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Lincoln Town Car Practically Drives Itself

March 19, 1988

DETROIT (AP) _ The Lincoln Town Car, long a best-seller at Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln- Mercury division, continues to confound the skeptics.

The body style, originally introduced as the 1980 Lincoln Continental Town Car has had a stronger increase in sales since 1983 than have European luxury cars, according to a Ford analyst.

After test-driving the 1988 Signature Series Town Car, I can see why.

The auto, a big, heavy monster still with the basic design it had in the late 1970s, practically drove itself (although critics might note that for a price of nearly $28,000 the car should do a lot of things).

I didn’t have to remember to turn on the headlights. They did that themselves, sensing when outside light was low, thanks to an auto lamp on-off system.

The headlights also switched from low to high beams automatically and turned themselves off when the ignition was turned off. I didn’t have to remember to lock the doors before I drove off.

The car has an automatic system that locks them once ignition is on, all doors are closed, the transmission is shifted through reverse and someone is in the driver seat.

I didn’t even have to remember to switch the rearview mirror to ward off headlight glare from other vehicles. The test car had the optional (for $89) automatic dim day-night mirror that flipped to protect driver eyes from glare every time a vehicle approached the rear. It flipped back to normal when no vehicle was close behind.

So, all I had to do was get inside, start up the car, shift and step on the gas pedal. Away I went, along with 4,100 pounds of sheer automotive force.

If you want that size of car and that configuration (rear drive, big weight, luxury domestic), there aren’t many choices - probably the Town Car or a Cadillac, said Ford analyst Ray Windecker. Sales of Town Cars have increased 90 percent since 1983, while sales of all Cadillac models have fallen 8 percent.

European luxury car sales also haven’t risen as fast as they have for Town Cars, he said, citing a 39 percent boost at Mercedes-Benz and 62 percent at BMW. Overall, the U.S. luxury car market is up 35 percent from 1983, he added.

Town Car sales in the 1987 model year totaled 136,085, up from 119,180 in the 1986 model year, Windecker said.

The plant producing the big cars has been on overtime nearly every day. The demand is that great, he said.

However, he added sales likely will decline a bit in the current model year because the plant is building a newly designed Lincoln Continental and work on those models is expected to curtail some Town Car production.

Town Car buyers are older, with median age of 60. (Actually, 53 percent are over age 60.) Forty percent of buyers are retired, and median income is $58,000 a year, Ford said. Thirty-eight percent are at least college grads.

Besides appreciating the many automatic features on the Town Car, those buyers can enjoy standard, heated outside side mirrors and lighted thermometer that tells the outside temperature. There’s an expansive interior - no complaints about a cramped back seat here - and carpet is 30-ounce cut pile.

Also part of the 219-inch-long vehicle is a trunk that is huge, even with a full-sized spare tire inside. The hood, where the mighty 5-liter, electronic fuel-injected V-8 resides, juts out front so far I nearly hit the back of another car at a stop sign before I realized I wasn’t in one of those down sized vehicles with little hoods I’m used to.

I did find the interior cloth upholstery (navy in the test car) showed some spills, and I couldn’t slide in the seat. Rather, I had to lift myself and settle in.

With so much weight and such a big engine coupled with automatic transmission, fuel economy suffers, with only 17 mpg listed for city driving. A fill up can be costly - one gas station visit left me $20 poorer.

And, the car had a somewhat mushy suspension.

Consumer Reports said buyer surveys showed 1983-85 Town Cars ranked better than average in its trouble index and average in the 1986 model year, the last year available.

The Town Car continues to show what a big American car can be and likely will be for the foreseeable future.

Despite talk that it’s just a matter of time before large, rear-drive American cars disappear from showrooms, a Ford official says the company plans on keeping the popular Town Car around for some time.

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EDITOR’S NOTE - Ann Job has covered the auto industry for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, where she is now assistant news editor.

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