(Ed. Note: This piece was first published exactly ten years ago today) It has become beyond trite by this point to say that, with the end of the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car, an era comes to an end. And yet it is thus: the last of the body-on-frame, rear wheel drive and eight cylinder engine passenger cars, once a species unique to North America, have now reached the end of an 80 year span that commenced with the advent of the 1932 Ford V-8.
Having transported generations of Americans through some of the nation’s finest decades, full-size cars like the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car are now an anomaly. While large V8-powered sedans made a comeback in the 21st century, the Ford Panther chassis was one of the very few full-size, rear-drive sedans that never left. And today we bid it farewell.
Let us be clear before we go any further: increasing CAFE standards will mean that, barring a phenomenal advancement in engine technology, all large cars in their current form will be phased out before long. New realities are coming that automakers will find impossible to avoid. At the same time, without vehicles like the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car, cars so steeped in our notions of a limitless frontier and freedom from tyranny (of the mobility and engine displacement varieties), we lose a potent symbol of the domestic industry’s raison d’être.
The Ford Panther chassis is a rolling respite from traffic anxiety disorder. If your only experience with one has been riding in a taxicab, or careening through city streets, you’ve been misled. Truth is, the Panther’s driving personality is far more sedate. While some cars vie for your down payment by touting driver involvement, the big Ford goes the other way, trumpeting maximum driver isolation. It regards the world around it as uncouth, bumpy and loud, and lovingly insulates you from the indignities of crumbling roads and the frenzied pace of traffic. Only when breezing along without a care in the world do these vehicles truly come into their own, not only transporting you to your destination in isolated comfort, but under the right conditions, even taking you into view of a past that is on the brink of being irrevocably lost.
Prodigious torque, smooth power delivery and the isolation of riding on (frame) rails will now become the sole purview of those who have signed the paperwork for a truck or traditional sport utility vehicle. Those loners, those holdovers clinging to a time that has passed them by, will now have to join that swollen cohort of automobile purchasers who have savoured the qualities they continue to find rewarding, from a higher perch.
But I come not to praise the body-on-frame passenger car but to bury it. Aficionados of this type of automobile have had ample time through various stays of execution and luck to sample the last vestiges of what make North American motoring a unique island unto itself for the vast majority of the 20th century. Indeed, through various twists of fate, the body-on-frame passenger car has held on longer than it would seem it had the right to, and that in of itself is reason enough to observe its passing today with pride, solemnity and recognition of a notable landmark.
After today, the remaining holdover from a completely globalized design movement led by the world’s automakers remains the pickup and traditional sport utility vehicle. Can this segment, in particular pickups, remain the top sellers? Or will they too fall victim to changing tastes and new regulations that threaten their existence?
For now, the American Truck reigns supreme. Today, we honour what once was and observe the demise of the American Car. In truth, the Panther has no peer, no competitor. It is the last vestige of the American car. Let’s not kid ourselves; pretty much everything else is international in form and function.
A part of me hopes they put the last Crown Vic or Town Car in the Smithsonian, with an inscription on the plaque reading: “Once we built cars, and we were not ashamed.” But another part of me is OK with the notion that the passing of the last traditional American sedan will go mostly unnoticed. After all, it befits the nature of this car; going about its business day in and day out, stoic and laconic, its qualities unheralded except by those who came to rely on it for the past 33 years.
I own a ’93, with about 47K. It’s in good shape, and I’ve only driven it in good weather, over the last three years. The 190 hp engine runs fine, and I’ve had no mechanical issues of any kind.
The Indianapolis Police Department is still running some old CVs as front line patrol vehicles – which are now positively ancient. I cannot imagine they will survive much longer. I know a guy whose rookie-cop son has been assigned one of them and says it is in the shop about every third week for age-related problems. They have to be tough to survive that kind of service for so many years.
Everyone wants to make BOF a qualification for “big American car” but let us not forget that Chrysler went Unibody in 1960 and built an awful lot of “big American cars” in the ensuing decades. By that metric, the 300/Charger keeps the flame lit.
For those without firsthand experience, it is difficult to overstate the change in personality these cars underwent in the 1990-92 changeover from box to aero versions. I am over the boxes but would consider another aero if the right one showed itself.
Just this past weekend, I saw a Crown Victoria making a traffic stop (in Orange County, Va.), and I wondered if that’ll be the last time I ever see that again.
In most jurisdictions around here, the Crown Vics have been gone from regular duty for several years, but I think several police departments still keep some around as spare cruisers to use if the rest of the fleet is depleted. But it’s become rare to see one in action. And they’re totally gone from the taxi fleets.
The jig is up for “fake cops” who like to “patrol” with retired CV police equipment.
Recently I thought to myself “I don’t drive this slow for a real cop” as I buzzed by a CV that was poking along holding up more timid traffic.
He was real, but apparently not interested. lol
The little city of Colonial Heights, VA still have several Crown Vics in service. The city is lucky enough to average one short snowfall per year. So, if you want a fairly rust free Vic, give them a call.
Colonial Heights used to be a notorious ticketer of out-of-state cars heading to and from DC and points north. My grandmother, who first drove through it in ’46, never failed to remind me of this when I was driving her on I-95 in the 80’s.
Thank you for mentioning Chrysler unibodies as “big American” cars. I have two. So I never actually stopped driving this type of car three seasons of the year.
In the mid 80’s I bought my then wife a ’65 1/2 Ford Galaxie 500 to drive from where we were going to college to where she had a nursing externship which meant a lot of interstate driving. The Ford excelled at that, but on curves, it was a little too exciting. If I had that car now, I’d equip it with front and back anti sway bars, some KYB shocks and radial tires. Then I think it’d be an enjoyable all around cruiser. I was driving my first car, a ’67 Sport Fury and it did great on all those winding, twisting roads and the interstate, but even as a Mopar guy, have to give the Ford the nod on ride comfort.
Let’s also not forget Lincoln made big unibody cars even before Chrysler did, starting in 1958. They reverted to body-on-frame in 1970.
It’s been 3 years now since I sold my Crown Victoria – a 2006 LX Sport that we bought new in 2007 (leftover on the dealer’s lot, since few people wanted them back then).
I call that car My Favorite Mistake. A mistake because it wasn’t really a well-built car. Maybe I’m an outlier, but I had quite a few problems with that car: electrical gremlins, mechanical problems, shoddy build quality, etc. But I still loved driving a big, traditional, comfortable American car, which is why I bought it in the first place. And despite people’s preconceptions, it rode and handled rather nicely… old fashioned nice, but still nice. Ultimately, I sold it with only 77,000 miles — the fewest miles of any car I’ve owned.
I don’t regret selling it (it had the dreaded a/c blend-door failure at the time I sold it, along with a few other problems), but I still miss driving that kind of car. Maybe someday I’ll buy a pickup instead.
You must have got one built on a Friday after lunch. I rode in a Las Vegas taxi Crown Vic back in 2008 that had 600K on it’s original engine…oil got changed every 3K miles since new. Regular maintenance does work.
All true, but there isn’t much maintenance you can do on things like blend doors, window regulators and the other little niggling things that fail regularly on these cars.
In the taxi business, the car’s motor, especially when it is a big, low stressed V-8 will last longer than the rest of the car.
It’s the rest of it that starts costing you money, like hinges, seats, window hardware, sensor failures, transmission failures, rear end failures, the list goes on and on.
I never ran a cab more than five years because of this.
My experience with Panthers was similar to Eric’s with numerous gremlins. They do have very tough bones. The 4.6L was bulletproof and suspensions durable , but there seemed to be lots of other failures and quality issues. This experience was also the same as a municipal fleet manager I knew and a head mechanic that serviced a fleet of police Crown Vics.
I am going to advance an argument that the body-on-frame American car still exists; it has merely superficially evolved because of environmental circumstances, like those moths in England that were originally white, but morphed to become a black species because heavy coal use in their habitat left the trees in which they lived darkened.
Really, what is a four-door F150 but a classic body-on-frame car missing its trunk lid, and riding high on giant tires? Think of it as a mere fashion swing – kids rebelling against their parents style: the antithesis of the 1960’s “Longer, Lower, Wider”; the flat-faced, square and blunt freight locomotive styling, is merely that – body styling à la mode de l’époque.
My wife and I recently went to dinner with friends in their Cadillac truck. It was as quiet, comfortable, and spacious as a 1969 DeVille, modernized. It easily cost more than my 5 Series, and was -at least- as well equipped. The new American luxury car.*
The only practical difference is that you step up to get in rather than lean down.
* Now someone here is going to argue that a truck is a truck, and can never be a car, but I counter that “a truck is as a truck does” and 85%? – 90%? of these suburban trucks will never be used for carrying anything in the bed except bags of mulch et al.
I agree completely. I get pushback on this hereabouts but CAFE made further evolution of a passenger car like this all but impossible. It is true that tastes moved away from cars like this, but it’s impossible to say how tastes might have evolved if there had been other choices – like some kind of large crossover that is more car than truck. CAFE forced everything of size into the “truck” column.
I recall a short period of time when Ford classified these as imports due to all production being in Canada, so that for awhile the quintessential American car wasn’t even American. I can’t recall if Ford had to fix this because of “buy American” requirements for many fleets or because the EPA refused to sanction mixing the mpgs on these in with Fiestas and such instead of in with the American lineup. For every action of the regulator there is at least one reaction by the ones being regulated.
I don’t agree, there is no reason that you can’t have decent fuel economy and an engine that churns out the same horsepower as a CV. Ford’s doing it right now with the Hybrid F150 and that’s really way overkill from a power perspective but has vastly more power, returns better mileage and drives a much heavier vehicle.
If Ford were to drop that same 3.5TT V6 Hybrid engine into a car like a CV it would get better fuel economy and be even faster than it is in the F150 it’s in. Downsize it to the 2.7TT and fuel economy would likely be even better. Add it to a regular non-turbo V6 for more FE gain with still plenty of power. Or, horror of horrors, put a hybrid four under the hood, it would still move just fine and likely return at least mid 30’s FE. Or strap it to a 5.0 and it’d most likely still do much better in all respects than either the regular 5.0 or the 4.6 in the last CV. It doesn’t have to add much cost either, Toyota’s larger hybrids (RAV4 and up) generally carry less than a $1,000 price premium for example when equipped the same otherwise.
The demise of the BoF car is just an example of the old saying, “Time marches on”, the root cause being the realization and, ultimately, acceptance of the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource that will, someday, eventually run out. There just isn’t a whole lot that can be done to make a big, RWD car fuel efficient. OTOH, sales of big, gas-guzzling light trucks and SUVs seem to be rolling along just fine.
Still, the Crown Victoria’s demise could be seen as a corollary to the rise of the plug-in EV. I wonder if there had been a way to jam in a traction battery somewhere between the Panther’s frame rails that the big RWD Ford might still be with us, today. It’s worth noting that Tesla began production of their first (and largest) sedan less than a year after the last Crown Victoria rolled off the assembly line.
I was going to note that with EVs, RWD doesn’t really have any fuel economy/range or space efficiency deficits compared to FWD. It’s not like you’ll need a longitudally mounted engine, a driveshaft hump, or a gas tank under the trunk floor if you go with rear drive.
As a former New Yorker, I’ve probably ridden in hundreds of these over the years. Unmemorable experiences for the most part, with a couple of exceptions. I’ll refrain from telling the story of the NYPD liveried example I had the misfortune to be chauffeured in one evening, but one particular ride in a brand new P71 taxi gave me an appreciation for their merits that I might never have had otherwise. A friend and I hailed a shiny yellow Crown Vic one night in 2006 on East 79th St., running late to an acquaintance’s debut performance at the iconic Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side. The enthusiastic young driver absolutely relished being tasked with getting us down the FDR Drive at the fastest pace possible, music playing loudly, zig-zagging through weeknight traffic. The guy had skills, and he played that car like a Stradivarius, and it performed quite admirably. I got out at my destination (on time) very impressed. I’m sure there were hundreds more rides in well used and used up Crown Vics, but that night taught me what one could actually do in the right hands.
Actually, a little Googling just taught me that the long wheelbase taxi model was different than the P71 police package. I’d been under the impression for all these years that car had beefed up components, but I guess not. Even more impressive, I suppose.
Oh that the LWB version had been offered at retail. I suspect the take rate on high trim Mercury models would have been quite respectable.
The Taxi, regular P72 and LWB P70 version did have some of the suspension shared with the P71, cooling and charging, but not the go fast bits.
Sad. I still, to this day, fantasize about finding a pristine, unmolested P71 Police Interceptor….sigh…
I saw a post on a FB classic car that theres 5 P71s in New Zealand, somebody has been shopping at police auctions, though gawd knows what they are like after front line police work all their lives.
And good luck getting parts for them too. Wonder if you could swap in a Barra Turbo?
I wouldn’t mind a Mercury Marauder either….the only Panther to get the DOHC 4.6…
A cammed engine in a big, full-size, BoF car like the Panther likely contributed to its demise. The old adage, “There’s no replacement for displacement” would seem to apply; big vehicles need big torque to get them moving, and the torque curve on a cammed engine comes on much further up the rpm band than a big, old-school pushrod V8.
Ford’s logic in switching to cammed engines was a need for better fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, it came at a cost of performance. To that end, the Mercury Marauder, as peak performance Panther, simply wasn’t that terrific, and sales reflected that.
To me, the worst thing about the Panther Marauder’s failure was it killed what could have been a revival of the big, domestic convertible. The Marauder convertible was one cool concept but thanks to dismal sales of the sedan, it never stood a chance of making production.
Just needed more torque converter stall and more gear(4.10+)to get the engine into the torque peak quicker and multiply it. Those concessions were made for economy but correcting both of those can make modulars shine. Don’t fear the gear.
That’s true. I don’t recall the Marauder’s rear axle gearing, but I’m sure it was a big factor in hampering performance, as evidenced by the frequent rear axle ratio swaps in 4.6L Mustangs.
3.55 but it was designed with 4.10 gears in mind in part due to the larger diameter tires used on the rear. Just the swap to standard Panther diameter rear tires does a lot to wake it up off the line.
Wixom Mich., May 31, 2007
Since 2013, my daily ride has been a ’03 CV Sport. I grew up swearing I’d never have a big car, and until 2013, tooled around in “sensible” sized vehicles. We ended up having twins and with a toddler, I had to contend with three adult sized car seats. I didn’t want another van. I ended up with this CV Sport shopping for an SUV. I felt sorry for the salesman who wanted me to see it, but until I opened the door and was shocked to find leather bucket seats, a console shifter, I was intrigued. Once I had driven a half-mile, I discovered that the CV Sport didn’t ride like a GrandMa or TC. Instead, it was an amazing full sized ride fit for TJ Hooker cruising for a suspected felon.
So – what I have learned is that these cars make you feel good. This bad boy moves like nothing else. It is a robust design that also pampers. Everyone guy who drives it, really likes its power and handling. Anyone over 50 assumed it would float – but it does not. The 2003 benefitted from a frame redesign, specifically targeted for handling. It was probably the biggest misconception because both the GrandMa and TC are more isolating and one assumes the same for the CV Sport or companion Marauder.
The front seat is for man-spreading. The quality of the leather is extremely high. After almost 20 years, I currently have two quarter-sized surface rust spots, one from a parking lot bump I hadn’t repaired. Yes – I have had to replace the exhaust manifold, and no matter what I do, I can’t take back the miles I’ve put on it. I sincerely wish I could.
I crushed a curb with it. A bad curb design caused me to drop over a high curb and the CV frame crushed it, knocking an eight foot long curb to fall off from the sidewalk. No damage. Seriously. It seems that in normal driving conditions, the CV’s strengths aren’t being tested. It effortlessly races through traffic with a speed that impresses. It gets washed 2-3 times a week, and it is always looks good.
I feel bad that they aren’t made anymore. I would have another one if I could. I hate even imagining that I may need to replace it. It is now old enough to attract attention and it is not uncommon to have someone telling me how they loved their big car. The kids who grew up in the back seat, are now learning to drive with it. It is a part of our family and I will do everything reasonable to keep it. It is my car and I look forward to growing old with it.
This Crown Vic Sport?
I’m not one to hang on C&D’s every word, but even accounting for their hyperbole and general lack of realistic perspective, their description looks really, really bad.
And they were comparing it to a Bonneville and 300, not something ridiculous like a BMW 5 Series. Even from the domestic standard of 15 years ago, the CV Sport was neither comfortable nor dynamically engaging…just old and sloppy.
I’ll come to the Crown Vic Sport’s defense here, since I owned one for 11 years (see above comment). It wasn’t very well-built, but it WAS good to drive.
Much of that CD article bears no resemblance to the car I owned. For example:
OK, the handling wasn’t what I’d call sophisticated… and you could certainly tell it was a heavy, older design, but I never experienced the slightest bit of chaos, etc. While I don’t push a car to its limits the way a car-magazine tester does, I’m a spirited, assertive driver, and I wouldn’t have bought a car that behaved as the above quote indicated.
My family and I drove that car on 1,000-mile + roadtrips probably more than a dozen times. It was comfortable and roomy, in any seating position.
I never experienced anything like this. Again, I drove on long highway trips a lot in that car.
I could go on, but to me, it seems that CD just wanted a car to beat up on, and the Crown Vic made an easy target. Yes, I get it, it’s not Car and Driver’s type of car. But much of what they wrote appears as little more than hyperbole & exaggeration.
The CV was far from perfect, and I’m not a Panther-worshipper, but this car, and certainly the Sport, was not the disaster they made it out to be.
It was a comparison test. When you jump back and forth between three different vehicles multiple times in a short time frame, differences become very apparent.
Our Wrangler absolutely tears it up on our mountain and canyon roads with me behind the wheel. As does my old truck. Until, that is, I get home and take the Tesla out for a spin immediately afterward…. 😀. Judged that way I can see how shortcomings are far more magnified while they are not necessarily apparent otherwise.
Exactly so. Sure, there’s some blustery nonsense in car-writing, worse today than ever. But the business of directly going from one car to another, in the same conditions, is incredibly informative, and something practically none of us get to do. One minor example where I do get to compare direct competitors, I sometimes ride to family functions in my sister’s Mitsu ASX. It’s newish, a very highly optioned diesel. It’s really nice. I then hop directly into a brother’s low-line Mazda CX-5, and it’s suddenly apparent what a cheap and dated car lies under the leather and stuff of the ASX. Result? Mitsu is a damn nice car – but the Mazda is entirely better.
I read that car and driver review and knowing my experiences, it is garbage.
I don’t know if it is, Vanilla. Their hyperbole against the car seems no more vibrant than your hyperbole for it and against the import-branded vehicles you have frequently slagged here. Keep in mind they liked the 2003 Marauder they tested. The CV Sport apparently is no Marauder.
“It effortlessly races through traffic with a speed that impresses”
7.9 seconds to 60. From a 4.6L V8 with the big tune and quick rear end. Tied with a 4-cylinder Camry from 2012 and falling well behind by the quarter mile. Adequate, for sure. Charming, even, with its torque curve and V8 noises. But not impressive in the least.
I agree, they write for an audience. They have no trouble exaggerating to fit a narrative, spend a lot of time with performance machinery, comparo tests need a whipping boy, and they don’t have a decade’s worth of ownership time to become calibrated to the car.
That last point may be important. My 4Runner for instance. Receives the same basic press criticism as that Crown Vic. I have 55K miles behind its wheel and therefore am accustomed to the freeway wander, brake dive, live axle hop, and old powertrain design. I don’t notice those flaws much and scoff at criticism of them…until I get behind the wheel of my wife’s Camry, to say nothing of the Fiesta ST. Then it becomes very apparent. So I believe you that the Crown Vic Sport isn’t as bad as they say, but I also believe it drives very much like an old live axle sedan riding on a heavy frame. There’s only so much that can be done about that.
So – what I have learned is that these cars make you feel good. This bad boy moves like nothing else. It is a robust design that also pampers. Everyone guy who drives it, really likes its power and handling. Anyone over 50 assumed it would float – but it does not.
While I enjoy all of my cars the two cars to get the biggest smile is the Cougar because it is my first car and who wouldn’t. The other car is the big Parklane. I always have a smile on my face when driving that big yacht. Fabulous torque. Wonderful ride, Not bad handling which will be better after I finish upgrading the rear suspension in a week or two. The car even got the chance to reunite with her previous owner from back in 2003 and he was thrilled to see she was still on the road in fine shape. I’ll have to do a story on that when the rear end is finished.
“All large cars in their current form will be phased out before long…”
I don’t really agree with this or at least the reasons for it. The main reason they are going away is people (that’s us) aren’t buying them. The Toyota Avalon for example is by most measures a large car, it’s certainly spacious inside. Yet it has been cancelled in the US after the next year while volume in other parts of the world (China for one) is 10x our volume of it.
Yet the one I reviewed a while back managed to return in the upper 20’s mpg wise while equipped with AWD. No Crown Vic ever got close. 0-60 in 7 something seconds is better too. And that’s with a 4-cylinder engine. The V6 beats most supercars from not too long ago. The Hybrid returns 40mpg. A modern Avalon is easily as cocooning as any Crown Vic and likely far more reliable with better handling, much better safety and better space utilitization. That’s just one example.
The problem is lack of buyers, i.e. WE are not buying them or at the very least being unreasonably dismissive without even trying them.
We’ve been hearing that for over fifty years and instead of large sedans, we have even bigger trucks. Pickup trucks are enormous now. Their SUV counterparts are humongous. It doesn’t matter if it is a domestic or an imported brand – even a freaking Subaru makes a Buick Electra look reasonable in size. I clearly remember being told that by 2000, we’d be out of oil. Obviously, professors believe “The Lorax” over common sense economics.
Remember how much Raymond Lowey championed efficiency? Eighty years ago, right? The stuff we are hearing about automobiles has been a rerun for as long as that. Now look at that hulking large stupid looking Infiniti Manatee selling for $90,000 in your neighbor’s drive way. Efficient my butt.
Huh? I was positing that we aren’t buying the cars even though they can be efficient, nothing is “regulating” them out of existence, manufacturers can certainly engineer and provide them if buyers were buying them. The CV is/was an unsafe, inefficient barge relative to what’s available today in the same form factor, charming as it may well be to some, including myself.
In the case of the Panther the reason it was dropped was because of both legislation and dropping demand. To sell it as a 2012, in the US, it would have required stability control and w/o that it and the Ranger would have likely soldiered on for a few more years. But with the sales numbers on a downward trajectory, and the fact that a high percentage of each were lower margin fleet sales meant it wasn’t worth investing in that technology. If demand was higher, staying steady or increasing then it might have been worth investing in both stability control and more efficient power trains.
Note the car in the first picture is a 2012 MY vehicle in Export spec but they did the entire year’s run in 8 working days.
In that land in the southern part of the Salt Belt known as Kentucky, Crown Vics are still in service as police cars and taxi cabs. Not too many of them are still front line police cruisers as Chargers and whatever Ford calls their large cars these days dominate but I still see them mostly as “traffic safety”, sheriff deputy cars and the occasional constable vehicle. People still slow down for them, but people really slow down when they see a grey or white Charger. In the mid-80’s I’d bought my then wife a ’65 1/2 Ford Galaxie 500 with a 289 and a Motorcraft 2100 2 barrel. On long interstate drives, it routinely got 25 mpg even though it had the aerodynamics and colour of a refrigerator (white). Laughably, people would slow down when I got behind them. This was a 1965 car travelling in 1985. Crown Vics were still square bodied but still, who would think departments would still be running 60’s cars in the 80’s?
Even though I’m a Mopar guy, I wouldn’t mind having a late civilian Crown Vic that is nicely optioned. Used police cruisers here look like they’ve re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere a few times too many.
I am 57. I have purchased three cars in my life – 1989 Crown Victoria (purchased used in October 1989 with 12,000 miles), 2004 Crown Victoria (purchased brand new in April 2004), and 2010 Grand Marquis (purchased used in September 2014 with 36,000 miles). Parents gave me 1985 Escort when I graduated from college, and I inherited their 1993 Taurus when my mother died in May 2001. I hope my 2010 Grand Marquis lasts the remainder of my life. It has 90,400 miles now. The Panthers are the only Ford cars that will provide reliable service over 100,000 miles. I want the bench seat, V8, and column shift. If forced to buy another car, I will just get basic transportation like a Kia Rio.
There are still a few CV’s here in OKC in regular service. Since the patrol vehicle colors were changed to all black with white vinyl lettering starting with the purchase of Taurus and then later Explorer patrol vehicles, The traditional black and white painted Crown Vic’s stand out even more.
I had an extremely clean, low mileage, 2003 P71 as my daily from 2011 to 2014.
Best car relatively to purchase price I have owned. With a few minor modifications (chip,
polished intake, and larger throttle body) it was quite quick for what it was, with 0-60 in a
hair over 7. Where it really shined was in high speed long distance road trips. The only
mechanical issue I had was with one of the window regulators. The one thing
it really needed was a limited slip, which I never got around to, the electronic traction
control being useless. Fond memories, but won’t be revisiting sedan ownership,
as my needs, including rate of speed, have changed.
It’s a very warm, enthusiastic, and respectful homage to an automobile form with a long history. Commendable, Ryan, and enjoyable to read. So please don’t take the following as any affront.
I’ll make the argument that those of us without nostalgia for Panthers and Caprices and whatnot are experiencing no sense of loss whatsoever at their passing. Toyota has had very nice riding and powerful V6 Camrys, Avalons, and Lexus ESs for two decades now for those wanting to glide in quiet isolation, and without the body-on-frame shudders and nautical bobbing of the Panthers.
The unibody FWD mid & full size sedan classes from multiple manufacturers have provided much of what the old BOF brutes did, without imposing many compromises, and they’ve been bringing us freedom-loving Americans the distant horizon in comfort & speed for many years. As a sedan, whether a comfortable cruiser or relatively crisp and engaging backroad partner, they eclipsed the Panthers long ago. American full size pickups, as noted, are immensely capable and diverse, and did the rest.
Perhaps it’s the era, the past, the nostalgia for the days of our youth that we miss rather than the cars themselves…because I don’t think these cars were that good. I’m going to duck behind something now.
The unibody FWD mid & full size sedan classes from multiple manufacturers have provided much of what the old BOF brutes did, without imposing many compromises,
You are technically right, the unibody FWD sedans have filled the gap in most ways. However, as I mentioned below, they simply don’t replicate the driving dynamics of a BOF RWD car. This driving feel is what I like and prefer over the modern FWD counterparts. A new Avalon may be able to dust a Crown Vic or Caprice in a drag race and out corner it, but does this really matter when out for a cruise or normal driving? Just because something is “better” doesn’t mean that everyone has to like or prefer it. I can tell you if I was driving a sedan, my money would be buying a Crown Vic over any FWD fullsizer, despite its shortcomings. Alas, I drive a BOF truck instead, which is far more versatile than any full-size car.
When we went on a Florida holiday week back in 2011, I made sure to rent a CV as I knew it would be the last time I would be able to rent one. I got a new one and loved it the whole week. It ticked many things: large, wide, column change, V8, big boot, the last true American big sedan.
Pity it was too impractical to have one here in the Netherlands (too wide / big for our tiny old city streets) or I would have bought one as a daily driver.
I managed to find a CV as a rental on a vacation to California in summer 2013. I’m sure that car left the fleet and was sent to the used car lot or auction block soon after I returned it. I’m glad I got the chance to cruise up and down the PCH in style in the last of the big American barges!
I still have my ’03 Mercury Grand Marquis LSE which I bought new. Currently has 57k miles. So far I have replaced the tires, battery, one front seat belt, and the hood struts. It performs flawlessly. My wife and I are both retired. She absolutely will NOT let me sell this car, she loves it as much as me!
Yeah, hold on to that one, the rarest Panther of them all.
Will do Scoutdude! People that wave away all of the changes Ford made to the Panther platform in ’03 are ignorant. 2001 was probably the best selling Panther year of all. That gave Ford the incentive to come out with the Marauder in ’03 as well as the LSE and LX-Sport starting in ’01, but benefiting greatly from the new chassis updates in ’03. I owned a ’94 Mercury Marquis LS and traded that in for the ’03 I have now. The ’03 was WAY better and different, while remaining overall the same. IOW, a much needed refinement, which basically lasted until 2011. These cars are built like tanks and are basically bulletproof, why else would law enforcement and taxi companies use them, and KEEP using them even to this day in many places?
I’m not suggesting they are the best car of all time, just one of the best! For what they were, no else did it better!
There is a Merc Marauder running in my autocross class. The owner sure knows how to hustle that ride thru the course. I will have to be on my “A” game the last 3 events this year if I want to grab first place in my class.
The strong opinions for the Panthers always baffles me, both from those who love them and those who loathe them. Both seem to forget Ford effectively stopped any meaningful updates to these after about 1993 with the electronically controlled AODE transmission paired to the still fresh 4.6, Yes after that they got a ratio change(4R70w), a minor restyle for 98, PI heads and rack & pinion steering but those additions were never earth shattering to the driving experience.
To find negative comparisons between a final run 2011 and a Camry of the same year to make the point that BOF RWD V8s are inherently archaic and have no business to exist in our technological times simply isn’t fair, a 93 Camry in continuous production wouldn’t stack up well either. Trucks are proof positive a RWD BOF layout has nothing to do with being on the wrong side of progressive technological design, they receive improvements because they have a market who buys them with competition to keep them evolving, the Panther had none of that and the result was it withered on the vine rather than flourished.
And on the flip side to those that suggest these were the evolutionary pinnacle of the traditional American car, they do themselves no favors in trying to tout the merits of that for the same reason; these were neglected cars by Ford in their final 15-20 years, only receiving updates when absolutely necessary; usually when they shared parts with a different line, or when they occasionally listened to feedback by law enforcement fleets. The ultimate police car isn’t synonymous to the ultimate traditional American car, and I’m not even sure longtime veterans would even say these were ultimate police car, but one that simply got the job done.
For me American car design always came with a certain sense of distinctive style, and while the design of the Crown Vic is of course very American looking, it was always a cycle or three behind other Ford vehicles in the same vein as an Econoline van, hardly the spiritual descendants of a 60s Galaxie 500xl or early LTD. Anyone who knows me knows I’m very passionate about old American cars, and the V8 engine but Panther love is something that has always evaded me as the 90s era Ford product I have, my MN12 Cougar, makes a better case as a modern traditional RWD V8 American car as it debuted with the combination of, style, performance, comfort and technology of both the useful and gimmick variety that we value in the “golden era” of American cars. The Crown Vic is a car I can see buying as a driver that fits my personality well enough but not something I’d be particularly enthusiastic about owning.
Ford did spend a lot of money on the Panther, it was just that it was stuff that wasn’t obvious to the majority of buyers or they just didn’t care. They also paired it with cost cutting which didn’t help matters either.
Better front brakes in 95 and 98 but not something anyone who wasn’t hard on brakes would have noticed.
New Watt’s linkage rear suspension in 98 but then dropped the $20 rear sway bar from the base models. That rear suspension got tweaked again in 03 with the relocation of the shocks and a wider rear axle to work with the high offset wheels. But again not something that most people would notice.
New front suspension in 03 along with a completely new frame. But they also wasted money on the LWB frames and bodies for what was about a 12 month run even though they were going to make 4 new frames. Again lost on the majority of buyers.
As much as I prefer the later cars chassis most of that was lost most of the buyers and I think the retail buyers would have been more receptive of some new sheet metal, interior, or powertrain upgrades.
Great points, SD. The Panther was a maddening series of tradeoffs throughout the long 20 year run of the aero cars. The early cars (97 and earlier, I think) had a lot of consumer content that made these pleasant, but the tradeoff is more flex in the frames and styling that was a little challenging (especially in the CV, which pretty much flushed most retail traffic over to LM dealers after 1991). My 93, for example, was full of great interior features but sported that awful grille.
The later cars had better frames and suspensions but had all of the pleasantness cut out of the interior to save a few bucks. Late 90s-mid 00s was a dreary time to be inside of a Ford. So there was never really an ultimate version, only a series of models designed to teach that basic economics lesson that getting one thing costs you something else.
Good analysis! I’d pretty much agree with every point. The big American car, in its hay-day, was a dreamboat, an object of emotional desire for many that was assertively and creatively styled, and at least making claims of lust-worthy performance. The Panther in its last couple decades was none of those things, rather it was basically an appliance. An appliance with some definite virtues and a desirable appliance for many, but still a far cry from what its mechanical forebears represented.
I’ve never been a huge Panther fan, as my tastes in archaic, obsolete big cars always ran more to the GM variety. I still wouldn’t object to owning one now, except that a wagon fits my needs much more than a sedan. I did drive a 2007 version once and was rather impressed at the ride and handling for a car of its size.
Matt you make some good points about the Panther’s, especially the love-hate aspect. I have owned and drive thousands of miles on Panthers, both the old box style and the aero Vics. I am pretty ambivalent about them overall, and I don’t have the pining desire to own one again despite the fact I liked them. I thoroughly enjoy driving them, and I always described them as the ultimate evolution of the 70’s American car. What many forget is that while that modern 4-cylinder Camry may be able to run circles around a CV, the way they drive is completely different. I like the BOF RWD driving dynamics and even if the modern cars are better in most (or all) metrics, they just don’t replicate that feel.
One thing I will comment on, and that Scoutdude did point out, is that the 2003 chassis upgrade was a huge change that most didn’t see. The chassis dynamics were dramatically improved and these cars were by far the best driving, in particular the P71s with their tight suspensions. Like Scout, I also much prefer the later cars, and since I like my cars plain, I the de-contenting didn’t bother me.
Thank you for that requiem. It is good to remember an 80 year old technology that is a part of our lives and culture. While the Panther wasn’t a saint, it was a good car and beloved by most who knew it best.
Good write-up on a good car. I had an ’02 Grand Marquis LS at the same time as my eternal ’03 Avalon. While the Toyota won the long game for me, the GM did its job well and I give it respect.
The Crown Victoria was really peak sled and the world moved on from it. If one wants a body on frame car then there are dozens of truck models on the market that have much better packaging than a sedan.
The later cars with the rack and pinion steering drove a lot better than the earlier steering box iterations. Unfortunately, that coincided with Ford cheaping out the interior. The heater controls would have looked bad in an Escort.
How many people who have owned body on frame cars have crawled under them to see if they actually were body on frame? I would bet not many. As mentioned in previous posts, Lincoln and Chrysler built a lot of conventional American unibody cars that were also nice. The conventional American sedan lives on. It just shed its frame, just like it shed its vinyl roof 30 years ago. Your Chrysler, Dodge dealer will help you find what you need.
Thank you everyone for your comments.
I reflect, 10 years on, that the demise of the full-size sedan (heck, the sedan period) continues apace. There are still a few of this ilk left, but are a long way from the configuration that Henry Ford would’ve recognized.
As the article mentioned then, the Panther had no peer, and no competitor by the end of its run. It was in a class of one.
At the time I wrote this piece, the American auto industry straddled a yawning canyon. While it was all-in on trucks (and in retrospect, a good thing), it also had these relics of a past when the most common, indeed aspirational expression of vehicular status was a full-size car, whether that was a coupe, sedan, or wagon.
Fin de siecle really turns my crank (as it were), and so it’s always been a fascinating area to explore.
Another plus for traditional architecture is repair. The modern idiom jams way too much into a smaller space. This probably doesn’t matter to the buyer that trades when the warranty is up, which I expect is what the makers prefer anyway. Cynically, they don’t really WANT their cars to last 20 years and 300k. The art is to design them to last thru the warranty period and then not disintegrate so fast and hard that they get a rep for being bad cars.
You just described planned obsolescence.
Kind of, but in a bad way. It used to be that the idea was to make the new cars seem so much more desirable than your older car so that you were motivated to buy. Now it is to make your old car impossible \expensive to fix as most new cars just aren’t very interesting. A transportation module is a transportation module, and nobody even notices how old your Corolla or little CUV is.
Here’s your last big ol’ US sedan, from 2017. Six inches shorter than a Crown, but with a wheelbase four inches longer. Half an inch skinnier. Massive legroom. Huge trunk. Stonking 378c.i. 365 hp V8. Leather, woodgrain, and silence.
No separate frame, but very high body torsional rigidity, side and head airbags, posh but tough independent rear end, 50/50 weight distribution, proper handling and still very-nice ride (that wheelbase).
Like the US, no-one was buying them anymore – well, except a few to US police forces! – so not just a US phenomenom. As has been pointed out so often on this site, folk do not want to sit low.
Towing laws killed the big Aussie sedan and wagon especially in NSW, to tow your big caravan horse float what ever you needed a pickup or commercial with enough GTW (gross train weight) to do it legally, couple with speed cameras and OTT fines for putting you clog down why would anybody want one.