Long ago I wrote a CC for a 1982 Lincoln Town Car. It was written specifically for a theme week and, perhaps due to having a certain affinity for the 1980s era Town Car, tried to be somewhat enthusiastic about the car.
I do find myself liking this Lincoln and these were very well sorted mechanically. However, after seeing it daily for about three weeks, I’ve realized my take on this generation of Town Car has certainly evolved over time.
There is an old adage in my part of the world about how one cannot make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Harsh, yes, but applicable so let’s put this delicately …… some less than premium chicken products appear to have been used in the exterior design of this Lincoln salad.
As one who has used the phrase “design language” exactly twice previously in nearly 500 articles here, all I can ask is what in the wide world of sports were they thinking?
The design language of this poor Lincoln is a muddled conglomeration of assorted thoughts as the front and rear profile mimic each other entirely too much. The amount of front and rear overhang are almost equidistant. Remove the too tall greenhouse and you have a rectangle regardless of viewpoint; look at it in side view, plan view, or straight on from either end. It’s all the same basic shape.
The only rounded anything on the body is the wheel arches on either end of its too short wheelbase. Even the door handles are rectangles.
Remember, we are cussing and discussing Lincoln. They are the ones who once upon a time made this Continental. Perhaps Continentals of this vintage aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it was tremendously more sophisticated and visually interesting than any old ordinary, plain-jane, strippo Ford – or 1984 Town Car.
To be fair, the 1940s Continental gave a sneak preview into 1980s Cadillac – the engines weren’t what a luxury car should have.
Some years later Lincoln also made this. Let’s face it; this Continental is the inspiration for all the slab-sided Lincolns to come, including our featured Town Car. The proportions ultimately work quite well here and this era of Continental is that extraordinary and exceptional car that is able to embody a specific time period. Few cars can make such a claim so all the rectangular-ness gets a pass.
As a bonus the wheel arches aren’t mirror images between front and back plus the wheelbase and overhangs are visually appropriate, unlike some other cars we’ve seen here.
So where in the tar pits of hell did Lincoln lose the plot over the next two decades?
Jumping ahead to 1971, Lincoln was still playing the right tune, but in a key and bass line tailer made for the groovy 1970s. The Continental was the antithesis of petite and it looked good, boldly wearing its presence and ambiance. Just gaze at that delicate yet intentional kick-up behind the door. The Continental, particularly in this color, is a looker.
It also had a drivetrain that reinforced the presence of the car – 365 gross horsepower and 500 ft-lbs of buttery smooth torque from 460 delightful cubic inches (7.5 liters) of cast iron V8, all working to pull this Lincoln with authority. It was like a low-revving turbine in its power delivery.
They were so on track, the 1970s would prove to be a great time for Lincoln.
When Queen sang Fat Bottomed Girls, they could have been talking about any Lincoln from the 1970s (except the Versailles, but that’s another sordid tale).
While some may think I’m gleefully harpooning the designers of this Lincoln, I’m really not; it’s disappointment more than anything. However, an idle observation provides suspicion about what Lincoln designers were trying to accomplish.
The four-door Continental sold quite well during the 1970s. It had presence, it could be formidable looking in dark colors, and (surprise!) it also had a rectangular-ness to it. That element, like the Continental of the 1960s, worked to create a distinct form that was appealing to many people.
How so? Annual sales from 1977 to 1979 were in the 90,000 range.
Also during the late 1970s, Ford had their most successful Thunderbird ever. Selling nearly one million examples in those same three years of 1977 to 1979, this generation of Thunderbird obviously struck a chord with plenty of people.
When Ford downsized the Thunderbird for 1980, to maintain the lineage it retained many physical attributes from the prior generation, but draped them on a smaller body. A success it was not.
Sales fell out of the nest and landed with a splat that sounded like fresh cow shit landing on a flat rock. From 284,000 Thunderbirds in 1979 sales dove nearly 50% for 1980 – and continued the swirling motion down to 45,000 by 1982 when Ford would wring this Bird’s neck.
Granted, the early 1980s saw a distinct drop in automobile production for many, but few examples were this dramatic.
The Panther platform Lincoln we are examining was also introduced to the world in 1980, accompanying the molting Thunderbird. Inclusion of the Thunderbird was for illustrative purposes to show how Ford Motor Company had mucho gusto in maintaining certain design elements. In theory it makes a decent amount of sense as it would help keep the kinship alive among the generations.
But like I told a university professor a while back, theories may sound great but there can be a world of difference between theory and reality. That Thunderbird was a prime example.
Some things don’t translate from one language to another. English language words that don’t translate, yet seem applicable here, include cheesy and serendipity.
Serendipity struck twice to make these cheesy Lincolns as successful as they were.
As mentioned earlier, Cadillac did themselves no favors whatsoever during the 1980s. While they provided enough fodder in self-mutilation to write a doctoral dissertation, it can be boiled down to three fundamental things: V8-6-4, HT4100, and downsizing.
So when a person in 1984 wanted a domestic luxury car, they had the choice of a Cadillac that might partake of mechanical self-immolation;
Or, a Chrysler Fifth Avenue whose compact Plymouth Volare roots were showing. It also shared bumpers, tail lights, trunk lids, front fenders, door handles, windshields, hoods, and front doors with all those Dodge Diplomats down at the police station. Some of these also had issues with their transverse torsion bars and K-frames.
Or, one could choose…
Our ill-proportioned Lincoln Town Car. Lincoln Town Car sales grew every year, except one, from 1981 (when that name replaced “Continental Town Car”) until 1988 when sales for this generation of Town Car peaked at 201,113. During this same time period Cadillac Sedan de Ville sales peaked at just under 130,000 with the Chrysler Fifth Avenue hitting 110,000.
It’s obvious why the Town Car was so successful. Perhaps the Town Car was the opposite of the plucked Thunderbird as being an example of when a theory that should not work does.
Unlike the Cadillac, Lincoln buyers got a solid and nearly invincible V8 in the form of Ford’s corporate 302. Unlike the Chrysler, this engine was bolted to a four-speed automatic. While possessing 140 reluctant horsepower in a 4,100 pound Lincoln doesn’t make for any sort of high performance machine, the Lincoln was the definite hot-rod of these three as it cranked out 5 more ponies than the Cadillac and 10 more than the 318 powered Chrysler in 1984.
There was a second factor in the success of the Town Car, but it was a short-term gain and long-term loss of sorts.
For $39.99, or less per day on weekends, anybody with a pulse and a credit card could now drive a Lincoln. In turn, after oodles of people ponied up 8 Abrahams to drive a Lincoln, Hertz would then dump these on the used car market. A nearly new, low mileage Lincoln Town Car was now within easy reach of the unwashed masses who had never considered one before.
So much for brand exclusivity. It certainly helped boost sales volumes but whoring yourself for $40 is something from which it’s hard to recover.
Lincoln’s fading luster has been a long-term endeavor.
Lincoln’s habit of keeping wire wheel covers and vinyl roofs, those most enduring of 1970s styling elements, around for another couple of decades certainly didn’t help keep a shiny luster, either.
As an aside, I’ve long been indifferent about vinyl roofs. This particular Lincoln should challenge any fan of vinyl roofs as it looks like it’s a few sunny days away from transitioning from quite tanned to melanoma.
As stated earlier, I do like this Town Car and have fond memories of Lincolns from this era. However, that was based upon childhood experiences. Looking at these from the vantage point of a profoundly larger world and base of experience, along with being a realist, I struggle to wrap my brain around why Ford Motor Company produced a Town Car that was so oddly proportioned and a poster child for styling cues racing toward obsolescence.
The demerits are inescapable. In addition to the wheelbase being many inches too short, the track is too narrow, and the overall proportions just seem off as the car’s body appears to be overwhelming the chassis. Taking styling cues from the prior Continental, such as the slab sides, vertical tail lights, and huge chrome grille, simply don’t work as well on this smaller car.
Looking inside, this steering wheel and column are the exact same ones found in a 1980 LTD and 1985 Crown Victoria my parents owned, as well as a 1986 Town Car my brother-in-law had. For that matter the door panel is nearly the same as in the ’85 Crown Victoria.
GM gets shoveled a lot of crap for parts-bin sharing. Folks, they aren’t unique in doing so.
In the big scheme of things, I’m happy to have found this Lincoln. In fact my happiness was such I chose to write about an ordinary Lincoln instead of a DeLorean I found parked curbside a few days prior. Seeing it prompted a reassessment of my thoughts, a process we all need to undergo periodically.
This Town Car is not unlike prior Continentals in being a reflection of its time. Whether that is a good thing or not is a determination I’ll leave up to you.
Found December 20, 2018
Jefferson City, Missouri
Very interesting article. There was a fourth thing that Cadillac shot itself in the foot with, and it was called “diesel”. As for the overly blocky 1980s Lincoln, the 1985 facelift managed to reduce the stodginess by a fair bit.
Yeah, the facelift really cleaned up a lot of the discordant elements. It was like the previous model was trying way too hard to be formal and baroque, not too far removed from the old early sixties Imperial. It didn’t work, but the facelift did, especially with the much nicer rear end.
We agree, to a certain significant percent, about the 1985 refresh. The biggie for me was the bumpers were no longer sticking out beyond the width of the car like on this featured ’84.
Ah, the ’85+ cars with the bumper a size or two too small.
That’s funny about the bumpers. On the earlier Lincoln, they were too big, then they made them too small.
It seems like Ford, moreso than GM or Chrysler, never really adjusted to bumper regulations very well. Maybe it had something to do with Ford being the primary focus of 5 mph bumper requirements (the Bunkie-beak Thunderbird and pointy, W-shaped Mercury bumpers were said to be what caught the attention of legislators) so Ford overcompensated, with little regard to style, when it came to bumpers. Not to mention that the first generation Mustangs never had much in the way of bumpers, either.
You might be right; the bumper regs certainly wouldn’t be the only ones to garner a spiteful-compliance reaction by Ford. The Reagan Administration weakened the requirements with perfect timing for the ’85 Town Car’s bumper redesign, which seems to me to match up directly with the specifics of the weakened regs. In other words: a slackaѕѕed, pennypinching, not-a-bit-better-than-they-legally-have-to-be effort by Ford.
I don’t think they’re too small, but they should have updated the side trim so they didn’t abruptly end at the filler caps. Or for that matter they should have deleted the side trim entirely.
I hadn’t noticed the side trim before but you’re right – the way the trim just sort of abruptly stops before the bumpers is awkward. The Town Cars with the contrasting lower body panels are even worse – the second color (or brightwork) stops before the bumper fillers.
Extending the side trim to the bumper certainly would have helped. I’m just not sure how they could have done it in a way that would have lasted for any length of time.
The problem is Ford would have been shmucking some kind of trim with a 3M-type permanent adhesive backing to painted vinyl. That, in and of itself, wouldn’t have been that bad ‘until’ some low-speed bumper impact distorted the vinyl, likely loosening and dislodging the trim.
The photo of the Cadillac with the infamous rear bumper filler illustrates how their stylists did it much better. Unfortunately, GM used some exceptionally cheap vinyl for their bumper filler as everyone has seen plenty of those era Cadillacs with the huge gap between the bumper and rear quarter panel after the filler had long ago disintigrated. Ford’s approach, although not perfect, was better in the long run.
I think the too-small bumper effect is more prominent at the rear than at the front on the ’85-up cars.
The Panther platform in all its rectilinear severity first appeared on the 1979 Fords and Mercurys, which are cars of peculiar ill-proportions themselves.
When the 1980 Lincolns appeared, everyone was already familiar with the shape, so the application of full-sized Lincoln styling clues pasted onto that smaller platform were a major disappointment. I recall feeling very disappointed at the styling when they appeared.
The slanted rear styling followed that of the other Panther platform mates, other than introducing the large wrapped around taillights, it was one more step toward a less differentiated look, which was the problem from the start. I will give the new front grille with integrated bumpers credit as an improvement.
My preference is for the slanted rear Town Car. It’s not because my father had one(red/red cloth). I, just, think it looks nicer,than the ‘sheer drop’ rear.
In 1998 or so I had the proverbial “little old lady” Town Car – a 1986 Signature Series in ice blue over dark Navy velour with very low miles (60k or so). Being as my hometown is Lexington KY I strongly suspect the color combination picked itself for the original owner. (Geographical note: To this day there are specially painted Fords just for the Kentucky market, which the better half and I giggled about in a rented Fusion a few years ago. No kidding, the key tag was labeled “KY BLUE”.) But I digress… 😂
Anyway, I loved that barge until (like many full size Fords) one night it chose to self immolate in a great conflagration which required the fire department and a pickup from my mother. Oof. Not a good look. That same stupid ignition switch issue which had caused my folks to lose a then-near-new 1975 Granada Ghia some years previous. (As Mark Twain so eloquently stated, history may not always repeat itself but it definitely rhymes.) If I did some digging I could share a photo of it the next morning after the fire. Note: these cars have fiberglass hoods which, unlike steel, simply melt. See, I learned something in the affair. 😣
Still-odd Panther proportions notwithstanding (wheelbase, narrow track etc as described here), for whatever it’s worth I do think the 1985 restyle of the rear end made a world of difference to this car.
Thanks, Jason! Good stuff as always.
Whoa I’ve never heard anything about this Kentucky blue thing. Why blue? Is that the color of a popular local sports team? I’m baffled.
The University of Kentucky
Yes, UK and overall Kentucky is “The Bluegrass State”. Everything blue, everywhere. 😊
Ford has two large manufacturing facilities in the Louisville area which I believe would be part of that “special blue” equation also. (Ford blue, Kentucky blue, get it?) Often not thought about, but automobile manufacturing is a big part of the state’s economy. In addition to the aforementioned Ford facilities and Bowling Green Assembly (Corvettes), fun fact: Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK, Georgetown) is the highest production Toyota factory in the world. They make Camry, Avalon, ES350, Sienna, and engines.
The Original Rear Design, Of The Early 80’s Town Car Is So Beautifully Classic. All Cars Had Large Bumpers.
In This Case The 84 Signature Series I Have, I Believe Is The Classic That Will Live On.
I may be wrong but I think that the hoods on these Lincolns were aluminum. I know that they weren’t fiberglass because my neighbors car had a tree branch fall and dent his hood. Fiberglass wouldn’t dent. Maybe the fire melted the aluminum hood.
You know, I do believe that’s right – aluminum, not fiber. Thanks for the fact check. There was indeed a huge chunk of it completely missing after the fire.
“140 reluctant horsepower” hehe, I’m going to use that
Town Cars sure had their followings though. One of my Dad’s friends, who was also my Little League coach and Scoutmaster, once he got to the point in life where he could afford a TC, (mid 1980s) he owned nothing but TCs until their death in 2011 and now he’s into Navigators. Im sure there were lots more like him, especially after the great Cadillac dropoff in the ’80s.
With a change in the fuel injection set up, the later 1980’s Town Car 302 engines became much more lively and peppy than the earlier 1980’s models were. I consider my ’89 Town Car almost fast the few times I have to “stomp the skinny pedal”.
One should remember than the early 1980’s Town Car competitors were just as/if not more gutless than this generation’s 302 engine was.
I agree that the 1986 and newer 302 MPFI’s were peppy – if taken in the context of the times and compared to the other 5.0L V8’s of the time. However, I’d never call them fast or powerful. These engines had a healthy torque curve, and a wider power band than the carbureted competition. My ’88 Grand Marquis had 3.08 gears and while it certainly was peppy around town compared to my 307 powered Olds 88, it was not a fast car by any means. Engaging in full throttle two lane passes left much to be desired as the engine had little top end power.
They had a little more horsepower in the 302 by the mid to late 80s. The standard version had 150, but my ’87 civilian Crown Victoria with optional Traction Loc and dual exhaust made 160. A notable difference between it and the 140 HP 307 Olds powered Cadillac Brougham that followed it was that the Ford didn’t have to downshift out of OD climbing most hills to maintain speed. The combination of 300 lbs less weight and 20 more HP.
Ford should have made a fuel injected 351W an exclusive Lincoln offering. That alone would have stolen a few ten thousand sales from Cadillac and the power would have been more than acceptable for the times.
I never knew about all the parts bin sins FoMoCo committed on these.
I rented one of these to use as my wedding day car. You said it was Hertz, my memory tells me it was Budget, but I could be wrong. Through no direct fault of my own, I somehow ended up with a set of keys from my rental.
I believe that Budget did indeed rent these at a similar price point in that era. We took a family vacation to the east coast in March of 1983 and rented one of these from Budget for a week. My recollection is that it cost a bit under $40/day and was some sort of a special. I was a kid at the time, but spending a week in a Town Car instead of a Chevy was very memorable and definitely not something our family would normally have done. We had one again in Hawaii that November for a similar rate.
In the late 80s my BIL was working as a pension plan auditor for the IRS and had to travel. These Town Cars were always on some kind of special and he got to where he was renting (and enjoying) them all the time, for a price only a little more than something like a Taurus. Because he is quite tall, it was one of the few rentals he could get comfortable in. But then one day an edict came down that said “No More Rental Lincolns” because it didn’t look good to have government auditors rolling up in Town Cars.
I agree with most of what you say in the article. I do find the proportions a bit off on this car(although a white or maroon colored one is quite nice)In nyc, what killed owning one of these for me was the fact that they became the deffacto private cab. I owned the next gen one(in white mine was a 97) and as beautiful and comfortable and luxurious as that car was……….i still had people trying to flag me down as a cab:(. Also these Lincolns did not have that substantial heavy feeling you get when driving a Cadillac(or most GM full sizers) but these are very comfortable and reliable cruisers.
Like you, my take on these Town Cars has evolved over time. Several times, actually.
When I was younger, I loved them, principally because they represented the absolute opposite type of vehicle my parents would ever buy, therefore they were awesome. As I got older, I viewed them as overpriced schlock not worthy of respect. Now, I like them again — enough that I’ve been hoping to find a nice late-80s example to write up.
The reason for my change of heart is that these cars beat the odds. Ford basically wrote off the full-size Lincoln for dead in the early 80s, assuming (as everyone else did) that traditional, full-size cars were a relic of the past. But then they came back in fashion again, and Lincoln sold tons of them — exceeding anyone’s expectations.
My guess is that if Ford actually thought they’d be selling 100,000+ of these cars going into the 1990s, they would have put some more effort into the Town Car, and done things like given it a unique steering wheel or door panels. But I think the 1980 Town Car (ur, Continental) was viewed as a stopgap measure; it’s just that the gap widened into a decade or so.
That’s a longwinded way of saying that I now see these cars as sort of an underdog — nothing much was expected of it in 1980, but it grew to take 75% of Lincoln sales within a few years. And though it’s seriously flawed (I don’t disagree with any of your opinions here), and Ford really shot themselves in the foot from a long-range perspective, it survived when it wasn’t expected to. And for that, I like it.
Simply, by the latter half of the 1970s, Ford was struggling with its allocation of engineering and capital resources to meet new emissions and fuel economy requirements. As a result, Ford could not keep up with GM’s product cadence. So, Ford re-used old parts (e.g., basic engine architecture) and shared new parts across too many nameplates (e.g., that 4-spoke steering wheel).
In terms of design, Ford took 2-3 design generations before it committed to better integrated bumpers. And because of fear of a customer backlash to CAFE-induced downsizing, the 1979 full-size LTD/Marquis, 1980 Thunderbird/Cougar, and 1980 Continental Town Car/Mark VI were designed with “maximum corners” and old themes.
The 1980s represented a design revolution within Ford, but the Town Car, Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis soldiered with few changes in respect to the conservative nature of that loyal owner body. By the end of the decade, the owner body was aging twice as fast as the clock. Hence, the redesigned 1990 Town Car and 1991 Vic/Gr.Marq… along with GM’s renewed interest in the segment (re-skinned Fleetwood Brougham, Caprice, and added hemRoidmaster… sorry….Roadmaster).
I remember when these came out thinking, “Good heavens, Ford, is that the best you can do?”
Apparently, it was, at that time at least.
I hadn’t thought of it that way before Jason. I’ve had 80’s Cadillac’s and Fifth Avenue’s but never a Lincoln. A Cadillac was always a Cadillac and a Fifth Avenue hit a price point but eighties Lincoln just seemed so
“common” for lack of better wording. I just remember seeing a million black one’s every time I went to the airport being used as limos.
I have yet to warm to these early examples. I was coming around by the late 80s, and still have no idea if it was because the car was better or because I was simply becoming numb to the car’s awfulness. It was a fine Mercury, but it was not a Lincoln.
We could see that razor-sharp styling trend start out with the 77 Mark V. The difference was that the V was sleek whereas this was just blocky and awkward. But between its finances and CAFE, Ford had its back to the wall. The guys who did the R body New Yorker (and the 80 Cadillac) got the shape and proportions so much better. This Lincoln must have been inspired a car drawn by someone’s second grader.
Writing this reminded me of your father’s ’80 or thereabouts Town Coupe. Looking at the ad above with a Town Coupe, the proportions on it are even worse, which is no small accomplishment.
We’ve knocked the ’86 Seville for the rear axle being behind the greenhouse but the Town Coupe is flirting with doing the same.
Yes, the Mark V is key in understanding why the 1980s Town Car looked the way it did, but the crucial missing link here is really the 1980 Mark VI coupe. This car, like the downsized T-Bird from the same year, went over like a lead balloon, but it seems Lincoln expected it to be the best seller amongst the new 1980 Panther crop, understandable given the lofty sale the Mark V had achieved. The warmly-received ’79 Eldorado likely further convinced Lincoln that a downsized Mark that retained styling elements of the previous models would be a hit.
In the 1970s, the Mark series and Continental Town Car were two distinctly shaped vehicles. That would no longer be true for 1980 when they both had to share most of their sheetmetal (virtually all of it in four-door guise). This meant only one of the two new Lincolns could really carry over the near-exact styling of the previous models, and they apparently considered the Mark’s shape more important to preserve. So the Mark Vi coupe carried over almost the exact contours and shapes of the Mark V, only reproportioned into stunted mini-me size. Then this was stretched a few inches to create a new Mark VI sedan. And the Mark sedan in turn formed the basis of the Town Car which grafted a Continental Town Car-style rear clip onto the Mark VI sedan body. The front was changed slightly, replacing the covered round headlamps (formerly used on all big Lincolns) with exposed rectangular sealed beams. Change the shape of the opera window, delete some tacked-on trim, and you’ve created a Town Car from the Mark VI sedan. Finally, they wanted (but didn’t really need it turned out) a Continental Town Coupe, which used the extended wheelbase and rear-quarter styling similar to late-’70s Continental coupes. But unlike the Mark VI, neither the Town Car or Town Coupe had body contours that were a continuation of the ’70s version, instead featuring the sharply chiseled creases inherited from the Mark.
Of course, the Mark VI sold poorly while the Town Car took off, but it was stuck for a decade with styling that was really intended for another car.
To my eyes, the Panther and Fox platforms always suffered from an awkward distance from the firewall to the front axle. It just seems as though they’d look better if the front wheels were pushed out closer to the front battering ram…I mean, bumper.
For RWD platforms, I always found this to be a curious design choice. Perhaps Ford wanted to keep the wheelbases short, in anticipation of smaller cars. But as was covered on this site a few years ago, the Mustang II (obviously, not on either of these platforms) suffered from the same malady, so perhaps it was the preference of a well-placed executive at FoMoCo in the ‘70s.
A longer wheelbase means more weight. As Ford was on the ragged edge of CAFE compliance and these vehicles would be unsaleable with a Fuel Guzzler label/tax, a wheelbase stretch was an uphill endeavor.
But I agree, the proportions would look much better with the front axle moved forward about 5”. It would also look better with the rear axle moved aft 3-6” for better rear seat knee room… but the deep well trunk function would require the rear overhang to not change. Expanding the overall length was a tall order for a resource-strapped company that was surprised by the segnent’s longevity.
It occurred to me that I’d made this graph for my recent ’87 Continental article, but I didn’t use it — so I figured it would be relevant to this Town Car discussion as well.
This shows Lincoln production in the 1970s and ’80s by what I call “Car Type,” being Full Size Models (’70s Continentals and then Town Cars), the Mark Series cars, and the Mid-Size models (Versailles & 1980s Continentals).
I just think its interesting to see how Lincolns fortunes ebbed and grew, and how the Town Car came to dominate the lineup.
Most surprising take from that chart is that the Mark VI was more popular than the Mark VII. I was sure it was the other way around (even with the four-door discontinued).
True… I think the 4-dr. Mark VIs just blended in with the hoards of Town Cars later on in the decade, so maybe the 2-doors stick in our memory more clearly. Overall, Mark VI production was about evenly split between 2-dr. and 4-dr. models, though the 2-drs were more popular in 1980-81 and the 4-drs. more popular in 1982-83.
Being a 1984 it is one year away from fuel injection and therefore perfection.
Remember that the fuel injected Lincoln routinely beat the 307 Olds e-Qudrajet V8 powered Fleetwood in Car and Driver and Motor Trend tests.
I am more disappointed that there was never an option during this generation to DELETE the vinyl roof. (When my dad bought the 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham he was SO HAPPY to see that it lacked vinyl roof even though it had opera lights.)
Fuel injection was added in 1983, but it was CFI (throttle body injection). While it was an improvement over the VV Carbs, it wasn’t great. In 1986, the new MPFI 302’s were good engines. They were tuned for low end which help these engines feel more peppy. Most of the Town Cars that survived into old age were the 1986 and new models, at least around here.
Somewhere a Lincoln loving spleen is spasming, but I think you’re spot on here Jason.
I always respected the RWD Fifth Avenue, below the slathered on cheese there was a capable Diplomat sedan at heart. These Lincolns inspired no such thought.
Agreed about the Chrysler. And the spasms!
The M-body Fifth Avenue’s Diplomat-like rear styling bothered me. Why didn’t Chrysler use the fancier ’80-’81 LeBaron rear styling for more differentiation from the Fifth’s cheaper cousins?
My old boss had a ’73 Town Car amd it was quite impressive. High qualitiy interior appointments, great instrument panel, cool rim-blow steering wheel, supple leather and a monster 460 moving everything. When my father told me in 1989 he bought a new TC, I was looking forward to seeing it, remembering my boss’s old ride. When I finally did, it was quite a disappointment, inferior in practically every way to the ’73. It actually was no more luxurious than the ’82 Grand Marquis it replaced. The underpowered 302 didn’t do it any favors and, of course, it had a generic steering wheel that could be found in a base LTD. Decontenting was everywhere, but it didn’t seem to matter, as these sold in good numbers for years.
My parents’ 1972 Continental sedan (a dealer demonstrator; the dealer was a friend of theirs) was well equipped – leather interior, extra-cost metallic paint, etc. – but had a very basic Ford two-spoke steering wheel with cruise control buttons, the same as you’d find in an LTD.
I don’t think they’re that bad. Then again, I’m Panther- biased. Having worked at both Ford and Cadillac dealership BITD, I’d rather drive the Lincoln any day. A Windsor motor (one of my all-time favorite engine series) vs. a Caddy 4100? Come on, be serious for a minute. I wouldn’t mind finding one of these before demo derbies claim them all.
Usually top line car styling from the companies trickle down to the lesser priced and status vehicles, in this case……….It trickled up Lincoln(Ford) just made a bigger Granada!
Btw, i’ve always liked the Granada make mine green fully equipped, i’d like it more than the Lincoln.
Ahh, a grandma’s car. Probably a garage pampered pet until she couldn’t drive anymore, and around 2004 it found it’s way into the hard world third and fourth owners.
I do think the modern angst of Caddys ’80s engines is overblown, none of the Caddys I had personal experience with back in the day had any troubles with their tickers.
My boss at the plumbing shop had the V8-6-4 in his Eldo and what a sweet ride that was. One of my duties was waxing the bejesus out of that baby, white with the stainless roof and hooker red leather interior. He kept it for five years and never had any problems.
My folks had two Caddy Coupes, ’84 and ’87 with the HT4100 and had zero trouble as well. Mom kept the ’87 until 2000, long past it’s shelf life, with no problems.
Best friends folks had a Sedan De’ with the HT4100 they rolled in for a decade with no problems.
Another good buddies folks had a Sedan De’ with the HT4100, an ’88 as I recall, that gave reliable service till mom passed and dad sold it off in the early ’00s.
My peoples were the absolute target market for Caddy in the ’80s, middle class blue collars, mostly high school diploma only, who’d reached middle age and had enough coin now to reel in their life-long dream car. They all loved those cars, were deeply proud of them, and the cars served them well.
There is a certain degree of things. Ring overblown on the internet. I apply this to cars being viewed as crappy weren’t as bad as claimed as well as those being viewed as infallible really aren’t.
Here’s a weird comparison…..my father in law had an ‘83 Seville with the 4100. He got 177,000 miles out of it. Conversely a coworker has a Toyota that consumed its well maintained engine at 152,000 miles.
If there’s hype, I get suspicious. But that 4100 was still no bastion of grandeur.
I like this version of the Town Car. Even today a nice condition one looks very stately.
at 41(almost 42) years of age, this was the Town Car that comes to mind when I think of it because as a child of the 1980’s- 1990’s, this was everywhere in the area I lived. They were also on TV in my favorite shows (Knight Rider, A-Team etc)
I had several friends whose folks own these cars and it was a treat to ride in. They were very quiet inside of them when on the road. Later on I was able to drive a few well kept up ones and they really did soak up the road noise and bumps. Yes they had low horsepower but they did hold their own on the road and did keep up with traffic.
I think these are so much better looking and better made then the 98-11 TC (which look like they were an afterthought)
Ah, Schnucks supermarkets. For those folks in and around St Louis, I’m more of a Dierbergs fan but I so wish we had something, anything but Kroger around Cincinnati. In a perfect world, Publix would land in this market.
I like the TC and agree that the post-85 refresh made all the difference in the world.
I never liked the styling of this Town Car, but I never noticed the overhang problems as much. I don’t like the Grosse Pointe Gothic look; the front end is architectural with pointy bladed fenders where the Cadillac is smooth and elegant. The Cadillac has some curvature to its sides but the Town car is slab sided. The Town Car’s wheels appear to be further inset than those of the Cadillac. There are too many windows (FIVE) on the side of the Town Car and they are further inset than the Cadillac and oddly proportioned and shaped. The Cadillac’s windows widen further towards the bottom than the town car, the detailing around them is less brutal, and they are larger. The Cadillac tapers from trunk lid to the underside of the car going backwards to the elegant finlets but the town car doesn’t and has the blades.
Plus the Town Car lacks the turn signal repeaters which the Cadillac has, which mark True Luxury for me for some reason. Cadillac should have stuck with the Fuel Injected Oldsmobile 350 as the base engine and kept the 368 as an option, and if they really wanted a more economical car, should have Seville-ized the FWD A car in STE fashion. There was no way any engine would have ever made a 4300 + lb car economical.
The GM cars always drove much better than the Panthers. The GM cars felt solid and made out of metal, the Panthers had an odd plasticky feel in the steering and some of the other components.
Re the 4100, it didn’t get its reputation just cos people suddenly decided to hate Cadillac. There are always a few lemons among otherwise reliable cars and there’s always the one person who had a Renault Alliance go to the moon and back despite never changing the oil or what have you. But the 4100 was a terrible engine and even if you ignore reliability problems, produced the same power as the simpler and infinitely more reliable Buick 6.
Cadillac should have stuck with the Fuel Injected Oldsmobile 350 as the base engine and kept the 368 as an option…
GM shot itself in the foot with their declaration that their customers would not pay the “gas guzzler tax”. The 5th Ave/M-body in V8 form was required to pay the tax and they still sold 100,000 plus per year.
Are you kidding? Lincoln Town Cars are some of the most fabulous automobiles the nation has ever produced. (Especially the 1995 through 1997 versions.)
Having driven both the Cadillac/Roadmaster and the Town Car, I’ll take the Cadillac any day. Many times when I was considering buying a new car, such as in 2001, I went to look at off rental Town Cars at Southern Lincoln Mercury. It was astonishing how many of the little controls inside the car had broken off on a two year old car, I dimly remember seat controls, window switches, a lot of little things that had come off. What was equally disturbing was that the dealer obviously decided their customers were too stupid to know and would buy the car anyway. The Town car just doesn’t feel as well put together as the comparable GM product and does not drive as solidly. The responses have more flex and a plasticky feel and the interiors are not as solid feeling.
of course you may feel differently-I have put something like 400K miles on a couple of 91 Broughams thence my opinion.
I think it was right move for GM to consolidate it’s engine lines in the late 1970’s with the exception letting Cadillac keep it’s own engine family. I think keeping any V8 beyond 5.0L was pretty much not in the cards during the early 1980s. GM should have dropped all V8’s except for the SBC in the early 1980’s and moved forward it with it as the sole RWD engine. If they would have put a the DFI (throttle body injection) on the 305 Chevy in the 1981, and combined it with an OD transmission, it would have a solid competitor to the 302 Ford. This would have also giving Cadillac more time to develop the 4.1L instead of rushing it into production too early and under baked. The 4.1L was never intended on going into the RWD cars.
The 368 was a gas guzzler and while torquey, was slow and hard on fuel. The old 350 Olds was no fuel miser either and In addition engines would have likely been too much for the TH200-4R or the TH700-R4 transmissions. It made no sense to carry the Olds V8 beyond 1980. The only reason I believe that GM did, was because of the backlash of the 1977 debacle when Chevrolet V8’s were installed in Oldsmobiles. The Olds V8 stuck around simply to have a “premium V8” for the premium GM cars. In the end, RWD Cadillacs ended up getting SBC engines, and IMO, they were by far the best engines these RWD Caddy’s used.
When I was 17 had a 1980 Thunderbird, red with a white landau top, which people said looked like a bucket of KFC. It was crap. I always wanted an ’80 – ’84 Town Car (I actually prefer the pre-smoothed out rear end) but have not yet fulfilled that dream. A ’94 Town Car Signature and ’97 Town Car Executive were my favorites. Rock solid and sublimely comfortable.
You can deride parts-bin sharing all you want, but that’s what kept the Town Car viable for so long after RWD Cadillacs were long dead.
If it wasn’t for the fact that virtually every LEO in the US drove a Crown Vic from 1996-2011, there wouldn’t have been Town Cars for so long.
Alright, Jason, you don’t like these Town Cars. That’s fine; you’re not obliged. I have expressed comparable opinions on other Ford cars in these pages.
Me, I think the ’80-’84 Town Car is one of the better-looking Panthers (along with the low-trim early LTD with the single large rectangular headlamps). I inadvertently spat pineapple juice at my screen in re these were very well sorted mechanically; my experience was utterly opposite. But on looks alone…well, I grew up seeing both these and their pre-’80 predecessors in large numbers. The pre-’80 cars always struck me as cartoonishly, outlandishly, garishly obese versions of the proportionally-correct, pleasantly trim ’80-’84 cars. That opinion is opposite those who scorn the ’80-’84 cars as cartoonishly shrunken shadows of the “real” ones, the pre-’80 ones. It’s all accordin’ to where your boogaloo situation stands, you understand!
(and the ’85 refresh disfigured the back end of the car, to my view.)
If you noticed, I freely admitted to liking this Lincoln. It’s the first sentence of the second paragraph, the same sentence that apparently inspired you to lose control of your faculties. 🙂
Reassessing ones thoughts, and reaching a different opinion, does not necessarily generate dislike.
I did see you say you like this Lincoln. In context of your more extensive description of everything wrong with the design, I took it to mean you like stuff about this particular car other than its design. Its, ah, its very authentic patina on the vinyl top, maybe? 😉
What a great write-up Jason. These Town Cars were a huge success for Lincoln and many, in particular the 1986 and newer models, have stood the test of time. Although thin on the ground here now, there were many that lived long lives around here.
Lincoln had a lot of success with the Town Car in the 1980’s, but it wasn’t a planned success. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, everyone was moving to smaller more fuel efficient cars almost in a panic. Cadillac invested heavily in switching over to a much smaller, lighter unibody cars. Lincoln on the other hand didn’t have the money to invest in a major platform change. Their solution was to invest in what they had, which was the Fox bodied Continental. I am sure Lincoln believed that the Fox Continental would be Lincoln’s mainstay, but the market changed quick from 1980. Fuel prices dropped and big car sales came back in droves. As the trend continued, Cadillac released it’s FWD C-bodies and pretty much ignored the fact that the RWD D-body even existed.
While Cadillac had lots of success with the FWD cars, it pretty much ignored the RWD Brougham. Many customers didn’t even know that Cadillac still produced a big RWD car. As a result, many customers who still wanted a big RWD luxury car, ended up at Lincoln. And while Cadillac let the RWD D-body whither on the vine, Lincoln invested some money in making these cars more modern. Furthermore, anyone who actually drove the Cadillac Brougham found out it was stuck with a archaic drivetrain. Sure the 307 was an improvement on the HT4100, but come on, a carburetor on a luxury car in 1986?? Lincolns success kind of fell in it’s lap based its financial circumstance and Cadillac’s mistakes.
As for the styling, when we examine it with many years of hindsight, it has noticeable styling faux pas. However, at the time I don’t think it was out of step with what traditional luxury car buyers liked, and I am sure many of them thought it was an attractive car. I personally never cared for the looks of these Lincolns, and preferred the Crown Victorias of Grand Marquis for styling. And I also think the D-body Cadillacs were far nicer styled.
Part of the reason GM let the D body wither was CAFE standards; GM didn’t need a big, fuel sucking car to pull down its CAFE, so it did its best not to sell those cars and promote the FWD cars. The prices on the GM RWD cars were astronomically high for a platform which had been paid off very early in its lifetime and was extremely cheap to build. But GM had FWD cars it was promoting instead.
Ford had the Panther, Town Car, and the Fox Continental and Fox Marquis until the Taurus came along in ’86 as upscale family sedans. Ford didn’t have FWD family sedans. Its CAFE numbers were going to suck anyway, so it made the Town Car better. Plus, Ford had more capable leadership than GM did.
Except, the D-body Caddy’s actually had the same EPA average fuel economy as the FWD C-body’s. Both were rated at 20 MPG in 1986. The D-Body Cadillac also had one of the lowest MSRP’s of any Cadillac during the 1986-89 period.
Guys like Roger Smith and Bob Stempel were all about FWD technology. They had little love for anything RWD beyond maybe the Corvette and had publically called GM a FWD company. The only reason the B/D bodies stuck around is due to the high profit margins. There development was long since paid for and unlike most of GM’s new FWD lines, these cars were profitable. A Cadillac Brougham was almost twice the price of a Caprice, that’s makes for some big margins. However, there was no desire to improve these cars in any real way, they were just there to help pay the bills. Ford had no choice but to improve their RWD cars, as the had no FWD lines that overlapped with their RWD platforms like GM did.
I loved this commercial when GM downsized their full sized cars and changed to front wheel drive in 1985. Was Lincoln at its best in the 1980s. Lincoln, what a luxury car should be!
I always felt that, although somewhat cheesy and plastic-y looking (see early 60s Cad for quality trim detailing), the overall design was inoffensive, given the shrinking that the 73 and 79 gas shock realities dictated. Yes the wb was too short, the front and rear length off… as Harley Earl, or was it Bill Mitchell, said, a rectangle looks better than a square. But given the confines of reality, these are fairly handsome cars, best in light colors imo. The re-design was inoffensive, perhaps too much so in the rather bland rear, but I liked the cross-hatched later-type grilles.
I would agree that the star-crossed R-body Mopars had far better proportions and road-presence than any of GM of Ford luxury models. We had 4 R-bodies: 2 – 79 Newports, a ’79 St Regis, and best of all a stunning ’80 NY’er in 1 tone dark Turquoise that should have been a keeper. They were a poignant swan song for truly full-sized Mopars, few and far between, and for US big-brougham lovers like me, they had a production life that was far too brief.
A good friend has a low mile ’81 TC in white inherited from a since-passed-on relative that’s been sitting in their garage for over 10 years now, but have been making noises lately about getting it back on the road, a notion which I’ve been encouraging with enthusiasm. A reincarnated White Whale midst the Kia-guppies would be a heart warming sight to behold!!
80 NYer… pure brougham.
Definitely agree with you on the R-Bodies. Very, very attractive cars that arrived at the wrong time. The New Yorker is, naturally, my favourite.
Jason, you always get me seeing our beloved Ford/Mercury/Lincoln cars through fresh eyes–and tell a story entertainingly. I’d probably give a good “survivor” example some love if it had been my grandfather’s, etc., but I probably won’t seek one out as my retirement “fun car.”
I suppose Ford did what it figured its loyal customers (still) wanted—vinyl roofs, wire wheel covers—but times were indeed changing.
I agree with you on almost every point you make, Jason, especially your points about Lincoln sticking with an old design language when a new one was needed and especially your (and Paul’s) point about the Panther’s awkward overhang-heavy, narrow-track proportions.
I will disagree with you on one thing, though. I really, really dislike the looks of the later years of this generation. So they kind of sort of smoothed out the “Grosse Point Gothic” (love that term!) looks of the front end but they kept the bladed fenders so… it was a bit of a nothing refresh.
Then there’s the back. I hate the back. If they were trying to make it look more aerodynamic, they failed and they messed up my favourite part of the early 80s models. I love that upright, full-width taillight and the pointy corners. It had character and it nicely mirrored the front of the car.
As for the car itself, I’m sure it was competent but I feel like Lincoln really just lucked into success with it because Cadillac was flailing so horribly this decade. As for the Chrysler Fifth Avenue, I don’t even consider it to be a direct rival – Chrysler had pretty much cemented its next-step-down reputation by the 1980s. And it betrayed its Diplomat roots, more so than the Town Car betrayed its Crown Vic roots.
If I was in the market for a late 1970’s car as being described above, I’ll bring back a 1979 Ford LTD P6 Town Car from ‘Down Under’. One gets much better looks without those ugly 5mph bumpers, decent unrestrained performance thanks to hardly any emission controls, and REAL wood inside.
Thanks, keep trashing these cars, so they will be cheap to buy. Bash a colony park next, I need a good wagon as i already have two nice towncars
Hell yes, Mark! I’d love to have one too, especially as a wagon. Haha – Keep kicking the Panthers around, I’d still have one again in a New York minute!!👍😊
And if you’ve noticed from other posts, I’m still a “GM Guy” -. But a good car is a good car. Props to the big Ford. 🙌🤷🏽♂️
Had a look around one of these, hard to see what the attraction is or was this arrived and left under its own power but is only suitable for parts
I have a particular affinity for this year and model – my grampa had one (until 1992, then a Volvo 740), and as a Lincoln man for many years (this was his last; he drove them since ‘64) it was obvious the pride he had in it. I loved that car, with its oodles of seat adjustments, its soft leather, its stature. I liked this rearend better than the facelifted one for sure. Afaik he never had problems with his but he was a manhattan doctor, his commute was to Brooklyn, and he had parking on both ends- it was immaculate. I have a pic of him and Gramma in front of it in 1985- they look proud as punch.
Another memory – Gramps drove four-door Lincolns from ‘64-92. Sometime in the 70s (when I’m guessing he bought the car that preceded this one) they presented him with a personalized wood-mounted desktop hood ornament – one of the big ones, prob from a 70s Conti – in honor of his faithful fealty to Lincoln. He kept it on a shelf in his bedroom. I wonder how many customers were presented that, and if it was a dealer thing or a FoMoCo thing. And he kept it long after the Volvo replaced his final Lincoln. I wish I had it!
Jason,… You think a Town Car’s wheelbase is too short? Mighty few were as long as the Townie… other than the RWD Cad Brougham….. in the 1980s, that is.
Ahhhh… I remember Schnucks! Looks like St. Louis,MO? Aside from my nostalgia, these panthers are what the “rich” and grandparents drove growing up. These are the epitome of formal styling and are to the 1980s like perms and neon clothing. Totally defined the decade before BMW, Mercedes and Lexus become the go to status cars. I remember an ad from a 1986 National Geographic advertising this and I noticed the available factory CD player. Ford seemed to introduce innovations like this along with airbags (1988 Continental) HIDs, and keyless entry to the mass market before everyone else and were primarily applied to Lincolns first.
As a former owner of a 1985 Lincoln Town Car and as one who also spent considerable time in the “down-sized Cadillac of that era”, I can attest that the Lincoln was superior in drive train over the Cadillac (using a 5.0 that as battle tested for over a decade was the key) against the “interesting assortment” of Cadillac engines.
From an interior quality aspect, the Cadillac was far superior – Lincoln was particularly cheaply made and had numerous vinyl bits that would simply crack and warp over time; the Cadillac had no such thing. Cadillacs were still very luxurious in those days (they aren’t now); the Lincoln was nice, but its vast space was just covered in too cheap materials to make a positive impression.
Both vehicles rode well and the Lincoln I had could achieve nearly 30 mpgs on the highway. It had a wonderful digital dash which was far better than what Cadillac had.
I remember the Lincoln’s trunk was more usable than the Cadillacs and my six foot five brother in law could get on all fours and the trunk lid would close in the Lincoln; there was no chance of that happening in the Cadillac.
I miss by Lincoln, but if I had kept it, it would have gone in for a serious overhaul on the exterior paint and vinyl roof and I’d have had the interior totally redone in leather covering surfaces that had been vinyl in the original. That Lincoln was bullet-proof and was like driving your living room. I alas didn’t have room for it and it had to go.
And I think this Lincoln is beautiful. I dont see strange proportions like you mention. Or narrow track, etc., etc. I see what I’ve always thought a car should look like. And I have a 79. But I’d take this one too. I am a t-square straight edge three box kinda guy when it comes to styling. I can’t help it. I hated the 90’s aero restyling. I think Mark VIII’s are fugly. There is a reason I still drive a straight edged 79 Thunderbird to work everyday. I just dont like these new car styles they have.