COAL: 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis LS – My $(2)400 Winter Beater


I had first seen the 1985 Grand Marquis LS in 2011 after friend Jim bought it from a neighbour down the street. It looked impressive in its Deep Canyon Red paint, alloy wheels and whitewall tires.

Jim drove the full-size sedan once in a while, pulled a trailer on a couple of trips, loaning it to the mother-in-law then giving it to a grandson. The grandson certainly didn’t appreciate the puffy cloth seats, smooth 351 V8 and deep trunk. After several months the Grand Marquis was abandoned at the side of the house enduring a couple of winters. I always liked the car and one day asked Jim what became of it. “It’s still around, why you want it?” he said. “Well, actually yes if it still looks as nice as when I first laid eyes on it.” Not far from my house I went to have a look and was disappointed at what I saw, but made an offer of $400. Even with garbage strewn about the interior, bags of dirt in the trunk, a faded and blistered half vinyl roof, I could see the sedan as a winter beater, or at worst a very good parts car.


When I showed up again at the house to pay Jim and drive the Grand Marquis home, I was relieved the engine idled with no knocking although there was an exhaust leak close to the engine making the sedan sound like a beater. Driving away from the curb with Jim in his car behind me, the Grand sedan wiggled its butt end back and forth. No clue what that was about. As I slowly picked up speed it was apparent pushing down on the gas pedal required much more effort than it should have clueing me in that the carburetor was going to need some attention. Among the warning lights on the instrument panel the Brake light was lit. Without the owner’s manual I wasn’t sure if I had no brakes or if just the parking brake was a problem.


The ride home (only 2 km’s away) was uneventful. The cars brakes worked fine but I would soon discover the e-brake had a frozen cable. That issue was dealt with using penetrating solvent and viola! The parking brake was back to normal. Once at my house and with a day off work, I got down to business. Jim had been a gentleman and cleaned out most of the crap from the interior. Together we emptied the trunk of sod and bags of garbage allowing me to begin vacuuming and discovering two new Munroe shock absorbers still in their boxes. Vacuuming revealed carpeting in very good condition. The puffy cloth seats had very few cigarette burns although the ashtray was stuffed full of butts. Overall an interior in good condition and even the carpeted floor mats looked like new. I couldn’t smell cigarette or any other strange odors. The interior was washed down, windows cleaned and anything else inside wet wiped. I found a warranty booklet under the front seat and a dealer service card in the name of the first owner who bought the Grand Marquis in March of 1985.

After over an hour of vacuuming and washing the interior and trunk I stepped back and admired the work noticing how these areas looked really good now. Next it was time to lift the hood and find out what needed attention. No surprise, lots of work was ahead. Oil and powdery grease covered many components.


From an earlier look I knew the air breather, air filter and PCV valve needed to be garbaged. The serpentine belt was fine, but what’s this? The air I conditioning compressor is disconnected. Okay so no air, that’s fine winter is coming so I don’t need it. Undoing the new rad cap I peered down into the radiator and saw the rows were very clean, “well that’s encouraging” I thought but why is the coolant so low?

The power steering hoses were covered in a thick layer of greasy oil so I assumed one or both of those hoses were shot, sure enough taking the cap off the pump revealed not a drop of power steering in the reservoir. In fact once topped up, there was never a leak of power steering fluid. Brake fluid was also down.

I soon made a to-do list and visiting my nearest auto parts store for all the necessary items. Later with fluids replaced, I pulled a spark plug and was encouraged by the light tan colour inside the plug. When I changed out the remaining plugs they showed the same coloration. The distributor rotor was also changed but not the cap. A bit of cost cutting on my part as I didn’t want to spend much on this beast. After all, the intent was to make it look pretty and get it running better for someone to use as a winter beater.

Spraying almost a can of carb cleaner down the throat of the dirty two-barrel I hoped would help the V8 run better, which it did–a little. Very little old gas was left in the tank and with the LOW FUEL indicator brightly lit I drove off to my nearest Petro-Can station and filled the tank with mid-grade. I don’t believe in using regular. The tires were pumped to their proper pressure and the drive around town felt better. But I had no spare and the lone blackwall tire which was the spare had to go back in the trunk. One of the whitewalls was in need of replacement, the other two not so much. Do I get used tires or try and find a couple of new whitewalls?


After scouring a trio of used tire shops, I called a reputable tire store and purchased two new Hercules whitewall tires. My total investment in this Grand Marquis was now over $800 and I was beginning the worry the car was going to cost me big time. That concern was alleviated to some extent when I washed down the exterior at a car wash. Using a sponge to scrub the soapy water on the body of the car, squeezing said sponge would result in a foamy blood red liquid; a mix of soap, water, dirt and yes paint. Washing also took off grime that helped preserve very shiny front and rear bumpers and side trim. Once wiped down and parked in the sun my $400 plus investment was looking very nice. Driving away from the car wash a burly man in a Dodge Ram took a long look at the grand Grand Marquis. Perhaps he was admiring it. He certainly wasn’t laughing or smirking.


As I polished the chrome pieces a day later, I kept telling myself not to spend too much time, effort or money on the car. The intent was to make some money and bank the cash. My wife had initially thought it out of character that I would buy a such a vehicle. Similar such purchases in the past never saw me make much money. But I felt good about this car and she took a liking to it but vowed not to “ride in that thing” until I shampooed the seats, which I did.


I did not polish the paint believing it was too much effort. Besides, the washing already made the car look better. A trip to my local garage resulted in the new shocks mounted on the rear, the new whitewalls mounted on the back, the best original whitewalls on the front and a brake inspection. The brakes checked out good and I was again relieved they would not be another expense. I asked the mechanic to get rid of the trailer hitch as I had no use for it and did not want any unnecessary weight. Replacing the rear shocks eliminated the funny acceleration wiggle.

I drove to my nearest Jiffy Lube for an oil change, lube and went in the pit to inspect the underside of the car for myself. To my horror I saw the engine and transmission covered in wet oil or transmission fluid. Well no wonder the engine was down two litres of oil. On the plus side, the car had been under coated by the first owner and there was very little rust to be found underneath. The exhaust system was solid with the exception of that hole in the right catalytic converter. My assumption is the Grand Marquis had probably been garaged most of its life.

There were a number of little things to be adjusted or replaced before I pulled the carburetor for a rebuild. Finding a rebuild kit was challenging but I scored one at a premium price and with a choke adjustment and timing correction the big Merc ran better and fuel consumption improved from 13L/100km to 9L/100 km on mid-grade fuel in combined city and some highway driving. I flushed the coolant, had a tranny shop flush the transmission fluid, change the filter and clean out the pan. They said the transmission was fine and the old fluid still somewhat clean. The diff fluid was also flushed. A muffler shop plugged the hole in the right side cat converter silencing the noise that bugged me from day one.


The Grand Marquis became my daily driver relegating the Mustang to the garage. It was a pleasant commuter car if a little big for my tastes. But everything worked with the exception of the AC. Another pair of new whitewall tires made highway driving even more pleasant as the big Merc drove straight never wandering. By this time my investment had reached close to $1,800. Again, in the back of my mind I wondered if the engine would blow up and my money would be wasted. I didn’t want to exceed $2,400 as I didn’t think the car would sell for much more than that.


It wasn’t perfect after all, with a small dent on the left rear filler panel and dull paint and the cracked vinyl roof. So I decided to enjoy the car into winter as my commute to work is less than 20 minutes and the car would enjoy eight hours in a heated parkade. The winter of 2014-15 was a mild one with not a lot of snow. The all-season tires were more than adequate as I expected since they had lots of tread. The Merc started fine in the cold and only had to be plugged in a couple of times when the temp dipped to minus 25C.

Through winter and into spring, the big sedan never let me down, burned hardly any oil and provided plenty of heat to keep warm. However, another expense was looming. Strange noises and an occasional wiggle from the front end began in early spring. A trip to the local garage confirmed worn front wheel bearings. The problem also meant the rotors had to be replaced. $400.00 later the decision was made to sell the Grand Marquis as I had reached my $2,400 investment level. A few weeks later the car was sold to a farming gentleman who had a similar Grand Marquis written off in a collision.


He offered $1,900 cash and I accepted. At least I got the bulk of my investment back and enjoyed a car I could never afford in 1985. Several weeks later I spotted an ad for a 2002 Mazda Protégé a young man was selling. Quite a contrast to the big Merc. The Mazda, at 270,000kms is still in my possession and will hopefully get me through this winter. But I still kind of miss the big Merc.