Ask Jack: Walking With a Panther?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Tomorrow will mark the fourth anniversary of the crash in which I totaled my 2009 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited and severely injured my bride-to-be, the financial artist currently known as Danger Girl. If I could change any day in my life, it would be that one. I could quibble all day about the physics behind the crash and the reasons why it turned out to be so painful, but the baseline truth is this: I didn’t need to be out there. Not on that road, not in that weather, not with my son and my girlfriend in the car. It was an entirely avoidable decision. The crash changed the whole way I approach travel choices, particularly with regards to my family.

Watching the Town Car utterly disintegrate under the impact of a Hyundai Sonata to the passenger door has more or less cured me of the romantic affliction known around these parts as “Panther Love.” It’s also ruined any plans I had of restoring a large body-on-frame General Motors sedan from the Seventies or Eighties. I’d be fine to drive something like that all by myself but I already own several unsafe vehicles for solo operation; they’re called “motorcycles.” Any dreams I had of stylin’ in a 1975 Gran Ville or 1991 Cadillac Brougham will have to wait until the next life.

With all of that said, I still wouldn’t expect anybody else to give up on their affection for big Fords, which leads us to this week’s question.

Kenwood asks,

Hi Jack,

I’ve been thinking of adding a Town Car or Mercury Grand Marquis to the fleet, but have been reading about their weaknesses — such as the intake manifold and trans issues.

Did you experience any “typical panther issues” with your TC and how long did you own it before the unfortunate incident?

Happy New Year!

Answering the questions in order:

I’m not sure what the “typical panther issues” are. I took the car in for unscheduled service just once: to fix a left rear door lock that wasn’t unlocking under power. A very minor thing, and it was solved in an hour or two by the local dealer under warranty.

How long did I have the car? I took delivery on September 2, 2010. At that point the TC had, if I recall correctly, about 21,000 miles on it. One day, four months, and three years later, the odometer was showing about 112,000 miles. Blame a 78-mile daily commute and about a dozen trips to Nashville along the way.

For those of you who own Hondas and Toyotas, the idea of covering 90,000 miles with just one minor issue probably seems unremarkable. That wasn’t the case for me. I’d just come off a string of high-end German cars that rarely went 120 days without something going wrong. My 2006 Phaeton was probably the worst of the bunch, spending well over 30 total days in unscheduled dealer custody between 2006 and 2009, but pretty much everything I had over the previous decade needed some sort of dealership attention.

The Town Car, by contast, just kept going like the proverbial Energizer bunny. I don’t even think I got around to changing the brake pads until the 90k mark, despite the fact that I ran it around a few racetracks. I never changed the transmission fluid. Oil changes were done in my driveway whenever I had time, which wasn’t that often. The vast majority of my cars have never seen so much as a “laser wash” but I ran the Lincoln through the old power-brush carwash next to the Honda Service Center in Marysville and never worried about fine-line scratching. It went through the OEM tires in about 55,000 miles, chewed through one set of Goodyear Eagle “Ultra Grip” snow rubber, and was about one-quarter of the way through a set of 2011 Mustang factory-take-off wheels and tires when the crash happened.

It never failed to start, never stumbled or hesitated, never flashed a code. It returned up to 22 mpg on the freeway but could easily dip into the mid-teens during extended local use. The interior showed signs of wear but never looked ratty or beat-up. When an employee of mine hit a deer with it, the deer died instantly but the Town Car soldiered on with just a broken headlight and bent-up hood for well over a year before I bothered to get it repaired.

I asked a lot of my Lincoln, having purchased it at a time in my life when I was dating a lot of people and traveling a lot of places and making far too many commitments to far too many people. It served as limousine, pickup truck, and airport runner. I’ve never owned a vehicle that was cheaper to run and likely never will. Over the years, I came to love the simplicity of its operation. Just open the door — because why lock a car that nobody wanted to steal? — then twist the key, step on the brake, and pull the column shifter into “D.”

The one time my Town Car failed me, it did so because it was being asked to perform outside its original design. When the Panther platform was cooked up for the first time, the national speed limit was 55 miles per hour. Ford’s engineers never would have considered the idea of it being stopped dead in the middle of a road and being struck in the front door and B-pillar by a car that was likely doing 70 mph or better. I don’t know what kind of luck I’d have had with anything else, although if I could go back in time and put a different car in that situation, I’d choose my 5,400-pound, over-engineered Phaeton without thinking twice about it.

Today, the job that my Lincoln did is performed by a pair of vehicles. For light trips, I have my 2014 Accord Coupe, chosen because it was the safest standard-sized car on the market at the time. For long hauls and heavy work, I have the Silverado. I don’t know how it would do in a similar situation but I hope never to find out.

I suspect the answer that Kenwood is really asking boils down to, “Should I take a chance on a late-model Panther?” With the exception of the side-impact business, I don’t see why not. If you’re shopping for a Lincoln, try to get one built in Wixom — not because my St. Therese-built TC was poorly built, but because a Lincoln should be American-made if possible. If you’re shopping for a Vic or a Marquis, just don’t be a wacker. Other than that, Kenwood, feel free to fall in Panther Love.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • V8fairy Absolutely no, for the same reasons I would not have bought a German car in the late 1930's, and I am glad to see a number of other posters here share my moral scruples. Like EBFlex I try to avoid Chinese made goods as much as possible. The quality may also be iffy, but that is not my primary concern
  • Tsarcasm No, Japan only. Life costs by Rank:#1 - House (150k+)#2 - Education (30k+)#3 - Automobile (30k+) why waste hard earned money in inferior crap => Korean, Chinese, and American cars are trash. a toyota or honda will last twice as long.
  • Tassos In the 90s we hired a former PhD student and friend of mine, who 'worked' at GM "Research" labs, to come work for us as a 'temp' lecturer and get paid extra. He had no objection from GM, came during the day (around 2 PM), two hours drive round trip, plus the 1.5 hour lecture, twice weekly. (basically he goofed off two entire afternoons out of the five) He told me they gave him a different model new car every month, everything (even gas) paid. Instead of him paying parking, I told him to give me the cars and I drove them for those 90 mins, did my shopping etc. Almost ALL sucked, except the Eldo coupe with the Northstar. That was a nice engine with plenty of power (by 90s standards). One time they gave him the accursed Caddy Catera, which was as fun driving as having sex with a fish, AND to make it worse, the driver's door handle broke and my friend told me GM had to pay an arm and a leg to fix it, needed to replace almost the whole damned door!
  • 3-On-The-Tree I only buy Toyota cars. But if the Chinese cars are cheap people will buy them. They don’t care about the above issues that were stated in this forum.
  • Tassos Ford models are like dumb Hollywood movies. The original is far better than their god damned sequels. This was true of the Mustang vs the II, AND the Capri vs its second gen, and their BEV PORKER atrocities many decades later