Today, the Ford Crown Victoria, a slope-nosed metal box with an unquenchable thirst for gas built with manufacturing methods Henry Ford would have recognized, died after 32 years of production. Here's why its passing marks the sad end of a great American era.
The vibrant white Crown Victoria that rolled off its Candian assembly line this afternoon marks the last of a V8-powered breed, an endangered species of vehicles that modern America was built by and for. It's not that the "Panther" platform underpinning the Vic, the Lincoln Town Car and other models was ever groundbreaking — it was derided as slow and small from the moment it launched in 1979.
Yet no other American car has ever proven as durable, which is why Ford built 9.6 million of them. Taxi and police fleets routinely put 200,000 miles on Crown Vics and Town Cars. Having its body built separate from its frame meant Crown Vics could survive collisions that would total lesser unit-body vehicles. And police departments grew to rely on them not just for their roominess and durability; hitting a curb at high speed in a Crown Vic wouldn't end a pursuit by bending a drive shaft the way it could in a front-wheel-drive car. It even does well off-road.
Even though most of the Panthers built became taxis or cop cars, the Panther cars were superior interstate cruisers. They came from the era when thousands of children were tortured by squirming next to their siblings on road trips, without infotainment cocoon and yacht-quality captain's chairs to save them from the inspirations of boredom.
By the 1990s, older Crown Vics became sought after by hot rodders; there's often still no cheaper way to get a V8 car turning its rear wheels, just like the 1932 Ford V8s that sparked hot-rodding culture in America. All engines make noise, and a modern turbocharged four-cylinder can surpass the Crown Vic's power, but a V8 makes a feeling, a tremor that transmits through steel and plastic and time.
The official cause of the Crown Vic's death is neglect. The Panther platform made a mint for Ford over the years, but the line was already a corporate stepchild by the late 1980s. The last major coin dropped by Ford on those models came in 2003 with the souped-up Mercury Marauder, which only exists because the executive in charge was a member of the Ford family. Today they're collectors items, a status rare among Ford sedans from the past two decades.
It wasn't a lack of money or know-how or popular demand that doomed the Crown Vic and the Town Car; making old tech new is how Ford has made the F-Series pickup America's most popular vehicle, and taxi companies have been hoarding the last Panthers they could buy. Rather, it was a lack of will by Ford, a bet on technology and global engineering rather than simplicity and affordability.
The Crown Vic isn't the last American rear-wheel-drive V8 sedan, but thanks to a combination of regulations and avarice, it may be the last one that's accessible — not just to everyday buyers, but to people who love it enough to make it their own. Just as Henry Ford imagined his cars should be.