How I’d Save the Lincoln Town Car

In his latest self-aggrandizing book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters, Maximum Bob Lutz talks about running into the inept, choleric Chairman of General Motors, Roger Smith, in a hotel lobby in Europe. Lutz characterizes Smith as “The man who locked GM into ‘all front-wheel-drive.” Talking about the then-forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford Sierra, Smith fumed that “The whole world is going to front-wheel drive. Everybody! The whole industry! You’ll be all alone, and the Sierra will be a flop!” Lutz goes on to say, “Well, the whole world didn’t, and the Sierra wasn’t...”

Unfortunately, Smith’s illogic about “all front-wheel drive” has found another unhappy home -- at Ford. I don’t know who the Smith surrogate might be. Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s Global Product Development chief? Alan Mulally himself? Someone must be responsible for the fact that there is no replacement plan for the Lincoln Town Car, and all Lincoln cars will henceforth be front-wheel-drive. This is, of course, a very bad idea. A decade or so back, there was an air-suspended puffed-up Taurus sold as the Lincoln Continental four-door. Didn’t last in the market, didn’t sell very well.

Our sister magazine, Motor Trend, notes in the August issue that “Ford brass knows Lincoln needs distinct product and a modern rear-drive platform...” but doesn’t think it can afford one. The solution is at hand, very inexpensively, but no one at Ford seems imaginative enough to do a bit of in-house hot-rodding to turn the fully-amortized, very satisfactory but obviously very ancient (1979) Panther platform into a profit center. Panther is the platform underlying the (highly profitable) Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car. If you haven’t examined one of these things recently -- there has been no PR work, no road tests, no technical articles concerning Panther for years -- you may not be aware that the front crossmember is a massive alloy casting visually entirely worthy of an Aston Martin, complete with a front-steer rack and pinion steering box. It is very solidly reliable in taxi, limo and cop car service, and has been from around 2003. The chassis frame is dirt simple, with parallel side rails that can be -- and were -- made in different lengths at essentially no cost. Yes, it’s a hunk of ironwork, but it’s cheap, cheap, cheap. And strong. And adaptable. And long-since paid for.

True, there’s no independent rear suspension. But there must be four or five fully-tooled IRS systems in the Ford warehouses. Mustang Cobra, Ford Explorer, Lincoln trucks, who knows what could be cobbled together quite easily from existing components, already paid for? There are any number of clever guys in Southern California, and plenty in Dearborn, who could put something together very quickly. I know, I know, separate chassis frames and bodies are so old-fashioned, only clunkers like the Corvette still using them. And there is another clue: Corvette chassis frames are made in both steel and aluminum, hydroformed inside the same tools as far as I know. Could A. O. Smith, manufacturer of the Panther chassis, make the same thing in alloy? Since GM does it, Ford can do it -- Ford has made a practice of following GM leads since the days of the fabled Whiz Kids in the immediate post-war period.

The most successful Ford product of the Henry II era was the Mustang, a re-jiggered Falcon that used existing parts to make an imaginative whole. It seems to me that the existing Town Car/Crown Vic platform could easily and cheaply redone with i.r.s., an aluminum engine from existing engineering stocks and a new, optimized body shell in the same way. It wouldn’t be breaking any new ground technically, unless a big effort were made to innovate in the structure of the body, but it would give Lincoln the front engine, rear-drive car it so desperately needs, and with some intelligent styling and engineering it would give Ford most of that taxi and police business it is throwing away with the abandonment of the Panther.

Sure, it’s old. So what? There’s a big market, it’s accessible for not much capital investment, and a suitable set of low-investment products could fatten up the bottom line of the company we all admire for not screwing the taxpayers with a fix-is-in quick-rinse bankruptcy. Ford has the hardware, the designers, the engineers and the need. Does it have the will? Does it have the courage to ignore eventual criticism about using a 32-year-old base for contemporary profits? I say there ought to be a 2013 Town Car, and they ought to get to work on it right now.

rob stone
Oh, forgot to add-throw in the "electric only mode" feature from the Toyota Prius for all the stand still traffic situations in NYC and you'd have the perfect Town Car- maybe someone can come up with a hybrid conversion/retrofit for all the existing cars?
rob stone
I own a 99' Lincoln Town Car Signature Touring Edition and I really like the styling but why they didn't give it a IRS and other luxury touches is beyond me. For instance how much does it add to the price to have real wool carpeting, real wood trim and wool headliner? I think the Hyundai Genesis/Equus is the way to go in the future-good idea to have the reclining rear seat-I'm sure these are going to be the fleet limo's in NYC as well.
Bob
Its wierd, I went to Toronto and they drove alot of Tauruses and Accords. A taurus taxi drive said that he was going to get an accord because it was a 4cyl. Why do NY taxi drivers like the big V8 RWD cars anyway? Seems like if Ford made a deticated move to make a Fusion 4cyl taxi fleet instead, it would be successful. Full factory support for repairs, ect. Maybe even a long rear door model? If american RWD is so great, the V6 Pentastar 8spd 300's should be the next taxi fleet king. Those drivetrains should be bulletproof. I think factory support to make parts and training available will be key to large fleets, however. Its just change/fear of the unknown that is what loosing the Panther platform is creating, not that it is so great.
Leong WL
Actually, Ford has the answer in its own backyard. The Australian Ford Falcon is terrific driver's car, having rented the XR6 version for 2x weeks some time back. It was comfortable, had a rocking engine in the Turbo V6 version and euro-tuned suspension that gives the old Pontiac G8 a run for its money in many of the down-under comparisons. The G6E will make a fine base for any Towncar replacement. Admittedly GM's experience with the Holden - Pontiac G8 did not turn out well, but I don't see Ford not particularly lacking in the rear-wheel drive platform. http://www.ford.com.au/servlet/Satellite?c=DFYPage&cid=1248884753507&pagename=FOA%2Fcontroller&site=FOA
kego53
Right ON! Lincoln needs this to survive.................
jacob
I agree! i loved the town car and i bet ford just got rid of it because its not euorpean and it dosent get 40mpg. thats all they care about these days. and the MKT (its "replacement") only gets 1mpg better and its a V6. If i was working at ford i would have just slapped on a new lincoln grill and called it a day.
Anthony
Very good article, i wonder if Ford read these comments? What is Ford afraid of? I've been a Ford man since i was a little boy, I'm 39 now and every once in while when Ford has an opportunity to make big splashes in the automotive pool they don't have the nuts and bolts to seize the moment. As i mentioned in the my last comment, Ford needs to reach out to me and now Robert right away.
Paul
Like every other armchair executive with a computer, Mr. Cumberford has no doubt that all those taxi and livery sales are "highly profitable" because the tooling was purchased in the Carter Administration. Apparently, however, there is considerable cost in running a one-shift, slow-motion assembly plant on a unique platform in Saint Thomas while underutilized plants in Chicago and Oakville stand ready to fill the gap. It's a shame no one in Dearborn knows how to make money in the car business, right?
B Neilson
I agree, and don't forget that in the past Ford produced a dedicated natural gas Crown Victoria. With all the newfound natural gas in the Northeast just imagine converting the whole New York taxi fleet over to dedicated nat gas Crown Vics. The taxi and airport car service companies are mourning the end of the Panther.
Andy
Amen brother!

New Car Research

Find vehicle reviews, photos & pricing

our instagram

get Automobile Magazine

Subscribe to the magazine and save up to 84% off the newsstand price

subscribe

new cars

Read Related Articles

TO TOP