The cars we loved.
If you’ve been in a large American city like New York or Chicago you may have noticed that the streetscape seems dominated by two types of cars: taxis and big black sedans. Although taxi can be any number of colors, limo service cars seem to be black. Those black sedans are likely to be Lincoln Town Cars. They have become such a fixture for livery and limo services that no one even bothers to call them by their full names anymore. They just say “I’ll have a Town Car”.
Form Follows Function
Such ubiquity was a longtime in the making. Shakeups in the automotive landscape left very few large rear wheel drive cars standing. The vast fault line of EPA regulations, consumer preferences and cost cutting did a whammy to the ranks of big cars. The shift to front wheel drive did further damage as large simple cars like the Lincoln Town Car were increasingly becoming relics. Of the cars on Ford’s Panther platform, the Town Car with its body-on-frame construction was the largest. The Town Car survived because it filled an important void that was fueled by dreams, special events and the need to get from the airport to your hotel in something more stylish than a yellow Caprice or Crown Vic.
American Virtues made In Canada?
It wasn’t always like that. For most Americans of a certain age, a luxury car was something made in Detroit with a big V8 up front and rear motivated propulsion. The requirement of being longer than a Tokyo apartment and having a soft floaty ride would also be a prerequisite. That softly sprung ride may have had air dampened shocks, but the end result pampered and isolated its occupants from the outside world, not to mention the roads imperfections. All the better when ride quality was the least of your concerns during a prom or wedding event. For Ford, the Town Car ideal spawned from the Lincoln Continental. The Town Car represented the traditional big American sedan, while the Continental went on a quest for European elegance (for whatever that meant). You can guess which one was most successful, as if to confirm that American tastes were truly different from most of the world. For much of the Town Car’s production life, it started out at the Wixom production facility in Michigan, but would move to St. Thomas, Ontario by 1998. Right about that time the somewhat smaller Town Car began a slow sales dive. The Town Car was still a bigger alternative to the Mercury Grand Marquis and Mercury Marauder, also made at the plant.
As the two lines diverged, the Town Car would remain recognizable as a traditional American luxury car. It’s body on frame construction and use of proven components would insure that it was easy to repair and get parts for. Toyota had nothing on the big Lincoln where reliability was concerned. Some Town Cars have given more than 400,000 miles of service under the watchful eye of limo service mechanics.
What a Luxury Car Should Be
Traditional meant that the Town Car would be large and comfortable. Baroque styling at its best (or worst), the Town Car’s sharp creased finders gave way to a boxy Rolls Royce-like grille. It may have lacked the get up and go of sedans of old. It’s very un-Mustang like 5.0L V8 had only 130 hp. An advertising campaign from the 80’s summed it up best: “Lincoln: What a Luxury Car Should Be”. Enough people agreed with the slogan to make it the sales champ of luxury cars for quite a few years. The Town Car sold better than nearly all of GM’s luxury cars combined in some years. While sales were high, peaking well above 100,000 units a year well into the 90’s, there was a gradual decline by the decades end.
As time passed, horsepower figures would grow, but would never top 250 hp. The switch from throttle body fuel to multi-point fuel injection started the ball rolling for gradual power increases. The Town Car’s mill would never be mistaken for the level of excitement in the Mustang, although they were essentially the same engine design. No one bought the Town Car to haul ass as much as to literally haul ass at proms, weddings and countless VIP transport operations. There ware as many special editions of the Town Car as years it had been around. Everything from bullet proof to a Jack Nicklaus version was available at one time or another.
The look of the Town Car would change gracefully over three generations, becoming more rounded at the edges and sleeker in appearance. By the time the final major design change had occurred in 2003 the Town Car had become a permanent fixtures at airports, hotels and weddings. It’s 239 hp modular 5.0 V8 lacked Ford’s latest technologies, but was dependable. The interior offered the occasional surprises like one the first THX certified audio systems in a car after the LS in 2002.
For all of its long history, the Town Car racked up plenty of accolades. It was Motor Trend’s 1990 Car of the Year and was a Consumer Reports choice for many years during its production, even when other Ford MoCo products scored poorly. Countless films may have featured the Town Car in cameo roles, but its high point came in 2007 when the Town Car was featured in the silly disaster flix 2012. The earthquake dodging stretched wheelbase car shown in the film was probably only slightly more heroic than the ones lined up in front of swanky hotels in Manhattan or Los Angles. The Town car’s initial market was the US and Canada, but it’s popularity would spread to Europe where it continues to gain favor as a limo,even as the line at the Canadian production facility was silenced.
Changes in the market place saw sales gradually decreasing every year, falling from 97,000 in 1998 to less than 10,000 in 2011, the last year of production. Most of those sales were to limo services. When word came that production would end in 2011, there was something of a panic run on the last of the Town Cars to the point that they were unavailable at most Lincoln dealerships. Many entreprising dealers bought up as many auctioned and used ones possible , refurbished them and made (and making) a killing.
The big rear wheel drive sedan is all but gone. In its place cars like the Avalon and Impala were front wheel drive. Worse, SUV have filled the void or have tried. In Ford’s case, there would be no direct replacement for the Town Car, but a variation of the Lincoln The folks at the Blue Oval have elected to offer a hastily prepared Lincoln MKT as a replacement to cater to the limo market. It’s likely that used Town Cars will sell better. Ford has to be thinking about a new replacement. There might be a rebirth of the big American sedan after all. Maybe to the point that Lincoln can say,” (it’s) what a luxury Car should be”.