Ask Jack: Walking With a Panther?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask jack walking with a panther

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.

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2 of 59 comments
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.