Automotive historians like me usually mourn the passing of car-related things that have no impact on anyone else's life. The recent losses of Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Plymouth, and Mercury only weighed heavily on those of us who study where the automobile has been and where it's going--and on a few stand-alone dealers who were not compensated properly for their businesses. Otherwise, their collective loss won't bother anyone else. No one really cares that fewer Olds Cutlasses or Plymouth Voyagers are on the road.
Of the numerous automotive losses this past year, it was the one on 15 September 2011 that will eventually affect the entire landscape of the American highway. You may even know someone who will need to find a new car to drive because of this loss. I'm talking about the production of the final Ford Crown Victoria.
Police departments and government agencies across North America have been aware of this elder states-man's terminal illness. They prepared by testing products from other companies in order to fill the coming void. They even went out of their comfort zones by trying different layouts--SUVs and front-wheel-drive cars with V6 engines.
Alas, nothing fills the role as the heart and soul of the criminal justice system as well as the Ford Crown Victoria has.
It was 33 short years ago that Ford rocked the automotive industry by downsizing the model so key to its lineup that many just referred to it as the "Ford." By 1978, the LTD was the final member of Ford's full-sized lineup (which included, at different times, the Galaxie, the XL, the Custom, and the Fairlane).
But the trusty LTD was overweight and featured a petroleum-sucking V8 engine sometimes measuring upwards of 400 cubic inches. Time to follow the lead of General Motors and downsize the beast.
For 1979, the LTD lost 10 inches in length, seven inches in wheelbase, hundreds of pounds in mass, and a couple of liters in engine displacement. It was earth shaking. "Large" cars were gone, and America would have to survive this new post-OPEC world with these "tiny" versions that didn't even cast an 18-foot-long shadow on the highway.
As consumers shifted to smaller cars, the strong LTD name would lead this shift for Ford. In 1983, the LTD badge moved to a much smaller V6-powered car replacing the popular Granada. The remaining full-sized car took the name from the former model's top trim level, Crown Victoria.
Dating to the 1950s, the Crown Victoria name had adorned top models in the Ford lineup but had never been a model on its own.
Throughout the 1980s, the Crown Victoria was popular among fleet buyers and older consumers. They preferred the interior space and cargo capacity of the Crown Vic, and they appreciated the V8 power.
And, without really knowing much about it, they liked the body-on-frame design, in which the body and passenger compartment of the vehicle is distinctly separate from the frame and chassis.
For reasons that included packaging and ease of manufacturing, unibody designs with integrated frames began to dominate the industry. Only a handful of the old body-on-frame cars would survive the 1980s.
Since then, one manufacturing plant in Ste. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, has built these rolling tributes to what used to be the standard American car. Along with the Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis, the Ford Crown Victoria quietly lost its buyers to old age and industry advances.
By the 1990s, most consumers had transitioned to mid-sized cars with their front-wheel drive and V6 engines. The old standards like the Crown Vic were left to the fleet
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