Even a Dozen Roses Will Have a Thorn (or Two): An Unvarnished Retrospective on a Pride of Panthers

87 crown vic-3

Confession:  I have owned three Panther bodied cars, but this is not one of them.  There have been an even dozen in the family between my wife and I, my parents, my grandparents, her parents, and her brother.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry, I’m going to break it down – so to speak.  From previous comments on various posts before today, it appears Panthers are perhaps second only to the Toyota Prius in eliciting strong reactions from people.

So let’s go for a trip.  While we will snack on milk and honey, beware: some of the wine colored rose bushes may have a thorn lurking in them and, no, those glasses on my head aren’t rose colored, either.

I’m going to go in order of model year in lieu of acquisition date, as that seems as good as any.


1980 Ford LTD:  No, there was no Crown Victoria in the name of this one.  My father obtained the white LTD from the estate auction of an old lady in 1992 when it had 60,000 miles.  It was equipped rather oddly, perhaps a throwback to the halcyon days of a la carte option selection.  While it was the low-buck model with only two headlights, like the one above, it had a tan colored full vinyl top, wire wheel covers, and the four-speed automatic overdrive transmission.  Inside it had crank windows, power locks, and no tilt steering wheel.  It also had the variable venturi carburetor sitting on top of its 302 cid V8.

The variable venturi went adios pronto.  The mechanic who replaced the carburetor also disclosed he had “overhauled” the engine as the old lady had got stuck in her yard one day and had poured the coals to it to spin her way out.  Maybe that was no big deal, but as it was low on oil at the time, it became a big deal.  My father (well, me, for the most part) put about 10,000 miles on it before selling it to my then girlfriend’s (now wife’s) father.  An intermittent bout of rough running got remarkably worse for him and it was some o-ring that had deteriorated.  He later sold it to his younger son who drove from St. Louis to New York state several times before it died somewhere along the way due to a less than top notch “overhaul”.  The total mileage accumulated is unknown, but it is in excess of 45,000 miles.

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1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria:  My parents purchased their white ’85 in June 1986.  It had been purchased new by a gentleman in town who quickly bored with his cars and traded every three to six months; he traded this car for a Dodge Omni.  This Crown Victoria took us on vacations from Washington D.C. to the Grand Canyon and was flawless until around 55,000 miles.  It was at this time all the pollution control components started going kaput one at a time.  The dealer told us there were seven in all; it was traded for a Dodge Dynasty after the fifth, and worst to that point, was replaced for $700 in 1990.  It had 77,000 miles at the time.

Despite this being by far the most heavily optioned box Ford of the bunch, and the only one with vent windows, this car wound up being the worst of the dozen as the pollution control devices rendered the car unreliable.


image source:  www.policecarwebsite.net

1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, part 1:  This was a car I purchased from a state surplus auction in November 2000 for the princely sum of $375.  It had started life as a Missouri State Highway Patrol car and at 50,000 miles it was sold to Southeast Missouri State University.  I vividly remember the car patrolling the campus during the time I attended college there.

I purchased the car with 133,000 miles.  While it was quite worn in many places, its 351 cid (5.8 liter) V8 ran like a champ despite the ridiculous 2.73 rear axle.  Its biggest overall flaw was its appetite for fuel at the rate of 12 miles per gallon.  It was also surprising to find this car equipped with power windows, full wheel covers, and a quite decent factory stereo.

There were a number of issues that transpired while I owned it; the heater core leaked and was promptly by-passed; finding upper control arms for the police spec suspension was a challenge; the variable venturi carburetor reared its ugly head; and the wax covered engine computer started to fry itself one night.  A quick replacement from a junker cleared that last issue in ten minutes.  I sold it with 141,000 miles to someone who made me an offer I could not refuse.

1986 Lincolns-06-07

1986 Lincoln Town Car:  My brother-in-law drove his blue Lincoln during his swinging bachelor days.  This was in the 1996 to 1998 era.  The car had about 200,000 miles when he bought it and he was using it as part of a business he had at that point, so he quickly put another 100,000 miles on it without issue.  The power window motors had ceased working and he sold it when it needed new tires.  I cannot remember if I drove this car or not; if I did, it was very little.


image source:  www.wikipedia.org

1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, part 2:  My father-in-law, who can sniff out a low mileage car 500 miles away, was given a two-door LX when it had 85,000 miles.  His baby-blue coupe had belonged to an army buddy of his in Chicago.  While it was a bit crunchy in spots when acquired in 2001, it was immaculate inside.  An unfound vacuum leak rendered this car to be parked and later sold.

This Ford was quite physically rugged.  One early morning, as my father-in-law slept and the front of the car was on jack stands for a brake job, my mother-in-law got in, started it, and backed it out of the garage.  Yes, there was a big bang along the way that didn’t phase the car other than a mild curl on the bottom of the fenders between the bumper and wheel well.  They put right at 10,000 miles on this car prior to the vacuum issues.

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1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria:  This is also the car pictured at the top.  Again pursuing a scent, it was purchased by my father-in-law in 1996 with 60,000 miles, this car served my in-laws until 2003 when they sold it with 170,000 miles after having purchased a new Chrysler Concorde.  This Ford replaced an ’83 Seville whose HT 4100 devoured itself at 177,000 miles.

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This particular Ford was as near flawless as any of the box Panthers were in my experience.  These pictures were taken in June 2000 prior to its going to a wedding in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and is a before-and-after chronicle of my cleaning it up.  I buried the 85 mph speedometer on it twice – I’m not sure if that is a huge accomplishment or not.


image source:  www.wikipedia.org

1992 Ford Crown Victoria:  My father-in-law purchased a blue ’92 from a state surplus auction for $651.50; it, too, began life as a Missouri State Highway Patrol car.  The mileage when purchased was around 100,000.  The fuel pump quit immediately in the car and the valve guide seals in its first year 4.6 liter V8 were not the most robust, allowing a quart of oil to be burned every 500 miles or so.  He gave me the car a few years later.

The service records indicated the transmission had been replaced prior to my father-in-law purchasing it in 2001.  After I took ownership of the car in 2003, the transmission began to act up again.  When getting it repaired, it was discovered an errant bolt had chewed up the torque convertor and lodged itself in the bell housing.  Soon thereafter, an offer again presented itself that was too good to refuse after a friend fell in love with it – he also had four kids to haul and a recently deceased Ford Taurus wagon.  They immediately moved to Ohio when the Crown Vic had approximately 145,000 miles.  Failing to check the oil, he irreparably damaged the engine.  It was sold to a person who supposedly gave it one last hurrah in the demolition derby at the Ohio State Fair.


image source:  www.wikipedia.org

1997 Ford Crown Victoria:  With the exception of their ’85 Crown Victoria, my parents drove horrid compact cars for years – which could explain my lack of patience with small cars and four-cylinder engines.  In a perverse twist, my parents waited to buy their tan base model Crown Victoria until they had an empty nest.  Purchased in 1998 with about 15,000 miles, my parents drove this car all over the United States until 2001 when they traded it at 120,000 miles for a…


2000 Mercury Grand Marquis:  This car (well, a tan one that sat normally and lacked a hood scoop), along with their ’97 Crown Vic, were as trouble free as anything they ever owned.  You could say it was the automotive equivalent of a Rolex watch as they only required fuel and a periodic oil change.  My parents bought it lightly used and put another 120,000 miles on it.

The only demerit this car ever earned was my mother hated the front passenger seat as she could never get comfortable in it.


2001 Ford Crown Victoria:  This is the car I covered here.  Yes, it had a few issues such as the plastic intake manifold (indicative of all 4.6 liter engines in passenger cars until about 2002), a short in the wiring to the crankshaft position sensor, and a pinion gear that deteriorated due to insufficient maintenance.  I put right at 60,000 miles on the car in just under seven years.

Compared to the other aero Panthers covered here, this car would be have to be placed near the bottom of that list as nearly all the others were simply trouble free.

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2001 Lincoln Town Car:  Replacing a very problematic 1992 Buick Roadmaster, my grandparents, Albert and Iris, purchased this car in late 2001 (stories about a previous car they owned can be found here).  Mechanically this car was never a problem.  However, they did trade it off after 60,000 miles.  Not having a garage, the Lincoln, like every other car they have ever had, was parked under a maple tree that covered part of the driveway.  One winter thaw brought an interior leak; my cousin found the problem to be a maple leaf clogged drain somewhere in the firewall area that had frozen and burst.  On the next dry day, it was traded for a Chevrolet Equinox.

I never drove this car.


image source:  www.wikipedia.org

2003 Ford Crown Victoria:  My father-in-law picked up the scent once again.  Purchased from the estate of an older woman in December 2004, it had all of 800 miles on it when acquired.  It now has 112,000 miles and it is still going strong.  It has had no issues, other than warped brake rotors – which can happen on anything.  The car has been in two hail storms and was fixed both times.  The first, and more severe, necessitated removal of much of the interior; the reinstallation left a lot of pieces loose.  He recently told me it is still getting 23 mpg in mixed city and highway driving.

About two years ago, I had a sizable pile of bricks and cinderblocks for which I had no need.  My father-in-law placed all of them in the trunk of his ’03 Crown Vic.  While I do not know how much weight this was, the rear suspension was fully compressed and the trunk was full.  It didn’t phase the car a bit for its 75 minute drive back home.  He had also done similar with ceramic tile in his ’92; we later calculated that was around 1,500 pounds.

If you have kept track, that is 867,000 miles (or just over 3,000,000 kilometers) on this mixed fleet of Panthers with several of them having had tougher than average lives.  Please also note none of them were purchased new.

Is the Panther platform the perfect chassis for a car?  It depends upon your tastes and your needs but it was good enough to make several of us return for more of their alluring charms.

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