A Eulogy for the Ford Crown Victoria
The last Ford Crown Victoria rolled off the assembly line Thursday, September 15 at its once-busy production facility in Ontario. Down to just 80,000 Vics, Mercury Grand Marquis sedans and Lincoln Town Cars fleet sales a year (all of which share the same “Panther” platform), the plant that had been designed to fill orders of a quarter million vehicles every 12 months no longer made fiscal sense to operate.
Over the past 15 years the Crown Victoria and its Panther cousins became somewhat polarizing automotive designs, sure to elicit one of two reactions when mentioned in conversation with a fellow car fan. The majority of gearheads scoffed at the ancient underpinnings that formed the basis of the full-size behemoth, heaping scorn on its body-on-frame design, anemic V8 engine and detached driving dynamics (not helped by the inclusion of a live rear axle in an age where independent rear suspensions rule the day). A small subset of automotive enthusiasts, however, waxed eloquently about the Crown Vic’s rear-wheel drive layout, its ability to absorb substantial abuse (which along with its ease of repair made it a favorite amongst taxi and law enforcement fleet buyers) and the comfortable, magic carpet-esque ride quality that was especially apparent in the Town Car.
Which side is right? In all honesty, neither camp is all that far off in either their denouncement or praise of the Ford Crown Victoria. There is no doubt that the sedan was well past its prime in terms of being competitive with other, more recent full-size family cars. After all, the platform that it rode on up until the 2011 model year was originally designed in 1979. That being said, the Crown Vic wasn’t really aiming at the same customers that vehicles like the Toyota Avalon or the Dodge Charger were attempting to pull into showrooms. It wasn’t a baby Lexus, nor was it a chiseled four-door muscle car. It was a simple, roomy cruiser that could carry as many perps, shotguns, stacks of luggage or VIPs as you could stuff into it, and when you hit a curb during a pursuit you could bang things back into shape with a hammer without having to order and install a brand new front end. For some buyers, these are important characteristics. Note that I said some, not all or even most, which is why the Crown Vic and co. have bowed out of the automotive landscape.
Personally, I have always had a soft spot for the Crown Victoria. Growing up, a close friend had a 91 Police Interceptor with a 351 cubic inch V8 that featured the world’s worst carburetor, a variable venturi unit that sucked down gas as such an intense rate that every time the accelerator was pinned to the floor, Saudi Arabia sunk another inch. That buddy of mine is still driving a Crown Vic, by the way, although he has upgraded to the latest model. I myself owned a 93 Crown Vic as a winter car for a very brief period of time before it upchucked its radiator and transmission fluids all over the street in front of my house one frosty January morning. My fondest memory of that car was piloting it flat-out during a few illicit laps around the Gilles Villeneuve Formula One circuit here in Montreal while a friend held on to the inner door handle so tightly that by the time security had chased us from the grounds the panel itself had been torn completely off its mounting points.
Was it weird that growing up, my friends and I had a passion for this large, seemingly clunk full-size Ford? In retrospect, maybe it was, and while most of us have moved on to park very different types of vehicles in our respective driveways, looking back it still makes sense to me. At a time when rear-wheel drive, V8-powered cars were seemingly in danger of extinction, the Crown Victoria was a beacon of affordable performance and style that was far more appealing to us than the bland, anonymous family sedans of the day.
Think of it this way. If the Camry were to disappear tomorrow – as competent a car as that is – would anyone be writing a blog post like this?
Vaya con Dios, Crown Vic.