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