Just as I was thinking I had a long-term future with my Lincoln, fate intervened and it was totaled. Back to the hunt… I briefly thought about simply getting another Mark VIII. But it was 2006, and the last year they were made was 1998, and the newer ones weren’t exactly easy to find, as I found out. I also had more flexibility in the budget, so other choices were considered.
Test drove an ’01 Audi A6 2.7T, which was a car I’d always admired. Gorgeous interior and exterior, drove well, seemed well put-together. But something about a vastly complex Audi with close to 100K miles on it made me nervous. An A4 2.8 or an Acura TL Type-S weren’t the answer either. (Evidently I was considering “A” cars at that point.) Mazda 6s didn’t do it for me either. I nearly fell back into the embrace of Lincoln–drove a 2003 LS V8 and quite liked it. Good-looking, crisp handling for a large-ish car, good power from the 3.9 V8. I didn’t love the look or the layout of the dash, but it had emerged as the clear favorite on my radar. That LS was a 30k mile 2003; saw a listing for a local dealership asking quite a bit less money for a 2001 with somewhat higher miles. As the ‘03 was at the top of my budget, I decided to head over to Durham to check out the ‘01. And, when I arrived, the LS was sitting in a space along the front row. In the space next to it was a silver 2003 Mercury Marauder. Game over, LS, thanks for playing.
I found out what they were asking for the Marauder was about the same as that ‘03 LS over at Carmax. It was doable, and the rest was really a formality. Negotiating proved somewhat futile, as they had the upper hand due to the car’s rarity, and they knew it. It’s not like I could just go down the street and find another one. (There was only one other Marauder listed for sale in the entire state at the time.) So, the day before Thanksgiving in 2006, I signed the papers and the Marauder was mine. It was a cold night, and when I was ready to leave, they had the engine running and the heated seats cranked up to high. A nice touch, and a literal warm beginning to the relationship.
The Marauder was an interesting car for Mercury to have actually produced. First shown as a concept at the 2002 auto shows (including a one-off convertible version that is still in existence somewhere), it premiered for 2003. Available (initially) in only one color, black, it was in name a revival of the 1963-65 and 1969-70 Marauders. In purpose, it most resembled a belated response to the B-body Chevy Impala SS, last produced in 1996. This caused some head-scratching at the time as to why it was greenlighted, as the market for large cars was losing further ground to SUVs. It was not exactly a resounding sales success, with 11,052 examples sold over its two-year model run, 7838 of those in 2003 and only 3214 in 2004. Some attribute this to the price of $35K, $5k more than a loaded Grand Marquis LS. Others seem to think it had to do with the almost complete lack of advertising for the car, which is a curious question that may never be answered.
While the Marauder was more than the sum of its parts, it was almost entirely a parts-bin effort. Starting with the Grand Marquis and its updated-for-2003 frame, the Marauder received the Crown Victoria P71 front suspension, rear load-leveling air springs, some unique interior and exterior trim touches, 18” polished 5-spoke wheels, and most importantly, the aluminum DOHC 32V 4.6 V8, also used in the Mustang Cobra, Mach 1, and Lincoln Aviator. (Also the same engine as my previous car, a Lincoln Mark VIII, though upgraded in the interim.) The 4.6 made 302 HP and 320 lb/ft of torque in the Marauder, which was a healthy improvement over the 220/265 figures of the 16-valve iron block version used in the Grand Marquis and Crown Vic. That power was fed through the 4R70W transmission to a limited-slip 3.55:1 axle, good for a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds. Not bad, and certainly faster than any other Panther before or since, but the DOHC engine’s forte was never off-the-line performance. The midrange was much more impressive as the engine hit its stride, and it pulled strongly up to triple-digit speeds. The heavy-duty suspension and updated rack and pinion steering kept the car much better buttoned-down than the usual floaty Panther experience.
Available only in black at its debut, the first 6000 or so cars were delivered that way. Late in the 2003 model year, two other colors were offered. Dark Blue Pearl was one, of which only 324 were sold, making it the rarest color. Silver Birch was the other, of which mine was one of only 417 produced for ‘03. Silver would reappear for ‘04, along with Dark Toreador red, each of which moved about 1000 units. While I liked the silver, I feel like it made the least impact of any of the 4 colors offered–the blacked-out grille (probably chosen because silver would have looked too much like chrome) was less effective visually than the body-color grilles used on the other colors But, as I noted earlier, it’s not like there were many to choose from in my case…
More so even than performance, though, this car was about attitude. While the Grand Marquis body caused a lot of “grandpa car” comments from my friends, probably due to the fact that such comments invariably made me mad, the rest of the car departed sharply. The polished 18” wheels were attention-grabbing, and the car had a slight factory rake accomplished by taller sidewalls on the rear tires (245/50 ZR-18, as it turns out a nearly impossible size to find.) The wheel centers featured a sculpted “God’s head” Mercury logo, a subtle callout to the ‘60s versions and a big improvement on the “3 hockey sticks” Mercury emblems in use at the time. Along with the black grille, the non-reflective parts of the headlamp surrounds were blacked out, a subtle but very effective difference, and a deeper front air dam held a pair of fog lamps. Out back, smoked Crown Victoria taillights replaced the standard Grand Marquis pieces, and the rear bumper cover was embossed with “Marauder” lettering. A pair of prominent chrome exhaust tips for the true duals finished out the look. While it worked best in black, even on this silver car it changed the attitude from grandpa to modern-day muscle car.
Why do I always take my interior photos at night?
Inside, there were far fewer changes from the standard Grand Marquis. Bucket seats with a console replaced the bench seat, upholstered in a nice-quality leather with the god’s head logo embossed into the upper cushions. Fake aluminum trim replaced the fake wood trim. It was equally unconvincing–how hard would it have been to do piano black instead? The gauges were silver-faced and included a tachometer, displacing the oil pressure gauge and voltmeter to auxiliary units in the center stack. Everything else was standard Panther fare, and one of my chief complaints was the flat, boring, un-ergonomic 1995-vintage dashboard. At least the seats were quite comfortable, with power adjustment and heaters standard, along with automatic climate control and a stereo with 6-disc trunkmount CD.
The God’s Head logo
Much like my previous Mark VIII, the Marauder was a born cruiser. It was composed enough for its size that I relished the occasional twisty road–much like the adage about driving a slow car fast, to me there is some joy in making a big car dance. But its real forte was the open road–the ride was comfortable, the seats supportive, and the passing power nearly endless. Press the narrow pedal and the response was instantaneous. Plus, as big as it was, it could carry four people in complete comfort and five without too much trouble. It was the type of car that invited road trips, and we embarked on more than a few. It took me on one fateful trip in particular–in July of ‘07, I got a call from a friend that he was going to the beach for a few nights, inviting a girl who he was trying to date. She agreed to go with him, on the condition that she could bring a friend along. So I was requested to serve as wingman for the weekend, with the encouragement that “you might actually like her”. The friend turned out to be the woman I would eventually marry, so I guess my buddy was correct that we might hit it off!
It was a great car to live with, for a long while. By far the newest car I’d ever owned to that point, just a bit over 3 years old when I bought it, it had rolled off the line in Windsor, Ontario in May of ‘03. Reliable, comfortable, and powerful, and it was the kind of car that would always elicit a second look as I walked away. While it required premium, gas mileage wasn’t as bad as you might expect for 4100 lbs. of full-size sedan; I generally got around 15 MPG city and 22 highway. Plus my work commute was still extremely short. The Marauder gathered quite a few compliments, definitely more so than any car I’ve owned before or since. I got involved with the web site that served as the unofficial owners’ club for these cars and met some local guys who had Marauders they had done some custom work to – one was making almost 400 HP to the wheels with the help of a blower and headers. Seemed like the kind of thing I’d like to do eventually, but while it was my daily driver, I wasn’t going to do anything extreme.
The Marauder finds a friend in Savannah, GA. Never did see the owner though.
In May of ‘09 my future wife and I moved in together, in a neighborhood about halfway between our respective jobs at the time. My commute increased to about 20 miles each way, still relatively short. Then my position was eliminated at work and I was moved to a much lower-paying job. Better than no job at all, but money got a little tighter. Around the same time, my wife switched jobs. Her new gig was higher-paying, but it involved a lot of travel within town, often into not-so-nice neighborhoods. As her car was not aging well by this time, not wanting her to be stranded in a bad part of town, we traded temporarily. For the year she had that job, she drove the Marauder. Apparently she got quite a few compliments on it, though very few people expected a woman in her late 20’s to be driving that car!
After about a year her agency reorganized and she was out of a job, and decided to go back to school and wait tables in the interim. She drove the Marauder nights she worked until close, and I drove it on days she was off or had an early shift. It was good to have my car back, at least part-time. But by this point it was nearing 100,000 miles, and a few gremlins had started to rear their head. First to go was the radio–one day, I noticed I had no FM reception; oh well, the CD changer still worked. Next, the diverter in the HVAC system went out, disabling the dash vents. It still blew cold or hot air, but both emerged from the windshield and footwell vents. I could live with that, as evidently a faulty control module was usually responsible. Plus the vents were correct for heat, so it was only an issue in the warm months. As a matching issue for the cold months, the bun-warmers stopped working. Heated seats are hard to give up once you’re used to them!
Around that time, it developed a “stutter” on acceleration at speed. Chased my tail on that one for a while–replaced the plugs (which was a little scary given the possibility of cross-threading in the aluminum heads), wires, and a couple other ancillaries to no avail. The problem ended up an intermittently bad coil on the #7 cylinder coil-on-plug unit, a cheap part that caused me grief for much longer than it should have. One road trip saw a rough running condition that got steadily worse until the car was cutting off at stoplights, while we were in an unfamiliar area. After it stalled while trying to merge onto Interstate 64, nearly getting us rear-ended, I’d had enough and managed to find an auto parts store. Turns out the breather tube for the PCV system had torn at a poorly-placed right-angle boot, causing a massive vacuum leak. The part was only available from the dealer, who had closed, but a helpful fellow at the Advance Auto discovered that I could use a length of heater hose to replace the whole breather tube assembly as a temporary fix. That “temporary” fix worked so well that I never bothered to replace the thing!
Through all this, I was still proud of my Marauder. It still made me feel good when I walked up to it after a long day, still felt right when I slid behind the wheel, and still looked damn good when freshly washed. But events were starting to conspire against it.
By late 2011, money was tight. I’d taken a second job, evenings and weekends, but between that commute and the one to my primary job, gas money was forming an unduly large part of our budget. Plus the Marauder was over 115,000 miles, and while all the gremlins were still small, I was concerned about larger ones, especially considering it wasn’t quite paid off. Plus, my girlfriend and I had been together for over four years at that point, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t change any time soon, but I didn’t have anything close to the money to buy a ring. Reluctantly, I came to an unpleasant conclusion.
I explained to my girlfriend that I was tired of the gas bills, concerned about future repairs, and wanted to get her out of her unreliable old car. So we’d look for a new car that would be hers in the long run, I’d take over her old car, and we’d sell the Marauder. I didn’t mention the engagement part. To her credit she tried to change my mind, but my decision was made. We shopped around and narrowed it down to a couple of choices, and the dealer who gave us the best trade-in value got the sale. It hurt; I’d loved this car and I knew I’d miss it. Hell, once the decision was made, I missed it already. The night before we signed the papers I spent a while just sitting in the Marauder on the driveway, reflecting. But it needed to be done, and two days before Thanksgiving 2011, one day short of precisely five years of ownership, I handed over the keys.
In retrospect, sometimes it seems like I made the wrong decision to sell that car. Maybe I could have handled my money differently and found a way to hang onto it. Hard to see the past clearly, and what seemed like the right decision, the only decision, at the time looks a little questionable from a vantage point four years later. But maybe it was the only correct decision. I know I made the right decision on the girl–I proposed at midnight on new year’s day 2012, and we were married in May 2013. No regrets there.
Just a few weeks before it was sold.
I’ve never been able to find out where the car ended up. I checked the forums and classifieds to see if it ever popped up for sale, but as far as I know it never did. Usually trying to track down a car’s whereabouts is an impossibility, but with only 417 silver ‘03 Marauders out there, I figured I might beat the numbers. I could always get another someday–black this time, like they all should have been. Values are holding steady but they haven’t started to appreciate, quite yet. It might be rather collectible in a few years’ time though, as the last best evolution of the Panther. But right now, I just know it was a great car to own for five years, and I hope whoever got it next enjoyed it as much as I did.