1998 Lincoln Town Car
BROOKLYN, Mich. — I'm at the Michigan International Speedway,
one of the fastest racetracks in the world. So what am I doing
in a 1998 Lincoln Town Car?
Ford has chosen this unusual venue to show off its new luxury
car to emphasize that the rear-drive Lincoln handles better than
its front-drive competitor, the Cadillac de Ville. Three de
Villes are here for comparison on the infield "road circuit" and
about one-third of the high-banked oval used in CART racing.
But there are two teeny problems with this strategy.
First, even if the Townie handles better than the Caddy — and
it does — do its potential buyers care? How well does an airport
limo have to handle?
Second, Cadillac's 4.6-litre four-cam four-valve-per-cylinder
Northstar V8 produces 75 to 100 horsepower (depending on the
model) more than Ford's single overhead cam eight of equal
This power discrepancy is hard to understand and harder still
for Ford to justify, although not a big surprise. Even in its
four-cam four-valve versions, Ford's modular V8 is a slug in
every car and truck it's used in.
Even with a lower entrance speed onto the high-banked oval,
the Cadillac ends up some 16 km/h faster at the braking point
for the pit lane entrance than the Town Car.
Does that make the Townie a bad car? Not in itself. 200
horsepower (in Executive and Signature series, 220 in Cartier
and Signature Touring versions, thanks to dual exhausts) is
certainly sufficient to get you to the airport, or anywhere else
a Town Car owner will go.
Just understand that the de Ville will get there first.
The Town Car driver will likely attract more attention,
however, as the styling has taken a distinctive turn for the
To me it looks like an over-inflated Chrysler LHS, especially
from the rear. Over a period of two days, it has, however, begun
to grow on me.
Mike Richards, brand manager for the Town Car, says research
showed Townie owners to be among the most loyal in the industry,
with over half of them having owned one before.
But the traditional luxury car segment (Town Car and de Ville)
is shrinking, while the entry-level slice is booming. Lincoln
needs something to keep current owners happy, but also attract
younger shoppers ready to move up from BMW and Lexus.
Frankly, that'll be a stretch.
Richards says those owners do recognize Lincoln as a premium
brand, but perceive the current Town Car as too big. To that
end, the new one is smaller some 100 mm shorter overall. With
both front and rear ends pinched inwards in plan view, it looks
The interior is also smaller, but only fractionally. Massive
space for people and luggage is one of Town Car's biggest
The 40/20/40 front bench seat will seat three if the two
outboard occupants agree on where to position their individually
moveable chairs so the person on the fixed middle section
doesn't get sliced in three.
The back of the fixed centre section pivots down to create a
large armrest with storage for CDs, tapes or a cell phone. It
also houses heating ducts to the rear seat.
All three rear riders get threepoint seat belts. If there's
no one in the middle, the seatback can fold down to form an
armrest with dual cupholders.
A new instrument cluster uses analogue gauges with larger
numbers — hey, we're all getting older and can use all the help
we can get.
Cartier editions feature a coollooking analogue clock. Lesser
models make do with a digital readout in the radio display.
Needless to say, the Town Car has every mod con known to
One nice feature is the SecuriLock anti-theft system, in which
an electronically-coded key is necessary to start the car. The
power door locks won't work if the key is in the ignition, which
should reduce the chances of locking the keys in the car.
The full-perimeter frame has been reengineered with increased
stiffness for improved ride and handling and new bidirectional
body mounts stiff longitudinally for body roll control, soft
laterally for a plusher ride.
A Watts linkage for the airsprung rear axle, developed in
conjunction with Ford of Australia, employs a bell crank on the
axle housing attached with links to the body. This is said to
improve directional stability and reduce squat and lift during
heavy acceleration or braking.
These handling benefits allow for relatively soft springs
essential to the traditional Lincoln ride. Lincoln also enlisted
Jaguar, another Ford resource, to help out on ride quality. Who
is better qualified?
A revised steering gear and front suspension bushings improve
steering feel. Thicker, larger-diameter front discs have 25 per
cent greater swept area for stouter deceleration and improved
To accommodate the bigger binders, 16-inch wheels are now
An optional Touring suspension on Signature series Town Cars
offers firmer monotube shocks and springs, thicker anti-roll
bars and fatter Michelin tires for superior handling with
minimal penalty in ride quality.
The lumpish engine gets some assistance from a revised
four-speed automatic whose shifts are at once faster and smoother
Can all of these engineering advances be detected on a race
Unlikely as it may seem, yes.
The big Townie is huge fun to toss around in the twisties, not
that anyone but the most lunatic limo driver ever would (hmmm,
there might be a bigger market there than you think).
The real point is that the car is much more nimble on the road
You don't often drive a car this big very hard. But a more
stable ride, flatter cornering on freeway ramps and better dive
control under braking will be appreciated by driver and
If there's any downside to the ride, it was impossible to
detect, either on the track or on our public-road tour through
central Michigan. The Town Car is even quieter than before,
helped by work on noise and vibration and thicker side-window
And once the memory of the Caddy's engine has faded a little,
the Townie's doesn't feel too terribly bad.
The Signature Touring variant gains a shorter final-drive
ratio, for better off-the-line grunt. The transmission, a bit
slow before, especially on the three-to-four shift, is now more
The new Town Car is an interesting proposition. It clearly is
a better car than before in many ways. The question remains: is
it better than Cadillac de Ville in ways which the customers
will recognize and value?
It's weird to look at, at least initially. And since many
customers don't give cars very long to make an impression, that
may work against it.
The new Town Car certainly has a handling advantage over the
Caddy, possibly a ride advantage too. But it's easier for
customers to compare 0 -100 km/h times than ride and handling,
and the Cadillac de Ville is just faster, everywhere, all the
Even if Ford stuffed the four-cam four-valve 4.6 litre V8
version from the Mark VIII coupe into the Town Car, it'd still
be out-gunned by the Cadillac. GM's Northstar system is, quite
simply, unparalleled by any in the world.
About a quarter of Town Car sales have been fleet units
those limos, rentals and stretches. It's difficult to imagine
the new car's more deeply crowned roofline being cut and shut,
but Lincoln says the chopshops have been consulted from early
on, and it won't be a problem.
Maybe that's why Lincoln's marketing experts are so upbeat
about the new Townie — they know a big chunk of the segment is
theirs no matter what, because nobody else makes the full-frame
luxury cars the fleet customer loves.
Whether the car will play in Fort Lauderdale, or with current
foreign entry-luxury car owners, is a question only time will
The 1998 Lincon Town Car officially goes on sale November
26th. Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie, among a group of auto
writers invited to Michigan, prepared this report based on
sessions arranged and paid for by Ford. You can catch Kenzie
each Saturday on Talk 640 Radio at noon.