COAL: 1989 Lincoln Town Car Cartier – Now, That’s More Like It

1989 Town Car Cartier Front

The Grand Marquis experience didn’t exactly go as I planned, but I’ve heard the lessons learned from hard experience are the ones that stick. So when it came time to add to the old car fleet, I took a bit more care in locating the next car, and I think I did pretty well. I managed to get a car that I wanted and didn’t get financially cleaned out in the process. Yay me, I guess?

I’d been a fan of the barge-like square Town Cars since they were new. As a high-school student I tried to convince my family to get a Town Car, but I wasn’t that successful. I spent a lot of time sitting in them in the Lincoln-Mercury showroom when I was there for service (I got the assignment to take family cars like my mom’s Mark VII for service in the summers when I was, shall we say, not terribly busy). Like with the Thunderbird, I’d thought about buying an old one but couldn’t really find a nice one. A lot of them had been turned into taxis or other car service cars and the ones I could find were pretty bombed out (over 100K miles, torn vinyl roofs, toasted interiors that probably smelled like who knows what, etc.)

However, during my ownership of the Grand Marquis when I was trolling old car sites and dealers and thinking fondly of the day when I could unload that white elephant, I ran across a dealership ad for an ’89 Lincoln “Continental Cartier” online. Now, being a GIANT car nerd, I knew that this wasn’t the Taurus-based Continental as that one didn’t come with that designer package in ’89 – only the Town Car did. I was on the phone with that dealer pretty quickly once I saw a few photos go online that confirmed my suspicion. This dealer was also in Northeast Ohio, and I was planning to make a trip to visit family anyway, so a detour was in order. Learned a lesson about not buying a car sight unseen, to be sure.

The visit to the dealer was a good idea. The car was in better shape than most of the Town Cars out there – the two-tone Cartier silver paint was intact and largely original, the tape stripe between the two colors was still factory, the interior was clean and undamaged (other than a cracked speaker grill on the dash), it had the original Lincoln logo keys, and the car had reasonable mileage (68,000). This was high enough that I had some confidence that I wouldn’t be breaking aged parts on virtually every drive like I did with the GMQ, but low enough that the car still looked virtually new. Besides, the car had a Pennsylvania inspection sticker that showed the car with 65,000 miles on it when the sticker was applied three years previously, so the car had seen some exercise recently. I wasn’t able to drive the car as I was tight on time that weekend, but I did get to hear the engine run and it ran well.

1989 Town Car Cartier side view

As a result of my quick inspection and desire to have one of these land yachts, I agreed to purchase it for a price that was probably a bit too high. But it was the nicest Town Car I’d run across, and it seemed to need nothing. I did inquire as to whether the dealer would like a nice Grand Marquis in trade, but they weren’t that interested. (And, as it turns out, the Mercury’s transmission woes were occurring just as I’d have been trying to send it to a dealer as the trade. That wouldn’t have done much for resale.) Instead of dealing with the challenge of driving (sailing?) it back home on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I decided to have this car shipped to me instead. The price was right, the dealer arranged for it, and all I had to do was meet the truck at home.

Unlike the Mercury, my ownership of this Town Car was mostly uneventful. The car was very clean and obviously well-cared-for and everything worked, including the (still R-12) air conditioning that could make your knuckles ache and the original stereo cassette player (those almost never work anymore, as I’d learned with the Thunderbird). I learned through the Marti Report that the car had originally been part of Ford’s company lease program. Whatever executive picked out this car in ’89 set himself up with an expensive ride. With the options it had, my car stickered for something north of $33,000 in ’89 dollars (almost $70k in today’s money, or the price of entry for the newest Lincoln Continental – some things never change). Big money, especially when you consider that a year later one could get the first Lexus LS400 for around $35,000. Amazingly, Ford left out a few options that would have pushed the price even higher – the Town Car could be ordered with a CD player that sat like an old Muntz 8-track deck on the front transmission hump, as well as full leather upholstery (mine only had partial leather), and a power moonroof.

1989 Lincoln Town Car rear view

One thing I found amusing as an indicator of quality standards of the time: the two paint colors on the Cartier edition were two subtly different shades of silver (one on the hood, trunk, and roof and the other on the sides of the car) divided by a thin red stripe that was maybe a quarter of an inch wide designed to cover the paint separation. The thin red stripe was a tape stripe, but it wasn’t just the red stripe – it included a half-inch wide strip on each side matching the two paint colors. The red stripe would have been wide enough to cover the break line between the colors, as long as the break line was smooth and narrow. I assume this was done at the factory so that the break between the two paint colors could be a bit ragged out of the paint booth and the wide three-part stripe would hide the flaws.

One challenge that I did run into and never fixed was the speedometer. The car came with the digital instrument cluster, an option that was around $800 at the time. On its first trip to the Carlisle Ford show, I noticed that I seemed to be a traffic obstruction on the interstate when I was rolling at 70-75 mph on the speedometer, and I had to take the car to 80 mph to pass anybody (and it wasn’t exactly happy to be bounding along the highway at those speeds). Curious, later in the trip I opened the stopwatch on my phone and timed my travel over a one-mile distance. To keep from getting run over, I drove at a steady 67 mph on the speedometer, figuring I’d just remember the speed on the dial and calculate my speed from the stopwatch at the next stop. When I reached the mile mark and hit the stop button on the phone, it didn’t take much complicated math to figure out my actual speed. I’d done a mile in just shy of 60 seconds, meaning that the speedo was pretty wildly off. I never did figure out why that was the case…

1989 Lincoln Town Car Cartier dash

This car definitely attracted a lot of attention. The car went to two Carlisle Ford shows and received first place in its class in the first show. For the second show, it was accepted into a special “100 Years of Lincoln” display as one of only a half-dozen cars covering that time period. I spent quite a bit of time talking to people at the shows about it, and Town Car fans really were interested in its nice original condition. Even just driving it to work or to the grocery store resulted in at least one conversation with someone about it.

Near the end of my ownership period I got a bit worried that I was seeing Ford AOD transmission replacement #2 in my future as the car was a bit hesitant to engage reverse. Luckily, the problem was solved with some adjustments to the linkage and transmission shift pressures. I really didn’t have to spend much money on this one otherwise, thankfully.

1989 Lincoln Town Car front seat

I actually owned this car until roughly 8 months ago – like the Mercury I sold it online, and like the Mercury its financial performance was lackluster. I did receive a lot of attention for the online auction, including a gentleman who contacted me as he’d been one of the previous owner. He was the reason that the original stereo worked, as he’d had it rebuilt during his ownership. I’d also posted the car on classic car classified websites and found that I got a lot of people who were interested in talking at length about the car and learning all of its details, but nobody who brought me a check. I only sold this Town Car to get another Lincoln, but that story will have to wait a few weeks as we’ve got several other good (and bad) decisions to talk about…