Ford Model T to Ford Crown Victoria
Date posted: 2003-05-08 00:00:00.0
Unless you're a cop or a New York cabbie, chances are you haven't driven a new
Ford Crown Victoria. Today's Crown Vic is the backbone of fleets; a car for enterprises
that need a rugged, simple sedan with plenty of room for passengers and cargo
space for all their stuff. But 30 years ago the full-size Ford was the backbone
of the company's sales; an amazing 941,054 of them were sold during the 1973 model
year. Twenty-five years before that it was the only car the division sold.
Go back another 25 years and it was the Model T.
The full-size Ford, which before there were midsize and compact Fords was known as simply "the Ford," wasn't just any old car. It was upon the ubiquity of these Fords that auto racing, popular automotive enthusiasm, drive-in theaters, motels, fast food, malls, mini malls, in-between malls and virtually everything else we take for granted today was created. Over the last century, our nation, our culture and our world were built for and around these cars the 1909 Model T and 94 years of successors.
In over a century of evolution, almost everything about how cars are constructed and engineered has changed. But surprisingly, the 1909 Model T and 2003 Crown Victoria still have more than the Ford script logo on their grilles and four wheels and tires in common. Both (and every car in the direct ancestry between them) are built on frames separate from their bodies, have solid rear axles in the back and a transmission bolted directly behind their front-mounted engines. Some things never change or at least persist for a very long time.
Model T (1909-1927)
Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Company in 1903 with a small runabout he called the Model A. But Ford's first cars were baby steps; experiments that taught Ford what mistakes to avoid when he got serious about building a lot of cars. The spindly Model T, fragile as it looks today, was serious the moment it went on sale in October of 1908 as a 1909 model.
Extreme simplicity was the essence of the Model T's engineering. The front and rear solid axles were each perched on a single transverse leaf spring, the engine was an L-head four displacing 176.7 cubic inches (about 2.9 liters) with a 4.5-to-1 compression ratio that produced 22 horsepower at 1,600 rpm; a two-speed planetary transmission sent power through a torque tube to a bevel-cut gear set in the rear end. Brakes? Well, there was a contracting band on the transmission and hand-operated expansion brakes on the rear wheels. Those are sort of like brakes.
The very first Model Ts had flat-topped fenders, brass radiators and bodies made from wood, and things like windshields and tops were optional on open cars. If a buyer wanted to know how fast he was going, he could spend the extra money for a speedometer. The 1909 Model T came in five body styles (five-passenger Touring, two-passenger Runabout, seven-passenger Town Car, seven-passenger Landaulet and two-passenger Coupe) and in gray, green or red, depending on the model.
The Model T's 100-inch wheelbase was 1.2 inches shorter than a 2003 Acura RSX's. But while the lightest RSX model comes in at 2,721 pounds, the Model T weighed only 1,200 pounds.
Every Model T innovation along the car's evolution was aimed at making it simpler, cheaper to build, easier to manufacture in vast quantities or more affordable for the average American. The 10,660 Model Ts sold that first year were only a small glimpse at what would follow.
In 1910 the paint was standardized to just one color (dark green) and the Landaulet and Coupe were discontinued in favor of a new "Tourabout" with two separate rear-seat sections. Production expanded to 22,450 units.
A significant restyle (most noticeably the fenders were now rounded) for 1911 accompanied two new body styles, the Open Runabout and the Torpedo Runabout. Production expanded to 34,858 cars and the lowest-priced model, a two-seat runabout, went for just $680.
The first four-door Model T arrived in 1912 and that helped boost production to 68,773 cars. Also in 1912, Ford offered a "Delivery Car" version of the T, essentially inventing the light truck. The 1913 Model T was again restyled and the three-door Touring model (one door on the left, two on the right) was added and would become the mainstay of the line. With more of the body now made of stamped steel, production soared to over 170,000. It passed 200,000 during 1914 when black became the only color offered, swept past 300,000 during 1915 and more than 500,000 were built during 1916 (including 20,700 ambulances for a world at war).
A big change came in 1917 with a stamped steel radiator replacing the former brass unit. In fact there wasn't any brass at all aboard the '17 T, and the constantly dropping price was reduced to just $345 for the two-seater. More than 735,000 1917 Model Ts were built, but production dropped to about 664,000 units during the 1918 model year as the United States became involved in World War I.
The 1919 Model T finally got a battery and a self-starter as standard on closed cars and optional on the open ones. The inclusion of an electrical system also brought with it some instrumentation for the first time: an ammeter. Speedometers remained dealer-installed options.
Styling changes occurred regularly throughout the rest of the Model T's life as production climbed relentlessly. In 1923 the firewall was finally made of metal, and in July of 1925 the last major exterior updates for the Model T occurred with new fenders, new bodies and a revised chassis.
Between October 1, 1908 and May 26, 1927, Ford built about 15,000,000 Model Ts. By 1927 it was a fundamentally tired design clearly bettered by rivals. But dated as it was, even then it was recognized as the most important car of all time. It still is.
The Model A (1928-1931)
In general specification, the Model A doesn't seem like much of an advancement over the Model T. It still had solid axles at both ends, still had transverse leaf springs for a suspension and the engine was still an L-head four. But in detail the Model A was a huge step forward for Ford.
The A's chassis featured such advancements as four-wheel mechanical brakes and hydraulic shock absorbers, the engine had a state-of-the-art ignition system and a water pump and it was backed by a three-speed transmission. In fact, the 200.7-cubic-inch (3.3-liter) engine made a full 40 horsepower nearly double the Model T's.
In appearance, the Model A was a natural progression from the T with gently arched fenders and a grille featuring a slight dip at the top of its face where the Ford logo was implanted. It was just different enough from (and slightly larger than) the Model T to be distinct in buyers' minds without betraying the tremendous goodwill earned by the earlier car. So, not surprisingly, and like the Model T, the Model A was a hit. Despite a late start in production due to the necessary retooling of Ford's production lines, a full 633,594 Model As were built during 1928. Prices started at $460 for a four-door phaeton.
The A carried over through 1929 unchanged, except for the addition of Ford's first wood-bodied station wagon. It was updated with wider tires on 19-inch wheels and a new grille in 1930. But the most notable change for that year was the introduction of a new two-door four-passenger Victoria model the first appearance of that name on a Ford. By the 1931 model year, there was a stunning range of 20 Model A body styles available.
But 1931 was also the last year for the Model A, as Ford faced up to the fact that its four-cylinder cars couldn't hold off six-cylinder competition any longer. However, not even Henry Ford himself could have known the revolution his '32 Ford would launch.
The V8 (1932-1936)
If the Model T is the most important car in automotive history, the 1932 Ford V8 is arguably the second. Why? Because it brought V8 power to the masses for the first time and was one of the most beautiful American cars irrespective of price ever built.
Developed in secrecy, the "Flathead" (named as such because the valves were beside piston crowns instead of over them, resulting in a flat appearance) hit the market when everyone was expecting a six in the new Ford. Unlike other eights of the time, the Ford Flathead block was cast as a single piece, making it much cheaper to build, simpler to work on and usually more reliable. Displacing 221 cubic inches (3.6 liters) and breathing through a single-barrel downdraft carburetor atop an aluminum intake manifold, the Flathead was rated at 65 horsepower in its first year and fitted with a three-speed manual transmission. Sixty-five horsepower was serious muscle in 1932.
Ford also offered its '32 (the "Model B") with a revised version of the Model A four making 50 horsepower. Except for the lack of "V8" emblems, it was indistinguishable from its more powerful brother.
But even if Ford had only installed a friction motor in the '32 Ford, it would still have been a classic. Its Duesenberglike front grille shell featured delicate vertical slats inside a tapered body-color frame that is still a model of ideal proportion and elegance. The bodies themselves had a character line running just below the window glass and the fenders were elegant sweeps of voluptuous grace. In the Sport Coupe model you could get the now classic rumble seat.
The Ford V8 was offered in 14 body styles during 1932 with the two-door Tudor sedan selling the best. But beauty and power weren't enough to overcome a deepening economic depression, so sales totaled only 287,285 units. Considering the '32's immense popularity with hot-rodders today, there may be as many reproduction versions out there as there were original steel-bodied units built more than 70 years ago.
As great an artistic and engineering feat as the '32 Ford V8 was, its 106-inch wheelbase was still short compared to the competition. So for 1933 a new crossmember frame was installed under the car and the wheelbase was stretched to 112 inches. Most of the extra length went into the nose and the new shovel-shaped grille that was nearly as great an artistic achievement as the '32's grille. With new one-piece fenders, the result was a sleeker, more aggressive, if not more beautiful, car. Revisions to the Flathead's ignition system punched output up to 75 horsepower. Sales increased to 311,113 cars. The 1934 car was a lightly revised version (V8 output was up to 85 horsepower) of the '33, and it was the final year a four-cylinder engine was offered.
All-new bodies came around for 1935, but few today would call them an improvement on the '32, '33 or '34 in the looks department. However, they were lower and wider and the fenders were better integrated into the body. This year, a Victoria wasn't offered. The 1936 Ford was a slightly updated version of the '35.
As neat as these first V8s were, by the mid-'30s, they were aging in a market that was increasingly integrating the fenders and headlights into the body. Ford would follow that trend for 1937.
The Fat Fender Fords (1937-1948)
With its headlights in its fenders and the windshield now split into two pieces, the 1937 Ford looked significantly bigger than its predecessors. But while width, height and overall length increased slightly, the 112-inch wheelbase was unchanged. And mechanically the car didn't change much at all except for the introduction of a 136-cubic-inch (2.2-liter) version of the Flathead V8 producing 60 horsepower in Standard models. Production increased to a robust 765,933 cars spread over 17 body styles in both Standard and Deluxe trim for '37.
The '37 front sheet metal carried over to the 1938 Standard Fords, but the Deluxe models got a new front end that looked like a parrot's beak dipped in chrome. That made the '38 Ford Deluxe the only prewar Ford V8 that could accurately be described as ugly.
As ugly as the '38 Deluxe was, the 1939 fully redeemed Ford's reputation for beauty. With lovely teardrop-shaped headlights and a new V-shaped grille, the '39 had a confidence to it never seen before on a Ford (maybe it was the new hydraulic brakes). Also in '39 Ford introduced the midpriced Mercury line of cars that shared most of their engineering with Ford-branded products. The 1940 Fords were modestly revised, and this was the last year the smaller 60-horsepower Flathead V8 was offered.
Much wider bodies that practically sucked the fenders and running boards into them came with the 1941 model year. The headlights were set apart at the far ends of each front fender, the wheelbase grew to 114 inches and the overall length was up to a big 194.3 inches. And for the first time in a Ford, a straight-six engine was offered a new 226-cubic-inch flathead design rated at 90 horsepower. A two-barrel carburetor boosted output of the V8 up to 90 horsepower as well.
The fat fender design was never particularly beautiful, but the grille of the 1942 Ford did nothing to flatter it. Unfortunately, Ford didn't get much of a chance to produce the '42s, as the U.S. entered World War II and civilian car production came to a virtual halt. When the 1946 models finally came out, they were little more than restyled '42s. And the 1947 and 1948 Fords saw minimal changes.
America was ready for an all-new Ford, and it got exactly that for 1949.
The Envelope Fords (1949-1956)
With the surface of its doors flush with the fenders and the elimination of even the suggestion of running boards, the 1949 Ford was a great leap forward in styling. But it was also the first Ford since the Model T to revise very basic assumptions about suspension and structure. The '49 Ford literally was better in every way.
Gone was the cross-style frame that had underpinned every previous Ford, and in its place was a modern ladder frame that allowed a lower floor. Gone also were the transverse leaf springs that had been the basic springing medium for both the front and rear suspensions and in their place were coil springs up front in an independent A-arm system and two semielliptical springs mounted laterally on either side of the solid rear axle. While the wheelbase remained 114 inches, the engine was moved about five inches forward in the chassis, allowing the passenger compartment to grow and the rear seat to be moved from directly over the rear axle. Gone also, finally, was the torque tube sending power to the back, replaced by a driveshaft. The engines were thoroughly revised, the interiors better decorated, the transmissions new the '49 wasn't just a redesign, it was a completely different car.
With the six-cylinder engine rated at 95 horsepower and the Flathead V8 making 100, the '49 Ford was both attractive and powerful a winning combination. Ford sold 204,449 Standard models and an astounding 914,291 Customs. This was the car that showed the world what a modern mass-produced automobile could be.
Ford was smart and didn't change the design much for 1950. A new series was introduced called "Custom Deluxe" at the top of the range (the bottom was now the "Deluxe") and in it was a new "Crestliner" two-door sedan that featured a vinyl top, along with a two-door station wagon called the "Country Squire."
The 1951 Fords got a new grille and yet another new model, a two-door pillarless coupe with the familiar name "Victoria." They could also be ordered with Ford's new "Ford-O-Matic" two-speed automatic transmission for the first time.
Curved one-piece windshield glass came for the 1952 model year along with fresh, new styling. The wheelbase grew to 115 inches; a new 215-cubic-inch (3.5-liter) overhead valve six making 101 horsepower was the base engine; power from the Flathead V8 grew to 110 horses; and the models were rearranged again into base "Mainline" series, better "Customline" and best "Crestline" series. The Crestline convertible earned the name "Sunliner." The 1953 models carried over intact from '52, except for yet another new grille.
While the 1954 Fords shared their bodies with the '52 and '53 models, they were the first to get Ford's new overhead valve "Y-block" V8. This 256-cubic-inch (4.2-liter) V8 was rated at 130 horsepower when breathing through a two-barrel carb, and a full 160 horsepower when the air came in through a four-barrel Holley carburetor. The 160-horsepower engine was deemed too powerful for the public, however, and its sales were restricted to law enforcement. The six-cylinder engine was unchanged.
Also new in '54 was the Crestline "Skyliner" two-door hardtop which featured a glass roof. The Skyliner is generally considered to be the most collectible of all Fords built during the early '50s.
A new body arrived for 1955 while the wheelbase grew to 115.5 inches. Overshadowed that year by the introduction of the two-seat Thunderbird, the '55 Ford was prettier, sleeker and bigger than the car it replaced. That meant bigger engines as the base six grew to 223 cubic inches (3.7 liters) and 120 horsepower, the smaller Y-block V8 to 272 cubic inches (4.5 liters) and 162 horsepower and the bigger "Thunderbird" Y-block to 292 cubic inches (4.8 liters) and 193 horsepower.
The model names were juggled again for '55. Base cars were still part of the Mainline, and the Customline was still a step up from there, but the top of the line was now called "Fairlane." The fancy coupe in the Fairlane series featured a stainless-steel band midway across its roof and was called "Crown Victoria." If the portion of the roof in front of that band was glass, it was the "Crown Victoria Skyliner." Sales of the '55 Ford line were suitably huge.
Except for some trim changes and yet more tweaking of the model mix, the 1956 Fords carried over from '55. It was time yet again for Ford to break the mold.
The First Big Fords (1957-1959)
While the 1957 Fords were larger than the '56s they replaced, they were also about five inches lower overall. That's because a new frame design actually allowed the designers to lower the new Ford's floors down between the frame rails. Longer, lower and wider, the '57 Fords indicated the gigantism that was creeping into American cars.
To keep everyone thoroughly confused, Ford's 1957 trim levels were reworked yet again. Base models were now called "Custom," just above them were the "Custom 300" models, then the "Fairlane" models and then, at the tippy top, were the "Fairlane 500s." The Custom and Custom 300 lines, and all station wagons, came on a 116-inch wheelbase, while the Fairlane and Fairlane 500 models rode on a 118-incher. Engines included the base 223-cubic-inch six now making 144 horsepower, the 272-cubic-inch V8 at 190 horsepower, the 292-cubic-inch Thunderbird V8 at 212 horsepower and a new Thunderbird Special V8 displacing 312 cubic inches (5.1 liters) at 270 horsepower while inhaling through dual Holley four-barrel carburetors. A few Fairlanes were also equipped with a Paxton supercharged version of the 312 making a full 300 horsepower.
The most memorable '57 Ford was the fabulous Fairlane 500 Skyliner with its fully retractable hardtop. Easily the most complex Ford built up until that time, the Skyliner is considered a classic today, even if its top was mostly a headache back then. A midyear introduction, 20,766 Skyliners were built during the '57 model year. And with their 3,916-pound weight, they were the first Fords to weigh more than three times as much as a Model T.
Ford sold an amazing 1,655,068 Customs, Custom 300s, Fairlanes and Fairlane 500s during the 1957 model year, outstripping the 1,515,177 full-size Chevrolets sold that year. And yet somehow it's the '57 Chevy that's remembered as a classic design.
With a simulated scoop in the hood and dual headlights in each fender, there was no mistaking the 1958 Fords for the '57. But mostly the car's body was a carryover. Ford's new "Cruise-O-Matic" three-speed automatic transmission appeared for '58 and found itself behind new engines. The smallest V8 was now the 205-horsepower 292, a new 332-cubic-inch (5.4-liter) "Interceptor" V8 was rated at 240 horsepower, and above that was a big 352-cubic-inch (5.8-liter) Interceptor V8 making 300 horsepower. A dubious achievement that year was that the Fairlane 500 Skyliner became the first Ford to weigh in at more than two tons.
For 1959 the styling was revised (the front grille was much boxier and the rear end seriously overstyled), the base trim level became the Custom 300 and all models now rode on a 118-inch wheelbase. The new top-of-the-line Ford that year was called the "Galaxie." Why it was misspelled with an "ie" at the end remains a mystery.
Even Bigger Fords (1960-1964)
With the introduction of the compact Falcon for 1960, there was now a distinction between the full-size models and other Fords. And with the space age fully underway, it made sense that the '60 Fords should look a little futuristic.
So the 1960 Fords were even lower, wider and longer than before. The wheelbase now stretched to 119 inches and overall length was up to a stunning 213.7 inches. But the basic building blocks of a ladder frame with a solid axle on leaf springs and a front suspension with coil springs and A-arms were familiar in concept, if not identical to the pieces used under the '59. The engines and transmissions were carryovers.
The base full-size '60 Ford was now the Fairlane, the Galaxie became the midlevel trim and a new Galaxie Special series topped the range. While all the '60 Fords featured a recessed grille and thin-pillared roofs, the prettiest of the bunch was the elegant Galaxie Starliner two-door. Not only was the Starliner attractive, it was aerodynamically efficient and quickly became Ford's car of choice in NASCAR competition.
While the 1961 Fords shared their structure and engineering with the 1960 models, the sheet metal was new from the beltline downward. It was heavier-looking, more awkward and nowhere near as pretty as the '60 models. But for the first time a full (claimed) 400 horsepower was available aboard the big Ford with the introduction of a 390-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) OHV Interceptor V8 fed by three Holley two-barrel carburetors.
The 1962 model year saw another round of fresh sheet metal for the full-size Fords, all of which were now Galaxies or Galaxie 500s as the Fairlane name migrated to Ford's new midsize car line. Also new was a 406-cubic-inch (6.7-liter) V8 rated at 405 horsepower.
Forget the styling of the full-size 1963 Fords (it was different again), the big news was the awesome 427-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V8 that was now optional. With a breathtaking 11.5-to-1 compression ratio, the 427 was rated either at 410 horsepower when equipped with a single four-barrel carb or 425 horsepower with dual Holleys. Backed by a four-speed manual transmission, these were the quickest big Fords that had ever been built. Other changes in '63 included renaming the base Ford the "300."
Changing sheet metal yet again for 1964, Ford also renamed the base car "Custom" just to see if anyone was paying attention. The Galaxie and Galaxie 500 also carried forward.
Leaf springs wouldn't survive to see 1965, as major chassis upgrades were in store for Ford's full-size lineup.
Square Fords (1965-1978)
Ford's new chassis for the 1965 full-size model line eliminated the semielliptical leaf springs that had been the basic rear suspension since '49 in favor of coil springs for the solid rear axle. The front suspension was also new and so successful that the basic design survives in the 21st century as the setup in all NASCAR Winston Cup racecars.
With that new suspension and chassis underneath it, the 119-inch wheelbase '65 Ford was comfortable, durable and handled better than ever before. The new bodies were square-cut, upright and contemporary-looking. Base models were still called Custom, then came the Custom 500, Galaxie 500, Galaxie 500 XL and, at the top of the range, the Galaxie 500 LTD. The most luxurious station wagon was still known as the Country Squire. Engines ranged from a 240-cubic-inch (3.9-liter) straight six making 150 horsepower through V8s with 289, 352, 390 and 427 cubic inches; the most powerful 427 was still rated at 425 horsepower.
The '65 Ford would become the basis for not only all future Winston Cup racecars (thanks mostly to the efforts of the Holmon-Moody race team and its parts-selling operation), but its basic suspension system is used under the current 2003 Crown Victoria. Further, the '65 body would have a long life in South America after it left production in the United States.
With notable exceptions and some new, more rounded sheet metal (only the hood actually carried over), the 1966 full-size Ford lineup was identical to 1965's. The notable exceptions included the new "7-Litre" coupe and convertible built around either the 427 V8 or a new 345-horsepower, 428-cubic-inch V8. Loaded with luxury and performance pretense, only 8,705 7-Litre coupes and 2,368 7-Litre convertibles would be made.
Another restyling took place with the 1967 model year featuring a pointed prow and narrow fenders. The 7-Litre model was gone and the full-size lineup started with Custom, went to Custom 500, Galaxie and, finally, LTD trim levels.
The 1968 full-size Ford was a replay of '67 with a flatter nose. The 427 was detuned to 390 horsepower and restricted to just one four-barrel carburetor. At midyear, the 427 left production altogether to be replaced by versions of the 428.
Ford redesigned the big Ford's body again for 1969 and included a two-door hardtop "Sportsroof" coupe with a flying buttress rear roof section. The '69 body design was retained for 1970 with the Galaxie 500 XL becoming merely the "XL" and the LTD and Country Squire getting hidden headlights. Engines included the 250-cubic-inch six, plus V8s in 302-, 351-, 390- and 428-cubic-inch displacements.
The 1971 model year brought another load of new sheet metal to the full-size Fords. The new styling featured a raised grille center and heavily sculptured side panels. The wheelbase was now a full 121 inches long. The engine choices remained familiar with the exception of a new 429-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V8 replacing the former 428, and a 400-cubic-inch (6.6-liter) version of the 351 V8.
Consumers could get the 1972 big Fords with a series of V8 engines right up to a 429 rated (using the more conservative SAE net system) at just 205 horsepower. Six-cylinder engines were restricted to fleet use for taxi cabs and the like. A Windsor-built version of the 351 V8 was now standard on the Custom along with a Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic transmission. Only a few changes in the grille area distinguish the '72 from '71 Ford, and once again the LTD was the top model of the range. This was also the last year for the full-size Ford convertible.
A restyling came around for 1973, but otherwise the full-size Fords were very similar to the '72 models. Power choices ranged from a 351 V8 up to a massive 460-cubic-inch (7.5-liter) V8 rated at just 224 horsepower. Bigger bumpers were added to the 1974 big Fords, but they were otherwise practically indistinguishable from the '73s. Overall length of the coupes and sedans was now a gargantuan 223 inches and the wagons went another three inches beyond that. There wasn't a single model in the full-size lineup that weighed less than 4,000 pounds.
Slightly restyled for 1975, the full-size Fords now had a square grille separate from the headlights. Base models were now the LTD, with the LTD Brougham and LTD Landau completing the lineup. Landau models featured hidden headlights and plush interiors. The '75 model year was also the first to feature catalytic converters in the exhaust system and, as a result, performance suffered. The base 351-cubic-inch (5.8-liter) V8 used a two-barrel carburetor and produced a measly 143 horsepower. Meanwhile, the optional 400 and 460 V8s made only 158 and 216 horsepower, respectively.
The days of the standard American sedan were numbered and Ford sold only 390,714 full-size cars during the 1975 model year. By today's standards, those are pretty good figures (about the same as the number of Accords Honda sold in 2002), but puny in comparison to the more than one million that Ford once could get out the door.
Throughout 1976 and 1977, changes were minor and consisted mostly of color-themed appearance groups. In the face of redesigned and significantly smaller full-size cars from GM during the '77 model year, Ford stood pat with its unchanged LTD. Some slight aerodynamic tweaks and a new trunk lid came aboard for 1978, but by that time a car this wallowy and flabby just wasn't sustainable in the marketplace. A new, smaller full-size Ford was on its way for 1979.
Downsized Fords (1979-1991)
With a wheelbase down to 114.4 inches (almost seven inches shorter than the '78 model's) and a diet that dropped about 700 pounds of ugly weight, the 1979 LTD (all full-size Fords were now LTDs) was a straightforward response from Ford to the wildly successful downsized Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles.
While the new LTD was obviously boxier and taller than the car it replaced, its interior was at least as roomy and it still rode on a traditional ladder frame. In fact, many of the suspension designs dated back to the '65 Ford. The smaller size (and growing public concern amid continuing fuel crises) meant the '79 LTD could make do with a standard 302-cubic-inch (5.0-liter) V8 producing a rather lackluster 129 horsepower. The 351 was now the only optional engine and carried a mediocre 135-horsepower rating. The only transmission was a three-speed automatic. A two-door coupe, four-door sedan and wagon were the three body styles offered, and the most luxurious wagon was still the phony wood-sided Country Squire.
The '79 LTD was better than the car it replaced in every way except raw power. It didn't set the world on fire, but it made Ford competitive again in the full-size class.
A new four-speed automatic transmission was optional on all 1980 LTDs, including a new LTD "S" model at the bottom of the range, the regular LTD and the new LTD "Crown Victoria" at the top. P-metric radial tires and halogen headlamps were standard on everything but the "S."
In a desperate and misguided bid to improve the LTD's fuel mileage for 1981, the new standard power plant was a smaller 255-cubic-inch (4.2-liter) version of the 5.0-liter V8 backed by the four-speed automatic transmission. Making just 115 horsepower, this small V8 is remembered as one of the worst lumps of iron to ever make its way under the hood of a Ford. Fortunately, the barely adequate 302 and 351 V8s were still around as options, now backed exclusively by the four-speed automatic. The easiest way to tell a '81 from a '80 or '79 is that the sideview mirrors moved from being mounted on the A-pillars back to their traditional spots on the doors. Otherwise, the '81 LTD was an adventure in status quo engineering.
The cops could still get a 351 V8 on their 1982 LTDs, but civilians were restricted to either the aggressively substandard 255 V8 or the barely adequate 302. The Ford Blue Oval logo appeared on the grille to distinguish the '82 from the '81 model.
With the LTD name having been bolted on a version of the midsize Fairmont, the 1983 full-size Fords were all named "LTD Crown Victoria." The only engine available to civilians was a new fuel-injected version of the 302 V8 rated at 130 horsepower mercifully, the 255 V8 was gone. Police vehicles were still available with the 351. Visually, a new crosshatch grille added some distinction. The 1984 LTD Crown Victoria was essentially unchanged. And except for a new aluminum bumper on station wagons, the 1985 LTD was also pretty much unchanged.
Twisting the model lineup for 1986, the LTD Crown Victoria was now available as an "LX" model at the top of the range to create the indecently long and awkward name "LTD Crown Victoria LX." A new sequential fuel-injection system improved the performance of the 302 V8, which was now rated at 150 horsepower. Police vehicles could still be had with the 351. Air conditioning, tinted glass and a digital clock were made standard on the otherwise unchanged 1987 LTD Crown Victoria.
Two-door coupes vanished from the 1988 LTD Crown Victoria line. A slight restyling included a more aerodynamic, slightly rounded front end and new wraparound taillights. Whitewall tires were standard and so were intermittent windshield wipers. There was little reason to change anything for the 1989 LTD Crown Victoria, so Ford didn't. The only significant change for the 1990 model year was the inclusion of a driver-side airbag and a slightly revised instrument panel. With a new Crown Victoria coming, the 1991 model played out unchanged.
By the end of this model's long run, it was painfully obvious that what was once the mainstay of Ford's product line was now a marginal vehicle still needed by taxi and police fleet operators. It was popular enough to keep around, but it wasn't going to be a mainstream consumer vehicle any longer.
Current Crown Victoria (1992-2003)
While the 1992 Crown Victoria sedan (the LTD name was banished) rode on the same 114.4-inch wheelbase as the '91 model, its body was obviously different. Under the hood was a whole new power plant, and there was no station wagon version available.
Styled with a grilleless nose similar to the midsize Taurus and a gracefully arched roof similar to a Jaguar's, the '92 Crown Victoria rode on a slightly modified version of the chassis introduced under the '79 LTD. The lack of a front grille was off-putting to many buyers, but just about everyone was enthusiastic about the new overhead-cam, 4.6-liter V8 that powered the vehicle. Rated at 190 horsepower with a single exhaust or 210 horsepower with optional dual exhaust (as on police cars), the fuel-injected 4.6 was much smoother and more powerful than the overhead valve V8s it replaced. This wasn't a fire-breathing '66 427, but it was the most civilized V8 ever installed in a rear-drive Ford sedan.
Along with the new body, the '92 Crown Vic also featured four-wheel disc brakes (an electronic antilock system was optional), a driver-side airbag and a place in the dash for a passenger-side airbag. A "Touring Sedan" model basically offered the cop car suspension package under a luxurious cabin.
For 1993, a grille appeared where the Ford Blue Oval logo alone had once been, the Touring Sedan option vanished, and cupholders were built into the dash. Dual airbags became standard for 1994. A light updating came for the 1995 model year with a new grille, new bumpers, a revised trunk and modified dashboard. Both the 1996 and 1997 Crown Vics were basically unchanged.
The Crown Vic was dramatically restyled for 1998 by adopting the roof that was previously only used for the Mercury Grand Marquis. Powertrains were revised to make more power, and the rear suspension was tweaked to improve handling. There were only detail changes on the 1999 model. The easiest way to tell a 2000 model from a '99 is to be locked in the trunk, where one will find a glow-in-the-dark emergency release handle under the lid of the 2000 model. The engine was tweaked again during 2000 to increase torque output.
The 2001 Crown Vic was available with adjustable pedals and the engine was tweaked yet again to boost output all the way to 220 horsepower with single exhaust on the base and LX models and 235 horsepower with dual exhaust on the LX Sport and Police Interceptor.
A long-wheelbase Crown Victoria was announced for the 2002 model that featured a six-inch wheelbase stretch thanks to a new frame and extended body. The stretched Crown Vic was intended for the taxicab and livery market and not offered to the general public.
For 2003 the 95th model year since the introduction of the Model T the Crown Victoria received an all-new chassis under the familiar body shell. While the suspension remained the same in principle, it differed in many details and incorporated rack-and-pinion steering for the first time. Four-channel ABS was also standard this year and side airbags were available on both the LX and LX Sport.
But like the 1909 Model T, the 2003 Crown Vic still has a body bolted to a frame with a solid rear axle and a front-mounted engine. It's almost hard to tell them apart.