D.J. Auto Sales sits behind a metal fence topped with razor wire in Long Island City, a gritty swath of industrial wasteland in the shadow of the glittering towers of midtown Manhattan. "Specialist in Lincoln Town Cars," reads the bannerlike sign out front. "Lincoln Parts Sold Here At Wholesale Prices. All body parts, lights, switches, sensors, pumps & more. Bad credit. No problem. We finance all." Nearly four dozen Town Cars are parked on the lot. Black ones. Silver ones. White ones. Sedans and stretch limos. Some lightly used and some beaters with a quarter-million miles on the odometer. Cars offered for outright sale or on a pay-by-the-week basis. Cars in for routine service. Cars getting overhauled. In one of two bays in the open-air garage, a long-wheelbase Town Car is up on a lift getting new brake pads and rotors while a body man replaces a crumpled fender. Inside the mobile home that serves as an office, co-owner John Rodriguez has just negotiated the purchase of a low-mileage Town Car from Saint Louis. "I've got about 400 cars," he says. "Ninety-five percent of them are Town Cars. I'm not interested in Toyotas. They can't go 400,000 miles."
Rodriguez is one of the prime suppliers to New York's unique "black car" industry, the generic term used to describe the city's huge livery and limousine trade. Some high-end operators prefer Mercedes-Benzes and Cadillac Escalades, and there are bottom-feeders that get by with Toyotas and Ford Crown Victorias. But for the past quarter century, the black-car industry has been dominated by the venerable Lincoln Town Car, so much so that "town car" has become a term interchangeable with "black car." The Town Car's distinctively understated shape is as much a part of the city's landscape as jaywalking pedestrians and street-corner hot-dog carts. "Not only are Town Cars cheap, but there's a huge supply of aftermarket parts to keep them running," Rodriguez explains. "There are whole warehouses full of nothing but Town Car parts. An engine is $1200. A transmission is $600. As long as you maintain them, they'll last forever. I've seen Town Cars with 600,000...700,000 miles. Nothing kills them, other than an accident."