The 1991 Lincoln Town Car Cartier was travel on a grander scale
The full-size American luxury sedan, often imitated, occasionally envied in secret by the drivers of austere and troublesome German sedans, but never quite duplicated. There was once a time when owning one of the longest, most opulent sedans from Detroit was a sign of ultimate success. Today’s vehicular status symbols of choice usually hail from Europe, and/or are attached to an SUV. Let’s not think about that, but instead turn the clock back almost three decades, to the optimistic early 1990s. A time where the future was just in sight, but deeply ingrained traditions were still alive and well.
Lincoln’s Town Car started out as a trim level on the Continental a couple of decades before, but by the early 1980s, it had become its own model. These were dark days in Dearborn. Ford was late with the Panther platform, trailing the GM B-body by two agonizing years, and they couldn’t come up with the budget for a new generation of FWD full-sizers to compete with the General’s 1984 clean-sheet designs. In a world where fuel prices kept rising, that would have been all she wrote—but they didn’t, meaning that the 1985 de Ville looked a bit… modest in comparison with the seven-year-old Lincoln.
As a consequence, the old car sold so well that Ford Motor Company was using the Town Car as a veritable license to print money! A light refresh tidied up the bumpers and knocked the edges off the front and back, but by the late 1980s, the venerable Townie was more than a bit long in the tooth, and looked quite out of place in the showroom next to the sleek, aerodynamic lines that graced the Continental and Mark VII. The problem was that Ford was yet again short on money for new platforms, so there was no chance of a completely fresh successor. This would be a budget-oriented refresh, at most.
The styling had to be all new, yet cast a familiar shadow, as Town Car buyers were fiercely loyal, and liked things the way they were. While the new car would utilize the same Panther chassis the previous model did, ride and handling would be vastly improved. And there were a few big-ticket items hidden in the project, most notably the “aircraft-style” doors that wrapped over the roofline and sealed on the inside. Another place where real money was being spent: the new overhead-cam modular V-8, so named because it could also support DOHC V-8 and SOHC V-10 variants on the same tooling. Alas, it wasn’t ready for launch, so the old 5.0-liter V-8 would power the 1990 Town Car.
Compared to the 1989 model, the new largest Lincoln was a revelation in driving refinement. It was so impressive, and Ford was so persuasive with its marketing spend, that Motor Trend named the Town Car its 1990 Car of the Year.
Today’s example is a second-year 1991 Town Car Cartier. The Cartier was the top-of-the-line model, with the Executive as the entry-level and Signature Series as the volume player in between.
While sleek and modern, the 1991 Town Car Cartier featured extremely soft and inviting seating, which could be upholstered in an extremely supple leather. Plush carpeting, premium JBL stereo with cassette player and subwoofer, automatic climate control, two-position memory setting for the driver seat, digital instrumentation, and courtesy lamps galore made for a pleasant place to spend time. The expansive glass offered visibility of which modern cars can only dream. The suspension did a great job of hiding road imperfections, while the Lincoln star hood ornament bobbed up and down with authority.
The two-tone paint scheme, in this case Titanium Pearlescent over Medium Titanium, is unique to the Cartier.
Under the hood rests the new-for-1991 4.6-liter modular V-8, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Despite packing a respectable (for the time) 190 horsepower, acceleration is a bit on the leisurely side, due mainly to the hefty curb weight. However, once underway, the Town Car has no problem keeping up with traffic on modern highways, and does so with the quiet, confident dignity one would expect of a Lincoln.
This beautiful car has served on a few occasions as the official car for the Brougham Society, as your humble author has driven it in the Woodward Dream Cruise, and displayed it with the Michigan chapter of the Lincoln and Continental Owners Club.
In many ways, these early-’90s Town Cars represent the apex of the model. Ford took money out of the product as the years went on, reducing the quality of leather and plastic found inside. The “whale” Town Car that followed shared the same basic platform but wrapped it in a Jaguar-esque body, abandoning virtually all of the conventional Lincoln styling cues. Adding injury to insult, the model was moved from Wixom to Ford’s Canadian plant in its final years, finishing up in a single specification delivered mostly to livery buyers. The name was then applied to a taxicab variant of the MKT before being retired altogether.
Which is all the more reason to cherish the “aero” Town Cars which have survived to the present day. It’s hard to believe that this magnificent motorcar is close to being 30 years old, as it still commands a certain respect, and announces, “I have arrived.”