In 1983, Ford was nervously rolling out its aerodynamic jellybean shapes with the Thunderbird/Cougar and then the Tempo/Topaz.
While it was taking those bold styling steps, the traditional full-sized Panther platform kept the bills paid, and this Mercury Grand Marquis LS was an optioned-up example of the breed.
I found it on Craigslist for $700. It was down in San Jose, about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. My automotive wingman was out of town, and so with no driver, it was time to stitch together the myriad of trains and buses that would get me close enough to walk to it.
Three hours later, I finally clapped my eyes on the Grand Marquis, and it was better than the photos indicated. Straight body panels in original paint, and not one speck of rust. This why I have a standing recommendation that all car enthusiasts should consider moving to California, at least for a few years, to sample the bounty of a mild climate that is exceedingly kind to its cars.
Of course, that means that California cars degrade from the inside out, and it took some time after moving here from the East Coast to equate a pristine-looking body with mechanicals that were absolutely shot.
This Grand Marquis was decent, though. It hadn’t been smogged, which meant I couldn’t register it if it didn’t pass, but a whiff from the exhaust didn’t indicate much trouble. The suspension gave billowy ride motions, but hey, as the instrument panel noted, the Marquis was “Ride-Engineered”, so it could survive with worn shocks, right?
The wire hubcaps were from a late-sixties Olds Cutlass, and they fit the Grand Marquis well. Not that it needed them, as the Grand Marquis had lots of shiny trim, along with the regulation vinyl half-roof that helped define American luxury back then.
I noted an oil leak that was halfway between seeping and dripping and offered $350. We met at $425, and I crossed my fingers and pointed it toward 101.
No problem making it back to the city, and once I got it parked, I reveled in its features and options, like the pivoting front windows…
…Autolamp headlights, Mercury’s version of Cadillac’s Twilight Sentinel…
…and cornering lights.
Adjusted for inflation, this Grand Marquis had a base price of about $27K. In today’s dollars, on top of that you’d pay $998 for the leather seating, $624 for the Tripminder computer (it’s between the two center vents, and it was DOA in this car) and $140 for the leather-wrapped wheel.
The LS added pull straps and the fake-wood door trim, which looks more credible than the wallpaper-like stuff on the dash.
The old reliable 302-cubic-inch V8 was the only engine available, and it was in its first year of standard fuel injection.
The exhaust trumpets gave this Grand Marquis a low rumble. It also had air shocks, likely to complement the tow hook.
I loved the green instrument lighting.
It passed smog, but, the tester said, “you gotta look at that oil leak. We spent half an hour mopping up after the test.”
I told my mechanic that he may have an oil pan gasket job in his future, and I kept it topped off and drove the Grand Marquis maybe five hundred miles until my time-for-the-next-car alarm went off, which happens promptly when I’m forced to find parking for a full-sized sedan on the streets of SF.
Didn’t help that the brakes failed. Even with a new master cylinder and booster, the brakes quickly burned up on SF’s hills.
I showed the oil leak to the only person who came to see it. He loved the rumbling exhaust and was impressed that it had passed smog. I held to my asking price of $1K, and we both smiled and shook on it.
A month later, I found the Grand Marquis back on Craigslist – with my own photos, except for the one that showed the front end smashed in. The buyer was still in my phone, so I dialed him up – what happened?
“Aw man, I rear-ended somebody,” he said. “Didn’t really matter though, the engine was done because I ran it out of oil. Wanna buy it back?”
Of course I declined, and as we chatted, he noted that there was another guy who was very interested in buying and fixing it. Here’s hoping there was a happy ending for this Grand Marquis after all.