A Beloved Car Of Cops And Cabbies Meets Its End | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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A Beloved Car Of Cops And Cabbies Meets Its End

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After more than 30 years, production of the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car has ended. The large, gas guzzling, rear-wheel drive behemoths have been the favorites of limo drivers, taxi drivers and police officers for more than a generation.

The end of the Town Car and the Crown Vic, as it's affectionately known, comes as Ford tries to become a hipper and more fuel-efficient company.

So what has made the Crown Victoria and the Lincoln so popular? Star Auto Repair on Chicago's North Side is a good place to answer that question. The shop is open and busy from 9 to 5 — that is, 9 a.m. to 5 a.m., 20 hours a day.

Imram Chaudhry, a manager at the shop, runs the family business with his father. They mainly fix Crown Victorias and Town Cars, which are essentially the same underneath. The usually black Town Car is the limo; the Crown Victoria is the police car and cab. There's almost always a line at Star Auto Repair, because they fix around 200 hundred cars a week.

Chaudhry says he has all the parts in stock for the Crown Vics — but that's not true for the other cabs they service.

"From all the new cars like the Camrys and the Scions, we don't have any items in stock," Chaudhry says. "We have some brake pads in stock, and oil changes and filters; that's it."

A 'Mystical' Connection To A Durable Car

Chaudhry 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 feel the same way.

"This is [a] good car for taxi. It's not [good for] fuel, but it's very nice for other things," says Abdu Salam, who drives a taxi in Chicago. His car is a Grand Marquis, a sister vehicle to the Crown Victoria, and it has 160,000 miles on it.

"I don't want to drive another car," Salam says, "because ... it's very strong. Even if you get [in an] accident, you are safe every time. [It has a] very, very strong body, and long too. Very heavy."

What makes the Crown Vic and the Lincoln Town Car stand out is the way they are built. It's called body on frame — the body is separate from the rigid frame it's mounted on, and the body is not integral to the structure.

Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst with IHS, says that old technology makes the Crown Victoria attractive to cops and cabbies alike, because if you dent the fender, for example, you can take the fender off, repair it and put it back.

"Or [you can] make repairs just to that panel," Bragman explains. "Whereas in a unibody car, if you're hit, sometimes you have to repair more than just the fender. A lot of people have [gone] to the collision shop and [found] out there's damage behind the damage that has to be repaired. That's different than a vehicle like a Crown Victoria."

Opening In The Fleet Vehicle Market

Ford has stopped production on the Crown Victoria mainly because it gets about 16 miles a gallon in the city. New federal rules will require the average fuel economy of the carmakers to be more than three times that.

So Ford is replacing the Crown Vic with two separate cars: the new Transit Connect and a police version of the Taurus. The switch leaves an opening in the market for other carmakers.

"Right now, you've got Chrysler and General Motors looking at the rear-wheel drive police car market, and going, you know what? We could take a piece of that now," Bragman says. "It used to be almost exclusively Ford's, but now it's pretty much up for grabs."

Meanwhile, cabbie Abdu Salam says he's going to buy a Crown Victoria. Apparently he's not the only one: Sales of Crown Vics 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.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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