Last year, an Oklahoma writer named John Hiner wrote a book called The Car I Couldn't Wear Out. That car: A 2003 Ford Crown Victoria had, at the time, 465,015 miles. He replaced a wheel bearing at 110,000 miles, but never even changed the spark plugs.
I don't know if Hiner needs a new Crown Victoria, but if he does, he'd best act now. Some Ford dealers have a handful of 2007 Crown Victorias left, and others are already sold out. There will be no more.
Not for us civilians, at least: Ford will still market a basic Crown Victoria to police and taxicab fleets. And Mercury will continue to sell the Crown Vic's cousin, the Grand Marquis, for another year or so. But with the end of this model year, there will be no more retail Crown Vics. Ford is so anxious to distance itself from the Crown Victoria's decades of service that the company has already broomed the car from its official consumer Web site.
All this makes me a little sad. The Crown Victoria is a legitimate dinosaur, a soon-to-be-missing link connected to the way they used to build cars: V-8 engine up front, driving the wheels in the back, big four-door body bolted to a separate frame.
Essentially unchanged since its last major redesign -- in 1992! -- the 2007 Crown Victoria is, nonetheless, updated with some moderately recent technology. The LX test car had traction control, power adjustable pedals and side airbags, all options. The price: $30,860. But suffice to say you could do a whole lot better than that.
Under the hood is the 4.6-liter, 224-horsepower V-8. Feel free to go looking for one of those high-powered Crown Victoria Police Interceptor models, but they only have 239 horsepower, 11 fewer than a Kia minivan.
But the good news is that when your V-8 is pumping out only 224 horses, it's so understressed that these engines tend to run for, well, a long time. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts grudgingly -- this whole car feels as if it's ready for a siesta. The energy it's conserving translates into mediocre fuel mileage, an EPA-rated 17 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway, and regular is fine, thanks. This engine would probably run on lighter fluid. It does, in fact, run on E85 ethanol.
The Crown Victoria LX's suspension is built for comfort. Drive too fast into a corner and you get substantial body roll, punctuated with squeals from the 16-inch radial tires. But on the highway, this is a pretty comfortable car, though the rigid rear axle tends to be alarmed by potholes.
There are, of course, much more technologically up-to-date big cars, but I respect the single-minded honesty of this big beast -- it's built to go, and go, and go, and now that it's almost gone, I'll miss it.