Curbside Classic: 1997 Lincoln Town Car Executive Series And Friends – Landau Anyone?

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As a Panther fan, I often ask myself whatever happened to the Lincoln Town Car. It was doing so well before Dearborn got caught up in the SUV craze, then came the Firestone tire brouhaha, and then the CUV craze. It seemed the venerable TC became largely ignored by product planners in the Glass House before finally disappearing in mid-2011; a shame, indeed. Perhaps Panther fans’ love of the 1990-97 model and the subsequent watering-down of said top-dog Lincoln had something to do with it? It was such a nice design that even though I don’t care much for vinyl roofs on cars built post-80s, this dark blue ’97 actually looks pretty good with its cream vinyl chapeau.

1974 Lincoln-04 (800x534)1974 Continental

Town Cars and landau tops go back quite a ways. The 1974 models had only the traditional full vinyl roof available, but that would change in one year’s time.

1975 Lincoln Continentals-031975 Continental Town Car–no coach roof but it has a very Broughamy coach lamp!

Yes, 1975 was the Landau year! Both the Town Car and Town Coupé (CC here) offered them, as well as B-pillar coach lamps to go with their opera windows. Indeed, ’75 was the year when the subtle classiness of the 1961-74 Continentals actually disappeared. Now it was all about the glitz, the gadgets–the sheer Broughaminess.

1976 Lincoln Continental-031976 Continental Town Car–A Broughamy beauty

Any subtle, Elwood Engel-inspired understated elegance here? Nope. Gotta have coach lamps, opera windows, a landau top and TWO types of fake wood on the instrument panel. And if I sound a bit disdainful of the change, let me assure you nothing could be further from the truth. I would love to have a 1961 Continental sedan, in navy blue with navy blue leather, but I’d love a 1976 Continental Town Car (Jade with Jade landau top, factory chrome alloys and Jade leather) just as much. Worry not, you CCers. I can’t be cured of my Brougham affliction, nor do I want to be!

8-01-13 to 8-03-13 140 (800x497)1975 Coupe de Ville in Cerise Firemist–yum!

The 1975-79 Continentals and their flossier Town Car/Town Coupé versions were the ne plus ultra in Broughaminess for upwardly-mobile, import-disdaining Midwesterners. Yes, the Coupe de Ville/Sedan de Ville and Fleetwoods were equally sharp, but the Lincolns were just a bit better in terms of quality and materials, especially interior plastics. A 1975 Coupe de Ville was a beautiful thing, but don’t accidentally bump your elbow against the padded door panel in January–it would split every time.

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Not so in the Lincolns. But why in the world didn’t Lincoln give their top-drawer offerings a special steering wheel? Sure, it had cruise-control buttons and more fake wood, but it was basically the same tiller as Farmer John’s F100, Daisy Mae’s Pinto Runabout and Barnaby Jones’s LTD “pillared hardtop coupe.”

1984 Lincoln-231984 Town Car Signature Series

Although the Continentals, Town Cars and Mark were all downsized to the Panther chassis for 1980, all the luxury cues–and landau tops–remained. And while you could have gotten a 1975-79 Contiental or Mark with a steel top, that was impossible with 1980-89 Panther Lincolns. You could choose either a full vinyl roof or a coach roof, period.

1987 Lincoln Town Car-051987 Town Car Cartier Designer Edition

That finally ended with the redesigned 1990, when all TCs left the factory with steel roofs. Of course, the aftermarket picked right up where Wixom had left off; I recall seeing many “Congressional Town Sedan” Town Cars at Classic Lincoln-Mercury as a kid whenever I’d visit there with my grandmother.

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You all know that I have a 2000 Town Car Cartier–and I love it. I love its ride, comfort, silence, and rather Jaguaresque profile. But I have to tell you that when the 1998 TC first debuted, I was disappointed. I loved the 1990-97 model! It was classic and yet contemporary at the same time.

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I have already waxed extensively on the 1990-94 Town Cars (CC here), but I must tell you that I love the face-lifted 1995-97s even more. The first time I saw a ’95, I thought it looked rather squinty-eyed (maybe skeptical?) but now I now prefer them to the 1990-94s.

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And of course, my favorite one of all–OF ALL!–was the Cartier. I love my 2000 Cartier dearly, but I have to tell you, if I had run across a 1995-97 Cartier like this one first, I would have snapped it up in a heartbeat.

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I love the Ivory Parchment Tricoat paint, the multi-spoke alloys, and that light, light-cream leather! Plus, these still had the all-digital dash, which reminds me of the 1987 Continental sedan my grandparents had. And although I do rather like the landau top on the blue one at the top of this post, a Cartier just like this one would be at the top of my list: steel roof, no aftermarket chrome and those oh-so-skinny whitewalls that appeared briefly in the late ’90s.

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And its squared-off profile made it a hit with older buyers who wanted a big traditional American luxury sedan with rear-wheel drive, whitewalls and a V8. Of course, it was also popular with folks who had a large desire for–um, how do I put it diplomatically–dealer-installed and aftermarket appearance items. For instance, fake convertible tops, fake chrome fender lip moldings, fake chrome rocker trim, fake chrome B-pillar trim, fake Rolls-Royce grilles, and–of course–Landau tops.

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And so it went, seemingly for decades. Town Cars and Landau tops (Coach Roofs, in Lincoln-speak) just seemed to go together like pizza and beer. The 1998-up versions really weren’t well-suited to aftermarket roofs, but I certainly saw plenty of them when they were new.

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I remember seeing many 1995-2002 Cartiers in Ivory Parchment with a dark brown fake convertible top, moonroof (how delightfully tacky; a moonroof in your convertible top!) and the expected fake chrome on the b-pillar, rockers, and wheel lip moldings.

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At the time I couldn’t believe someone would spend $45,000-$50,000 on a beautiful new Cartier and then spend another $3000-$5000 on tacky gingerbread. There were actually several in town decked out like that: not-so-great minds think alike…this wasn’t my kind of Cartier.

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I mean, who was the first person to put a faux convertible top on a coupe or sedan and say “Hey! That sure looks good!” After all, when you think of a convertible, you always think of them with their tops up, because that’s when they’re at their most appealing! Uh-huh.

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My tastes run more along the lines of this rather restrained red one.

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While cloth was available, it was rarely seen or ordered. Leather was the order of the day. And you could still get several different shades: dark blue, dark red, dove gray, black, white (with dove-gray trim, or green trim on the Jack Nicklaus editions), saddle tan, light parchment, and my favorite–dark green.

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The best part? You couldn’t see that bad fake convertible top from the inside, if your TC was so equipped. The Signature Series had a different upholstery style than the Executive Series, with the rather free-form design seen here.

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The Executive, as the least-expensive Town Car, had more classic seating, with vertical pleating. Despite some wear–notably a crunch on the rear corner that took out the driver’s side taillight and missing wheel caps–our featured Deep Navy Blue CC (the Silver Frost one with the simcon top was found in Iowa City; the pearl white one in Moline) was still in reasonable condition, and the cream leather interior matched the top to a T. It had appeared to be quite well cared for until relatively recently. It even still has its hood ornament!

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As with any Town Car, room and comfort was the watchword, and sixteen years after being built, this rear compartment still looks über-comfy. BMW may arguably be the ultimate driving machine, but these Lincolns are the ultimate riding machine!

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I had a thing for these for years, going back to my grandfather’s patronization of Lincoln Continentals starting in 1966. I actually test-drove a 1997 Executive Series back in the late ’90s. It was just a couple of years old, in Silver Frost Metallic with dove-gray leather and no aftermarket junk on it.

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It drove very nicely, but I wasn’t in a position to buy, being in college at the time. At the same time, I regularly saw a wine-red 1995-97 Executive in downtown Rock Island that was a beauty, and I also drove my friend Dick McCarthy’s gunmetal-gray-with gray cloth ’95 Executive several times. I just loved these cars, and always will.

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How bad do I have it for Lincoln Town Cars? When I entered high school in the fall of ’94, I remember thinking “Wow, I wonder what the Town Car will look like when I graduate!” And even as I pondered the future of body-on-frame domestic luxury cars, I was equally crushed by the discontinuation of the Cadillac Fleetwood, Buick Roadmaster and Chevrolet Caprice.

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Really?! Who’d want a dumb old pickup over a Roadmaster Estate Wagon or Town Car Signature? A lot of people, sadly. But the TC and its less prestigious Grand Marquis and Crown Victoria siblings kept on truckin’.

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I frequently went out to lunch with my Grandma Ruby, and we always made a point to stop at the L-M dealer so I could see the new models. She knew I loved cars. And I would frequently try to talk her into getting a new Continental or Mark, but she would always keep her ’87.

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I was probably the only person in my high school that daydreamed about Lincoln Town Cars (and Cadillac Fleetwoods, I am an equal-opportunity Broughamaholic!) during class, instead of Camaros, Mustang GTs, Lamborghinis and Porsches. But I never thought about owning one of my own–I was expecting (and was correct in my assumption) that I would get a Volvo. But still, I pined for the TC, specifically, the 1990-97 versions.

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When the 1998 Town Car appeared, I did not like them quite as much as the 1995-97 model. I have since developed a nigh-on near identical love for the post-’97 TC, but at the time, I was a bit worried in September 1997. As I had recently received both my driver’s license and permission to use Mom’s 1991 Volvo 940SE (her daily driver was a new AWD 1997 Grand Caravan ES in Candy Apple Red), I wasted no time in booking on down to Classic Lincoln-Mercury and snagging the plush 1997 TC brochure, with onion-skin pages and real color chips in the back!

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I also got the last of the original Cougar brochures (loved the 30th Anniversary model in Dark Toreador Red) and sauntered on over to Sexton Ford for the last of their ’97 T-Bird brochures (we had no inkling of the drop-top ‘Bird to come in five years’ time). And do I still have said brochures sixteen years later? What do you think?

09-30-2012 327 (800x537)2011 Town Car Signature Limited: Last of the Line

And so, recalling all of these memories and my subsequent purchase of a Town Car of my own, I am rather surprised to say that I really am a Ford man. And that is saying something, with all of the Volvos my family and myself have experienced ever since Mom’s first one, a 1973 1800ES wagon.

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I was still working at my dad’s office in late ’12 and was walking back from lunch when I spotted this Townie parked right up front. I only had a couple minutes to get back, but had to get some photos. These are still rather common around here, but the fact that it was an Executive with the aftermarket roof in interesting colors made me stop. It reminds me of a Bill Blass Town Car, though no such car ever came out of the factory. Cartier Town Cars were the only designer Panther between 1982 and swan-song 2003.

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But the classic navy and cream or navy and white colors of the Blass Marks have always been appealing to me, and those colors look good on pretty much anything–including a slightly weathered 1997 Executive Series.

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Oh, and how do I know our blue example is a 1997 and not a ’95 or ’96? The 1997 models lost the keyhole lock cover, instead making due with a surround that had “Lincoln” in cursive script. In addition, the “Signature Series” and “Executive Series” scripts that had been in the opera window on 1995-96s moved to the front fender, replacing the block-letter Town Car logo that had been there previously. Such minutia are symptons of Pantheritis, and once you have it, it is incurable.