2003 Lincoln Town Car Preview

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Mike Davis Mike Davis Editor
December 3, 2001

sponsored by Cadillac


Ford Motor Company unveiled its flagship 2003 Lincoln Town Car during a November 26 reception for news media held at company founder Henry Ford's historic Fairlane estate in Dearborn. William Clay Ford Jr., company chairman and great-great-grandson of Ol' Henry, was host.

In a sense, it's a pull-ahead for both the car and the company's 100th Anniversary, although the new Town Car is scheduled to go on sale next summer, fully a year before the company's June 2003 birthday.

Lincoln has chosen the special Town Car Cartier L model as the "halo car" for its newest version -- subject of the unveiling, media photo release and presumably later advertising and promotional efforts. This is curious because the long-wheelbase L has been virtually a stealth vehicle since its quiet introduction two years ago at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Town Car L nevertheless is the epitome of the upper end of Lincoln's lineup. The six-inch longer L, with its impressively greater rear-seat legroom, was introduced mid-year 2000 at the Detroit Auto Show as a toe in the water to test the newly rediscovered livery and executive limousine market. In MY 2000, a modest 1,200 units were programmed in the half-year, mostly for livery markets like Carey Limo and Boston Coach. According to Rick Brisson, Town Car/Continental brand manager for Lincoln, the Ls are targeted for six to seven thousand units this year.

That may not sound like much, but it's significantly larger than the 1,000 to 1,800 annual output of the Cadillac 75 limo back in the Eighties when Caddy still rode on a rear-wheel-drive platform.

2003 Lincoln Town Car

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In the 2002 Town Car catalogue distributed in Lincoln and Mercury dealerships, you have to study hard to discover L: there IS a photo, properly identified as a Cartier L, but no caption describing the virtues of the longer wheelbase. (There is also a full-page photo of mesdames' cosmetic tray over a bubble bath — I'm not kidding — with no indication what it has to do with "Lincoln/American Luxury"; this should make the catalogue something of a collector’s item.)

In the specifications section, L dimensions and weights are, well, admitted more or less as if they were embarrassing — hidden in parentheses.

Stretching for it

2003 Lincoln Town Car

2003 Lincoln Town Car

Enlarge Photo
To the point, the six-inch off-line insertion at Ford's Wixom Assembly Plant of longer frame, roof panel, floor pan, drive shaft, exhaust system and incidentals stretches the 2002 L wheelbase to 123.7 inches and overall length to 221.3 inches. Weight climbs only 113 to 4,234 lb from the standard Cartier. (Actually the catalogue says 5,413, but I'm assured that's a typo.) Significantly, rear seat leg room of the L grows to 46.9, up from 41.1, while rear headroom gains slightly. (Lincoln hasn't detailed specs for the 2003 yet, so the preceding is merely directional.)

The Cartier L, of course, is aimed at the corporate executive limo market while ironically the mis-named Executive L targets the lower-priced livery market, for such uses as private airport transportation.

Just as the 2000-2002 L Town Cars are hard to spot except for their wider B-pillars, the 2003 Town Cars, both conventional and L, will offer many significant internal and external changes without looking markedly different. The L's wide pillars disappear for 2003, replaced by wider rear doors and windows.

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On the outside, there are 17-inch wheels, new hood and quarter panels, new LS-like grille and rear fascia treatment and a return of the traditional stand-up Lincoln rectangular four-point star hood ornament — the last at the urging of dedicated Town Car customers formed into a panel to counsel Lincoln product managers. Although it is not obvious from photographs or a showroom unveiling without the 2002 alongside, the 2003 returns more to the slab-sided design of Town Cars of the 1980-89 and 1990-97 vintage.

A few weeks ago, commenting on the 2003 Town Car, Ford design chief J Mays told TCC "We've squared it off," adding that future Lincolns will go even further in that direction. The boxy shape has a practical purpose, significantly improving trunk space, which was perhaps the single most common complaint from traditional Lincoln customers about the current Town Car.

In a small blast from the more distant past, the 2003 Town Car also will allow two-tone paint combinations. Two-tones became popular on 1940 GM cars, rose to the norm in the post-WWII period, grew to tri-colors on some cars in the Fifties and were edged out by vinyl roofs in the Sixties.

Basics intact

2003 Lincoln Town Car

2003 Lincoln Town Car

Enlarge Photo
Internally, the anniversary Town Car presents about as many changes as possible without altering the basic external appearance: new frame, new front suspension, modified steering, new instrument panel, dual-mode airbags and other safety goodies, major seating modifications for additional stowage space, and enlarged and reworked trunk compartment.

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The new frame is a cousin of that used on Ford Division's new longer-wheelbase Crown Vic taxicab package first delivered this week in New York City. And its a sign of what's coming for "civilian" Crown Vic and Mercury Grand Marquis in another year or so.

Town Car sales are running about 70,000 this calendar year, down from 81,000 in 2000 and 85,000 in 1999. Its best model year production over the 22-year history of the platform was 1990's 147,000, when a new body was introduced. Town Car benefited hugely from Cadillac's embrace of front-wheel-drive and unattractive boxy styling, beginning in 1985.

Some media and analysts are dumping on Lincoln, saying it appeals only to old people and can only dwindle as Lexus- or BMW-oriented yuppies age into retirement.  But that ignores a couple of factors: (1) the senior market is growing significantly in and of itself and (2) 70-year-old motorists don't necessarily want to continue driving the cars of their younger years.

This golden-ager can testify to that fact based on his own experience and talking with countless seniors. Inherently conservative seniors want comfort and room in their cars, not sports car handling.

The other consideration is that Lincoln's downward sales performance is hardly surprising, given the monstrous damage done to dealer relations and employee morale under recently fired Ford CEO Jac Nasser. With Jac out of the picture, Lincoln and the rest of Ford have nowhere to go but up – if spirit has anything to do with sales. And I think it does.

 

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