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A Beloved Car Of Cops And Cabbies Meets Its End

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:24 am

After more than 30 years, production of the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car has ended. The large, gas guzzling, rear-wheel drive behemoths have been the favorites of limo drivers, taxi drivers and police officers for more than a generation.

The end of the Town Car and the Crown Vic, as it's affectionately known, comes as Ford tries to become a hipper and more fuel-efficient company.

So what has made the Crown Victoria and the Lincoln so popular? Star Auto Repair on Chicago's North Side is a good place to answer that question. The shop is open and busy from 9 to 5 — that is, 9 a.m. to 5 a.m., 20 hours a day.

Imram Chaudhry, a manager at the shop, runs the family business with his father. They mainly fix Crown Victorias and Town Cars, which are essentially the same underneath. The usually black Town Car is the limo; the Crown Victoria is the police car and cab. There's almost always a line at Star Auto Repair, because they fix around 200 hundred cars a week.

Chaudhry says he has all the parts in stock for the Crown Vics — but that's not true for the other cabs they service.

"From all the new cars like the Camrys and the Scions, we don't have any items in stock," Chaudhry says. "We have some brake pads in stock, and oil changes and filters; that's it."

A 'Mystical' Connection To A Durable Car

Chaudhry says after fixing the same car for so long, mechanics get to a level of expertise that's almost mystical. And the people who drive the car feel the same way.

"This is [a] good car for taxi. It's not [good for] fuel, but it's very nice for other things," says Abdu Salam, who drives a taxi in Chicago. His car is a Grand Marquis, a sister vehicle to the Crown Victoria, and it has 160,000 miles on it.

"I don't want to drive another car," Salam says, "because ... it's very strong. Even if you get [in an] accident, you are safe every time. [It has a] very, very strong body, and long too. Very heavy."

What makes the Crown Vic and the Lincoln Town Car stand out is the way they are built. It's called body on frame — the body is separate from the rigid frame it's mounted on, and the body is not integral to the structure.

Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst with IHS, says that old technology makes the Crown Victoria attractive to cops and cabbies alike, because if you dent the fender, for example, you can take the fender off, repair it and put it back.

"Or [you can] make repairs just to that panel," Bragman explains. "Whereas in a unibody car, if you're hit, sometimes you have to repair more than just the fender. A lot of people have [gone] to the collision shop and [found] out there's damage behind the damage that has to be repaired. That's different than a vehicle like a Crown Victoria."

Opening In The Fleet Vehicle Market

Ford has stopped production on the Crown Victoria mainly because it gets about 16 miles a gallon in the city. New federal rules will require the average fuel economy of the carmakers to be more than three times that.

So Ford is replacing the Crown Vic with two separate cars: the new Transit Connect and a police version of the Taurus. The switch leaves an opening in the market for other carmakers.

"Right now, you've got Chrysler and General Motors looking at the rear-wheel drive police car market, and going, you know what? We could take a piece of that now," Bragman says. "It used to be almost exclusively Ford's, but now it's pretty much up for grabs."

Meanwhile, cabbie Abdu Salam says he's going to buy a Crown Victoria. Apparently he's not the only one: Sales of Crown Vics went up 140 percent in August as police departments and cab companies stocked up.

They don't make them anymore, but you'll be able to pick them out on the road for a long time.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: Now, an obituary not for a person, but for a group of cars. After more than 30 years, production has ended for the Ford Crown Victoria and the Lincoln Town Car. The gas-guzzling, rear wheel drive behemoths have long been the favorites of limo drivers, taxi drivers and police officers. Now, Ford is trying to become a hipper and more fuel-efficient company.

NPR's Sonari Glinton has this remembrance of the Town Car and the Crown Vic.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

SONARI GLINTON: So what's made the Crown Victoria and the Lincoln Town Car so popular?

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

GLINTON: To answer that question, I went to Star Auto Repair on Chicago's North Side. It's open and busy 9-to-5. That's 9 A.M. till 5 A.M., 20 hours a day.

IMRAM CHAUDRY: I'm a manager here at Star Auto Repairs, and we fix mostly cabs, which are Crown Victorias from 1992 to 2011; since 2011 will be the last model that's coming out from the Ford.

GLINTON: Imram Chaudry runs his family business with his father. They mainly fix Crown Victorias and Lincoln Town Cars, which are essentially the same car underneath. The usually black Lincoln Town is the limo. The Crown Victoria is the police car and the cab. There's almost always a line at Star Auto Repair - they fix about 200 hundred cars a week. When I was there, there were three being worked on and three in line.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

CHAUDRY: Ford Crown Victorias, we have all parts in stock.

GLINTON: Is that true for all the other cabs that you might service here?

CHAUDRY: No. From all the new cars, like the Camrys and the Scions, we don't have any items in stock. Only for - we have some brake pads in stock, and oil changes and filters and stuff, that's it.

GLINTON: Chaudry says after fixing the same car for so long, mechanics get to a level of expertise that's almost mystical. And the people who drive the car sort of feel the same way.

ABDU SALAM: This is good car for taxi. It's not good in fuel, but it's very nice for other things.

GLINTON: Abdu Salam drives a taxi in Chicago. His car is a Grand Marquis, a sister vehicle to the Crown Victoria. It has 160,000 miles on it.

SALAM: I don't want to drive another car.

GLINTON: Why not?

SALAM: Because, you know, it's very strong. Even if you get accident, you are safe every time - very, very strong body and long too, you know, very heavy.

GLINTON: What makes the Town Car and the Crown Vic so different is the way they're built. It's called body on frame. That's where you mount a separate body to a rigid frame. The body, the metal on the outside, is not integral to the structure.

Aaron Bragman is an analyst with IHS Automotive. He says the old technology makes the Crown Victoria attractive to cops and cabbies alike, because if you dent a fender...

AARON BRAGMAN: You could pull the fender off, repair the fender, put it back, or pull it out or make repairs just to that panel. Whereas in a uni-body car, if you're hit, sometimes you have to repair more than just the fender. A lot of people have known that going to the collision shop and finding out there's damage behind the damage that has to be repaired. That's different than a vehicle like a Crown Victoria.

GLINTON: Ford has stopped production on the Crown Victoria mainly because it gets 16 miles a gallon. New federal rules will require the average fuel economy of the car makers to be more than three times that. So, Ford is replacing the Crown Vic with two separate cars: the new Ford Transit Connect and a police version of the Taurus.

And Bragman says...

BRAGMAN: Right now, you got Chrysler and General Motors are looking at the rear-wheel drive police car market and going, you know what, we could take a piece of that now. It used to be almost exclusively Ford's, but now it's pretty much up for grabs.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Abdu Salam, the cabbie we heard earlier, says he's going to go out and buy a new Crown Victoria. Apparently he's not only one. Sales of Crown Victorias went up 140 percent in August, as police departments and cab companies stocked up.

They don't make them anymore, but you'll be able to pick them out on the road for a long time.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.