Barges: What’s the deal?

2006-2009 Crown Victoria Standard

Recently, Ford pulled the plug on the Panther chassis, which underpinned the Crown Victoria and its brothers.  This has been a long time in the making, and shamefully, now that it’s happened, a long-standing member of the automotive world is no longer with us.  Back when the cars were launched in 1979 (Yup, think of another car that’s been on the same platform for this long), they were no different than the popular cars of the time.  But, as gas prices have gone up and tastes in America have changed, their appeal has dwindled, to the point where your grandparents, plus the local police departments and livery companies, are the only folks who care.

This car could have been so much better (Mercury Marauder)

However, I’ve been a huge fan of them for years.  There are plenty of flaws that we could point out, so I’ll just fly through them.  They guzzle gasoline in stop-and-go driving, are usually larger than they need be and are therefore impossible to park, don’t accelerate that well compared to similar vehicles, and are a joke in the snow thanks to rear-wheel-drive and (usually) an open differential.  Plus, the suspension in them is normally tuned to “jelly”, and they therefore handle like the U.S.S. Constitution at the limit.  But, that’s exactly why I seem to like them.

Pontiac G8 GT

To love a certain type of car is to embrace its flaws with a nice bear hug.  And if I wasn’t doing that, I wouldn’t enjoy these cars.  These cars are not without their benefits.  They take a serious beating, for one.  Why else would departments stick with the Ford Crown Vic? Simply put, it’s cheap to fix, comfortable on a long shift, and bulletproof.  I’ve driven civilian cars with implausible amounts of mileage showing on the odometer, but for some reason, they refuse to die.  Plus, they’re awesome in an offbeat way—this is a car that America does better than everyone else.  It’s a big, roomy sedan that, while no fireball, offers relaxed, comfortable cruising at a reasonable price.  When the Crown Vic died this year, a piece of Americana died along with it, and if it wasn’t for the other two American automakers, I’d be organizing a funeral.

2011 Dodge Charger R/T

However, I don’t need to do that.  Chrysler saw the light in 2005, with the LX lineup, which recently got its first heavy update.  The new ones look great, and with the other updates on the schedule for 2012, I’ll be proud to say that this country has an icon reborn.  General Motors, despite killing the Pontiac G8 in 2009, is bringing back the magic with the new Caprice.  Although it’s only available for the boys in blue right now, a civilian version should be on its way (hopefully to replace the Impala and Lucerne, which smell like spoiled milk at this point) soon enough.  These two platforms are modern, fresh, and have all the right trappings of the Crown Victoria, but drive like actual cars, not yachts with tires.  They handle well, accelerate with authority (I’m not calling a Crown Victoria a dog, but it’s not fast at all), and return much better fuel mileage.  In addition, they don’t look like something Grandpa drives, which brings in the younger generations that would normally just gravitate towards something else (the Camry annoyingly comes to mind).

Keep in mind: when Ford announced the end of Panther production, sales of the Crown Vic and its siblings surged to points not seen in a very long time.  In addition, the LX cars have been making money for Chrysler since their launch in 2005.  Thanks to the modernization of the breed with the newer products hitting the market, this segment is surviving.

2012 Chrysler 300C SRT/8. Looks much smoother than the original.

If anything, land yachts might be on a comeback trail.  The sport/utility market has been declining for about a year or so now, due to gas prices, and Americans are going back to these cars for one reason or another, whether it be the space they offer, lower running costs, or maybe even the appeal of driving something does what that Tahoe on the lot will do, but without the stereotype of driving a gas hog.  Whatever the reason, I don’t see this market going away anytime soon.  It won’t be as big as it was back in the 1980s and 1990s, but in its smaller, more-specialized state, it might still make some money and perhaps keep the dream alive.  I’d sure like it to.

-Al

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