the junkyard if an insurance company prices the replacement parts.

1991: This is the last year for the (EEC-II) 5.8L powered Cop Cars, and this Ford/Mercury body style. The Town Car is an orphan again, sporting an all-new SOHC 4.6L V8 and electronically controlled AOD “E” transmission. The tranny is somewhat indestructible, but earlier 4.6s are known to burn oil due to worn valve guides after well over 100,000 miles of use. Hence why nobody knows or cares about this problem.

1992: Every Panther is now sleek, cutting edge and super quiet on windy days, thanks to the Aero-thinking of the new Crown Vic and Grand Marquis. It was a significantly different chassis, especially around the firewall. The Grand Marquis was shocking: sporting a nose very similar to the Vignale Lincoln concept of 1987. The Ford Panther received a Touring Sedan model that, as Paul Neidermeyer eloquently mentioned, is arguably the best Pistonhead Panther ever made. All models are now powered by a cammer-V8 that’s stupid smooth, somewhat rev happy and fairly efficient. And the old AOD-E was given the heave-ho, Ford’s wide ratio 4R70W went in its place. It didn’t get “Panther reliable” until 1998 or so.

1993: The Town Car got a new grille and the Crown Vic received a tacky snout to replace its sleek Taurus-like nose. The awesome Touring Sedan also bit the dust. Disappointing year, but this platform was essentially all-new last year.

1994: Nothing that I can (quickly) verify with outside sources.  Again, refer to the shocking changes in 1992.

1995: The Grand Marquis received new fascias and a newer (Crown Vic too) dashboard, but there’s a significant redesign to the Town Car’s interior and exterior, resulting in the “fattest” Fat Panther ever made.  While no Aston Martin inside, the Town Car (especially in Cartier trim) was a high watermark for the Panther Chassis. And a great luxury car for the asking price.  The “Fat Panther” did it all, including the option of three power steering settings: limp, numb or comatose. The latter was obviously the best choice. It absolutely rocked on the interstate.

1996: EEC-IV was replaced with EEC-V (a.k.a. OBD-II to most) that resulted in a plastic intake manifold known to crack around the thermostat housing. Most Panthers survive the failure, even if they leave the owner stranded. True to Detroit form, a class action lawsuit remedied the problem. Which is long gone, but the replacement part (Dorman) is cheap and somewhat simple to replace. You, being a skilled wrench, could replace it for your friend in 2-3 hours.

1997:  Significant de-contenting to the “Fat Panther” Town Car, because the future CEO (then head of Automobile Operations) of the company wasn’t called “Jac The Knife” for no reason. Perhaps Jac Nasser himself put that bullet hole in its (now exposed) vanity trunk lock cover. The world may never know!

1998: Give a lot, but take even more.  The Crown Vic’s Taurus-a-like greenhouse was trashed in favor of the same unit in the Grand Marquis. All Panthers were redesigned with disturbing amounts of Panther Love removed from the interior, with a fair amount of upgrades under their more conservative (or less, in Lincoln’s case) skin.  This  includes: gigantic disc brakes, a Watts-Link rear axle, aluminum suspension bits with better geometry and other, smaller upgrades.

1999: Not much, unless you count the Town Car’s door keypad coming back to the options list.  Maybe they discreetly learned their bean counting lesson: even the new MKS has the buttons, and it’s a real slick design. Great landing, wrong airport.

2000: Ditto, except the Town Car had a storage nook in both front doors, as opposed to the false access panel on the 1998-1999 model’s passenger portal.

2001: Supposedly this is the first year of power adjustable pedals: great for short people, or really tall ons. Even better, this was the year of the long wheelbase Panther, saving many livery users the insult of pinched feet.  Why this wasn’t standard for all Lincoln and Mercury Panthers is a mystery.

2002: New “Performance Improved” cylinder heads woke up the beast, but only if you drove it back-to-back with older ones.  This also changed the intake manifold to a non-exploding design.

2003: Significant cosmetic upgrades to the Town Car, even if they deleted every chrome interior bit for some painted bronze bullshit.  The Ford and Mercury didn’t change much, as everything great happened under the skin: hydroformed steel sub-frames, tons of aluminum in the suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, monotube shocks, different suspension geometry and even side airbags. This was also the first year of the hot-rod Marauder and the last for the Cartier-fettled Town Car.

2004: Last year of the Marauder, numerous upgrades to the transmission used in both this top-dog Mercury and the Cop Car Ford. The Crown Victoria LX Sport came to provide all the bad-ass attitude of the Marauder but without the engine, interior gauges and insane MSRP markups.

2005: First year of the Grand Marquis LSE, basically a Crown Vic LX Sport without the sinister look. Combined with all models receiving drive-by-wire throttle, this was a sweet sleeper. If it had a ballsier engine.  Speaking of balls, this was the year Dearborn officially marked the Panther for death via introduction of the Five Hundred/Montego sedans.

2006: All models got a tachometer. Which is exponentially cooler.  It’s far from a direct replacement in older Panthers, don’t go there unless you love re-wiring stuff. The Grand Marquis and non-Cop Crown Vics lost their rear sway bar this year, I think. This is one reason why people complain about the Panther’s performance at rental car lots across the country. If only the 1992 Touring Sedan never left…

2007: A super classy Grand Marquis “Palm Beach” Edition (replacing the Limited) was available, and many (all?) Panthers had E85 capability. Like, awesome…except they killed off the little-known LX Sport package in the Crown Vic.

2008: The Crown Vic went 100% fleet, in hopes the new (sort of) Taurus would take over. Even worse, the Town Car lost many touches from the passing of the “Designer” model, and the THX audio and navigation screen also bit the dust.

2009: The Grand Marquis “GS” bit the dust, so you could no longer get a super cheap fleet Panther (under 20k was commonplace) that rivaled a Mercedes in comfort, for Corolla money.

2010: Lincoln added a Town Car “Continental Edition” which was like the earlier Cartier/Designer model, but without the goodies had before 2008. Truly bizarre, as the Town Car was originally a trim level on the Continental. At least it wasn’t called an “MK Town Car” edition.

2011: The “Continental Edition” makes way for the “Collector’s Edition.” Mercury died, and the last unit from this once-relevant brand is a white Grand Marquis headed for an unknown fleet. It is an end of an Automotive era, not just Ford: gone but never forgotten.

And that’s all I got, without taking a sabbatical to the Detroit Public Library (a must visit destination, IMO) and begging for access to Ford’s archives. I definitely forgot/misplaced many historical changes due to time and space constraints, but this is enough to get your friend hot and bothered about his next love, Panther Love!

Send your queries to [email protected] Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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42 Comments on “Piston Slap: Setting The Record Straight For A Tall and Solid Panther Man...”


  • avatar

    A Forester has a lot of headroom, and a wonderful greenhouse, to boot. I think they are comfortable (my ex has one which I drive occasionally), but I don’t know how a “solid” man would find the seating. (I have a body mass index of 20-21, which in the vernacular is “skinny.”)

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      They’re noisy, rattly, and the plastic door pocket comes to a squarish corner that digs into the side of your left knee. And not nearly as cool as a Panther.

  • avatar
    rtfact32

    You forgot the super-sweet two-door “Town Car” of ’80-’81. Find me one without the half-padded roof and I’m sold…

    • 0 avatar
      rtfact32

      TTAC being, of course, the only place where I can be applauded for knowing that there was a two-door Town Car in those years, and my desire for owning said two-door TC.

  • avatar

    rtfact32: I didn’t forget, I chose to overlook given space constraints. But since you brought it up: shame on you, it’s called a Town Coupé.

    • 0 avatar
      rtfact32

      Oh, I figured that you’d edited it out, I was just giving you a hard time. And shame on me for not having my Crestline Lincoln/Mercury at my desk at work…otherwise I’d have known that! Can I ever be forgiven?

    • 0 avatar
      rtfact32

      My avatar rules even more when you know that the 88 pictured came with a 3-speed on the column. For some weird reason, there were two ’71 B-bodies on eBay around the exact same time, this 88 and a Buick Wildcat, both with 3-speeds. If I ever wanted a car more, I don’t know of one…

    • 0 avatar
      rtfact32

      Correct me if I’m wrong, and I might be (again), but wasn’t there a road test of the Mark VI by a major rag (maybe C&D?) that basically warned people to avoid it at all costs, due to the behavior of the transmission and brakes working in combo to stall the car if you had to stop in a panic-mode manner?

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    The AOD-E didn’t come until the mid 92 model year. The 4R70 is the same basic trans only the name was changed.

    The first and most important thing to look for is the presence of dual exhaust. That tells you the vehicle has the HPP or handling and performance package. It has it’s roots in the Touring Sedan mentioned and was what provided the increased fun factor in that package. It was available on all 3 versions at one point or other since 92 and was also a part of the LX Sport and LS-E versions.

    You didn’t mention a budget and that plays a big factor in what is most desirable version.

    If it can be found and it is within budget if he wants a car that can be fun to drive and doesn’t need (or want) the front bench #1 Choice is a Marauder. #2 LX Sport or LS-E #3 any 03 up HPP.

    If he just want’s the cushiest ride then what ever 03 up he finds that he likes. Get a 07 or newer if it is within budget and you live where there is access to E85 at a good price. Filling it up with corn squeezins provides a nice boost in perfromance and IF it is priced right in your area it can save you money too.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Define “tall”. Anyone with a 34″ inseam is going to have some trouble with the Panther’s dash and steering wheel, and the thigh support isn’t great.

    It’s a big car, but honestly a Nissan Versa is better for bigger people.

    • 0 avatar

      “And the thigh support isn’t great.”

      Yup. Thanks a bunch, Mr. Nasser.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Much as I’d like to blame Jack the Knife, it’s a pretty common foible. Lots of cars keep a short cushion so that short drivers don’t get their knees obstructed by longish cushions, and it’s easier to inconvenience tall drivers than to outright prevent shorties from driving.

        Few cars do the big-seat thing really well (Nissan (sometimes), Saab, Acura; BMW has adjustable length bottoms, which are awesome).

    • 0 avatar
      John Fritz

      It’s a rare event but I agree with you 100%. I have the driver’s seat jacked all the way up, all the way back and six-foot-two-and-a-half-inches of Fritz barely fits comfortably. My head hit the head liner. Good for avoiding red light camera photos but nothing else.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve B

      Never tried a Versa – the Fit though, may have one of the worst seats for long-legged drivers (35″ inseam here).

      I’ve only briefly driven a Panther (my grandmother’s ’04 Grand Marquis*) but it didn’t feel very accomodating for long legs at all. I kept messing around with the power seats trying to find a way to slide back further, or somehow give myself more space.

      And yes, this is incredibly common. I’m currently driving a ’11 Scion tC, because while the seat cushion is typically Japanese-short, the expansive legroom and unobtrusive console make up for it nicely. The reviews boasted that “even tall drivers won’t need the seat all the way back.” I call BS!

      * I’m assuming the Grand Marquis was set up with a different ride and accomodations than the Crown Vics. It was like driving a waterbed, and someone apparently decided that the seats needed no side-bolsters at all. I can’t imagine that a police officer would want to drive one in any condition where handling and staying in the driver’s seat was advantageous.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    My bible for Panther model year changes:

    http://moldyrabbit.com/liquid/changes.html

    I’ve used this info to help evaluate my last three Panthers.

    I could write a bunch more stuff but it would just be repeating pretty much what you read on Liquid’s site with my preferences intermingled (which are irrelevant).

    I will throw in my usual admonishment: Don’t buy any former LE Panther no matter how good condition it’s in. Don’t buy any Panther older than the 1995 model year no matter how good condition it’s in.

  • avatar
    twotone

    So all variables considered, if you are going to buy a used Panther for a daily driver which one would it be?

  • avatar
    pdieten

    Not to ask stupid questions, but why specifically a Panther? I am also, shall we say, tall and solid, but when looking for a sedan I found the ’05-’09 D3 vehicles much more suitable – plenty of room, easy ingress/egress, and much easier to handle on city streets and in parking garages. With the seat all the way down I have more headroom than I need. Currently driving an ’09 Taurus, since my ’07 500 was wrecked in a crash.

  • avatar
    turtletop

    Sweet! Excellent information. Thanks, Sajeev, I knew you’d have the straight dope!

    So… what did my friend do? Last week, he bought an early eighties, low mileage Eldorado (without calling me first, I should add)! Late malaise-era GM is not on my list, but he seems to really like it, and it satisfies his deep-seated pimp car proclivities. Meh. Maybe I can find some superfly headlights for him.

    But, now I’m casting an eye toward Panthers myself. Say, a nice, vomit-free CVPI. Funny how that works, ain’t it? And, there are others who regularly seek my opinion on used cars, so there may be another convert awaiting in the future.

    It sounds like a 2003 or later Panther may be the best bet overall. I’ve been eyeballing Craigslist for a few months now and note that they seem to go for a bit more coin than earlier models, although this may be coincidental.

    Thanks again!

  • avatar

    In this crazy market, Town Cars are insanely expensive… There is a 91 for sale for US$10000 and a 93 for US$25000 (converted to a limo).

    Crazy. and a 94 MarkViii for US$20.000.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    On the Grand Marquis LSE – dont’ tell my LSE that it is not a 2002. It’s got the recirculating ball power steering over the rack and pinion that hit in 2003, as well as the older inset wheel design.

    I believe the LSE was available in 2002, 2003, and after skipping 2004, again in 2005.

    I got mine cheap as a used car because all of the Q-tip heads that bought Grand Marquis wanted a bench seat. Dealer couldn’t sell a used Grand Marquis with the buckets and console. Salesman told me it was the only one he ever saw at the dealership.

    122,000 miles and just got the interior detailed – still looks like a million bucks.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    I’d go for a 2004 P71/LX Sport/ or Marauder, the 2003 Panther’s new steering racks were supposedly faulty that year. It’s also the last year they used traditional cable throttles so they’re easier to “hot rod” (though that’s more of a reason for me).

    If your buddy didn’t want anything like that, then find the cheapest low-mile ’96 Town Car and buy it! Avoid the older ones, the 4.6 had teething problems until about ’95 with burning oil from faulty valve seals.

    The Eldorado sounds cool though, good luck to him on it.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    For all the Panther love you profess, I’d take a B-Body Caprice, Roadmaster or Cutlass Cruiser.

    And then, after seeing the local Caprice, a WH or WM would suffice. And if you want to really go fast with gadgets, there’s the Grange.

    If you could snap any of the RWD cars sold down here, you’d forget the Panther in seconds.

    Why not recommend a Charger or 300C instead? Or a G8?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Why not recommend a Charger or 300C instead? Or a G8?

      They really don’t play in the same price bracket or deliver the same esoteric enjoyment.

      __________________
      The B-bodies are great, but they went out of production in 1996 and some people might want something newer. Plus, many of the B’s are modified to within an inch of their life, rotting away on BHPH lots with 200K miles and six owners, or garage queens with unreasonable prices.

      The Panthers have an excellent combination of affordability, maintainability, and availability.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        +1 at ajla. I love B-bodies too but I’m not willing to pay collector car prices for them (which is what original un-molested cars are going for.)

        Although I still have a weakness for the last of the D-body Fleetwoods. (I know it’s the same car only bigger but there’s just something about it damn-it.) Make mine one of the last of the breed with the truck 5.7V8, I don’t need that fancy Corvette motor.

      • 0 avatar
        Jedchev

        Whenever I go on a business trip and rent a car, I try to get a Panther Ford or Mercury. But boy am I happy to get back to my 95 Fleetwood waiting at the airport. Superior ride, handling, performance, and much better seats in a car that’s 16 years and 140k older. Panthers are the best new cars you can get, but if you want the absolute best, the B or D body GM’s are where it’s at.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    So this spring my Central Office job was potentially on the chopping block (looks like I’ve survived.) It would have been a symbolic belt tightening gesture cause I would still been employed just back in the classroom “somewhere” in the district. (FYI that could have meant a 100 mile round trip commute easily.) Not being a stupid man, I started “sniffing around” the used car lots attached to the reputable dealers in town. (My 2004 F150 Heritage and my 150cc scooter are a little unsuitable for such a commute.)

    If I had been cut, I had narrowed it down to a 1999 Lincoln Town Car Signature with about 60,000 miles and a negotible price starting at just under 10 grand. (And a well priced 2009 Buick Lucerne with the 3.9 V6 but every other possible option.) I’ve realized that you can buy a lot of gas with the money you save on a car payment and insurance by drving something like a Panther.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Dan; Glad your job is safe – for the moment, at least, as nothing is “safe” anymore.

      I’ll let you know what a 100-mile R/T commute is like this fall!

  • avatar
    Jedchev

    Sajeev, I have to hand it to you, you are a true hero for lovers of big American iron, like myself. What a great, informative article. While I am a confirmed GM D-body nut, I get excited everytime I see a mid-nineties Town Car that has been kept up. Those cars get a nod from me, especially because they were the last luxury cars to have the opera window. They made some cool special editions of that pre-98 Lincoln. I’ve seen the Jack Nicklaus edition, emerald green with a tan carriage top and a tan and green two tone leather interior. There was also another nautical themed Town Car in white with a blue top and white seats with blue carpeting. The name escapes me on that one.

  • avatar

    This might not win me a lot of friends here, but a used Lexus LS400 is superior to any Panther in every way possible, and if I wanted a large, V8 RWD luxury car, it’d be my first choice.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The LS400 is a great car, until you have to fix an old one, and then it costs ONE ZILLION DOLLARS.

      Seriously. Go put a transmission in a Panther, then put one in a 2000-year LS430.

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