The Lincoln Town Car is a full-size luxury sedan that was sold by the upscale Lincoln division of Ford Motor Company; it was produced from 1981 to the 2011 model years. Often converted into a stretch limousine, it is the most commonly used limousine and chauffeured car in the United States and Canada.
The Town Car nameplate was first introduced in 1959 Continental Mark IV lineup as a top-of-the-line 4-door sedan; the nameplate became a permanent part of the Continental lineup in 1969, denoting its highest-trim interior package. In 1981, the Town Car became a stand-alone model in the Lincoln product line, superseding the Continental as the flagship for the Lincoln brand as well as for Ford Motor Company.
Featuring a standard V8 engine, body-on-frame design, rear-wheel drive and large exterior and interior dimensions, the Town Car was based on the Ford Panther platform. This gave it powertrain and suspension commonality with the Mercury Grand Marquis and the Ford LTD Crown Victoria (later the Crown Victoria). This design made them durable even in the rough conditions taxi and livery cars are subjected to, and easy and cheap to repair when they did suffer damage. Town Cars are typically operated in commercial service for at least 400,000 miles.
Its large dimensions made it the largest car in production in North America. From 1997 to 2011, the Town Car was the longest car (but not the heaviest) built in the Western Hemisphere, measuring nearly 18 feet (5.49 m) in length for a standard Town Car and 18.5 feet (5.64 m) for an L Edition.
After its discontinuation following the 2011 model year, the Town Car was left without a direct replacement. Technically considered a full-size car, the Volvo-derived Lincoln MKS is marketed more as of a successor to the sportier LS as well as the 1995-2002 Continental than as a Town Car replacement.
In English, "Town Car" is a literal translation of the French term "Sedan de Ville", a nameplate introduced by Cadillac in 1956. Both names refer to a classic style of limousine popular in the 1920s which had an open chauffeur's compartment in the front. While the Cadillac was a styled as a four-door hardtop, Lincoln made its modern models visually suggest their older namesakes. Many examples from the 1970s and 1980s had a vinyl roof style that swept down the center pillar as part of a raised molding, complete with opera lamps, suggesting a partition between front and rear seats while no vinyl was applied to the front section of the roof over the driver. Other models had a full-length vinyl roof.
The Town Car name first appeared in the Lincoln line in 1922, on a custom-built Lincoln made for Henry Ford.The name reappeared in 1959, on a special limousine-like version of the Lincoln Continental Mark IV; it was available only in black and was identifiable by a unique padded vinyl top, a rarity at that time. After 1959, the Town Car name went dormant for 10 years, reemerging as an interior option package for the 1969 Lincoln Continental. It next appeared as a trim option in 1970 ("Continental's Town Car Interior option", to quote from the 1970 deluxe catalog), and thereafter continued through 1980 as the top-line trim option package for the Lincoln Continental. Again, the Town Car trim featured an extra plush interior (Media velour cloth) along with more standard equipment. The Town Car badge has always been applied to sedans, but from 1973 to 1981, there was a similar option for coupes called the Lincoln Continental Town Coupe.
In 1981, the Town Car became a separate model from the Continental in preparation for further downsizing of the latter; aside from the closely related Continental Mark VI, it became the last full-size Lincoln in the lineup. Since its introduction, there have been three generations of the Town Car, introduced in 1981, 1990, and 1998. Each of these received a substantial refresh approximately halfway through its production cycle, in 1985, 1995, and 2003.
First generation (1981–1989)
After lagging behind Cadillac and Chrysler, Lincoln became the final American manufacturer to downsize their full-size cars in 1980. The 1980 Continental shared the Panther platform with full-size counterparts from Ford and Mercury, which adopted it for the 1979 model year. In comparison to the 1979 Continental, the 1980 model shed approximately 900 lb (410 kg), 1 in (25 mm) in width, 14 in (360 mm) in length, and 10 in (250 mm) in wheelbase. Despite these dimensional regressions, engineering changes (such as the lack of sufficient engine compartment room to fit a big-block engine) allowed an increase in trunk space. As the 1970s Lincolns had sold well towards the end of their production run, much of its styling was carried onto the Panther platform, including its blade-like fenders, fake vent windows, and the Rolls-Royce grille shape. In contrast to 1970s models, most models wore exposed headlights, with the exception being the Mark VI models.
The downsizing of the Continental marked the beginning of an expansion of the Lincoln lineup. As the division had relied nearly entirely on full-size cars, Lincoln split the Continental and the Town Car in 1981 into separate models. The Town Car remained the traditional full-size Lincoln, while the Continental became a mid-size car to replace the slow-selling Versailles. When the Mark Series was redesigned in 1984, it too was redesigned; instead of a landyacht, it became one of the most advanced cars ever sold by Ford Motor Company.
From 1980-1983, the script "TOWN CAR" appeared above the headlights; this script was removed for the 1984 model year. A leather-grained vinyl full-roof covering with center pillar coach lamps was standard on base Town Car, while the padded vinyl coach roof (covering only the rear half of the roof) with a frenched (smaller) rear window opening was included on Signature Series and Cartier models (and optional on base Town Car). A cloth (Canvas) roof—re-creating the look of a convertible—was optional on all except Cartier. Inside, Signature Series and Cartier models featured 6-way power seats (and manual seatback recliners) for the driver and front passenger. All models now featured a 50/50 split front bench seat, replacing the traditional full-width bench seat.
The 1981 Town Car featured many advanced luxury options for its time. An optional full-function trip computer with digital displays showed the driver "miles to empty" and (based on driver input) an "estimated time of arrival", among other features. Another new feature, the keypad entry system, allowed access to the vehicle via a factory-programmed (or self-programmed alternate) five digit combination. From the keypad, the driver could lock all four doors, or after entering the code, unlock the vehicle's doors or open the trunk lid. With this system being linked only to the vehicle, rather than a satellite, the need for drivers to share their identity with an operator in a potentially unsecure environment was not required. This popular feature is still in use on many Lincoln, Mercury and Ford vehicles.
For 1985, the Town Car received minor design updates. Like previous years, the scheme included a reflector running in between both taillights above the bumper mounted license plate - a design feature kept for the second generation 1990–1997 Town Car. But now, a single, wide reverse lamp was mounted in the center of the reflector panel (the lamps moved up from the previous bumper location). All four corners of the vehicle were slightly rounded, and the new, narrower bumpers were flush mounted with the sides of Town Car. Inside, the 1985 dashboard used satin black trim on the lower dashboard fascia and a slightly revised steering wheel with a padded center panel including a horn button—the previous year had a hard plastic center piece, with the horn button located at the end of the turn signal stalk. The large wood-tone applique used on each door panel through 1984 was replaced by an insert matching the seat upholstery.
In 1985, Cadillac DeVille and Fleetwood were both downsized, the former converted to front-wheel drive. Lincoln, however, continued to field the Town Car as a traditional-sized luxury car. In response to the downsized Cadillacs, Lincoln began running a series of ads in late 1985 titled "The Valet" which depicted parking attendants having trouble distinguishing Cadillacs from lesser Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, and even Chevrolets, with the question "Is that a Cadillac?" answered by the response "No, it's an Oldsmobile (or Buick, Chevy, etc.)." At the end the owner of a Lincoln would appear with the line "The Lincoln Town Car please." The commercial saw the emergence of the new advertising line, "Lincoln. What a Luxury Car Should Be." which was used into the 1990s. The mildy-revamped 1985 Town Car sold well in comparison to the newly re-styled GM vehicles that not only all looked like each other, but also too similar to lesser GM models. While the Town Car retained its traditional layout and large size, fuel prices dropped to a contemporary new low at the time, and operating economy became less of a concern to buyers than a decade prior.
Visually, 1986 was a virtual re-run of the popular 1985 model, but with the addition of the federally-mandated third brake light, mounted on the parcel shelf in the rear window. The dashboard featured more wood-tone accents (in simulated blonde walnut burl), whereas the 1985 model held satin black lower dashboard panels. Tall, four-way articulating front seat head restraints arrived in many Ford vehicles for 1986, including Town Car. The biggest mechanical change for 1986 was the switch to multi-port fuel injection for the 302 cu in (4.9 L) engine. This replaced the throttle-body fuel injection system that had been used previously. The MPFI engines are easily identifiable visually, by their cast aluminum upper intake manifolds with horizontal throttle body (vertical throttle plate), replacing the more traditional-looking carburetor-style throttle body with top-mounted air cleaner of previous Town Cars.
1987 was more of the same for Town Car, and changes were minimal. The top-notch Cartier model - which was previously only available in two-tone arctic white and platinum silver, changed to dual shades of platinum (a metallic beige), along with a new interior color in a revamped sew-style, with a sandy beige color ("Titanium") replacing the former white and gray upholstery. Also new was the available JBL single-slot CD Player.
A very minor facelift occurred for the 1988 model year, which saw an early release in the spring of 1987. Town Car now included a wide brushed metal panel on the rear of the vehicle just below the trunk lid opening. The reverse lamps, previously located in the center, now moved to the outer edges of the reflector panel. On the front end of the vehicle, Lincoln returned to the waterfall grille versus a crosshatch design from 1985-1987. Inside, the standard dashboard held a new cluster featuring round gauges set within the square bezels. The burled walnut wood-tone trim was replaced by American walnut applique, and the horn pad changed slightly with more detailed plastic trim.
For 1989, Town Car's grille featured satin black paint on the sides of the segmented grille blades (similar to Mark VII), and now included the "LINCOLN" logo (in a larger, more contemporary font), on the grille itself - down from the header panel above the headlight. Parking lamps were changed from clear to amber, and the background of the Lincoln medallions in between the headlamps was changed from clear to black. In back, the brushed metal panel above the center reflector held a series of fine horizontal pinstripes, and the new "LINCOLN" logo and "Town Car" script emblems moved up from above the tail-light panel (where they had been since 1988), back onto the trunk lid itself. The standard vinyl roof on the base model featured a smaller, more formal "frenched" rear window this year, and did away with the exposed trim surrounding the glass. Large, chrome Lincoln "star" emblems were embedded onto the opera window glass on base and Signature models.
The introduction of the Panther platform Town Car in 1980 was also the first year without the 400 cu in (6.6 L) V8, initially optional in 1977 (standard in California) then standard in 1978 (460 cu in (7.5 L) optional). The 460 cu in (7.5 L) V8 engine was last available in the 1978 model year. These were replaced with the smaller 4.9 L (302 cu in) V8 (throttle body fuel injection, replaced by Port Fuel Injection in 1986 through the 1989 model year). This engine was marketed as a "5.0" model. For the 1980 model year only, an optional 5.8 L (351 cu in) V8 was available. The transmission also changed to a 4-speed automatic with overdrive. All Town Cars from 1980-1989 featured an optional trailer towing package which included: dual exhausts, a shorter-ratio limited slip differential and an improved cooling package for the engine as well as transmission.