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Second-hand: 1998-2003 Lincoln Town Car

Retirees who view the whole front-wheel-drive craze with suspicion remain the luxury sedan's biggest fans. The average Town Car buyer is an un-spring-chicken-like 68 years old.

  • transportation, business, shopping and ownership concept - customer and salesman shaking hands outside

Beyond airport limousine drivers and good fellas like The Sopranos’ Phil Leotardo ‘ who also could put the deep trunk of a Lincoln Town Car to good use’ America’s last bastion of body-on-frame construction is drawing an ever-smaller audience.

Retirees who view the whole front-wheel-drive craze with suspicion remain the luxury sedan’s biggest fans. The average Town Car buyer is an un-spring-chicken-like 68 years old.

The Townie is getting on, too. Its bones hark back to 1978 when Ford sorted out its big LTD and Grand Marquis on the curiously dubbed “Panther” rear-drive platform. The Continental Town Car adopted it in 1980 and never looked back.

Seems Ford bought Jaguar in 1988 and added Volvo and Land Rover to its Premier Auto Group to bolster its luxury-car presence. But the acquisitions consumed the company’s attention, and Lincoln was left to languish with few resources.

Meanwhile Cadillac – energized by a Led Zeppelin soundtrack – devoured its lunch.

“All the new, foreign luxury autos have the power and speed to make a car fun to drive. Even the Cadillacs have a powerful motor,” blogged the owner of a 2000 Town Car.

“Lincoln needs to get with the times.”

CONFIGURATION

The Town Car had always been a severely squarish sedan with sharp corners and creases that could cut cheese. But that changed for 1998 when Ford unveiled its redesign.

The sedan sported a curvaceous design language with a small, raked grille, sleek headlamps and a sloped trunklid. Shades of Jaguar, perhaps?

More importantly, the car lost 80 kg and 9 cm of ugly fat, though the cabin appeared every bit as commodious as ever.

Leather upholstery and a 40/20/40-split front bench seat for six-passenger capacity came standard. The dashboard remained an oddly flat and archaic fixture, like a Philco console television from the 1970s.

The standard SOHC 4.6 L V8 engine made 205 hp, while primo models got the dual-exhaust version, good for 220 hp and 275 lb.-ft. of thrust. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard along with antilock four-wheel disc brakes and traction control.

To tame the ancient car’s floaty tendencies, engineers had stiffened the frame and bolted a traverse Watt’s linkage to the live rear axle, which helped keep it planted and resistant to hopping sideways.

Combined with a new steering system, the 1998 Town Car was a vastly better car to drive than the Townies of old (the improvements also applied to the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis).

New for 2001 was a 15 cm stretched wheelbase version, the Cartier-trimmed L, which assigned all of the added length to rear-seat legroom, rivaling limousine versions of some European brands. Power was bumped to 220 hp and 235 hp, depending on the trim level.

The Town Car was thoroughly revamped again for 2003. It gained a new frame, rack-and-pinion steering for the first time, better brakes and a retuned suspension with 17-inch wheels.

In addition to mildly restyled front and rear sheetmetal, the Town Car received a new dashboard with a dual-zone climate system and Ford’s clever power-adjustable pedals standard. Curiously, the old four-speed automatic hung in there.

ON THE ROAD

With so much metal to lug around, the Town Car’s V8 engine was too taxed to propel the big sedan with any authority. Owners griped that the car felt underpowered.

A 220 hp 1998 model took 8.2 seconds to reach highway velocity – no better than a proletariat Ford Escape. Braking took a longish 60 metres to come to a stop from a speed of 112 km/h.

Despite Ford’s best efforts to sharpen the steering and upgrade the brakes, drivers accustomed to more modern sedans found the Town Car’s handling sluggish.

The car did manage to isolate driver and passengers from rough roads well and it was as quiet as a tomb, though some owners noted unacceptable levels of wind noise that may be attributed to loose door seals.

Lots of owners were pleasantly surprised by the Lincoln’s frugal fuel usage, especially on the highway. Ford’s V8 is happy sipping regular gas – something a luxury German sedan won’t swallow.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

The Townie earned favourable reviews from owners for its broad-shouldered cabin, magic-carpet ride and ability to accommodate four golf bags in the trunk. It also didn’t escape their notice that it’s as reliable as autumn colours at Thanksgiving.

“The roominess, ride and reliability are what make Lincoln a great livery vehicle,” blogged a fleet operator. “If you need a car that works every day up to 550,000 km, I don’t know of any other car suited for the task.”

Used Town Car shoppers need to be aware of a few issues, however.

Starting in 1996, Ford used a plastic intake manifold on the 4.6 L engine that was prone to cracking at the front coolant crossover, leaking coolant and possibly leading to engine failure. The problem was fixed starting with the 2002 models.

Other problems noted by owners included a weak air conditioner, premature brake wear and some dash rattles – all in very small numbers.

The last word goes to real estate agent Brian Dalton, who buys his Lincolns used.

“Ride quality is superb; at 140 km/h it is like sitting in your living room. You can drive 15 hours and still get out and play golf,” he writes. Speaking of golf, there’s that big trunk again.

“I am certain that Jimmy Hoffa is somewhere in the trunk of a Lincoln!”

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Optra and Acura TSX. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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