Piston Slap: Coming to Terms With an Old Soul

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap coming to terms with an old soul

Ross writes:

Several years ago a friend suggested to me that I had an old soul. I pretended to not understand what he meant even though I watched old television shows, saw old movies and listened to the big band sounds of the thirties and forties.

I’m beginning to come to grips with my old soul though and I need a bit of advice.

A few years ago I bought a 2003 Kia Rio sedan because it was the cheapest car available with the least mileage and most warranty left. I’ve taken the poor thing from 40k to 130k miles on the clock and its just about worn out. At the time I simply commuted to and from work but my job has expanded and I now have to drive about 500 miles a month to and from various stores on the interstate.

I’m now in a position to replace the car for about 3 grand and I’m leaning heavily toward a panther platform because it satisfies my old soul and because I want to be gently wafted along the highways of Texas without arriving at my destination pounded to a pulp by the drive. I prefer the styling of the Crown Vic, but the selection of Grand Marquis’ seems better and priced better in this market. I’ve pretty much discounted the Town Car as being too pricey and/or complicated for the same amount of use.

Most of the cars I’m looking at seem to be about mid ’90s vintage with about 100k on the clock. Is there anything specific that that I should look for as I shop?

Sajeev answers:

You always look for a stack of service records. Always.

Aside from a stack of receipts and clean fluids (especially the transmission), the only big problem with Panthers are the plastic intake manifolds from 1996-2001: the replacement has an aluminum crossover tube from the thermostat (at the bottom of the radiator hose on the intake) and that means you are golden. If not, you need a new intake, sooner rather than later.

Other problems show up in a vehicle this old: worn brakes, bad tires, busted/frozen shocks, fried speaker cones, dissolved window lift motor plugs ( video here), tune-up concerns, cloudy headlights, etc. Luckily most of these problems, as part of Panther Love, are somewhat easy to fix and won’t leave you stranded. You can fix these as time permits, while enjoying the ride.

I’d recommend the pre-98s for their superior interior/exterior design and fit/finish: I call them the Fat Panthers because of their “fat content” opposed to the thin and skinny beancounted models afterwards. Just look at the Crown Vic’s rather expansive use of glass in the greenhouse. Even if it lacks the suspension and brake upgrades of the 1998+ models, this right here is a road car.

So is this really an old car? Perhaps…it’s a spaceship like the Jetsons’ retro Mid-Century past, not from our future. But who gives a shit, enjoy and be proud of your Old Soul.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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6 of 75 comments
  • Rosso Rosso on May 31, 2013

    Thanks for all the advice. I had actually forgotten I had written this and it's interesting to see all of the thoughtful responses. I'm particularly intrigued with the advice to get a Camry or a Accord As it happened, between the time I wrote this and the time that it posted I bit the bullet and made a choice. And I'm happy to say that I found my dream car. A 2003 crown Vic sport. After the Kia it is the most wonderful car I have ever owned. It isn't perfect.mit isn't modern (comparatively). But it does what it does with such comfort and style that now, when faced with one of my long drives, my response isn't "I have to drive to Waco today" but rather "I get to drive to Waco today." At the end of the day a car choice is an emotional decision as much as it is a practical one. Anything else rationalization for a decision that you've already made. I won't try to justify my decision to buy an old man car with a thirsty v8 but I love, love, LOVE it. Depending on your point of view the panther is either ebpverything that was wrong, or everything that was ever right about American cars.

    • See 2 previous
    • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Jun 01, 2013

      Nice choice the LX sport is a nice ride most of the goodies of a Marauder except the engine, HPP springs out front and standard air bags in the rear. When it comes to put new tires on it ditch the 235/55 and go with 255/50 A little more width for better grip and no ride penalty since they have almost exactly the same sidewall height.

  • -Nate -Nate on Jun 01, 2013

    Interesting , this long and involved Panther Love thread is . I'm a Bowtie Guy but , as I work with the L.A.P.D. Fleet I'm keenly aware how sturdy they are . I was looking at a bin full of brandy new A-Frames yesterday and wondering if out could easily up date the suspension by parts swapping . Then I got home and found a battered Ghetto Hoopty Ride Mercury four door sedan parked in my spot and was remembering how some here love those too ~ this one is slightly wrinkled from end to end but still wears it's original paint and is doing Yeoman Duty , day in , day out ferrying kids and drug dealers over the mean streets of Los Angeles . I doubt I'll ever own a Panther but they _are_ pretty good Automobiles even to the haters . Question : WHY is it called The Panther Chassis ? no one here nor at any Ford Agency I've asked , knows . TIA , -Nate (still learn .ing)

    • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Jun 01, 2013

      Who knows why Ford decided on animal names for their platforms in the late 70's I'm sure the person or persons who dreamed up Fox and Panther have long since retired. Certainly more creative than A,B,C ect.

  • ScarecrowRepair Too much for too little, unless you treat it strictly as a toy.
  • DedBull Mk2 Jettas are getting harder to find, especially ones that haven't been modified within an inch of their life. I grew up in an 85 GLI, and would love to have one in as close to stock configuration as I could get. This car isn't that starting point, especially sitting 3-4 years in the NY dirt. It's a parts car at best, but there might still be money in it even at that price, if you are willing to take it down to absolutely nothing left.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I bet it has some electrical gremlins as well. Nonetheless it might make an interesting El Camino pickup truck conversation with one of those kits.
  • GrumpyOldMan "A manual transmission is offered, as is a single-clutch auto. "What is a single clutch auto?
  • ToolGuy It is raining super-hard outside right now.