Our Cars: '91 Lincoln Town Car Faces The Ravages of Time

IMG_0095 When I first acquired inherited the Town Cow six years ago, she was remarkably well preserved, having lived a pampered, low-mileage life—most of it in my mother-in-law’s garage. When the rest of you met her a little over three years ago, the Maroon Saloon was still in pretty spiffy condition. The subsequent years have not been as kind, due to greater use and constant exposure to the elements due to her strictly al fresco accommodations in our side driveway. Though still basically solid and reliable, the Cow is experiencing accelerating decrepitude. Death by a thousand cuts, as it were. IMG_0097 Most obvious is the finish. About 18 months ago, a strip of clearcoat along the center line of the roof went chalky seemingly overnight. (One friend’s plausible theory is that was the most likely place to leave gaps when hand-waxing the car.) Since then, the paint rot has spread like leprosy across all the horizontal surfaces, including the flexible plastic bumper covers that are also peeling. IMG_0096The weatherstripping is likewise aging. I’ve re-glued the rubber strip at the bottom of the backglass once, but it’s hanging loose again (left). The windshield surround has buckled and popped halfway up the passenger side A-pillar (right) and no reasonable amount of force will persuade the stiff, brittle plastic back into place. The driver’s door has an air gap that roars like a jet at highway speeds and in winter actually deposits a tiny pile of snow inside on the window sill as I drive. IMG_0103 Inside, the driver’s seat bottom has grown noticeably saggy and packed down. The leather surfaces on the upholstery have held up admirably (as one would expect), but the vinyl sections are fairing less well. The headliner looks nice but the “velour-like” flocking on the plastic A-pillar covers has become gummy and loose; I’m careful not to touch them as just a fingernail or even rubbing them with a finger will cause the stuff to pill and come off.

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It would be useful to tell you the Town Cow’s mileage as a point of reference, but unfortunately I can’t do that. The odometer crapped out three or four years ago, followed soon after by the tripmeter. Given my driving history with this car and my usual driving patterns, I can extrapolate a ballpark guess of between 150–165K currently. The piece of black electrical tape in the picture above was my father-in-law’s method of “fixing” the orange airbag fault light, which has been constantly flashing for as long as I’ve owned the car. After getting a labor quote on diagnosing (never mind actually fixing) the problem, I decided his fix was suitable enough for me. The air conditioning also hasn’t worked for as long as I’ve owned the car. That’s probably good because the climate control temp selector lever is partially broken and must be carefully coaxed from hot to cold. The blower fan, which should be infinitely adjustable, now has only two speeds: max and off. I replaced the long-inop Ford radio with a fancy Kenwood head unit (with iPod/USB flash drive integration, so I can listen to the Hooniverse Podcast on my commute). But when I turn the radio on, the OE electric antenna groans loudly in protest as it rises. The windshield wipers only work intermittently on high speed. The heated driver’s door mirror is cracked, and no longer heats up. The steering feels tight (I’m kidding, of course, it’s a Town Car) but there’s a noticeable creaking through the steering wheel as I transition from acceleration to deceleration and vice versa. My mechanic guessed it indicates a sloppy suspension bushing somewhere—but even he recommended not paying to chase that bugaboo down. IMG_0098 The power windows deserve special mention. Panther-platform cars have notoriously bad window motor mechanisms, and mine is no exception. I have had three of the four windows repaired, the front passenger window twice. Despite that, the driver’s window currently goes up and down in a halting series of jerky pauses, and the right rear doesn’t work at all. Instead, it slowly creeps downward on its own. Every couple of hundred miles, I have to open the door, put my hands on either side of the glass, push upwards, and jiggle the window shut again. In the approximate 50,000 miles I’ve driven the car, I’ve replaced the water pump, the fuel pump, the radiator, the fan clutch, a coil pack, a set of winter tires and a set of summer tires, the battery, the rear shocks, brake pads twice and rotors once. The rear air bags have been replaced by coil springs. I’ve had it towed twice. For a car I was given for free, I shouldn’t complain too loudly, I suppose. The understressed, 2-valve SOHC modular engine still sounds and feels solid, though it consumes about half a quart of oil every 2–3 months: I’m sure some of that is being burned, but some joins the growing oil stain in its usual parking spot. IMG_0108 So my daily driver has slid down the desirability scale from cherry classic to beater. That’s a bit sad, but I still have a lot of affection for the Cow. If I won the lottery, the first thing I would do is call up a high-end custom shop and give her a new lease on life with a supercharged, 4-cam crate motor backed up by a floor-shift T5 manual, P71 Interceptor suspension bits and of course a fresh paint job. As it is, I might hold onto her long enough to make a crapcan racer out of her someday. Hey, I can think of less noble ways to go out when her time comes. Fortunately, I’m not expecting that day to come anytime soon. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be content to let the Cow usher me back and forth to work while I listen to Glucker and Rong discuss the merits and faults of Aston Martins and Porsches.  

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