Ford's bid for the big-car buyer. It's a `mansion' of a car right out of the old days -- but plenty of today's consumers want one

The top-of-the-line Ford Crown Victoria is what big cars used to be -- that is, before ``big'' became a bad word in the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo in 1973-74 and everyone rushed to reduce car weight to save fuel. Today it's a ``house on wheels'' -- big, cushy, quiet, and safe.

As Ford Motor Company's truly full-size family car, not a scaled-down full-size car in today's mode, the anachronistic Crown Victoria is in consistent demand, and its manufacturer has no intention of dropping it, at least until the end of the '80s or beyond.

The Crown is big enough for five people, or even six, without a squeeze (obviously depending on the size of the riders). One reason a lot of car buyers prefer the larger girth and weight of the car to the scaled-down vehicles now on the road: They feel safer with all that steel around them.

Yet they pay a price. With its standard suspension -- gas-filled shocks, sensors, and automatic load leveling, the Crown Victoria is not a ``driver's car.''

The much smaller regular LTD, as well as its highway competitors, offer the driver the control that the Crown Victoria lacks.

Nor is this a European road sedan by any measure. The front end dips in braking and the body leans in a turn. Blame the standard soft suspension again. A tighter suspension is an option.

But the rear-drive Crown Victoria and others like it -- the Mercury Grand Marquis and Chrysler Fifth Avenue, for example -- provide the old-time feel and superluxury of the cars of long ago, in modern dress. And the mechanical features are right up to snuff.

The engine is a fuel-injected, 5-liter V-8 that provides a sharp pickup. But once again, you pay a price. While the Environmental Protection Agency lists the Crown Victoria at 16 m.p.g. in the city and 23 on the highway, actual overall mileage will probably be closer to the city figure than the 23.

Curb weight is 3,800 pounds, compared with around 3,000 for the slimmed-down LTD, the latter an outgrowth of the old Ford Granada, a name that disappeared a few years ago.

``Everything replaces something,'' Edsel Ford II said at the time, adding: ``We really prefer to say that the Granada nameplate has gone away and we've added a new model to our lineup.''

Even so, the old LTD still rolls along, a mansion on wheels for those who want it. And the end is still far down the road. Ford may make more changes in the car before scuttling it in the early 1990s.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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