1998 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis
MIAMI, Fla. — Overhead-camshaft V8 engine. All-speed traction
control. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS. 16-inch
alloy wheels. Air. Leather.
BMW? Mercedes-Benz? Lexus?
Sure. But for 35 grand? Built in Canada? Not likely with any of
those foreign nameplates.
We're talking the 1998 Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand
Marquis here. Lot of car for the money? Looks like it from here.
Crown Vicky and Grand Marquis share the re-engineered
full-frame rear-drive Panther platform, in 76 mm shorter form,
with big brother Lincoln Town Car.
Ditto the 4.6-litre single overhead cam V8, now with 200
horsepower at 4,250 r.p.m. in base form (up from 190 last year)
or 215 horses at 4,500 r.p.m. with the dual exhaust system that
comes with the optional handling package. Torque peaks at 265
poundsfeet at 3,000 r.p.m. in the base motor, 275 poundsfeet
with the extra exhaust outlet.
An electric fan replaces the engine-driven fan. In the event
of complete coolant loss, the engine management system cuts
spark to individual cylinders in sequence, turning each
temporarily into an air pump to keep the engine cool. Range
under that worst-case scenario depends on ambient temperature,
but it has been tested to 80 km in desert heat.
The four-speed automatic gains a fluid cooler, which allowed
the engineers to reprogram it for quicker shifts. Average shift
time has been halved from a lethargic 1.6 seconds to 0.8. Shifts
are smoother too, something this tranny hasn't always been noted
Crown Vicky and Grand Marquis also share Townie's revised
solid-axle rear suspension with a Watt's linkage, a pair of
lateral arms connecting the differential to either side of the
frame through a pivoting link.
Ed Nalodka, head of vehicle engineering for the Panther
platform, says the objective was to improve the car's steering
and directional stability.
"The Watt's linkage locates the rear axle laterally," says
Nalodka, "which keeps the car tracking straight and reduces
sidewind sensitivity. We can also specify suspension bushings
that are soft in the fore-and-aft direction, for low impact
harshness. It kept both my ride engineer and my handling
Not his cost accountant, perhaps, but Nalodka says it was
worth the investment. "It also illustrates a benefit of platform
sharing," he notes. "We amortize the development costs across
three model lines, and it becomes affordable for all of them."
Some of Ford's Australian reardrive cars use this design,
Aussie roads typically being so rough they need to tie the rear
axle down as tightly as possible. The original Mazda RX7 used a
Watt's linkage too, and who ever complained about that car's
The better-located rear axle enabled changes to the front
suspension for improved steering response, especially on centre.
In addition to the extra horses, the handling package includes
a shorter final drive ratio (3.27:1 versus 2.73) for better
off-the-line grunt, and rear air springs adopted from the Town
Car (handling package? Town Car? Wow).
These also bring automatic load levelling, so the car rides
and handles consistently no matter how many people or golf bags
Alloy wheels with performance Goodyear tires replacing the
standard Firestones and fatter anti-sway bars complete the
All Crown Vickies and Grand Marquis benefit from substantially
larger front disc rotors, now with dualpiston calipers.
"We didn't use the bigger brakes primarily for greater
stopping power, but for improved pedal feel," says Nalodka. "The
pedal is right there for you, and the response is more linear.
The pads last longer, and a new pad material reduces brake
Gosh, I'm halfway through a Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis
review and all I've talked about is engineering.
This is a classic facelift, with new grille, hood, bumper and
fenders. Taillift too, I guess, with larger wraparound
In profile, a more formal roofline looks to me an awful lot
like last year's Town Car. New aerodynamic sideview mirrors
reduce wind noise.
That all you can say about the interior is new instrument
panel illumination, a two-spoke steering wheel and a wider,
longer centre rear armrest in uplevel models suggests that the
big innards tearup of a few years ago is standing the test of
Ironic that we had to fly to the home of the
new-but-never-again World Series champion Florida Marlins for the official
launch of these cars, when they're built just down the road from
home, in St. Thomas, Ontario. The occasion was the Miami Auto
Show — not exactly Frankfurt or Tokyo, but the first of the
major North American events.
The press was asked to hold off on "driving impressions" on
these cars until next week. But Miami doesn't offer much of the
way of interesting roads anyway. Cruising South Beach, checking
out the News Cafe and the fabulous homes of Star Island and
Coral Gables is fun, but it doesn't tell you much about the car.
We'll wait until we get a chance to drive one on home turf to
tell you more about it.
Meanwhile, assume that Nalodka and his team had objectives,
and that they know what they are doing.
While the official launch date of the cars isn't until
December 26, they are already shipping cars to dealerships.
Nalodka says the St. Thomas plant has had a good, fast launch,
aided in no small part by the fact that this isn't an entirely
new car. "We've done a lot of changing to the pieces, but the
process — the way they're bolted together — hasn't changed that
much. We've got good quality, quickly."
Prices start at $30,795 for the base Crown Vic, $33,295 for
Mercs begin at $32,695 for the GS, rising to $34,195 for the
LS. (To steal a line from Jean Lindamood Jennings of Automobile
magazine, there is still, sadly, no de Sade package on Grand
Marquis.) These prices are up to $17,800 cheaper than the
mechanically similar Town Car, suggesting they represent quite
Crown Vicky and Grand Marquis are, with Townie, the sole
remaining domestic reardrive V8 sedans. They traditionally have
appealed largely to retirees, police and taxi drivers. 65 per
cent of Crown Vic business is to fleets, including 55,000 police
interceptor models annually.
But older car buyers are the most experienced car buyers, and
police and taxi fleets among the most demanding.
Could the rest of the market learn something from them?
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie, among a group of auto writers
invited to Miami, prepared this report based on sessions
arranged and paid for by Ford. You can catch Kenzie each
Saturday on Talk 640 Radio at noon.