Piston Slap: The "Fat" Panther, The Self Aware Man

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

George writes:

Sajeev, I enjoy TTAC and your writing. Okay, I succumbed to the blandishments of you Panther lovers (and to fond memories of my father driving his Fords and Lincolns), and bought a 1996 Lincoln Town Car Cartier. The car has about 143,000 miles on it, all in North Carolina. The previous (2nd) owner was reportedly a little old lady, and because of the condition of the driver’s seat she could not have weighed much more than 90 or 95 pounds. It is well taken care of and straight.

The TC has a clean Carfax, and I purchased it for just under $3k. It appears to have every single option offered that year (including the phone) except a sunroof, and I’m not sure a sunroof was offered on the Cartier. (It was, so sorry! – SM)

My mechanic says it appears to have been well taken care of, and since I plan on keeping it for 5 to 7 years I am happy to put another $5k to $7k in the car, which means for under $10k I get to drive a true luxury car that gets almost 26 mpg on the highway.

After about $4.5k it has a bunch of new stuff including driver’s door hinges, all fluids and filters changed, suspension, window lifts,

headlamps, plugs and wires, Michelins, a real spare tire, a full (2-day) detail including steam cleaning the engine top and bottom, and adding iPod and aux-in ports in lieu of the 10-disk CD changer (which I’m leaving in the car). One of my goals is to leave the car as stock as possible, while making it as safe and as reliable as possible.

I drive 10,000 to 14,000 miles per year, which may include a round trip to the Rockies every year or two. The car gets almost 17 mpg in town (16.8), and 25.5 mpg on the highway at 65 to 70 – this is a true slab cruiser and it seems to love cruising for hours.

My questions are:

– What kind of mods and specific parts/systems should be upgraded to

achieve my goal of making the car as safe and as reliable as possible?

– Should I keep the air suspension or go coils

– What systems do I need to be especially vigilant about?

– What kind of tire pressure is optimal so that instead of feeling

like I’m driving a very warm marshmallow it feels like a regular


This is a true luxo barge and it puts a smile on my face when I look at it and when I drive it. It is also putting smiles on many other faces – I can’t stop myself waving and smiling at other drivers and pedestrians….

(I wrenched when younger but no more – my interests now are pretty much confined to running my business and making life miserable for my competitors, all of which I enjoy immensely. I tell my family and friends I have retired as I do what I want every day and hope I can keep doing it until I die.)

Sajeev answers:

And I also hope you can do just that till the end of your days, my good man. I feel the same way about this Piston Slap gig, even if I don’t (technically) own a Panther of my own. But it sounds like you have the perfect ride for your ideal life. You lucky duck!

Question 1: new shocks are first on my list, preferably some upgraded units like Bilsteins. Upgrading the swaybars is optional, but it might seriously defeat the purpose of owning a Cartier Town Car. Next up is a large, aftermarket transmission cooler. From there, I’d get some 16” Cartier (1997-2002) chrome wheels to do the big brake swap from the later model. Depending on the condition of the transmission, doing a J-Mod will make the ride a lot more entertaining with less wear and tear. Lastly, getting an SCT reflash on the computer will speed up transmission shift logic and net you anywhere from 10-25 more ponies too. Oh, and if the plastic intake hasn’t been changed to the aluminum-plastic redesign, DO IT NOW!

Question 2: Air Suspension rocks, and Lincoln’s setup is disturbingly cheap and durable. Ever priced a replacement system for a Lexus LS or anything European? The Lincoln’s bags (Ford parts, not the cheap remans) only last 10-12 years. So replace the bags every 10 years and things will be just peachy. You can replace the three wear points (bags, air compressor) for probably $600 or so, and it’s quite easy to do in your own driveway, if you were so inclined.

Question 3: Vigilant? Are you serious? This is a frickin’ Panther chassis! The only things to be vigilant with a “Fat” Panther like your Cartier is to make sure your friends/family don’t cut-scuff-mar the soft touch materials: because these truly are land yachts that go toe-to-toe with other luxury cars from that era.

Question 4: Sounds like you need rebuild the suspension. New shocks like I said before, maybe replaced the fatigued coil springs too. This is a 15-year-old car with well over 100,000 miles, after all. If you want a Panther that doesn’t fit the stereotypes of old American Iron, do this and forget about air pressure in your tires.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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3 of 17 comments
  • Andy D Andy D on Oct 30, 2011

    Between you guys and the several other car fora I hang at , Panthers are highly regarded. Mebbe when my E 28s die...

    • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Oct 30, 2011

      Gallery added with the OP's pics. Enjoy the goodness of a Cartier-fettled Fat Panther!

  • Jimbob457 Jimbob457 on Sep 23, 2013

    Excellent move with the fat Panther. I do think that at today's ordinary interstate highway speeds of 80 to 90 mph in traffic, the unmodified Panther's wallow is actually mildly dangerous. It is like driving an 18 wheeler at high speed. You really have to look ahead and do defensive driving. Stiffer aftermarket sway bars fix this for about $600 USD all in. You lose just a wee bit of the easy chair ride, but it is nothing like the rough cop car ride. Good tires help too.

  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.
  • C-b65792653 I'm starting to wonder about Elon....again!!I see a parallel with Henry Ford who was the wealthiest industrialist at one time. Henry went off on a tangent with the peace ship for WWI, Ford TriMotor, invasive social engineering, etc. Once the economy went bad, the focus fell back to cars. Elon became one of the wealthiest industrialist in the 21st century. Then he went off with the space venture, boring holes in the ground venture, "X" (formerly Twitter), etc, etc, etc. Once Tesla hit a plateau and he realized his EVs were a commodity, he too is focused on his primary money making machine. Yet, I feel Elon is over reacting. Down sizing is the nature of the beast in the auto industry; you can't get around that. But hacking the Super Charger division is like cutting off your own leg. IIRC, GM and Ford were scheduled to sign on to the exclusive Tesla charging format. That would have doubled or tripled his charging opportunity. I wonder what those at the Renaissance Center and the Glass House are thinking now. As alluded to, there's blood in the water and other charging companies will fill the void. I believe other nations have standardized EV charging (EU & China). Elon had the chance to have his charging system as the default in North America. Now, he's dropped the ball. He's lost considerable influence on what the standardized format will eventually be. Tremendous opportunity lost. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
  • Lou_BC Mustang sedan? 4 doors? A quarterhorse?Ford nomenclature will become:F Series - Pickups Raptor - performance division Bronco - 4x4 SUV/CUVExplorer - police fleetsMustang- cars