1987 Lincoln Town Car Isn’t Irrelevant Yet

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From the April 1987 issue of Car and Driver.

The Lincoln Town Car may be a brontosaurus in today’s car market, but as recent­ly as ten years ago it was the quintessential expression of the modern American car. Of course, not all American cars of the pe­riod were as expensive as the Lincoln, but most of them were designed and built very much like it. Their immense steel bodies were mounted with rubber isolators on steel-girder frames. Their front wheels were independently suspended by un­equal-length control arms, while their rear wheels were attached to and driven by heavy live axles located by angled links. Their motive energy was supplied by big American V-8s, churning through three-­speed automatic transmissions.

At 219 inches long, 78 inches wide, and 4110 pounds heavy, the Town Car is a di­nosaur by current measures, but in the heyday of the big American car, it barely qualified as full-size. Back then, a real lux­ury car was at least a foot longer, a couple inches wider, and half a ton heavier. When the big Lincoln was downsized to its cur­rent incarnation in 1980, Ford planners considered the move necessary but risky.

As if the Town Car weren’t big enough, it’s deliberately styled to look even bigger than it is. Its sharply chiseled edges and stem-to-stern character lines convey an impression of rolling majesty. A slight rounding of its corners two years ago did little to soften its land-yacht look.

If you think a car so far out of step with the automotive trends of the moment can’t be much longer for this world, you’re dead wrong—as was nearly every­one just a few years ago, when the demise of traditional American iron was expected imminently. All the doomsaying, of course, was based on the steadily rising price of gasoline, which our most respect­ed economists projected would cost somewhere between three and five dollars a gallon by now. Had their forecasts been accurate, we could talk about automobiles of the Town Car’s stripe only in the past tense. But gas costs only about 90 cents a gallon these days, and many cars that burn lots of it are thriving. Big old rear-drive cruisers like the Town Car and the Cadil­lac Brougham, along with such lower-rent variants as the Ford LTD Crown Victoria, the Mercury Grand Marquis, and the Chevrolet Caprice, are selling better than anyone dared predict at the turn of the decade. The Town Car’s sales have risen from 31,000 in the dark days of 1981 to a record of more than 119,000 last year.

That’s enough to keep the Town Car factories running at capacity, and Ford has no plans to mess with the big Lincoln’s surprising current success. Although the Continental is being redesigned for 1988, Ford is expected to let the Town Car con­tinue in its present form for several more years. Ford would be foolish to do other­wise, for the Town Car puts a great deal of money into the corporate till. It has been estimated that Ford makes a profit of $5000 on every Town Car it sells. If that’s true, the Town Car netted Ford about $600 million last year—about a quarter of the corporation’s earnings in its last fiscal year. Car enthusiasts also benefit from the Town Car’s strong sales, for it’s such con­tributions to the corporate treasury that pay the freight for the development of Tauruses, Mustang GTs, and Thunder­bird Turbo Coupes. Think about that the next time you’re inclined to dismiss the Town Car as a throwback.

One reason for the Town Car’s popu­larity is that, despite its traditional design, it’s less flagrantly wasteful than its prede­cessors were. To begin with, it’s powered by a 4.9-liter V-8 with computer-con­trolled port fuel injection and ignition timing, not a 7.5-liter monster that slurps fuel through a huge four-barrel carbure­tor. In addition, it has a four-speed auto­matic transmission with a lockup torque converter, low-rolling-resistance tires, a drag coefficient of less than 0.50, and nearly 1000 pounds less road-hugging weight than its forebears. The Town Car is still no fuel miser, but for a luxury car its efficiency is at least respectable. Indeed, with an EPA city fuel-economy figure of 17 mpg, the Town Car is on par with the much smaller, front-drive Cadillac Sedan de Ville and not substantially thirstier than any luxomobile.

Performance, of course, is a different matter. The Town Car is no hot-rod Lin­coln. The achievement of 60 mph from a stop takes 11.2 seconds, the quarter-mile requires 18.2 seconds, and no more than 104 mph is available at the top end. These figures compare favorably with those of the current big Cadillacs, front- and rear­-drive alike, but most imported luxo­cruisers can easily put the Town Car’s per­formance to shame. In its favor, the Lincoln does provide impeccable drivabil­ity. Even after a cold start, the engine de­livers a perfectly smooth stream of power, and the transmission never hiccups.

Another virtue of the Town Car is its cavernous interior. According to the SAE’s interior-volume measurements, it’s the most capacious sedan on the market. Three-abreast seating, front and rear, is reasonably comfortable, and both bench­es offer so much legroom that we found ourselves checking to see whether Ford had slipped us a stretched model by mis­take. The Lincoln’s trunk is also enormous, though its irregular shape and full-­size spare tire make it less useful than its 22-cubic-foot volume implies. If you think luxury is directly proportional to size, the Town Car was built for you.

That goes double if you want your car to isolate you from road imperfections and other real-world annoyances. Be­cause of the Town Car’s antiquated body­-on-frame design, road impacts are soft­ened both by suspension bushings and by rubber body mounts. Consequently, less ride noise gets into the passenger com­partment than is generally the case with contemporary unitized designs. And the Town Car’s extensive sound insulation keeps other outside noises at low levels. The road seems a faraway place from the Town Car’s interior.

Unfortunately, the big Lincoln’s steer­ing seems equally removed from the pave­ment. It offers virtually no on-center feel. Move the wheel an eighth of a turn from straight ahead and it will just stay there if you remove your hand. Further, the effort at the steering wheel bears no relation to the cornering exertions of the front tires. Progress on a highway requires a never-ending series of small corrections to herd the Town Car between the boundaries of a single lane.

Otherwise, however, the big Lincoln’s road manners are not bad at all. We ex­pected it to bob and weave over large bumps, but its shock absorbers are firm enough to inhibit extraneous movement. The Town Car isn’t exactly snubbed down, but neither is it like the wallowing wonders of yesteryear, which should have been supplied with Dramamine as stan­dard equipment.

The Town Car even behaves surpris­ingly well when pushed in corners. Its self-sealing Uniroyal Tiger Paw Plus white­walls don’t have much grip, and the car lists like a torpedoed ocean liner, but the suspension’s neutral balance keeps the front tires from peeling off of their rims. In turns the Lincoln actually responds to commands from the helm reasonably well; certainly no normal maneuvers will tax its capabilities.

But such considerations are beside the point for most luxury-car buyers. The Town Car sells not because it offers a lot of room and drives fairly well but because it’s the classic American luxury cruiser. Its status is conferred not by any hidden tech­nical excellence or particularly elaborate construction but by its high price tag and the sheer lavishness of its design. It’s big and conspicuously fancy. It’s a rolling symbol of its owner’s financial success and high station in life.

Inside as well, the Town Car reflects its owner’s self-image. Our full-boat test car, a Cartier Designer Series edition, was adorned with special Oxford Gray cloth upholstery with gray leather trim, superplush 30-ounce carpeting, acres of fake wood veneer, several Cartier emblems, and extravagantly styled door pulls, buttons, and switches. Subtlety is not part of the look. Lincoln’s designers want no one to mistake the Town Car’s mission.

In addition to its expensive surface treatments, the Town Car is equipped with every automotive labor-saving device imaginable. Electronic helpers automati­cally release the parking brake and lock the doors when you put the car into gear, turn your headlights on and off at dusk and dawn, switch between high and low beams in response to traffic conditions, and dim your inside rear-view mirror when traffic approaches from behind. The driver has to do little more than sit back and bask in the opulent surroundings.

All this luxury costs a pretty penny. In a world of $50,000 German imports, how­ever, paying 30 grand for a fully outfitted Town Car doesn’t seem unreasonable, es­pecially if you want a big hunk of car for your cash. If it were our money, numerous other cars would put the Lincoln far down our shopping list, but we’re pleased that not everyone shares our priorities. Thanks to the many Americans whose conceptions of automotive grandeur are well satisfied by the Town Car, Ford can design and build the cars that the rest of us dream about.


We at C/D don’t drive cars like the Town Car very often. That’s probably because there aren’t very many left. For one thing, I know of no other car that runs without an engine. Even when the Town Car’s radio is turned way down, you can’t hear a thing from its engine compartment; the car just moves with an eerie quietness. Another thing it doesn’t have is steering—though if you turn that big round thing that sticks out from the dashboard, the car will eventu­ally follow the motion of your index fin­ger, more or less. The Town Car’s supersilky ride makes the experience even worse. Sitting at the wheel of a Town Car is like spending time in an isolation ward.

There are buttons on the dash to call up all sorts of useless data, but helpful information, like engine rpm, is no­where in sight (you see, I told you there was no engine!). The buttons must be there to entertain the driver as the car drives itself down the road.

There are still plenty of buyers who love the Town Car’s comfiness, but I’m one of those people who think it’s crazy to drive 60 mph in your easy chair. —Arthur St. Antoine

I, for one, am glad that the Ford Motor Company is still making a car such as this big Lincoln. This relic from the past, which oozes over the road like so much prehistoric lava, and with about as much control over its direction, brings me the deepest of joy in reminding me that it represents the last of its kind—because there aren’t any others like it waiting on tomorrow’s produc­tion on-ramp to come mincing down the pike. Ford has outgrown its over­grown past.

The Town Car is all the bad things that Ford itself no longer is: obtuse, un­gainly, and unsure of its footing. No other current Ford product behaves with such imprecision. No other would dare to. This car is meant for those whose roadgoing expectations are low because they don’t know or don’t care that even a luxury automobile can pro­vide a genuine sense of coordination. Some say that coordination doesn’t count in a luxury car. I say, seek the tru­er luxury of roadgoing control, which exists in infinitely greater measure in even the meanest of Ford’s Escorts. —Larry Griffin

The Town Car is a holdover from the old days, all right, and that’s just why I like it. It’s the last gasp of an America that once was and never will be again. This is the way we used to build them when we could do anything better than anyone else—when we put a man on the moon first, when “made in Japan” meant “junk,” when bigger was always better, and when Detroit really was the automotive capital of the world. The Town Car is as American as a six-foot­-four Texan in a ten-gallon hat, and I smile every time I slide behind the im­posing wall of the dashboard in its cav­ernous interior.

Surprise of surprises, the latest Town Car isn’t a bad car to drive. Yes, its hood stretches past the horizon, but maneu­vering in tight quarters is half the fun of this car. Its ride is surprisingly taut—no more wallowing, waddling, or carom­ing, even at faster than grandma speed. But its steering, ugh. I didn’t know they still make cars with steering more limp than a Regis Philbin joke. This is one bit of nostalgia I could do without.

Even so, I hope Ford keeps making the Town Car for a good, long time. I’d hate to lose the perfect ride for trips down memory lane. —Rich Ceppos



1987 Lincoln Town Car
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 6-passenger, 4-door sedan


Base/As Tested: $27,550/$29,369
Options: electronic instrument cluster and trip computer, $822; JBL sound system, $506; automatic load leveling, $202; self-sealing tires, $200; automatically dimming inside mirror, $89

pushrod V-8, iron block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 302 in3, 4942 cm3
Power: 150 hp @ 3200 rpm
Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm 

4-speed automatic


Suspension, F/R: control arms/rigid axle
Brakes, F/R: 11.1-in vented disc/10.0-in drum
Tires: Uniroyal Tiger Paw Plus Royal Seal M+S


Wheelbase: 117.3 in
Length: 219.0 in
Width: 78.1 in
Height: 55.9 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 60/56 ft3
Trunk Volume: 22 ft3
Curb Weight: 4110 lb

30 mph: 3.5 sec
60 mph: 11.2 sec
1/4-Mile: 18.2 sec @ 76 mph
90 mph: 28.9 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 5.2 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 8.0 sec
Top Speed: 104 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 209 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.68 g 


Observed: 15 mpg


Combined/City/Highway: 17/27 mpg 


Csaba Csere joined Car and Driver in 1980 and never really left. After serving as Technical Editor and Director, he was Editor-in-Chief from 1993 until his retirement from active duty in 2008. He continues to dabble in automotive journalism and WRL racing, as well as ministering to his 1965 Jaguar E-type, 2017 Porsche 911, 2009 Mercedes SL550, 2013 Porsche Cayenne S, and four motorcycles—when not skiing or hiking near his home in Colorado. 

Source: Reviews -


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