The venerable “Panther” platform Lincoln Town Car first set sail on American highways for the 1981 model year, ushering in a new age of ‘smaller’ full-sized luxury cars. If for no other reason that sheer embarrassment from outside competition, the effects of the infamous ‘gas wars’ had finally taken hold. Sunk was the armada of road-going ocean liners and the US automotive industry was left to battle it out against the Europeans with mere land yachts. This new generation didn’t have the same panache as the old slab-sided yet attractive Continentals such as the one President Kennedy was shot in, but they certainly did manage to win the hearts of retired people, limousine and taxi service professionals, and those involved in organized crime.
Aerodynamics were of absolutely no consideration to Ford’s engineers or the clientele purchasing these vehicles. After all, the 5.0 L Windsor V8 was more than enough propel the original Town Car through the air at no more than 55 mph. By the end of the 1980s, the car had managed to endure an entire decade with only minimal changes to its categorically cubic body, but it was well past time for an update. The Town Car was completely restyled with more softness for 1990, but while other makes and models continued dieting, Lincoln felt content with the proportions they had. In 1996, the Town Car gained the honor of the being “the biggest damn car you can buy in America!”
Our example here is a 1995 Cartier edition, having covered just 66,150 miles. At $41,000 when new, this was the highest trim level Town Car of its day, placed above the Executive and Signature series. This model year was relatively significant as it brought more slight updates to the Town Car’s styling, though most changes were to the interior. A curious combination of old-world chromed-metal switches intermingle with rounded plastic buttons typical of 1990s Ford products. Thick cast door latch handles contrast with the flimsy plastic airbag cover. Overstuffed genuine leather seats (which themselves must weigh as much as some old Renaults) are planted amongst acres of matching vinyl and all-too-obviously fake wood that accents the rounded shapes of the face-lifted dashboard.
While the second generation Town Car maintained the same underpinnings, Ford’s new 4.6 liter “Modular” V8 was introduced to replace the rather ancient Windsor unit. When you turn the key, a cacophony of sounds lets you know the Lincoln lives. None of that hybrid car silent-running nonsense here – the cooling fan roars, little motors buzz, relays click, and for a short while, a traditional “ding!” from behind the dashboard reminds you to buckle-up. Putting the weighty, chrome, column-mounted shifter into “D” and mashing on the accelerator produces the grunt you’d expect from a large, rear-wheel-drive, American car. It’s not the kind of tire-burning acceleration of a Mustang or Corvette, but still perfectly ample. A distinctive V8 growl softly enters the cabin as the digits on the dashboard’s digital speedometer climb up.
Next to the steering wheel is a sliding switch. This feature allows the driver to decide how spooky they would like the car’s steering to be. Slide it all the way to the left and you have what’s best described as “eternally icy road” and all the way to the right is “fifth-generation Toyota Camry” at best. I like it in the middle for that classic “just enough” feel. This, combined with the air-ride suspension and road-holding mass, makes for a somewhat different driving experience than you would get from a Porsche or Lotus, for example.
The Town Car, like its Panther platform cousins the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis, is of prehistoric body-on-frame type construction. The two-ton curb weight isn’t lean but amazingly it is lighter than a Mercedes S-Class of the same year. Perhaps helped by the fact that the aircraft carrier length hood of the Lincoln is actually made from aluminum. The doors close with a solid thud and it should be said that there is a genuine feel of some quality to the coachwork.
When Lincoln restyled the Town Car once more in 1998, the curvy and more modern bodywork helped hide the fact that underneath was an already two-decade old design that wasn’t even fresh when it was new. They were last of the delightfully and stubbornly outdated American luxury cars. As for the final thoughts on our test car, well, it’s like seeing an old crocodile at the zoo. Something about it transports you back to the age of the dinosaurs.