1989 Ford LTD Crown Victoria: Matlock Approved

1979 LTD Landau, spotted by your author in downtown Davenport.

Ford was not nearly as interested in downsizing their biggies as General Motors was in the late 1970s, but CAFE and the unbelievable success of the 1977 B-body GMs meant it had to be done sooner or later.

And so it was that the Panther replaced the Nimitz-class 1978 Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis. The Lincoln Continental and Mark V got a one-year reprieve and were finally downsized along with their Ford and Mercury brethren for model year ’80.

While similar overall to the big GMs, the Fords were just a little more rectangular, especially the wagons. But they sold, although perhaps not quite to the same phenomenal extent as the B-body Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldses and Buicks.

The cars themselves sold respectably. Keep in mind GM was still the 800-lb. gorilla back then, and had more dealers and more brands. And more clout! But when the second gas crisis struck in late 1979–only a year after the Ford and Mercury Panthers debuted–many in the automotive industry wondered if even the downsized full-sizers would play in Peoria.

During 1979-81, it was predicted that gasoline could triple or quadruple from the current rate, and for a while the Panthers were set to expire in about 1983. Pontiac had gone so far as to dump their B-body Bonneville and Catalina in 1981, putting the vaunted Bonneville nameplate on a LeMans with a nose job. If the dire fuel shortages had come to pass, the 1977-style GM B-bodies and FoMoCo Panther platform cars would have likely all been toast circa 1982-84.

The big LTD and Marquis very nearly had the same fate as the big Pontiacs, as the Fox-body LTD and Marquis were intended to replace the Panthers during 1983-84. But then a funny thing happened: The doom and gloom scenario did not appear, and indeed, gas started to drop. People started buying big cars again. Ford changed their plans, and the Panthers became the “Grand Marquis” and “LTD Crown Victoria.”

And thus the LTD hung in there. It had gotten a couple of new grilles and trim pieces between 1979 and 1987, but it was pretty minor, and folks who weren’t seriously into FoMoCo’s Broughamier offerings back then could have had a hard time telling which year was which.

Ford finally gave the big LTD CV a much-needed facelift in 1988. It brought just a little bit of the FoMoCo corporate “aero” look to the Panthers, with a much smoother nose and, on the sedans, the rear quarters and taillamp panel. Coupes were dropped. The LTD wagon and woody Country Squire got the new nose, but the ninety-degree-angle rear quarters carried over. Grand Marquises got the same treatment, but for some reason, I preferred the Fords.

I first saw our featured subject back in winter of 2013 while driving home, at about 10:00 at night. I vowed to return the next morning for pictures, but the next day it was gone. Dagnabit! Fortunately, it reappeared at the end of March. I was very attracted to the deep maroon paint, and the matching leather was an added bonus. I’ve always thought that the luxy big Detroit barges look best in burgundy, navy blue, jade green and black.

It was remarkably well-preserved, save for some wear to the leather on the driver’s seat and armrest. I imagine it was someone’s grandfather’s pride and joy, most likely bought new, until recently. It was very clean, and for sale too. I was tempted…but if I got it that bug deflector on the nose would have to go! Eventually I succumbed to Ford Motor Company Brougham addition, and bought a Town Car about six months after these photos were taken.

There was just something about them. I remember the first 1988 LTD Crown Victoria I saw. I was eight. We had hopped in our cream-yellow 1986 Volvo 240DL wagon and driven to the Wisconsin Dells on vacation, me, Mom, Dad, and my younger brother and sister. We stayed at a neat resort right on the lake. We went on the ducks, took the boat tour of the rock formations, and in general had a fine time.

We had our own cabin, there was an outdoor pool, and me and my younger brother and sister were in hog heaven. I still remember the goofy Dells jingle on the radio, as it played about four times a minute. It started; “Downtown Dells is the place to be…” and was very annoying, even to my second-grade ears. I still remember that dam jingle, thirty years later!

Anyway, one night I went with Mom to go to the main office to get some ice. It was early evening, probably twenty minutes or so to sunset, and there in the parking lot was a brand-new ’88 LTD Crown Victoria. In midnight blue, with the snazzy turbine alloy wheels. I was a Broughamaholic even back then, and was very attracted to that car. Of course, my Volvo-driving parents wouldn’t have touched one of those big boats with a ten-foot pole. Just not their kind of car. More like something my grandparents would enjoy, though they stuck more to Thunderbirds and Lincoln Marks.

image: imcdb.org

Anyway, I’ve always loved the 1988-91 LTD Crown Victoria. And if my cherished childhood memory has not convinced you, might I add it was also the preferred motivation of Andy Griffith, AKA Ben Matlock, TV attorney-at-law. Another classic TV show from the ’80s I remember well. Though I recall that in most episodes he drove the earlier, more squared off LTD Crown Victoria, the 86-87 model. But whether an earlier one or an aero-schnozzed 1988-91, I love ’em!

10 Replies to “1989 Ford LTD Crown Victoria: Matlock Approved”

  1. John C.

    I had not noticed before how on the aero restyle the bumpers went from that solid mass of chromed steel to the modern soft plastic with the ersatz chrome only on the ends. It creates an interruption in chrometastic force that otherwise encircles the car. Taking advantage of the end of five mile an hour bumpers to lessen the looks. The reverse of 1974.

  2. Tomko

    When these were launched we called them the new old Fords because their styling seemed to look back rather than forward. Of course this was a time before the term retro came into automotive vogue.

    But then again we were a decidedly B Body family. I had factory ordered a 1988 Caprice 9C1 and my father a 1989 Caprice Classic Brougham LS with leather. Two sides of the same coin.

    • JustPassinThru

      They were a compromise – a “Me-Too” halfhearted effort by Ford. David Halberstam detailed the inner strife at Ford, between those who wanted to go with a completely redesigned full-size line (which they later would, as the Taurus) and those who wanted to just shrink the land-barge LTD a little bit. Just a bit off here, a bit off there. IIRC, Hal Sperling – before he got fired in one of Iacocca’s political moves – argued for the redesigned FWD design; but Hank the Deuce and Controller Ed Lundy – who were buds – wanted to just do as little as possible. A big meeting of department heads was planned, but as was the style of that time, it was kabuki theatre. The half-baked shrink, code Panther, won the day.

      It took a long time to catch on, as the immediate appetite for smaller full-size cars was whetted by the B-Body Chevrolet; and it was found to be a quality product. Ford was two years late; their handling was under-engineered. The permanent market for those cars seemed to be retired men. Remember, it was many years before it became the fallback police cruiser – the B Body had THAT, too.

      It was against all odds, and against initial sales figures, that the Panther had such a long run. Probably because Ford was in turmoil and financially against the ropes in the early 1980s. Just as AMC had kept the Hornet body long after it was obsolete…Ford had no choice, prior to the Taurus, but to keep the Panther chassis.

      Round about then, police purchases started rolling in. Continuous improvements over the years, helped as well.

      • John C.

        Not sure half hearted is really fair. Given the sales totals of the time, the 78 LTD could have been continued with a little more weight pairing. Mileage with the 302 would have been about the same as the Panther. A 1981 front drive Granada with the chromed up Ford Germany styling they were into wouldn’t have made a hero of Hal Sperlich.

        • JustPassinThru

          Well, there were trends, first. The GM B Body cars were setting sales records. Ford wasn’t in on that, but they couldn’t ignore it.

          Second, CAFE was coming in 1980. You say, perhaps correctly, that the 302 would have given similar mileage. Well…maybe. But a cut in performance.

          And even the micro-shrinking the Panther represented, saved, IIRC, a thousand pounds.

          Third, even the dense department-heads at Ford, and the dunderhead whose name was on the cars, knew that more shrinkage would be needed. This was to get the customers used to it, in stages.

          Had it gone according to plan, the Taurus would have been the LTD III. Of course, by the time rollout was to happen, the price of gas had fallen like a rock. Also, the buff-books were full of the revolutionary new aspects of the FWD car. Someone, wisely, decided to take advantage of this buzz, break with the Broughamtastic past, and call it Taurus. A rare correct call.

          In the end it all worked out for Ford, so all’s well that ends well…what should have been an interim car, like the Fox platform, became, instead, a 30-year perennial.

          • John C.

            It would have been interesting to see if Ford or Chrysler had kept 78 style full size offerings around till the full size rebound of 82-85 if they had benefited even more than panther or b body sales. Think of the mine’s bigger ads. Part of the rebound was a worry about the long term durability of fwd. GM A bodies eventually excelled at that but still faced the resistance. Taurus even with many more years development still had weak transmissions, an earlier version with such troubles would have met much resistance in the 82-85 period.

          • JustPassinThru

            Well, Chrysler had the St. Regis/Newport reskinned full-sizers; and they didn’t sell enough to make breakeven. This while Chrysler was on welfare.

            The Ford full-sizers. I don’t know if you are old enough to remember them – I was. Those things were garbage barges. They should have called the Ford and Mercury varieties the Leviathan and the Ludicrous.

            In a sane market, even with 57-cent gasoline, those would not have survived, and shouldn’t have.

  3. Dan-O

    My dad owned a triple-maroon ’87 Grand Marquis when I was in high school. Interior was velour and very comfortable. The whole car was cool and rode really well, actually feeling relatively light on its feet for a big car. The transmission and rear end gearing for optimal mileage resulted in some pretty hilarious shift points, but the 5.0L spun well enough. I did like the 1988 exterior update a lot. That and a few other big cars that my dad owned (and my brothers owned later) lit the fire of land yacht ownership that burns to this day. I still like Panthers quite a bit, and the pound+dependability per dollar ratio remains tops among used cars, in my opinion. Big cars with V8s rule.

    I’ve been on a big land yacht kick lately–your pieces on these are fantastic and definitely do not douse the flames!–in part because ’69-73 Imperials (and other fuselage-era ChryCo cars) are my favorite and I can’t help occasionally looking up ones for sale. Additionally, guy in a neighboring apartment has a turquois/white vinyl top ’67 Sedan Deville with tall white walls and parks it in the lot facing the sidewalk that, as it’s on a hill, has the walker coming up from below and being greeted by a strong and proud pair of stacked headlamps and wide chrome grill. So now I’m looking at those, oh dear. As well as perhaps the last of the non-American land yachts: the 2001-2005 Lexus LS430, with 04/05 being the best as the headlight redesign made it much better looking. Fast, loud, hilariously fun, older 6-speed Z28 (current car) or quick, blessedly silent, fun-in-a-helm-the-ship-sorta-way mileage muncher for the long road trips to see family. This is my current moral dilemma…. 🙂


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