Curbside Classic: 1989 Ford LTD Crown Victoria – If It’s Good Enough For Ben Matlock…

(first posted 5/27/2013)    It seems like CC has had B-body after B-body over the past few months–or is that years? Delta 88s, Caprices, Bonneville Broughams, over and over. Well, CC is the B-body paradise–and I am just as guilty of posting so many of what might well be GM’s last truly great family car. But what about the Panthers? There are plenty of LTD, Grand Marquis and Town Car fans here too, and it seems they have been getting short shrift. But I aim to correct that right now, with this late Eighties example of FoMoCo goodness.

Ford was not really interested in downsizing their biggies, but CAFE and the clear success of the 1977 B-body GMs (there I go again…) forced Ford’s hand. And so it was that the Panther replaced the gunboat 1978 LTD and Marquis. The Lincoln Continental and Mark V got a one-year reprieve and were replaced in 1980.

The early Panthers looked good on paper, but in practice they were not quite the car the B-bodies were. The styling was not quite as crisp, the handling was not quite as grand as an F41 Caprice, and the engines and transmissions were rather sluggish. Remember what your mother told you about making a good first impression? Well, Ford had mixed results.

The cars themselves sold respectably, if not spectacularly. Keep in mind GM was still the 800-lb. gorilla back then, and had more dealers and more brands. But when the second gas crisis struck in late 1979–only a year after the Ford and Mercury Panthers debuted–many in the automotive industry wondered if even downsized full-sizers would play in Peoria.

During 1979-81, it was predicted that gasoline could triple or quadruple from the current rate, and for a while the Panthers were set to expire in about 1983. Pontiac had gone so far as to dump their B-body Bonneville and Catalina in 1981, putting the vaunted Bonneville nameplate on a LeMans with a nose job.

The big LTD and Marquis very nearly had the same fate as the big Pontiacs, as the Fox-body LTD and Marquis were intended to replace the Panthers during 1983-84. But then a funny thing happened: The doom and gloom scenario did not appear, and indeed, gas started to drop. People started buying big cars again. Ford changed their plans, and the Panthers became the “Grand Marquis” and “LTD Crown Victoria.”

And thus the LTD hung in there. It had gotten a couple of new grilles and trim pieces between 1979 and 1987, but it was pretty minor, and non-CC types could have had a hard time telling which year was which.

Ford finally gave the big LTD CV a much-needed facelift in 1988. It brought just a little bit of the FoMoCo corporate “aero” look to the Panthers, with a much smoother nose and, on the sedans, the rear quarters and taillamp panel. Coupes were dropped. The LTD wagon and woody Country Squire got the new nose, but the ninety-degree-angle rear quarters carried over. Grand Marquises got the same treatment, but for some reason, I preferred the Fords.

I first saw our featured CC a month or two ago at about 10:00 at night. I vowed to return the next morning for pictures, but the next day it was gone. Drat! Fortunately, it reappeared at the end of March. I was very attracted to the deep maroon paint, and the matching leather was an added bonus.

It was remarkably well-preserved, save for a bit of scuffing on the driver’s seat. I imagine it was someone’s grandfather’s baby until recently. It was very clean, and for sale too. I was tempted…but if I got it that bug deflector on the nose would have to go!

There was just something about them. I remember the first 1988 LTD Crown Victoria I saw. I was eight. We had hopped in our cream-yellow 1986 Volvo 240DL wagon and driven to the Wisconsin Dells on vacation, and stayed at a neat resort right on the lake. We had our own cabin, there was an outdoor pool, and me and my younger brother and sister had a lot of fun. I still remember the goofy Dells jingle on the radio, as it played about four times a minute. It started; “Downtown Dells is the place to be…” and was very annoying, even to my second-grade ears.

Anyway, one night I went with Mom to go to the main office to get some ice. It was early evening, probably twenty minutes or so to sunset, and there in the parking lot was a brand-new ’88 LTD Crown Victoria. In midnight blue, with the snazzy turbine alloy wheels. I was a Broughamaholic even back then, and was very attracted to that car. Of course, my Volvo-driving parents wouldn’t have touched one of those big boats with a ten-foot pole.


So, I have always loved the 1988-91 LTD Crown Victoria. And if my cherished childhood memory has not convinced you, might I add that no less than Mr. Ben Matlock, TV attorney-at-law, owned one of these big Fords. I like to think that if Andy Taylor retired from the Mayberry P.D. in the late ’80s, he’d have chosen one of these, too.