John McGann's blogFord Panther Platform Cars
Posted September 15 2008 02:51 PM by jm215900
Filed under: Editorials, Ford
OK, I know people are going to think I’m crazy, but here’s why I think The Panther platform cars are some of the best-made American cars of the last 5 years.
First, I must acknowledge that they are slow, and that they need either a manual transmission or a much more aggressive automatic transmission shift program to make them truly great cars. Fix those two problems, though, and you’d have one of the best new cars money could buy, C6 Corvette aside.
Second, I must admit to having a soft spot in my heart for these cars. But those sentiments are also motivated by nostalgia- after these cars are discontinued, rumored to happen in 2011, there will be no more V8, rear-drive, body-on-frame cars in production anywhere. They truly are the last of their breed.
I took a trip to Phoenix last weekend for an assignment, and thankfully, Doug gave me the option of driving or flying. Believe me, I’d rather spend 7 hours in the car than 7 minutes in a TSA screening line, so I phoned up Hertz and booked myself a big Merc for the road trip. First, though, a stop to our shop in Gardena to get the car up in the air and check out what makes these things so cool.
Nerdy historical tidbits:
Though the basic architecture dates back to 1979, the current generation Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car have been around since 1998. A radical redesign of the rear suspension that year replaced the angled four-link rear suspension design with parallel upper and lower trailing arms and a Watt’s linkage. The only American car I’m aware of that came from the factory so equipped (though, supposedly, PT Cruisers have a version incorporated into their rear suspensions). I’ve been told that this was an answer to the law enforcement community’s pleas for a better handling police car. Prior Crown Victorias were reportedly twitchy at high-speed maneuvers.
Again, in 2003, the front suspension was completely redone with a massive aluminum crossmember, rack-and-pinion steering, and a hydroformed front frame section.
Here’s some of the highlights:
Here’s the Watt’s link. The center bell crank mounts on the backside of the axle housing. The two aluminum arms connect it to the frame.
The aluminum front crossmember is massive. It is the mounting point for the steering rack and the forward attachments for the lower control arms. I interviewed the fleet manager for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department a couple of years ago and he told me they (law enforcement officials) had begged Ford for a stronger and bigger crossmember or skidplates to keep from destroying oil pans. Looks like Ford listened- though the sump does still extend slightly below the crossmember.
The lower control arms are very tough looking. The police car versions are made from aluminum.
The frames on these cars are fully boxed and have reinforcement bars mounted at each end. The front section for the frame is hydroformed.
The shocks are mounted outboard of the frame. This allows more precise suspension dampening, but does limit how wide a tire you can mount.
While only rated at 224 hp, the engine is absolutely chocking on it’s own exhaust. Aft of the Y-pipe, the tubing diameter is just two inches! Actually, it’s more like 17/8-inches at this bend. Shocking. The stock exhaust on my Subaru was 1 7/8 inches! You can fix this though by installing a police car-spec dual exhaust.
Though it looks like is belongs in the Elk’s Club parking lot, there really is more to these cars than meets the eye. It’s too bad they’ve long been dismissed as granny/fleet/rental/taxi drudgery. The ride is good- they’re rock steady on the freeway at 90mph. Add better springs and shocks, and the handling would be great. The steering is quicker and more responsive than most new cars I’ve driven, and the brakes are up to the task of stopping this 4100-pound barge. With (a lot) more power, they’d be serious hot rods.
Crown Victorias are only available for fleet purchases, Mercury doesn’t stock Grand Marquis at their dealerships- you have to special-order one. The Town Car is still available, but the fun is killed in those cars for the sake of a soft, floaty ride. It you’re intrigued, your best bet it to pick up a retired police car.