(note: this is the second car in this COAL mini-series; the first was the 1993 Cutlass he bought at age sixteen)
Sometimes, we get a little overconfident when buying or even just receiving something. And I was definitely overconfident when I inherited my grandmother’s 1998 Mercury Grand Marquis when she passed away. The old Cutlass had served me well so I thought it was time to expand the garage a bit. The Mercury was the second car I ended up owning and also the newest, but it would end up being the worst by far. I have a feeling that some of you may think I’m incredibly picky when it comes to what cars I own and drive, and you’d be 100% correct. This car would end up being a case in point of that; being a Panther body with under 100k miles I assumed that this would be a reliable, comfortable, and long term vehicle. But much to my surprise (and my disappointment), this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In November of 2018, I got notice that my grandmother had passed away. However neither me or my mom had a chance to go to her old house and inherit any of her things until spring, which is when we found the car. I talked to my uncle about getting it since we didn’t get much else (the rest of our family had already been there), and he decided because I was a car guy that we could get the car.
It did need a new battery and was really low on oil, but it came with four new snow tires so that was a bonus. When we drove it home it ran just fine and shifted smoothly, and it had some decent low end torque as well. I guess you could consider it an early Christmas gift since we got it in late December 2019. However, it stayed licensed to my uncle until February of 2020, so while we got it several months earlier, we had to pay the $200 late fee for both the tabs and the title, but after that we were home free…for at least a little while.
On March 14, 2020; The challenges would begin, as I had just found and decided on my actual classic car to buy (My next article will actually be about this car!). It had been sunny all week, but oddly enough a snowstorm started that morning, and it began to REALLY get bad when I got 10 miles out of town later that evening. The traffic on I-90 was bad and I started to see accidents left and right, I hadn’t had time to put the snow tires on before as I had never really needed them, and my mom had to come along in order to drive the car back home. But I had a 400 mile drive, and only 1 full day to get there, regardless of the weather conditions. My mom wasn’t too happy to be riding along with her son in a blizzard to get his dream car that was over 400 miles away, but I was able to keep her calm for the most part.
And so there we were, slipping and sliding on the snow and ice, with windshield wipers that didn’t really help, without being able to do much over 40. Luckily, there weren’t many other drivers on the road, which was helpful since I ended up nearly sliding off the road a few times, I really had to focus on the road, as I could barely see 30 feet in front of me. But, after getting over the mountain pass the snow began to die down, and after 3 hours of driving we were able to pull over and stop for the night. We left early the next day, and by then the storm had completely calmed, the rest of the trip ended up being a breeze for the most part.
However, both my mom and I had noticed something, that this car was the worst possible car to sleep in; I ended having back problems for a week and my mom had to go to the chiropractor for months. On top of that, any drives longer than 15 minutes were irritating, as the seats were literally like concrete wrapped in crappy upholstery. It was uncomfortable enough to where I began to hate driving it. But it it got much better milage than my Oldsmobile with the unplugged clutch solenoid, so most of the time I didn’t have a choice but to deal with it, we got a seat pad for the drivers side, but it didn’t really help matters. These are also the same seats that I blame road rage on, no wonder people are so angry all the time; I would be too if I had to spend most of my time driving a car with seats like that still.
I ended up having two snowstorm incidents, so this is the car I really learned to drive though the bad weather in, though I never once put on those new tires (so smart, right?). The next snowstorm would be in November 2019, when I was having a mechanic store and work on one of my cars, he wanted me to go into the city to get a part from an auto parts store that he needed. It had snowed but not badly, that was until I left, and yet again a blizzard came down. And the one time I chose to ignore google maps, I get on the freeway, instant traffic jam, figures someone had already flipped a big rig. Now the shop closes in an hour, so I’m just hoping that the freeway clears up, but of course it doesn’t.
And then it happens; The car goes into limp mode, shuddering and hardly able to move. Turns out it somehow managed to overheat in 20 degree weather; this is the worst possible time to run out of coolant, but being so cold it doesn’t stay hot for long. But limp mode sure sticks around, this is also when I found out my hazard lights didn’t fully work, so I get off the highway in hopes the side streets are less crowded. Not a chance, the only difference is the roads are worse, now whenever I’m fully stopped I start to slide sideways. Which is happening a lot due to the traffic, in danger of getting into a fender bender or getting stuck, I put the pedal to the floor for what little power it gave me, did a sliding turn and got back on I-90. At least the roads there weren’t dangerous, just really crowded and backed up.
By the time I got into the city, traffic had cleared up a bit. The car had cooled off, but it didn’t matter as it was still in limp mode and there was nowhere safe I could pull over until I actually got to the place. My foot was to the floor, but it would barely do 60, but after almost 2 hours I finally made it. And just in time too! They were closing just as I got there and I tripped over myself running to the owner of the place who was locking up, I went in, quickly paid for the part, and went back to the car to rest. I felt exhausted, but I still had to get home, and the conditions weren’t improving, and worse yet; It was getting dark.
The rest of the night consisted of many things, let’s see if I can remember them all. Ah yes; when I left a gas station to fill up it was already dark, but the biggest problem at that point was the windshield wipers again, they didn’t really wipe the window, they more just smudged it a whole bunch. Back on the freeway limp mode returned and reminded me that I needed to fill up on coolant, but I first had to find a place that sold it, should’ve looked to see if they had coolant at the gas station I was just at, too late now.
After getting lost 2 miles off the freeway and ending up in someone’s driveway, I finally found a gas station that sold coolant. But now I was kinda stuck, this driveway was at a certain angle, where the car would have to get a running start and keep going up the small hill and slide straight on to the main road, I just hoped that no one was coming because if I stopped at the top of the hill I’d slide back down. Luckily enough I got my chance and was able to get out safely, I got to the gas station, filled up on coolant, and called my mom to let her know I was still alive and that I was on my way home.
I’d say the last 5 miles was actually the worst of it; it’s completely dark, the bad wipers don’t really help, and now the windshield has fogged up from the outside. So at this point I’m nearly blind except for my somewhat visible lights and the other vehicles glares. So all that I can do now is feel the rumble strips on both sides of the lane, and stick my head out the drivers side window. But as crazy and stressful as it was, I made it back, dropped off the part, and went home. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll ever go get parts for my mechanic during the winter ever again. However I can now say I have experience driving a big RWD V8 car in the snow, so that’s good considering those are the only cars I drive now. After that I finally went to O’Reilly’s to get new wiper blades; took me long enough.
My next experiences would be short but not so sweet, earlier this year a steering rubber ball joint slipped out while my mom was leaving the dollar tree (Thankfully not on the road), and I had to wait for AAA to come pick it up to take it to my mechanic, who was nice enough to have it fixed the next day. But the moment when I pulled out of a parking lot and the car randomly died, I had enough, I was sick of this car, it was one thing after another. At around the same time the brake rotors had started making grinding noises, at first I though they were just dirty, but after washing them off the sound came right back. It had been burning oil the whole time we had it, so much so that I never even had to change the oil since it burned 1 quart every thousand miles.
The last memorable thing I did with this car is drive to my graduation ceremony, I had my mom and two friends in the car, and we watched as one of my classmates raced by me in a white Pontiac Vibe with white rims. She was an aggressive driver, and a few miles down the road we watched as she rear-ended the guy she was bumper riding, the reason I found it so funny was not only because I got to the ceremony first but because I had just told everyone a few minutes ago that she was going to get in an accident if she kept driving that way.
A short while later, I had found a car on Facebook marketplace that I wanted to trade it for. it was a 350 mile drive, but it was worth it if it meant I never had to sit in those seats again. And so far I’m glad to say it was, so I guess something good came out of it. I should’ve kept those snow tires though, I might’ve been able to use those for another car, especially considering what I need to buy most for my cars is wiper blades and tires. But at the end of the day, it was a free car, I don’t know what I really expected.
So, in the big picture; I didn’t like this car, and some of you in the comments may tell me why I’m too picky or I’m completely wrong about this car, and that’s fine. I’ve met other owners of Panther body cars with as high as 400k miles on them, and most never even had any of the issues I described to them, but I noticed that none of them had a 1998 of any model. That was the first year of a redesign, maybe they had issues? (*cough *cough *plastic intake manifold *cough *cough). And honestly, that 4.6 V8 really wasn’t that good, it had good low end torque and that was it. But I don’t think that the Panther body platform is bad by any means, I think I just got a bad year and a bad model, and I’ve heard Crown Vics and Town Cars are more comfortable too, wouldn’t surprise me either.
Sorry that this was such a long one, the next will most likely be shorter. Also, these stories will be in correct order as they are released, ( 1st car owned, 2nd car owned, 3rd car owned, etc). And the 3rd car I can guarantee people will find more interesting than the first two, so hopefully I’ll have that story out soonish, or some day, at some point. Anyway, thanks for reading.