Home » The Ford Crown Victoria Is Not The Car The Internet Wants It To Be

The Ford Crown Victoria Is Not The Car The Internet Wants It To Be

Crown Vic Project Ts
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Way back in secondary school, I felt it right for a change of vehicle. Fuel prices were going back up and truck thefts were widespread, so I sold my modified GMC C1500 for something that wouldn’t tip over as soon as it saw a corner. I rang up someone who put up an online classified ad, shelled out $550, and went home in a Toreador Red 1996 Ford Crown Victoria. Alright, so it’s not the usual suspect, but $550 Canadian was the bottom of the market, and it seemed like a reasonable bet for something rear-wheel-drive.

Eventually becoming a hodgepodge of various suspension parts and Home Depot cosmetic bits, it was a great way to learn car control in slow motion. With acres of wheelbase and plenty of lock, rotation was slow and I had all the time in the world to correct the odd slide. As far as learning the fundamentals of vehicle dynamics go, it’s not the worst tool for the job.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Plus, it looked pretty cool for a time period when galaxy print was still in. The car scene was a whole lot different back then, and a nasty, low, red sedan with a V8 burbling out of a side-exit exhaust was a distinctive way of getting around. Sure, my parents weren’t the biggest fan of it, but rebellion is just what you do as a teenager. If I was writing a CarDomain profile, I’d probably include something about the Kenwood deck, the mini-spool, and the rather aggressive alignment, but those are relatively minor details. They’re also probably evidence that I used to be cool, before I realized the joy of the 80 percent use case and cars that just, you know, work.

Crown Victoria

However, owning a Crown Victoria for an extended period of time, along with being surrounded by other examples of the model, gave me a cold dose of reality. The Ford Crown Victoria isn’t the car the internet thinks it is, but that’s okay.

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The first myth is that the Ford Crown Victoria is an anvil, a slow, unyielding, everlasting unstoppable force. It’s certainly slow and unyielding, but it’s most definitely stoppable. What ultimately ended the life of my Crown Victoria was transmission failure around the 173,000 mile mark. Even though the 4R70W was eventually superseded by the more robust 4R75W, the Vic’s 3-speed auto with overdrive can still have issues. My childhood best friend got tired of them acting up and replaced the slushbox wholesale with a TR-3650 five-speed manual from a New Edge Mustang GT. Looking around the forums, he and I are certainly not the only ones to complain of transmission slip.

Crown Victoria Rant Resize

Another issue pertaining to pre-2001 4.6-liter cars is the plastic intake manifolds, which had a high defect rate. The manifold would crack, resulting in at least some of the coolant entering the Earth’s water cycle, accompanied by a temperature gauge pegged in the red. Obviously, this is a trip-ending failure, and although I never encountered it during my ownership period, others have.

Crown Victoria 2005 Intake Manifold Leak

Mind you, this doesn’t seem like an issue that was totally solved throughout the years. Some owners report needing to replace the intake manifolds on their 2001 and newer cars due to coolant leaks, and when it comes to a part like this OEM is really the way to go.

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In addition, Crown Vics are now old cars, and they have old-car problems. Axle seals leak, oil pan gaskets leak, alternators and starter motors go bad, and you might have a fluke failure like a freeze plug blowing out at highway speeds (true story). If you want a car that never quits, buy a Camry or a Civic or something of that sort, not an ancient body-on-frame Ford.

Crown Victoria Window Regulators

Oh, and that’s before we even get into general annoyances. For a start, some of the body electrics are well, not great. I lost track of how many window motors and regulators I went through, but the most annoying one was when the driver’s power window packed up on a hot summer’s day, I couldn’t roll it down, and I didn’t have working air-con. I must’ve lost a pound of water just driving from my job to my parents’ place, not a fun issue by any means. Across all model years, manual HVAC controls are vacuum-operated and have a habit of packing up. Bad brake light switches are relatively common, and models before 1999 had issues with the cruise control switches, um, catching fire. So yeah, not exactly a rolling anvil.

Ford Crown Victoria 1

The second myth that I’ve heard far too often is that the Crown Victoria is just a big-boned Mustang. Sure, both the Crown Victoria and the later SN95 Mustang GTs may have used two-valve 4.6-liter V8s, but that’s about where the similarities stop. Due to riding on completely different platforms, the suspension parts, steering rack, and even the differential assemblies are different. To put a five-speed manual in a Crown Vic, you’ll need an aftermarket pedal box, a notch cut in the crossmember, some mounts, and possibly the non-Police Interceptor driveshaft depending on whether or not your car was once equipped with blues and twos.

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Now, you can make these cars fast. Thanks to a huge engine bay, you can swap a 5.4-liter Ford modular V8, a Coyote, an LS, pretty much anything you can think of into these cars. However, you could also swap any of those engines into a lighter, smaller Mustang with better aftermarket support and more performance potential. If you’re shooting for hero numbers, the Crown Victoria probably isn’t the car to build.

Ford Crown Victoria

So if it’s not indestructible or easy to hop up, what is a Ford Crown Victoria besides a chariot of retirees? Well, it’s the ultimate fuck-around car, an endearing all-American rear-wheel-drive shitheap that deals okay with general abuse, provided you aren’t expecting Japanese reliability. Smack the frame rails on something? It won’t care. This full-frame sedan will shrug off curbs, or in my case, the crown of the road, just fine. No matter how nicely or poorly you treat it, the same stuff will eventually break, and it’s much more fun to use this car in an anti-social manner than to cruise the bingo hall parking lot at five mph.

Between police use and, um, vigorous enjoyment of hand-me-down examples, nice Crown Victorias are fairly thin on the ground these days. While some might mourn these cars being hooned and/or neglected to death, I reckon many of them went out in a relatively colorful manner. Mine’s probably a Maytag by now, but that’s not a bad thing. It did its job, created some memories that probably can’t be mentioned in any good publication, and exited this world serving a role of awesomeness rather than mere transportation. Most cars aren’t born special, but they become special because of what you put into it. The appeal of the Crown Victoria isn’t that it’s indestructible or a sleeper, it’s that it lets you put one hell of a lot into it.

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James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago

My generations, BOP, Mercury, Ford coupe or sedan. Ours had everything from straight sixes through 455 and 460’s with slush boxes or three on the tree. They were less complex back in the day, but were the beaters we could all afford in the 70’s. You could pile six or more friends in and go to parties, skiing, camping or just cruising.

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago
Reply to  James Carson

Left out the dodge, plymouth, chrysler and amc cohort as well as the smaller vw, japanese and euro contingent.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago

There are power window motor/regular rebuild parts available. They are literally plastic cylinders. I did many of them over the course of 4 years working at an auto interior shop. The labor is taking the door panel off and removing the motor. Parts were less then $10 last I knew.

Brendon Gallant
Brendon Gallant
1 month ago

At Bondurant they had these with the SVT bumper covers, Eibach suspension, 5 speed, fixed back seats and a drivers window net. I’d love to have one of those, absolutely bananas to drive.

Shinynugget
Shinynugget
1 month ago

I never understood the passion some had for these cars. I’ve driven a few before they were verging on antiques. I found them to be underbraked, wallowing land barges, with a poor turning radius and overboosted power steering coupled with no feeback.

Bracq P
Bracq P
1 month ago

ABS control module and AC control here.

Mike B
Mike B
1 month ago

I had that trans in a 94 4.6L Cougar. It was failing by 100k, between 40-50mph under load the torque converter would shudder like mad. Other than that, it was a great car. Super comfy and handled surprisingly well for a boat, and the 4.6 was smooth and quiet, if not underpowered.

RustBucket67
RustBucket67
1 month ago

they are excellent hoon-mobiles! We drove a ’94 through the Detroit Gambler 500 and then jumped it at Silverlake Sand Dunes until it wouldn’t drive any longer!

Jatkat
Jatkat
1 month ago

I’ve had the generic excellent experience with my panther car. It’s a 97 Grand Marquis (last year of that body style) and a completely fancied up version at that. It has been by FAR the cheapest and most reliable car I’ve ever owned. Only things I’ve done were rear air spring replacement when I first got the car (original bags at 110,000 miles), which are extremely easy to replace. Thats it! I’ve owned it for 8 years, and put another 40,000 miles on it. I think it helps when these cars are well maintained and cared for. I don’t plan on getting rid of it. If something catastrophic ever happened to it, I’d find either another grand marquis in the same spec, a same year/gen Town Car, OR a big fat buick with a supercharged 3800.

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
1 month ago

Full frame, semi modern, v8 powered. These are great as chassis swap donors, even if you don’t like anything else about them.

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
1 month ago

I used to drive a police interceptor version for work. It was far more comfortable than the follow-up Charger we got. Did the regular version have electric adjustable pedals? As a long-legged Larry I loved that feature and I’ve seen in on no other car.

Holly Birge
Holly Birge
1 month ago
Reply to  Scone Muncher

Friend of mine is a cop in Ottawa and she loved the Crown Vics specifically for the reason you cite — super comfortable when you are wearing a full uniform. When it came time to replace them, they got a choice between the Explorers and the Chargers. No one liked the Chargers so they got the Explorers instead.

Beater_civic
Beater_civic
1 month ago

There is a lot to be said for a platform that makes repairs straightforward and bearable versus one where repairs are infrequent but hard. Roomy and simple goes a long, long way. Especially for fleet users, predictable downtime/time to repair is vital.

These cars just have so much presence and subdued style. A relic from when the ruling classes were more secure in their place and didn’t need shouty headlight shapes to say it.

Also is that Etobicoke in those pictures??

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
1 month ago

All I want from a Crown Vic:
1) Do a season of autocross with half a dozen of my buddies all crammed in the car at the same time, our helmets bouncing off each others as we whip around the turns.

2) Sacrifice its frame, suspension, and rear-end for a ’76 F150 body swap. I have the drivetrain sourced already.

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