I’m well aware that I may be opening up the floodgate here by bestowing this title, but if I were to name a car that best represents everlasting fullsize American luxury, it’s the 1990-1997 Lincoln Town Car.
It’s no secret that Curbside Classic harbors more than a couple fans of the traditional rear-wheel drive, V8-powered American fullsize sedan, cars I’d personally describe as “old school”, and vehicles best exemplified in later years by GM’s B-body and Ford’s Panther platform variants. While never a type of vehicle that I’ve viewed in a particularly aspirational light, I’ve spent the better part of my Curbside Classic tenure trying to find it in me the same appreciation and appeal for these cars that so many of our readers do.
Now I should start of by saying that I was born in 1993, which I know to some of you is recent enough to question whether I’ve learned to walk yet, but indeed as of January 2018 I am just a few months shy of a quarter-century old. I remember as a small child waving at President Clinton’s motorcade as it came through Boston, I remember questioning what “Yada, Yada, Yada” meant to my mother when Seinfeld was airing in its original run, and on a more serious note, I remember where I was when I heard that planes had struck each of the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
Throughout my first decade of life, the automotive landscape was ever changing. But among the most constant forces of comfort, both literally and metaphorically, was the Lincoln Town Car. The most prestigious fullsize American luxury sedan in my eyes, challenged only by the short-lived 1993-1996 Cadillac Fleetwood, the Town Car fulfilled a role of ever diminishing importance with the utmost grace and dignity.
I note the year in which I was born to highlight the fact that by this point, fullsize, V8-powered, rear-wheel drive American sedans, once the bread-and-butter of The Big Three’s lineups, were on the decline and rapidly becoming a relic of the past. Chrysler had left the segment in 1989 to GM and Ford, and by 1993 only the B-body Chevrolet Caprice and Buick Roadmaster, the D-body Cadillac Fleetwood, and the Panther-body Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car were left. By 1997, GM left the segment entirely to Ford.
Growing up in a predominately liberal, middle- to upper-middle class suburb of Boston, these types of cars weren’t the most common sights, at least among private customers. Adults I knew, whether it be aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends’ parents, family friends, or other people around town didn’t drive big American sedans.
In fact, by and large, they didn’t really drive American cars at all, unless of course it was a minivan or SUV, or the occasional Taurus, which at the time was the best-selling car in America. For the most part, what I saw them driving were Honda and Toyota sedans, occasionally BMWs or Mercedes, but more frequently Saabs and Volvos, the latter two of which were extremely prominent in my hometown of Milton, MA throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
The small group of people who drove full-size American sedans in my area, were exclusively of one demographic: senior citizens. In fact, they looked just like the couple in the ad below. Now there’s nothing wrong with that of course, but soft, leisurely, “old people’s cars” had and still have about as much appeal to me as lose-fitting velour jogging suit and Velcro sneakers — comfortable but hardly anything else.
Truth was that overall, the popularity of the Lincoln Town Car-type cars was waning. This was largely due to its diminished appeal with younger buyers, and by that I mean baby boomers who were sticking with the types of cars they already drove or turning elsewhere as they became of a certain age.
While the Town Car was very successfully updated in 1990, at last bringing its appearance out of the Malaise Era, its underpinnings and very idea of luxury were steadfast in their ways, and relics of a ever bygone era. Thankfully, the “new” Town Car featured modern safety equipment and in its sophomore season, a truly modern engine. The styling was a mix of old and new, and while hardly the style that I find stimulating, I can confidently say that the 1990-1997, particularly the 1995-1997 facelifted models were the best-looking Lincoln Town Cars ever, and truly the last Town Car that would ever warrant a second glance from me. Even today, it has a classic elegance to it that still demands attention.
Once and for all, let me say this: there is nothing immoral with a car or any other material good that appeals to older people. We often deride, or at least come across as deriding “old people cars”, and to a lesser extent, the people who drive them for their pure existence, which is wrong. That’s not what I am trying to come across in this article, nor do I want anyone to interpret that I am doing so.
The cars we classify as “old people’s cars” serve a distinct purpose and have their profitable segment of the new car market. The trickier part with this type of car is that it has to satisfy the needs and appeal of both its current buyers, providing them what they are familiar and comfortable with, as well as entice newer and younger buyers with the modern conveniences they’ve come to expect in a new car.
For most people, whether or not they will publicly admit it, they are constantly in the search of the everlasting fountain of youth. The majority, whether they be man or woman, want to look or feel younger than they are, and this feeling tends do get stronger the older one grows. So as far as the car in which one drives goes, “retiring” to an “old person’s car” is something many people simply do not want, nor ever want.
Therefore, with cars that fall into this camp, product planners must retain a car’s familiar virtues, while making the necessary updates and enhancements to appeal to newer buyers, but not changing the car too drastically as to turn off its traditional buyers. It’s a fine line to walk, that’s for sure, but in more recent years most automakers have pulled it off rather well. Just look at cars such as the current Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse for example.
Unfortunately, cars such as the Lincoln Town Car didn’t so effectively appease all the gods. The Town Car was forever a staunch traditionalist, unwilling to make concessions to contemporary trends, even if it did mean digging its own grave.
Yet while there will always be a dwindling group of loyal buyers who would, with their hand on their hearts swear to keep buying Town Cars forever if Lincoln kept making them forever, their vows unfortunately could not continue fulfillment with the ultimate discontinuation of the Town Car in 2011. And while it is something I’ve overlooked before, letting that fact sink in, I think I have finally found my appreciation for the Lincoln Town Car, something I have been on a mission to find for nearly a lifetime.
The Lincoln Town Car was and is a car that has never, and will never appeal to me as a car I’d want to drive. It’s the size of a barge and handles much like one. It’s not particularly quick off the line, and I’d compare its floaty ride to that of a trampoline. Its interior was never quite up to snuff versus most similarly sized luxury sedans that were available at any given time in the Town Car’s history. So still, regarding the car itself, I’m finding difficulty coming up with very forgiving words, as I simply don’t like it.
Ultimately, I don’t think I will ever fully see what some find so appealing about the Lincoln Town Car. I can, however, at last find appreciation for it in its unwavering preservation of the qualities that its loyal buyers sought, and continued to buy Town Cars for, right up until the very end. So in conclusion, it is the loyalty of the Town Car’s buyers, and in essence the Town Car’s loyalty to its buyers that I can appreciate.
The importance of loyalty is something I feel one grows to appreciate more with age and experience, and maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to find my appreciation for this car. I’ve learned that as you get older, you find who your true friends are. The truest ones are not always the most funny, the most outgoing, the most exciting, or the most flawless. True friends do not try and mold you into something you’re not; they appreciate you for who you are and remain loyal to you until the end.
Photographed: Hingham, Massachusetts – October 2017