End of the Line, End of an Era

DTW marks the last of the traditional American body-on-frame sedans.

1995 Ford Crown Victoria (c) favcars.com

The Ford Crown Victoria and its Mercury and Lincoln siblings were the last in a long line of traditional body-on-frame full-size rear-wheel-drive sedans that were for decades a defining feature of the American automotive landscape. They were simply engineered, but tough and reliable cars that were perfectly suited to the wide variety of private, commercial and institutional roles in which they served.

Today we will recall the generations that were marketed from 1991 to 2011. The Crown Victoria name was a revival of one first used on a Ford two-door hardtop coupé in 1955. Contrary to appearances, the name was not a royalist reference, but instead described a styling feature of the 1955 model, a stainless-steel hoop linking the B-pillars that crowned the roof.

Launched in March 1991, the 1992 Crown Victoria was a six-light sedan in the fashionable aero style. It replaced an uncompromisingly rectilinear and boxy design that had been in production since 1980. Unlike its predecessor, which was offered in a full range of sedan, coupé and station wagon versions, the new Crown Victoria would be offered only in a single sedan bodystyle.

It was again based on Ford’s ubiquitous Panther chassis that had underpinned all of the company’s full-size models since 1979. The chassis was, however, significantly upgraded to improve handling and roadholding. Disc brakes were fitted all round for the first time, while ABS and traction control became available as optional equipment.

A closely related but slightly upmarket version of the Crown Victoria was offered under the Mercury nameplate as the Grand Marquis. This had a rather more formal four-light DLO with broad C-pillars. Both models shared a 114½” (2,908mm) wheelbase and an overall length of approximately 212½” (5,398mm). The same chassis with a 3” (75mm) stretch in the wheelbase was used for the Lincoln Town Car, launched in 1989 as a 1990 model. In all models, the engine was a new 4.6 litre SOHC Modular V8 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. This engine replaced the venerable 4.9 litre OHV Windsor V8(1) which dated back some thirty years to 1961.

1993 Mercury Grand Marquis (c) bestcarmag.com

The styling of the Crown Victoria was the subject of some controversy at launch. The car’s typically older and conservative buyer demographic was uncomfortable with the six-light DLO and faired-in nose. Many such buyers instead bought the more conventional looking Grand Marquis. Ford addressed these concerns, first by adding a traditional chrome front grille for the 1993 model year, but finally by adopting the Mercury’s four-light design wholesale for the 1998 second-generation model. From this point onwards, the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis would differ only in the treatment of their front and rear ends and interior trim.

While the Crown Victoria sold steadily in smaller numbers to private buyers, the major market for the car was for taxi and law-enforcement usage. Together, General Motors and Ford enjoyed a virtual duopoly position in this market, with heavy-duty special versions of the Chevrolet Caprice Classic and Crown Victoria.

Both cars’ body-on-frame construction and simple but tough mechanical components were considered advantageous for the arduous work they would see in service. Ford’s position was further strengthened in 1996 when Chevrolet discontinued the Caprice Classic. In 1999, the suffix Police Interceptor was added to the law-enforcement version of the Crown Victoria, to add some macho appeal to the oddly effete model name, I would imagine.

1999 Ford Police Interceptor (c) autoevolution.com

The liveried versions of the Crown Victoria were, of course, immediately identifiable, but even the unmarked cars were hardly inconspicuous: a Crown Victoria in a drab non-metallic dark colour with minimal brightwork and small hub caps on black steel wheels was unlikely to be anything other than a police, FBI, CIA or other law-enforcement vehicle! That said, such cars were popular second-hand buys at auction. They may have led a hard life, but they were also likely to have been meticulously maintained.

The other major market for the Crown Victoria (and Caprice Classic) was as licenced taxi cabs. In their distinctive yellow-orange colour, they were, for many, as emblematic of New York as the Empire State Building or Brooklyn Bridge. In the 1990’s I travelled in the back of both cars frequently and, as we bobbed and floated over the city’s terribly potholed streets, I always marvelled that such large cars could be so lacking in rear legroom. In fairness, the reinforced steel and Perspex security screen separating passengers from the driver took up a considerable amount of foot and knee space.

The other highly successful derivative of the same architecture was the Lincoln Town Car. The heavily restyled 1990 version looked like a long-wheelbase derivative of the Grand Marquis, with a more vertical trailing edge to the rear door window and a very wide C-pillar within which was installed a slim opera window. The styling was unequivocally formal, with an upright front end and a deep chrome radiator grille topped off with the Lincoln emblem, in the manner of Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz.

1997 Lincoln Town Car (c) mcsmk8.com

While the Town Car, like its predecessors, sold to affluent conservative Americans who preferred to buy a domestically manufactured(2) rather than imported car, it was also the default choice for what we would call in the UK the executive private hire business. Highly polished black Town Cars would be seen outside smart office buildings, upmarket hotels and fashionable restaurants in every major North American city.

Having travelled in Town Cars on a number of occasions, they were undoubtedly comfortable, with compliant suspension and soft black leather upholstery. Those wide C-pillars and tinted glass offer a high degree of privacy and seclusion from the bustling, noisy streets outside. The engineering may have been very traditional, but it was expertly and finely honed to its intended role.

The Town Car was, of course, the basis for the archetypal stretch limo, beloved of stag and hen parties and, ideally, painted Barbie pink for the latter. While these were mainly aftermarket conversions, Lincoln cannot absolve itself entirely of blame for crimes against good taste: in the mid-1980’s and 1990’s it offered a number of Signature Series special editions of the Town Car with rather dubious aesthetic flourishes.

The Town Car received a major update in 1998 when it was given a smoother, more aerodynamic but rather less distinctive body, losing the characteristic wide C-pillar and opera window. A factory-built long wheelbase version was offered with a 6” (150mm) stretch in the wheelbase to 123½” (3,137mm). The extra length was initially incorporated into a wide B-pillar and, subsequently, into a longer rear door window. Ford did likewise with the Crown Victoria from 2002, but this version was offered only to fleet and private hire customers.

Ford Crown Victoria Taxi Cabs in New York (c) cityandstateny.com

The Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car continued with only minor updates to sell in respectable numbers well into the new millennium, but private sales were diminishing rapidly. By 2006, 95% of production of the Crown Victoria was for taxi or police use. By 2012, it was all over: all three models had been discontinued and the classic body-on frame US sedan was no more.

In 2021, New York taxis are virtually all Toyota or Nissan hybrid crossovers or minivans, which are spacious, practical and economical, but devoid of much character. Following the demise of the Crown Victoria, Ford offered Police Interceptor versions of its front-wheel-drive unibody Taurus sedan until 2019 and the Explorer SUV, which continues in production to the present day.

It is, perhaps, rather tempting to poke fun at the perceived primitiveness or lack of sophistication in these traditional body-on-frame vehicles, but that is to miss the point entirely as to their fitness for purpose and to ignore their phenomenal sales success: in the two decades until production ended, total sales of the three models was around 4.5 million units, making them a tremendous earner for Ford and helping the company survive some pretty challenging times. DTW remembers an American stalwart with fondness.

(1) The Windsor engine was still fitted to the 1990 Lincoln Town car in its first year of production.

(2) Their patriotism might have been somewhat misplaced, however: in 2007 production of the Town Car was moved to Ford Canada’s plant in Southwold, Ontario, where the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis were manufactured.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

56 thoughts on “End of the Line, End of an Era”

  1. Hi Daniel, and thank you for turning a light on this beast. I have to say that I have always rather liked them, from a distance, when visiting family in California. The distance is because, in coastal Orange County, they are deeply unfashionable and serve pretty much only the cabs and cops trade, as you observe. But to me they seemed well styled (save some embellished versions), big, tough, cheap and supremely useful family cars. The tide has turned, however, and the market is Tonkas or imports, or imported Tonkas for the well-heeled. Seems a bit of shame, but that sentiment just marks me out as a dinosaur I suppose.

  2. From an engineering point of view I’m usually an advocate for lightweight constructions, but I have a huge soft spot for some of Detroit’s metal. Two of my fondest car memories are about a 2019 Camaro convertible I drove in Florida and a 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 that was my companion on the dirt roads in wintery Finland.

    The experience I have with the traditional saloons is rather limited. In primary school there was a boy who’s dad had a 1977 Chevy Nova. Even though it wasn’t the full size experience to a ten year old (or there about) me the car seemed huge compared to the Golfs and Escorts that were sort of the norm at the time. When I was in New York in 2013 I had a ride in a Crown Vic cab and Chevy van. Cars that worked well in their environment. I like them.

    I often visit the ‘Saturday Night Cruise’ in The Hague to hear some V8 rumble. Hopefully the pandemic will soon be over and these gatherings can be organized again. Only last Sunday I spotted a 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona in my street. Only 4,000 were made. Hard to miss in the colour that’s named ‘top banana’.

    1. I have also made an error. The 1994-1999 DeVille was moved to the K (II) platform, shared with the Seville, although the wheelbase remained 113.8 inches rather than the 111 inches used on the Seville. The “LWYRUP” plated car is therefore on the K (II) platform. Two major differences to the H and C platforms at the time were greatly enhanced structural stiffness (Mercedes W124 was cited as a benchmark) and the availability of the relatively high-revving Northstar DOHC V8 engine (kept exclusive to Cadillac).

  3. Good morning gentlemen. Like you, I have a fondness for American cars, to the extent that I always try to rent one when the US because they are eminently well suited to the local driving environment. Who wants a boring old Nissan Rogue Sport (Qashqai in Europe) when one could be trundling around in a Mustang, Camaro, or even a Chrysler 300C?

    In my rural backwater, US cars are as rare as hens teeth, but this morning I encountered one of these in town when returning from the shops:

    It’s a 1990’s Buick Roadmaster. At a glance, it appeared to be in good condition, and not a bad looking car, although one can’t help wondering if the designer misplaced his compass when he got to the rear door frame and C-pillar, so much is it at odds with the rest of the design.

    1. The Roadmaster is a personal favorite. It was also available in an awesome wagon derivative.

      The closely related Cadillac Fleetwood(built on GM’s D-body variant of the the Buick’s B) was perhaps better resolved stylistically.

    2. Hi Ben. The first website for which you provided a link is not accessible in (some) European countries because it is not GDPR complaint, apparently. I’ve taken the liberty of substituting a photo of the Roadmaster station wagon, which is an epic ‘land yacht’. I’ve also also displayed your photo of the Fleetwood, which is, I agree, rather better resolved than the Roadmaster sedan. I really rather liked this generation of GM large sedans, which included the Chevrolet Caprice Classic:

      That really does put me in mind of a yacht (upturned, perhaps)

    3. The Roadmaster is really one of the few really big cars I know about that’s visually too small for its footprint, it really need the longer door from the Cadillac, but it really isn’t a C-Body either, it’s closely related to the B-Body Caprice, which is too small for that car.

      Traditionally the B-Bodies were shared between the Chevrolet Impala/Caprice, the Buick LeSabre, the Pontiac Bonneville, and the Oldsmobile 88. The C-Body was really Cadillac only with an extension of the wheelbase in front of the body with a longer dash/axle ratio and an extension in the rear compartment/extended wheelbase/longer rear door. But in between those there was also the Buick Electra/Roadmaster and the Oldsmobile 98, on a platform that retained the shorter dash/axle ratio of the B-Body but had the extended wheelbase in the rear from the C-Body. To confuse matters further Pontiac had the Grand Ville in the 70’s which really wanted to play the same game as Buick/Oldsmobile but was only allowed a B-Body with the look alike roof section as the C-Body. Beginning with the new generation of 1990, there was only two versions, the B-Body and the C-Body, where the B-Body was shared wholesale between Chevrolet/Buick/Pontiac/Oldsmobile, and Cadillac was the sole purveyor of the C-Body. Confusing, yes, but oh so much fun.

    4. The 1993-96 RWD body-on-frame Cadillac [Fleetwood] discussed on this subthread was designated as a “D-body”, while the “C” at that time was the FWD/unibody DeVille/Buick Park Avenue/Olds 98, shown below (LWYRUP plate). Yes, it’s confusing.

    5. Yeah I forgot the name change, but in essence it’s a C-Body. That’s why I said “traditionally”, because that was the formula they had but eventually strayed from.

    6. BTW, after much research, I discovered that the 1971-1972 Grand Ville had a longer wheelbase than the other B-bodies, and this extra length was put into the dash-to-axle area, so the body from the firewall back was dimensionally the same as other B-bodies. I think that the result of putting the C-body roof on this car was a shorter boot lid, which gave the car a dashing, mustang-ish profile.

      The pre-1971 Pontiac Bonneville (and Star-Chief/Executive) also had a longer wheelbase than other B-Bodies, but this was “empty space” added behind the rear door such that rear legroom was never increased over the corresponding Chevrolet and lower-line Catalina models (etc.). The earliest examples of this marketing-driven differentiation (a longer wheelbase arguably offered a smoother ride) added sheet metal behind the rear wheel as well, making for a longer tail and slightly increased boot space over the other B-bodies.

      Pontiac’s many excursions and eccentricities were largely DeLorean’s doing, and they worked as far as sales numbers, he was quite the disrupter. Thus DeLorean was not so universally appreciated by his rival divisions at GM, not to mention that his peers in GM’s executive suite didn’t appreciate the cut of his jib. As we know, history doesn’t remember DeLorean quite as kindly as his latter day partner in crime and fellow evil genius, Colin Chapman; but perhaps his tenure at GM, if not his entire career deserves a more considered evaluation.

    7. Hi Gooddog. DTW will be remembering DeLorean’s ill-fated Northern Ireland based sports car venture on the occasion of its 40th anniversary of the car’s launch in early 2021. Stay tuned!

    8. That’s interesting, Goddog, I didn’t know about the Grand Ville being on a longer platform, I always thought it was a straightforward B-Body.

      It must’ve been something like a B-Body+ (Electra/98) but with the shorter body pushed further back? That’s really strange….

    9. Thanks for fixing my photo links Daniel. I never know when I’m doing it correctly.

      That Caprice you posted was the big rival to the Crown Vic in the NYC taxi market. The Chevy had more legroom, especially when you found one without the safety partition, but the Ford rode much better.

      The rarest of that generation of BoF B-bodies was the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, which was basically a Roadmaster wagon redecorated with an Olds grille. I’ve only ever seen two in the wild.

  4. Hello, it’s uncanny how you regularly select for analysis a vehicle that I myself have just become interested in. I suppose given the horrors which have taken over as the bread and butter US vehicles of choice it’s not surprising that some of us are looking back to an earlier time with affection. Suffice to say I don’t like SUV’s . None of them. I understand that their popularity has undone most of the environmental benefits derived from hybrids and EV’s (though their claim to such is debatable). Just when we should be putting all efforts into smaller preferably hydrogen fuel cell vehicles we are going in the opposite direction. Sorry wandering off subject.

    1. Hi Simon and thanks for your thoughts. Wandering off subject (something in which I excel) is to be encouraged because it often reveals interesting and unexplored thoughts (that’s my excuse anyway). The Crown Victoria and its siblings would be regarded as dinosaurs today, but were highly significant in their era, so worth remembering and celebrating.

      Regarding the choice of subject matter, I tend to write about cars that are either interesting in themselves, highly significant in industry or societal terms, or have an interesting back story worth telling, even if the car itself is mediocre. Happily, Editor Eóin keeps me on a pretty long leash and only intervenes when I start to lose the plot, literally speaking.

      There’s plenty more good stuff in the DTW pipeline for 2021, so I hope you will find it enjoyable.

  5. Good morning Daniel. Thank you for giving this fine car some well deserved respect. I remember being driven in one and finding it supremely comfortable – until we met a tailback where the combination of a heavy-footed driver and stop-start moves made it feel as if I was on a rolling sea with a delicate stomach.

    One of my favourite films, The Lincoln Lawyer, is one to watch, LWYR UP !

    1. Correction: NTGUILTY
      Who remembers who had the LWYR UP licence plate?

    2. And that’s today’s DTW Quick Quiz question, thank you vwmeister! As I’ve no idea as to the answer, vwmeister will post it here at 6.00pm GMT if nobody gets it in the meantime. (Don’t forget!)

  6. Breaking bad. Not the Aztek, but attorney Saul Goodman’s Cadillac DeVille.

    1. You find yourself in a stuck lift cabin together with an alligator, a rattlesnake and a lawyer. All you’ve got is a Colt with two rounds in it. What do you do? You shoot the lawyer – twice.

  7. Thank you for covering the Crown Victoria. Although I generally prefer smaller cars, I love these – unpretentious, robust, luxurious. I think they look good, too.

    Any vehicle that can survive taxi and police service must be pretty good.

    As Simon2424 said, it’s odd how often I come across a car which then gets featured, here (and vice-versa). I recently saw this product video for the Crown Victoria on the YouTube channel, ROVR.

    1. Interesting insight, and a good complement to the story. Thanks for posting, Charles.

  8. Good afternoon: over at Curbside Classics these “Panther” cars have a firm following. For me they would approximate to a poor man´s Bristol. The Bristol people would imagine that is like calling cola a poor man´s palo cortado. Still, if you like space, reliablity, simple engineering and a comfortable ride, then a Crown Vic will do the job for a fraction of the price of a Bristol. Even on their own terms, these are charmingly robust vehicles and good counter-examples to the industry norm of 5 or 6 year model cycles.
    I´d do like the Lincoln Town Car which was much more handsome than Cadillacs from the same time.
    Regardless of whether it´s a taxi or not a Crown Vic has rather paltry rear leg-room – and that is odd given its length. Was it not possible to find another 4 inches in that envelope?

    1. One look at the side profile of the Crown Victoria tells you why it is short on rear legroom:

      The passenger compartment is unusually short, relative to the overall length. The boot was correspondingly long from front to back. I remember a rather diminutive bell hop at a New York hotel having virtually to climb in to retrieve my small suitcase, which had slid forward when the taxi driver braked heavily.

    2. I can see they wanted a huge boot – still, five inches out of the boot would matter less than five more inches in the rear passenger footwell. It´s a less severe version of the XJ-S which is also really long but not long enough in the right places (such as the daft rear seats for legless people or yoga practitioners). The Crown Vic is still very handsome – it makes me think of the Toyota Comfort (the taxi they made from 1995 to 2017). I think the Comfort has more leg room though.

  9. Alongside fluid dynamics and the Japanese concept of sales channels, I hope to learn about GM´s haphazard body nomenclature. It corresponds to platforms, of course – basic component sets. But the odd thing is how the implicit chronology and body sizes doesn´t remain orderly when seen up close. Models jumped bodies and some model lines had versions on different bodies. I will make up an example: “For 1972-1975 the Buick Cavalcade sedan shared the D-body with the Cadillac LaMorgue but the 1974-1977 Buick Cavalcade coupe and hard-top used the incoming F-body shared with the Chevrolet Eauville, Olds Cutlass Crinoline and Pontiac Flamebird sedan. When the Cavalcade sedan was replaced in 1976 by the Cavalcade Custom it switched to the F-body and the B-body was retained only for the wagon. The 1978 revised F-body went front drive and was only used for the Cadillac LaVille Coupe and Chevrolet Eauville (which was now only a coupé) etc etc.

    1. Hi Richard, I think Gooddog bit be the go-to guy for this as he seems to have got his head around it, unlike me!

    2. In a way, no, although gooddog does seem to understand it. I can only hope to understand it by a careful graphical presentation including images and timelines.
      I saw a late series Caprice today. It looks long and low and wide and very, very sinister. Also, very impressive. You could almost call it an American version of the XJ-series cars which are the same but dimensionally smaller. Basically the Caprice is a Jaguar made 20% bigger. And I have the image of a Caprice burned into my mind when I saw one in 2014 in Rotterdam. It pulled up to the hotel, collected a passenger and loped off, impossibly smooth and gliding into the night.

    3. Gooddog, how are you on PowerPoint?

      Just wondering…

    4. I don’t own any current MS software Daniel, however Wikipedia gives it a try here:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_GM_platforms

      Ever ride in the 1991-1996 Caprice? They plopped a 3 inch wider body on the 1977 under structure making up the difference by welding flat plates to both sides of the same old floorpan (Wikepedia’s width numbers must be wrong). They did widen the rear track in 1993, people were calling it a “whale”.

      When I resided in Manhattan I fondly recall standing out in the cold, waiting and even walking across a street, sometimes in traffic, letting older cabs cruise on by, just to position myself to hail and ride in the back of a new Caprice.

      Once inside I’d prop my outer foot on the floor pan extension and assume a very louche posture so as to spread myself out to take fullest advantage of the extra width. It has so much tumblehome that even with my head positioned near the center of the rear couch I could just look up without straining and see the tops of buildings. I still love the design for its space-ship aesthetics, not so much for the engineering.

      I wasn’t as impressed with the Crown Vic, Ford tried to turn their old sow into a greyhound, adding rack and pinion steering and a Watts linkage to the live axle ca. 2002. Still, nobody would ever mistake the car’s country of origin. The driveshaft hump in the back of a Crown Vic is like a small mountain, and the seat padding in the center is rather thin. But considering the amount of rocking and battering about one might encounter traversing rough Manhattan pavement, it was still the best place to sit, legs splayed to either side in order to avoid getting seasick.

    5. Good morning Gooddog. That’s interesting about how they widened the floorpan of the Caprice. It explains why the pre-facelift model with the semi-enclosed rear wheels looks somewhat over-bodied:

      The facelifted car with a round rear wheel arch looked better planted, but lost some of its distinctiveness:

      I travelled in the Caprice (and Crown Vic) often in the 1990’s. One of my very favourite drives is from JFK airport into Manhattan. It starts unpromisingly, with a stop-start drive north along the always congested Van Wyck Parkway, a six/eight-lane dual-carriageway, but there’s a thrilling moment when the Manhattan skyline first comes into view. After a long interval, we returned to New York last year and that first sight is just as exciting, even after all these years.

    6. Richard, pre 1980 it made sense allowing for a small number of ‘specialty’ platforms as well as the mainstream, but after that, well, abandon hope all ye who enter…

  10. I must say I’m finding myself irrationally attracted towards the Crown Vic, preferably in base spec stealth black with no chrome:

    Alternatively, how about a taxi spec car, for sale in Essex, UK, for £7k:

    1. Daniel, you might also like the Mercury Marauder.

      I probably did the pic posting wrong again.

    2. Ben, you’ve nailed it, on both counts: the photo has displayed perfectly, and that is one nice looking car! The ‘stealth’ black and those wheels are spot-on. Another one for my fantasy garage!

  11. Daniel, great story on the Panther generation Fords. Here in the states we grew up with these so-called full-size cars. I have many fond memories of them and a soft spot for them. Sales of the full-sizers started to decline when the intermediate size cars—which would still be huge for you folks in Europe—were introduced in the mid 60s (I think families were getting smaller and the intermediates were easier to maneuver). I took my drivers test in a 1975 Chevrolet Caprice. It was simply enormous: 223 inches long, and amazingly, 80 inches (2032 mm) wide! I was always impressed by how my little 5 foot 3 mother could maneuver that giant car through shopping center parking lots. Back in 1981 on a desolate road in the middle of the California desert, my brother (with me and two friends aboard) got that Caprice airborne. After landing, and in a panic, we pulled over for inspection. No damage, and tires still inflated! We never said anything to my parents. Thanks again for bringing back great memories!

  12. The funny thing is that these were actually the “downsized” versions of cars from the early 70’s. First GM in 1977 then FoMoCo in 1979. I remember as a kid being at our local Buick/Olds/Cadillac dealer getting mother’s land barge serviced and her looking over a ’77 Fleetwood and moaning “but it’s so SMALLLL..”

    I was told (but don’t know if it is true) that one of the reasons that the PD loved these things is ease of repair- if you bended the frame slightly doing a pit maneuver on a fleeing suspect it was nothing to just put it in a rack and torture it back into shape. Unitized bodies, not so much.

    Getting into one these days it is kind of shocking how little room there is in them considering they’re the size of a small public building. Ergonomics still weren’t that much of a thing in the 70’s I guess.

  13. Daniel, thanks for this. Back in 2011, the Toronto police force stockpiled literally hundreds of Crown Vic Interceptors when Ford announced the end of production. The force management and the personnel themselves loved the big old barge and the very last (brought into service about 2016) are just being withdrawn now. They’ve been replaced by Taurus Interceptors (now also out of production, ironically) and Explorer Interceptors.

    I read once that Ford and Lincoln brand managers pushed for the end of the Panther lines, as they believed these old style cars reflected badly on their brands. Maybe, but a stupid decision in any event. It was noted at the time that, in spite of updates, the Crown Vic and Town Car were highly profitable – cheap to build and initial development costs well and truly amortized, and that Ford could make money selling only 20,000 or so per year. I am positive that had Ford kept them in production to this day, every police force in North America would still be buying Crown Vics and every livery company would still be buying Town Cars. It’s hard to get a definitive statistic, but there were at least 20-30,000 Town Cars prowling the Manhattan streets alone a decade ago, and an astonishing repair ecosystem had sprung up in Brooklyn and Queens that could swap out a transmission in 3 hours, or an entire engine in less than a day. Body work was just about as fast, with the ability to change a bumper (fender) or a fender (wing) in less than an hour, assuming your car was black! That has al disappeared.

    I’ve talked to livery drivers more recently in New York – most have switched to Suburbans/Tahoes. They like them but look back wistfully at the comfort and incredible reliability of their Town Cars (I’m sure police fleet supervisors would say the same). Here in Toronto, where there isn’t much of a rapid transit connection to our airport, there are numerous companies that offer “airport limo” services for not much more than a cab. Back in the day, I’d regularly get a ride in a Town Car with 700-800,000 km under its belt, and one had over a million km, on the original engine! Antediluvian? Yeah. But fit for the purpose. You bet.

    1. Good morning Philip, Tom and Peter. Thanks for sharing your stories and memories. My purpose in writing the piece was to celebrate a car that is iconic in the recent history of the American automobile. I’m delighted to see how fondly the Crown Victoria and her siblings are remembered. Great stuff!

    2. Back in the middle ’70s up till ’82, I used to be in Tronna every other month reporting to the big boys. The limo was cheaper than a cab to the Leaside Inn on the Park. Things took a big upturn in late ’77 with a horde of the smaller new B body Chevrolet Caprices in black. Very, very smooth cars indeed over the numerous Hwy 401 overpass expansion joints. You’d get the supposed same car undwrneath labelled as a Pontiac Parisienne or Olds 88 sometimes, nicer inside. However, as Mr Doyle has pointed out in his tomes on Jaguar, rubber bushings, that’s the key. The Chevs evinced no vertical motion whatsoever on those bridge expansion joints in winter, but the Pontiacs and Olds certainly did. Quite a noticeable difference. The Chevrolet was far better, quite eerie, smooth and silent and made me chortle as a mechanical engineer. Somebody got their sums right. They were a giant ’70s Cortina done right. The same magic did NOT translate to the smaller intermediate A body cars a year later, which weighed almost as much.

      The funny thing was, the big Chevrolets were bloody good in snow as well. Got caught as a passenger in a St John’s snow storm once in a cheaper than Caprice model taxi, can’t remember the model. A bit of an eye-opener considering I owned a FWD Audi 100 at the time, and sincerely doubted it could have accomplished that particular trip to the airport even on my super duper Continental snow tires. One friend I had abandoned his Rover TC and got a ’78 Caprice, and was happy. The other ditched his ’76 Volvo 244 for an ’80 Caprice wagon, and was more than happy. Bought another eight years later. I’ve said it before in these august pages — that full size Chevrolet made mincemeat out of the old square Volvos in every way but fuel mileage and seats/belts. They handle extremely well, and I don’t think Europeans ever got that part of it – they just assumed they were poor, and it was nonsense, because it wasn’t 1959 any more when these late ’70s Ford and Chevrolets came to market. DTW had just such an article a few months ago. Totally uniformed twaddle.

      The new downsized Crown Victoria that came out a year later for the ’79 model year wasn’t a patch on the Chevrolet, in my opinion. Noisier in the engine room, sounded like a whirligig in a cheap tin shed on startup, not as relaxed on the highway. The Chevrolet was tauter, wieldier and just flat out better. The chassis, as noted, survived right through to the ’96 demise in the soapbar shape with a wider rear axle. That left the market to the Crown Vic and Lincoln Town Car. At the time, your police and taxicab operators bemoaned its demise. Everyone knew it was superior to the Ford, and when the internet got really going, well, you’d read that opinion a dozen times over. But GM was in the “what am we doing” mode that led to its eventual bankruptcy.

      Top Gear tested a bog standard Crown Vic cop car against a Volvo British motorway police car. It was a draw overall. But I’ve never been that keen on the big Ford, despite several of my friend’s dads owning them in the ’90s. Of course today, these kinds of cars live on in highly disguised form and three million sales a year. They’re now called pickup trucks. They have four doors and ROOM. They have merely morphed in shape and are as long as those old Cadillacs of 50 years ago. Comfy land barges, just hard to park. And a new RAM by Chrysler is a luxury ride, all kidding aside. Nice interiors. They even ride and handle better than those old cars what with all the refinement and new chassis and suspension, redone at least twice this century. Plus they have AWD for those awkward winter moments, along with ground clearance to match, and room out back for that piano or three years worth of spuds should the fancy strike. The guy across the street with his Ford F150 looks at my cars with a philosophical pity when the weather gets bad. Compared to even the US, Canada is pickup truck country. It’s horses for courses, I suppose.

    3. “Antediluvian? Yeah. But fit for the purpose. You bet.” Indeed. These coelecanth products might be based on old technology yet what´s a knife by comparison. Or a chair. Old doesn´t necessarily mean bad just some new technology is only good from a certain view point. I´m not against change but I do it like when the justification is sound. I´d be interested to hear arguments for why Ford and GM pulled the plug on what might have been a steady and perpetual market for 50,000 cars requiring little more than maintenance development. One reason is not to do with the laws of physics or even economics but a kind of mis-applied fastidiousness. It might be from a corporate point of view be a bit irritating to have a hold-over technology hanging around in the middle of a FWD unibody enterprise. They reasoned that if they stopped production their customers would switch to the next best thing and they´d still sell something. I´d suggest that in addition to being seen to do your best for your customers there is kudos in being the firm to “make the nation´s cop cars” which rubs off on other products. And also customer loyalty has to be respected. When reciprocated it is a powerful form of commercial goodwill. Not to mention the bottom line, the cars were profitable to the end.

  14. Good evening everyone – here´s another example of a class of vehicle that doesn´t need to change all that much. Add to this the large off roader and small off roader (Defender and Jimny respectively); the small sporscar (Miata) and perhaps the large commercial van (Transit); the regal luxury saloon (Toyota Century!); one could argue the supercar format is now fully elaborated and almost any RWD 2+2 such as the Honda NSX. The alternative model is the six-year replacement cycle and I think some vehicles got vacuumed up in that concept that didn´t belong there.
    What we have in the other box are small, medium and large FWD low to mid-price hatchbacks and saloons.

    1. Note that these cars weren’t on extended model cycles until sales moved to other segments, and Ford/GM worked out they didn’t need to keep up to date to keep selling what they were.

      In earlier times the cycle was shorter than 6 years; in the case of the 1958 GM cars, basically one year before a major change in response to what Chrysler and Ford were doing.

    2. There´s also the fact that after a few model cycles the rate of possible change slows down. By the late 90s Ford and GM knew how to make the RWD BOF packages work and further changes would always be incremental and probably driven by suppliers as much as the OEMs (e.g. a supplier has a better way of doing a door seal). Probably the one thing these cars needed was a slightly longer passsenger cell. I´ve sat in medium sized RWD Mercedes and they aren´t short of leg room and have massive boots. It´s curious Ford and GM couldn´t jam in 15 cm between axles or move the rear seats back a shade. I don´t think the overall look would have been worsened.
      Curbside Classics reprinted a C&C review of one of the last Crown Vics (I think it was) and their point was that by the end they performed as well as 1970s sports cars. That´s probable “adequate” as Rolls Royce would say.
      I get a chance here to say I wish someone could be bothered to sell a big but cheap car, something like a Mondeo or Insignia with the content of a base model Dacia.

  15. Great article. Ford management (reluctantly) pushed for the end following a series of fuel tank explosions in service. Due to the age of the platform the fuel tank was on the wrong side of the rear axle directly below boot (trunk) floor. A subsequent investigation helped make some safety changes but ultimately it was a lawsuit waiting to happen that Ford didn’t need. Certainly not after the very public Ford Pinto case years earlier and the more recent Explorer v Firestone debacle.

    1. Hi ckracer76. Thank you, and glad you enjoyed the piece. Interesting information about the fuel tank issue.

  16. The Crown Victoria is a classic example of Detroit name debasement, almost as egregious as “Chevrolet Bel Air.” The name was (re)introduced in 1980 to denote a high-end luxury version of the LTD (another name which in turn had formerly denoted a high-end luxury version of the Galaxie!). This version had a half-length padded vinyl roof and a chrome band spanning the B-pillars that was the “crown,” reminiscent of the 50s version.

    By 1983, though, all LTDs became Crown Victorias, including the stripped fleet versions. And then by the early 90s, as your article noted, the “LTD” part of the name disappeared …

    I do not know how to post pictures here, else I would upload one of my 1989 LTD Crown Victoria estate, owned for some ten years now ..

  17. Richard – “I get a chance here to say I wish someone could be bothered to sell a big but cheap car, something like a Mondeo or Insignia with the content of a base model Dacia.”

    What you are describing is something close to the Universal Australian Sedan from the mid-20th century until the first decade of this one. I’d stepped northwards by then so can’t confirm with any accuracy the dates when power steering, electric windows and interiors which could not be hosed down, set the UAS on the poncy road to oblivion.

    The final Falcon and rwd Commodore had footprints close to the current Insignia and Mondeo. I’m not sure that a Commodore-sized Dacia would be a winner, but the CMF-C/D platform’s out there waiting.

    In vaguely-related news, it’s reported that, at least for Europe, VAG will only offer the next Passat as a wagon. If you want a sedan, go buy a Superb, or that Arteon, which is some sort of gran’s coupe with a hatch. The proportion of Passat sedan sales relative to wagons in northern Europe is around 20%, but the idea still seems wrong and stupid.

    1. Interesting – in the US, “long roofs” are the endangered version. I suppose people like the versatility of the estate. I do occasionally regret the reduced flexibility of the saloon I drive compared to the hatchback I used to have. It is mostly do with the odd time I have to convey a bicycle. I could easily hang the bicycle off the tow bar, of course. So, the hatchback´s advantage is mostly down to wanting to worry a little less about payload shapes (not the same as weight). In a way one should deliberately restrict oneself to a saloon and live with the odd inconvenience. Other formats just encourage needless packing. Whatever the maximum payload is the family always packs 1% more than is comfy. If I had a Ford Transit I´d still be caught short on payload.
      The saloon is going to end up like the bowler hat – something simultaneously recognisable and also very rare.

  18. I must say I’m a little shocked that anyone has anything nice to say about these ill-handling, uncomfortable anachronisms. I would contend that they were anything but “perfectly suited” to the roles in which they served. The extent to which they’ve been replaced by the Toyota Prius in US taxi cab service is illustrative of the extent to which cultural/industry inertia clung to a horribly ill-suited vehicle until the bitter end. It’s hard to pinpoint the tipping point, but seemingly overnight the US taxi industry changed their tune from insisting that the role needed a wallowing body-on-frame behemoth, to suddenly admitting that the Prius is objectively superior (for the taxi role) by every measure. And I always felt so sorry for the police officers who had to spend all day in these awful cars; it’s a little upsetting to think about how many pursuit accidents (which often kill innocent bystanders in addition to the cops at the wheel) might have been avoided, were the cops not saddled with the worst-handling car in current production (all because RWD and an American brand name were sacred requirements, not to be questioned). I recall that some police unions even sued their departments when it came to light that their colleagues died in road accidents that were not just avoidable, but might have been survivable in a more modern car. (I’ve joked that it must have been American bank robbers’ worst nightmare when Chrysler began producing RWD sedans again and they quickly began to replace the Crown Vics in police service.) Of course now numerous American police departments have adopted SUVs, which are just as dangerous to the cops (and more so to the innocent bystanders) as the Crown Vics, but don’t seem to generate any lawsuits—I guess it’s okay if the robbers get away and police officers die in road accidents if they look sufficiently macho in the process.

    1. Good morning Joe. An excellent and welcome counterpoint, so thank you for posting.

      My argument was based around the cars’ mechanical simplicity, robustness,durability and ease of repair. I cannot imagine a Prius lasting long in the hands of police forces in the vast rural heartlands of the US, but they certainly make for perfectly acceptable urban taxis.

    2. The American capacity for self-harm is remarkable – I´d assumed these vehicles could do what was asked of them. But it seems they are in some cases just the car equivalent of toxic masculinity (a smoking habit, a lot of drink, a lot of burgers and a Harley with bald tyres). So, what Joe is saying is that these cars were unsuited to high-speed pursuit and were favoured because of their branding. Maybe they were easy to maintain?
      However, despite their cop-killing handling, I think these cars are quite okay for low-intensity pootling and that´s what I´d be using one for if I had one.

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