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1999 Ford Crown Victoria LX

Ford/Ford

A duo of long-lived dinosaurs built by Ford โ€“ superannuated redundancies from the last century that survived into this one mainly in the hands of cops, cabbies and limo drivers โ€“ quietly slipped into the automotive tar pits a couple of months ago.

The last of the traditional body-on-frame passenger cars built in North America, the final Lincoln Town Car rolled off the assembly line at the company's St. Thomas, Ont., assembly plant in August, followed by the final Ford Crown Victoria in September. The plant had built the Ford from 1983 and the Lincoln from 2008.

The Edwardian-sounding Crown Victoria and Town Car names were borrowed from the horse-drawn conveyance era. Early car makers borrowed these carriage-trade names and used Town Car to describe a large and elaborate luxury car with an enclosed cabin for the toffs and a driving compartment that left the chauffeur exposed to the elements. A Victoria was only a little more egalitarian, an open car with a folding top that kept the rain off those riding in the rear seats.

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The Town Car name was first applied to a custom Lincoln created for Henry Ford shortly after his company acquired the luxury car brand created by Henry Leyland (who was also involved in the creation of Cadillac) in 1922, but didn't reappear until 1959 when it was used on limo versions of the Continental Mark IV.

It wasn't used again until 1969 to designate a high-trim level on the new Mark III that power-behind-the-Ford-throne Lee Iacocca dreamt up in a Canadian hotel room.

Iacocca told his design chief he wanted to "put a Rolls-Royce grille on a Thunderbird" to create a new model to turn Lincoln fortunes around. And it did, outselling Cadillac's Eldorado in its first year. Iacocca says in his biography that, at a $2,000 profit a car, "We made as much selling one Mark as we did from 10 Falcons."

The Town Car option package included unique super-puff leather-and-vinyl seats and door panels, luxury wood-tone trim, extra-plush carpeting and a special napped nylon headliner.

The Town Car name reappeared in 1981, this time as a standalone model in the newly "downsized" Lincoln range. The 1970s Lincolns, at 5640 mm in length, were the last of the true North American passenger car monsters only matched by the current size-matters-machine, the Chevy Suburban LTZ.

The Town Car found a market with aging North American buyers who still espoused the bigger-is-better ethos, but were too conservative to become part of the burgeoning sport utility vehicle boom. Buyers liked the early editions' full padded vinyl roofs and the luxury features that came with Signature and Cartier editions.

And after the departure of the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham in 1996, the Town Car had this buyer group all to itself. Unfortunately, not many were still alive โ€“ the Town Car's biggest fans were limousine companies, who are now lamenting its passing and wondering what they'll use to replace it.

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The Victoria name appears to have been used initially by Ford for a version of the Model A coupe of the early 1930s and it became the Crown Victoria when a stainless steel "tiara" topped the roof of the 1955 Fairlane two-door hardtop. The "Vickie" was available with all-tin-top or as a Skyliner with a see-through smoked acrylic panel ahead of the targa-style roof bar, but was built for only two years.

The Crown Vic name was re-instated in the early 1980s to designate the top trim level of the full-size V-8-powered Ford LTD, which was built on the new-in-1979 Panther frame. All models became known as LTD Crown Victorias in 1983 featuring a chrome B-pillar band that stretched over the roof and remained little changed into the early 1990s when sales averaged just less than 120,000 a year.

An essentially fully redesigned version, now called simply Crown Victoria, arrived for 1992, although still with Panther underpinnings and this revived sales, which averaged above 100,000 into the new century.

A final major mechanical redesign was undertaken for 2003, but by 2006 sales had dropped to just 3,000 or so compared with almost 40,000 for its stablemate Mercury Marquis. A year later, it was available only to fleet buyers; that included police departments which continued to make it the best-selling cop car in the United States.

The Crown Vic hasn't been available in Canada since the late 1990s for "civilian" purchase although the Mercury Marquis was until 2007.

Since 1979, some 10 million Crown Vics, Mercury Marquis (production of these ended early in 2011 with the Mercury brand) and Lincoln Town Cars have been built, but only about 80,000 of them were sold in 2010.

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Those looking for a "big" Ford sedan now only have the Taurus as an option with police departments offered a specially equipped Taurus Interceptor to meet their needs. Lincoln is hoping livery companies will buy a unique version of the large MKT crossover that will become available early in the new year.

In the three decades these vehicles were built, they've become a familiar sight on Canadian roads and it's likely a fairly high percentage of Canadians have at some point had a ride in a private, cop car or cab version of the Crown Victoria or taken a Lincoln limo home from an airport. And it will take more than a few years for the last of them to completely fade away.

Back in 1981

The Lincoln Town Car gains standalone status and U.S. auto engineer and executive John DeLorean launches the DeLorean DMC-12 sports car in Ireland, which despite its cool brushed stainless steel body panels, is out of production a year later after production of 9,000 vehicles. It's likely best remembered for its role in the movie Back To The Future.

Some 700 million around the world watch the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana.

MTV makes its debut and highlights a new form of visual entertainment music videos with VJs replacing DJs. It's launched with the words, "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll" played over the top of the launch sequence of the first space shuttle Columbia.

Simon and Garfunkel perform The Concert in Central Park in front of half a million fans, the Rolling Stones undertake their Tattoo You tour and boxer Muhammad Ali loses what will be his last fight to Trevor Berbick.

Justin Timberlake, Beyonce Knowles, Serena Williams and Britney Spears are born.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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