Perhaps calling the death of the venerable Lincoln Town Car is premature. Sure, it left production in 2011, a dated relic with a surprisingly large enthusiast following (especially around these parts), but there are still plenty pottering around New York City as livery cars as this picture shows. And despite Lincoln affixing the Town Car nameplate to a special livery version of the MKT crossover, many car service operators have switched to a more conventional “town car”: the MKS.
The MKS deserves a more detailed write-up from myself because lord knows nobody else will write one. That’s not because it’s a bad car, per se, but rather because it is a wallflower in the luxury sedan market with a virtually non-existent enthusiast following. It hasn’t even arrived at dealers and yet the shapely 2017 Continental seems destined to consign the MKS to the dustbin of history. Look out for a retrospective from yours truly after the MKS leaves production.
The MKS has been a steady if unexceptional seller for Lincoln and despite its flaws – a forgettable name, somewhat odd proportions and packaging, average dynamics – it was a vastly more competitive offering than the Town Car was at the end of its run.
The Panther platform was a darling of fleets and taxi companies due to its rugged construction and easy maintenance, and a darling of many Curbsiders for its old-fashioned, simple and distinctly American character. But Ford seemingly gave up on the retail market around the turn of the century, engaging in rampant cost-cutting, saddling it with a weak V8, and investing little to keep it competitive with rivals like the Cadillac DeVille/DTS. Then, the 2005 Chrysler 300 arrived to great acclaim and at a much lower price point, showing private buyers were still rather fond of the idea of a brashly American, full-size, rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered sedan. Hurrah! The big American V8 sedan wasn’t dead! Sadly, it was terminal at Lincoln.
Ford could have developed a new rear-wheel-drive, full-size flagship with distinctively American styling, à la the 2002 Continental concept, to help maintain the Lincoln brand’s prestige and show the successful Chrysler 300 who was boss (albeit at a higher price point). They could have even used the Australian Falcon platform as a starting point, an ageing platform but one that had been heavily refined by 2002 and one that was much more capable than the Panther platform. But Ford had its hands full with the Premier Auto Group and then the task of dismantling said group and remaining solvent, and instead Lincoln was given an influx of new models based on front-wheel-drive Ford platforms. You may scoff at the MKS for being a “fancy Taurus” but, especially after rampant cost-cutting, the Town Car was really just a “fancy Crown Victoria”.
On that note, even to somebody from V8-loving Australia, I’ll admit I was puzzled when living in the US just how many taxis, limousines and vans have not especially economical V8s. In Australia, most of those vehicles have six-cylinder engines with LPG or are diesels or hybrids, although we of course pay more for our gasoline. With the Panther platform gone and the E-Series van on its way out, the North American commercial vehicle landscape is looking more like the rest of the world.
The Town Car holds an undeniable appeal to many enthusiasts because of its character, and a front/all-wheel-drive, Taurus based successor with no V8 has little chance to stir those spirits. But to private car buyers, the MKS was leagues ahead with a high-quality interior and a plethora of features not available in the Town Car like ventilated seats, voice-activated SYNC and side curtain airbags. The MKS also had more power and greater fuel economy with only slightly less torque, and more power, fuel economy and torque with the optional EcoBoost 3.5. And as for car service owners, the MKS may have been less rugged but it appears to have a solid reliability record, superior winter weather capability and can still run on regular-grade gas.
In the end, the thousands of Town Cars may still have years of life left in them and owners that appreciate their worth. Time will tell if the thousands of MKS livery cars will be quite so durable. While I can appreciate the Town Car, if I was in a Lincoln showroom in 2009 with $40-something thousand, I would sooner have driven out with an MKS. To paraphrase an old tagline, by the 2000s the Town Car was no longer what a luxury car should have been.
Livery MKS sedans photographed in Chelsea, Midtown and Washington Heights in Manhattan.