TTAC Throwback 1989 Lincoln Town Car

Bryan Raab Davis
by Bryan Raab Davis

ttac throwback 1989 lincoln town car

Lincoln’s famous tagline was “What a Luxury Car Should be,” and as the proud owner of a 1989 Town Car, this writer has no desire to quibble with their ad copy. Indeed, it’s one of the best cars ever to grace my driveway. The Townie was acquired as a direct trade for a Honda Magna 750 motorcycle; I know which of the two has given me greater pleasure, and it has four doors and four wheels. Besides, the bike would’ve probably killed me. 


Between 1970 and 1979, the Town Car appellation referred to an option package for the big Continental sedan (there were earlier uses of the Town Car name by Lincoln and Continental, but we don’t have the space to delve into all of them here). Depending on who you ask, Lincoln was either late to the downsizing game or a glorious holdout, fighting the good fight with their vast 1970-1979 Continental.  


But, in 1980, Lincoln made the Town Car a model in its own right, and it rode on Ford’s new lighter, leaner body-on-frame Panther platform. Though the full-size preceding Continental Town Cars were lamented, their replacement brought real-world improvements while retaining smoothness, comfort, and a number of traditional Lincoln styling hallmarks.


Ed. note -- There will be no Used Car of the Day today since that would be redundant with the TTAC Throwback.


As in the past, there were designer badged Town Cars with special trim. Cartiers were top of the heap most years and their interiors were built on an already luxurious package with richly contoured seat upholstery and other standard comforts. The signature trim was a tick down from Cartier, but still, nothing to be sniffed at. 


Being lighter and smaller engined meant decent, even good fuel economy, while the new, taller glasshouse and reduced overall size made the new Lincolns much easier to thread through parking lots and crowded city streets.  


The updated drivetrains were a revelation. Instead of stumbling and coughing with emissions carburetors, fuel injection meant easy starting and even greater V8 smoothness. Overdrive and lighter weight brought huge gains in fuel economy (I’ve observed 24.6 mpg on cross-country jaunts). Of course, tailpipe emissions were improved, too; no bad thing.   


The new Panther-based Town Car relied on Ford’s venerable 302 cubic-inch, small-block V8. While quoted as 5.0 liters for marketing reasons, it really displaced 4.9 liters. With throttle-body fuel injection, called Central Fuel Injection by Ford, the 302 only generated about 130 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque, adequate to shove the 4,300-lb Town Car to 60 mph in just over 14 seconds.

From 1986 on, the venerable five-point-oh was refined with multipoint fuel injection, roller rockers, and other improvements, which made the powerplant smoother, more efficient, and more powerful. It now developed 150 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm. 


This doesn’t sound like much for a 4,300-lb car, but it is more than sufficient. The author’s 1989 Townie never feels underpowered (until the speedometer needle is well north of license endangerment, at any rate); it just wafts on the torque with Rolls-Royce-like serenity. Against the clock, this means a 0 to 60 run of around 12 seconds, but bald performance metrics are not the way to judge a luxury car. 


Brakes are discs up front and drum aft; the suspension is standard-issue Detroit engineering, too, with twin front control arms and coil springs and a live axle on coil springs in the back. While suspension calibrations are comfort-biased, you can hustle a Town Car if the spirit moves you. Just use the weight to compress all the squidgy suspension bushings and hold your line for dear life. Using this method, the author’s 1989 Town Car out-cornered a Subaru WRX on Sonora Pass.


The razor-edged 1981-1989 Town Cars were transitional models. They retained many baroque styling details from the 1970s, like an upright grille and fenders that extend beyond the front fascia, terminating in knife-like turn signal-cum-parking lamp lenses. Of course, full and partial vinyl roof treatments were along for the ride, too, as were opera windows and running lights. 

Yet, all these baroque virtues were combined with modern engineering and greatly improved efficiency. You could have your cake and eat it too.


For 1990, the Town Car received an aerodynamic makeover that would see the nameplate through most of the 1990s. A couple more revisions followed, with Town Car becoming more organic and less formal as time passed. Throughout all these updates, Lincoln’s big sedan continued to be underpinned by the tried and true Panther chassis. The last Lincoln Town Car would roll off the line at Wixom, Michigan, in 2011, and the plant closed soon after.

Why This Car


1989 Town Cars are reckoned to be the very best of their generation, and if the author’s experiences are anything to go by, there is some truth in that statement. The imperious bricks will barrel at interstate speeds in serene comfort for hundreds of miles on end. Their vast mafia-approved trunk means ample room for “luggage,” while the spacious cabin assures the comfort of your “business associates.” 


Call it irony, but there’s something very appealing about a poverty-spec luxury car. This Arctic White 1989 Town Car is such a beast as betokened by its deep blue velour, not leather, upholstery, and ultra-rare full-width wheel covers. Even the author’s base model 1989 Town Car has lattice alloys and leather seats. Power driver’s seat, windows, and door locks were standard, however. 


The seller claims this example has covered only 6,600 miles from new. I would want to inspect the pedals and other wear areas before assuming the mileage is genuine, but the photos show a nearly-new-looking interior and exterior, which correspond with the claimed mileage, as does some of the included documentation. The non-factory stereo is a demerit in my eyes, but that would be easy to set right. 


The seller is coy about the functionality of the air conditioning system, it would use r12 refrigerant, so it’s worth considering an r134a retrofit.  


Given the mileage and condition, this car may bring a premium price. But, the overall excellence of the Town Car and parts commonality with other FoMoCo products means it’s a very inexpensive vehicle to keep on the road.

Things To Watch Out For When Buying a 1989 Lincoln Town Car


The Town Car’s Panther Platform heritage means it’s next of kin to cop cars and taxis, vehicles notable for their ability to tolerate abuse and cover vast mileages. But, as with any car, there are a few areas to watch for problems. 


Ford’s Automatic Overdrive (AOD) transmission can be a weak spot. It’s essential when driving in town to keep the gear selector in “D,” not “OD” (overdrive). Overdrive is strictly for highway cruising at a constant speed. In urban driving, the transmission will “hunt” between drive and overdrive, leading to rapid wear. Another potential source of transmission problems is the vinyl throttle valve bushing which can deteriorate and affect transmission shift quality and performance. Metal replacement bushings are available, inexpensive, and easy to retrofit. 


You’ll also find that power window motors are prone to failure. Replacement units are easy to source and affordable. Swapping out a bad power-window motor is well within the purview of the home mechanic.


Dash tops can crack, especially around the speaker grilles, and driver’s door armrests are known to deteriorate. Factory stereos sometimes stop functioning as well, but good used units can be retrofitted. The usual caveats about interior and exterior trim being present and in good condition apply, as do those about body rust. Although the Town Car’s stout, separate chassis frame means you might be able to live with some cosmetic corrosion if the price is right. 


Check the condition of the upholstery, especially on Cartiers. If it’s ripped or badly stained, you could be in for a substantial bill to set it right.

To Sum It Up


The 1989 year model was the very end of razor-edge baroque styling for the Town Car, a look that rightfully deserves the (overused) sobriquet “iconic.”  Besides the virtues of traditional American luxury car styling and comfort, a 1989 Town Car is a genuinely good vehicle that needs make no apologies in any respect. In other words, it is “What a luxury car should be.”


TTAC Throwback


TTAC Throwback is a series devoted to cars we think deserve to be owned by someone who really loves them. Just imagine Sarah McLachlan crooning In the Arms of an Angel as the camera pans past a deserving car up for adoption, hoping desperately that it doesn't get recycled into a Nissan Versa (I’ve, I’ve got something in my eye). Now go ahead, put in your bid; there now, don’t you feel better? You’re doing the right thing!

[Images: The Seller]

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  • Canam23 Canam23 on Jan 12, 2023

    I bought a 1988 Town Car at an estate sale in Burbank a number of years ago. It had the half vinyl roof with the tiny back window and was a chauffeur driven car, but not stretched. With 44K miles on it I was the lucky, and only bidder and got it for $800. Having no practical use for it myself I gave it to my son in college on the condition that he drive my wife and I around when he came to town. He loved it and I loved it. When I got it I replaced the finicky rear air leveling shocks with adjustable shocks and it still rode like a dream. To drive it, just point it in the general direction you want to go in...

    He drove it for four years and got tired of the novelty. Fortunately the cash for clunkers program gave him $3500 for it and he bought... a Hyundai.

  • Greg Greg on Jan 23, 2023

    From Sydney, Australia, Since 1989 I have owned a 1979 Collectors Series Town Car the absolute premium Lincoln for 1979, it was sent to Ford's Homebush, Sydney plant as a CKD Kit Car (completely knocked down) as they needed to build it Right hand drive to be allowed on Aussie roads same as they did with Galaxies & LTD's in the earlier 1970's. Just a few Lincolns trickled in each year. It has been a great road car, Aussie ones have the Galaxie spec police car springs, so stiffer suspension & shocks too, but still plush riding with all that weight on top. Unlike the US ones the local RHD dash unit is made of quality cast alloy & anodized in the color of the interior, not a plastic dash panel. Plus Ford went to a quality furniture manufacturer for a beautiful solid wood dash panel with matchwood inlay to the edge rather that USA fake plastic wood with a raised gold plastic bit to look like matchwood. The dash top panel's a leather padded flat deck with saddle stitching, very classy, to a higher standard than a Rolls Royce. Over the years when I have collected some of my American cousins , or other American guests they have been amazed at A, its RHD and B the dash is of solid, real burl walnut. It only uses the US gauge cluster and the US glovebox door & bin. I bought it 33 years ago with 14083 miles on it, & now in jan 2023 it has 53850 miles on it, so still an immaculate low mileage car , it still looks like it is new .

  • Jeff S I rented a 2012 Chrysler 200 with the 4 cylinder from Enterprise for business travel and it was not a bad car but I would not buy one. I would have picked a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or a Ford Fusion over a Chrysler 200. I have known people that bought Chrysler 200s that had nothing but problems with them. I appreciate these old reviews and miss the old TTAC before it became what it is now with many articles that are slanted toward politics. Don't have to agree with everything but it is good to read an honest review of a car.
  • Jeff S The Cybertruck was first unveiled and announced on Nov. 21, 2019. For over 3 years Tesla has been saying that this truck was going to be released soon. The mystique and surprise is no longer there. I think the Cybertruck is hideous but then I am not the target for this. Since its initial unveiling there has been the introduction of the Lightning, Hummer, and the Rivian truck. The anticipation of this truck and the mystique has faded. There will be a few that will buy this because they are hard core Tesla fans and some because it is different but Tesla should have been the first to market an EV pickup. GM is planning a compact EV pickup under the GMC brand starting at 25 MSRP. This should have been Tesla and Tesla could have downsized the Cybertruck to either a midsize or compact truck and been first. Tesla should have been first at the very least to release a smaller EV truck.
  • Bloke Wow, this should make a big difference, to those catalytic converter thieves who don't have tools like 'angle grinders' with them.
  • Carlson Fan The way the truck drops in the rear and the bed/tailgate become a ramp is genius! I'd buy it just for that alone!!! It would be awesome for loading snowmobiles and garden tractors in the back. However, my trucks need to be able to regularly tow heavy loads long distance, summer & winter. Sorry folks, current battery tech. isn't even close to what it needs to be for me to think even one second that a battery truck could replace my current ICE powered truck. An EV for a DD makes sense , but for truck you need a MUCH better battery.
  • Inside Looking Out For midsize sedan it is too small. It basically is a compact car.
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