I had a few, basic entertainment goals to accomplish during the extended New Year’s Day weekend at the beginning of this month. They were, in no particular order, to ride public transit out to one of favorite, reasonably priced vintage shops, to try out a nearby Chinese restaurant, and to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo. I managed to do two of those three things, as the eatery wasn’t open when I got to the front door. That weekend was a weird one for planning activities, as New Year’s Eve and Day fell on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and many businesses and venues were closed. Some places were also closed on Monday. The zoo is open 365 days a year. A part of me felt bad for the staff who had to work that day, but I was thankful to spend part of the first day of the year in one of my happy places, as I love all the creatures and plant life on display at this incredible zoo.
My main reason for my zoo visit was to behold and say goodbye to a very old Bur Oak, pictured above and below, which is estimated to be as old as this very country, predating even the incorporation of Chicago in 1837. This tree, located near the white-cheeked gibbon habitat, is supposed to be taken down this spring as it is now aged to the point of being something like 80% dead and toward the end of its natural life cycle. It’s a living thing that has been a stately, serene presence during over two centuries of United States history. Instead of running through a Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”-style rundown of historical events, I encourage you to think for a minute about so many different moments on the timeline of the U.S. that have happened between now and when this oak had sprouted from a fallen acorn.
I got sad as I looked at it and contemplated its fate, though I took comfort in the fact of its longevity. My initial thought was that if this tree had managed to live for over two hundred years, why not just let it die a natural death, whenever that would happen? The reason is safety. Zoo patrons don’t need to be hit by large, falling branches from a tree that’s hundreds of years old. I was satisfied to spend some minutes near this tree from behind the fence, snap a few pictures of it, and honor its existence. For as many times as I had been to the zoo, hiding in plain sight was this ancient, historic tree near a pathway I had walked along many times. Like many other patrons, I’m sure, I hadn’t paid that much attention to it, but I certainly would have noticed its absence if its giant self were to have disappeared.
Much like a full-sized Ford wagon. The next day, immediately after I left Lincoln Antiques, this Oxford White LTD Crown Victoria LX pulled up to the curb and sat idling for a few minutes before its owner got out. I was almost as thrilled with this find as I was with my purchase, both of which had seemed to just drop into my lap. It’s not a stretch to theorize that the same kind of buyer who would appreciate vintage stores would also employ a classic, rear-drive American station wagon as personal transportation. Its owner confirmed this LTD’s model year as ’88, stating also that it had been a Craigslist find from a little while back. He was a really nice guy, and I’m sure he might have answered a few more questions, but I sensed he had the same goal as me in trying to find that one treasure at the store and I didn’t want to keep him waiting.
The ’88 model year brought the first significant exterior refresh of Ford’s Panther platform biggies, with a smoother front fascia, and for sedans, a smoother rear, as well. The wagons featured the same larger, wraparound rear bumper, taillamps, and “magic Three-Way Doorgate” as since the late-’78 inception of this generation. The two-ton starting weight of the LX wagon was motivated by a 5.0 liter cubic inch V8 with 150 horsepower, hitched to a four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. Of the 125,000 LTD Crown Victorias sold for ’88, just under 15,000, or only 12% or so, were wagons. Just for comparison, Chevrolet sold 189,000 of their full-sized Caprice, of which about 30,600 were wagons, or 16%. Curiously, Mercury’s upmarket Panther sibling, the Grand Marquis, sold 121,000 units, only slightly less than the Ford, of which about 9,500 were Colony Park wagons.
When I had first looked at this car, a very nice example of what it was, it struck me that something might have been missing from it, though I couldn’t put my finger on what it was at the time. Maybe I was just distracted and hungry for the Chinese lunch I didn’t know I wouldn’t be getting, but it was only when I got home and flipped through the frames I had snapped that it dawned on me: no “wood”. This car was not a Country Squire, but a regular, old, Ford LTD Crown Victoria wagon, in LX trim, as I later discovered. The Country Squire was an American institution. Before its discontinuation after ’91, Ford had offered a Country Squire for forty-one years, a run of Ford nameplate longevity surpassed by only Mustang and Thunderbird.
Ford offered multiple trim levels for its ’88 full-sized LTD wagons, which came as a base model, an LX, a Country Squire, and an LX Country Squire. That’s four permutations of a body style that accounted for less than a fifth of total production. This one’s an LX, which meant that for about $1,000 ($2,500 in 2023) over the starting price of the base wagon ($16,200 / $40,700 in 2023 vs. $15,200 / $38,000), and depending on the option package selected, it came equipped with such niceties as cornering lamps, cast aluminum wheels, electronic AM/FM stereo, and a few other things. The Di-Noc treatment for the Country Squire cost just $433 (about $1,100). This was a very nice wagon even without the fake wood, but there’s a part of my brain that has been conditioned by Ford marketing to expect it on a car like this.
The full-size wagon was something I had grown up taking for granted as something that would always just be there in the background, like the mall, Sears, or Betty White. I wasn’t particularly invested in cars of this ilk, as my family of origin had never owned one. My only other relatives who had owned such a car were my aunt and uncle in Ohio who had scored a terrific deal on a honey of a low-miles ’77 or so Caprice that was less than ten years old at the time they bought it. They later traded for a much more efficient, two-tone Dodge Colt Vista.
It probably wasn’t until the ’90s and the ubiquity of the minivan that I had started to notice fewer station wagons on the road. Similarly, when I learned of the impending doom of the Bur Oak at the Lincoln Park Zoo, I spent probably a good ten minutes or so trying to remember if I had ever deliberately paid attention to it, or had even known anything unique or special about its existence. Both this LTD and the tree are big, beautiful, stalwart things that serve as reminders of the passage of time. On the first couple days of 2023, they were endlessly fascinating to me for just those reasons.
January 1 & 2, 2023.
The 1988 Ford LTD Crown Victoria brochure pages were as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.
You draw a great analogy between the ancient oak and the Ford station wagon. There is a part of me that really pined (sorry) for one of these, probably out of a childhood attachment to my father’s 66 Country Squire. Then there was the part of me that didn’t really like a lot about these box panthers, despite trying really hard. I guess it’s like a 200+ year old tree – I enjoy it most when it belongs to someone else.
Your last sentence made me laugh when I first read it this morning. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been rewatching old episodes of the TV show Vega$, and I’m thinking Ford must have been a sponsor, because there were a lot of Panthers (including wagons). The episode I watched last night had one that was supposed to belong to the Clark County morgue.
“Vega$” was an Aaron Spelling show, like “Charlie’s Angel’s”, and Ford provided vehicles.
Wow. I’ve been to the Lincoln Park Zoo more times than I can count over the years, both as a child and with my own kids, and I had no idea there was a tree that old still on the grounds. Too bad they’ve gotta take it down, but I get it.
I was so surprised to read about this tree. And to be honest, had I not seen articles about it at the end of last year, I still wouldn’t have known.
Although the store owner across the street may think the car is a dog, I like these. Although I liked them better before lots of people here started pointing out their shortcomings vs the GM competition. Having owned neither, I can still like them from afar. I do like the restyled front end (and the rear on the sedans), and agree they look a little odd without the woodgrain since most seemed to have that as opposed to the GMs which seemed more split on that.
For whatever reason Ford decided to stay with sealed beam headlights on these with the chromed surround that incorporates the turn signals and running lights, the look works but could be even more aero, doubly odd as everything else Ford was heading in that direction as early as possible.
It’s weird how the living oak did so for 200+ years, yet the seemingly more permanent Di-Noc tree seemed to wither and fade away within 30 or so years. I guess sometimes the old ways are best. 🙂
Haha – did you like the “WOOF” (all-caps) sign in the pet store window from across the street? You bring up a great point about the ’88s getting the aero refresh, but still having the sealed beams. I suppose maybe this was anticipate the reaction from Ford’s target demographic for these (and the related Mercury Grand Marquis).
We all saw what happened when Ford actually tried something modern-looking with the next generation! You know buyers absolutely weren’t having it if Ford chose to add that “grille” after only the first year.
That wagon looks good even without the fake wood.
It was in great shape.
One of the joy of life is in its continuance. A life may pass, yet life remains. As one who has fond memories of station wagons, sedans, personal luxury coupes, and sporty subcompact cars – I yet must acknowledge that they replaced other objects which also brought back fond memories for older generations. So, in their leaving, there is new.
The minivan was an improvement over full size wagons. Just as the Swiss Army knife is an improvement over the sword or the hatchet, minivans offered a level of flexibility, efficiency, utility and comfort these old wagons cannot touch.
As to the old tree in Lincoln Park, it replaced something too. Lincoln Park started as a public cemetery for the graves of cholera and smallpox victims. The Park was on shallow lake topography, so as Chicago grew around it, residents were not pleased that these POW graves stood in water six months each year. At that time Lincoln Park was known as Lake Park and it was privately owned. This tree was already 40 years old when Lake Park was sold to Chicago and the coffins were relocated. Today, there is one mausoleaum left in Lincoln Park – but not in the Zoo.
So this tree, if it had the ability, would have witnessed constant change around it. By 1870, it was in a public zoo that changed continually. Hundreds of other trees as old as this one were removed a century or so ago, to create the Park’s many public offerings. Being in a zoo and staying alive spared it until this year.
But the good thing is that even with it gone, there will be viable life enjoying the space it once occupied.
Thanks for the history. Chicago has seen so much change. I’m still fascinated by all the landfill east of the city against the lake after the Great Fire.
When I first saw these pictures, I’d assumed that this car had either been repainted (sans woodgrain) or had some sort of woodgrain-delete option (not sure if that existed in any event). But somehow I’d forgotten that there were non-Country Squire Ford wagons in the late 1980s… I guess these were uncommon enough that it completely escaped my mind. Great catch here!
Sad about the Lincoln Park Zoo oak. A few years ago, I had an American Holly tree removed from just next to our house – it was likely planted 100 years ago when the house was built. Awfully tough to take down such a survivor, but the tree was becoming brittle, and due to its proximity to the house and driveway, it seemed prudent not to take chances. It’s amazing to think about how much these old trees have witnessed over their lives.
I’m with you on both your first impression that all of these wagons had the fake wood (I had thought so), and also your hesitance to take down really old trees, in your case, a century-old American Holly.
I’ll say this. When I was looking at that Bur Oak, I had nothing but respect for the fact that, like me, it was a living thing. (And now I’m hearing Electric Light Orchestra’s song of the same name for absolutely no reason other than the words are the same.)
It is a bit odd and almost jarring to see one of these without their DiNoc robe on; it looks naked and a bit embarrassed. Or maybe it’s me that’s embarrassed?
“DiNoc robe” is priceless. To flip back and forth between the picture of this car and the one in the brochure (with the wood) does give that impression. I actually don’t mind it without the wood, but yes – I’m used to seeing Country Squires, so I prefer it with.
I prefer the Crown Victoria without Di-Noc, think it looks more purposeful and useful, especially in white. I was going to say it looks good without the whitewalls, but looking closer they’re there, just grubby.
I would go to pay my respects to the tree too if I lived close by. I have a couple of large thorn trees in my garden and watching daily how they provide various bird species with nesting opportunities and shelter from birds of prey has led me to love and respect them so much.
It pleases me to know others also appreciate trees and all that they provide. All the trees in my neighborhood are part of what make it so beautiful. I know for a fact that I’ve referenced the forest-like qualities of my neighborhood in at least one essay before.
And you’re right – I could see “purposeful” as a way to describe this Ford wagon without the wood. No pretense, and all utility and function.
Excellent article and find Joseph! Designed during the first era of significant downsizing, a lot was lost in style from the previous gen LTD station wagons, IMO. Where the ’73-’78 wagon had some attractive, and well-placed curves, this version seemed too square at the time of introduction. Especially, in the rear quarter flank region, as shown in your last pic.
Much like the loss of style going from say, the Chev Monza hatchback, to the Cavalier hatchback. Generic styling was setting in!
Thanks, Daniel! And I like that you brought up the Monza vs. Cavalier Type 10 hatchback comparison. So apt, and something I have thought about myself. Come to think of it, I’m wondering if there has ever been a CC article with a compare and contrast between those two cars.
Even with completely different architecture (RWD vs. FWD; range of body styles, etc.), there was no styling comparison at all. Could you imagine what a “Cavalier Spyder” would have looked like? I cannot.
That would a great design comparison Joe. I think we’d be both biased towards the more organic shape, and Italian-influenced lines of the Monza. I wasn’t really a first gen J-Car design fan. From any division. Appliances, really.
It bugs the heck out of me, but I can’t remember why my Dad bought a leftover ’78 Chevrolet Caprice Classic wagon rather than the ’79 Ford. He bought in the fall of ’78 and I know the ’79 Ford Wagons were out, but perhaps they didn’t have quite what he was lookig for.
He’d previously bought two full-sized Ford wagons, a ’69 Squire with the 351 and a ’73 Ranch wagon that was actually better equipped save the fake wood paneling which of course it lacked. You mention the 3 way tailgate, that was long available on the Ford, think they came out with it in ’68 or so (before that it was 2 way, meaning you had to first roll down the window before it opened either as a door or as a tailgate). I think that was a big reason he didn’t buy GM, who in ’71 came out with the clamshell gate which he disliked (of course the ’69 Chevy had a more regular tailgate). So in ’78, to him the Chevrolet with the 3 way gate was back on the table, and in fact what he bought. However, don’t know how similar our family was to others, but this was his last wagon. No, he didn’t buy a van nor a mini-van, but went back to sedans….last family sedan he’d bought was his new ’56 Plymouth Plaza….we no longer needed the extra space in a wagon, and living in the south, I think he believed the air conditioner cooled a sedan more quickly than a wagon (since you couldn’t buy one with rear air-conditioner anymore). He stayed a sedan buyer the rest of his life (last car he owned was a 2006 Impala). Wonder what he’d buy now if he was still alive..not sure if he’d be interested in an electric, but maybe a Dodge Charger?
I hadn’t realized that the rear window had to first be lowered on the tailgate of Ford wagons up to a certain point in the ’60s before the door could be opened. I’ll bet that was the bane of many a grocery shopping housewife in the winter.
That’s also an interest point about air conditioning and interior volume of a sedan vs. a wagon. I actually think that’s correct, especially when one thinks about the added greenhouse effect of the windows lining the wayback.
Our only “near miss” with getting a wagon was in 1981. Dealer had a leftover “79 Lebaron Coupe”, a “79 Lebaron wagon”, a “79 Cordoba”.
The wagon was nice but the “lipstick red” coupe” was “Wow”.
Knew the Cordoba was out. Mom was not a “bucket seats” buyer.
Was shocked when she went for the “screaming red/white” coupe.(Lebaron) lol
Lasted till 1991. Build quality was “mondo bad” though.
“Lean burn” motor, “lock up torque converter” were not endearing qualities either.
We had a 1988 police drama TV series here in Canada, called Katts and Dog. Featuring a white 1988 LTD station wagon as a K9 unit, and the primary car in the show. I never found the wagon ‘commercial’ enough, or having enough character, as the lead car in a series. Was too blase. Much like the show!
Producers hands were likely tied, as the show featured a cop and his dog.
I enjoy learning about both TV and music from the country north of mine. It’s interesting to contemplate what makes for good car-casting on a show. I remember that Ben Matlock (played by Andy Griffith) drove one of these ’88-or-so Crown Victorias, but a sedan. One of the first things I thought to myself when the featured car pulled up to the curb was that it had “Matlock-face”.
The conservative lines of the Panther LTD, suited Matlock well. Police car wagons have been associated with K9 units, why I found it lent a less serious tone. More a family-oriented vibe to this Canadian show. Given a German Shepherd was a co-star. It ran for several seasons, and had a popular following. But, I never perceived it, as a serious police show myself.
Live a block for the zoo here in DC. It’s gone to a timed entry system so us ‘neighborhood” folk can no longer stroll through/around the place as time, mood permits.
Miss seeing my various neighbors. Particularly the elephants, big cats, birds, and the residents of the “red barn” at the bottom of the hill.
The song “Big Yellow Taxi”, often resonates in my head.
I think I remember passing the DC Metro stop for the zoo last fall. I’ve been curious about it, so I may have to check it out if I’m able. I think your zoo and my zoo are the only free-admission ones in the U.S.
San Jose had an over 200 year old “sentinel” sycamore tree that was removed in 2000. This was in a residential front yard in a North San Jose neighborhood. Somehow the tree had been incorporated into the city street grid. The tree, which at the time it was removed was almost 100 ft tall, with a branch spread of 80-90 ft. The tree was a landmark that had been visible for miles during the Pioneer period of California. There had been efforts made to shore up the tree, but a noted arborist, Dr. Richard Abbot of Ohio, made the decision after a two day examination, that the tree could not be saved and it was removed. Cloned plantings were made of the tree, and planted at several areas of the city.
Your post made me remember reading about the removal of this tree over twenty years ago. San Jose was founded on November 29, 1776.
I often see old oak trees which have died and look like they were blown up with their trunk in sections and their branches spread out on the ground around them.
Thanks for sharing this. I am glad that the old sycamore was at least able to be propagated. I think the same plans are in place for this Bur Oak.
I had a 79 wagon (on that same platform). Also with a young family, it was the most utilitarian vehicle that I could ever own for the time. With the 351W, it also could keep up with traffic (and pass most of it). Loved it until a furniture truck hit it. Wish I still had it.
As CUV’s and SUV’s get lower each re-style, it’s almost as if station wagons are coming back.
OTOH, someone on another site called the latest Escalade a ‘school bus’.