The ranks of the big cars have thinned out over the past couple of years but there are still some available for those who need a full-sized car for family or business reasons or who just don’t want to drive a smaller car for what ever reason. Since we are living in a democracy, individuals should have the right to chose.

I wouldn’t wait too long to buy one – democracy or no democracy remaining big cars, however, the Mercury Grand Marquis, this week’s test car, is not facing extinction. Quite the contrary. The popularity of this car has increased so much over the past year that it will probably be around for a couple of more years, quite a contrast to the late 1970s and early 1980s when dealers couldn’t give a big car away. Buyer reactions, and the big car itself,have changed over the years. As an example, sales for the Grand Marquis increased about 80 percent in the 1983 model year above the 1982 model year. The 1984 model year has a way to go yet, but conservative estimates are that sales could increase by 50 percent above last year which is really something when you consider that Ford Motor Co. had planned to drop the car (along with its Ford Division counterpart the LTD) during the 1983 model year. The names were to be retained by the company’s new mid-sized replacements but Ford decided not to rush the demise of its big car and gave them new names – the Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria. This goes to prove the dollar still speaks loudly in the marketplace

The test car (supplied by Haldeman Lincoln-Mercury, 2443 Lehigh St., Allentown) proved to be a likeable and easy-to-live-with vehicle. It soon became apparent why the Grand Marquis became so popular as it represents a lotof car for the money. The test car’s bottom line came to a bit over $15,000, which I will readily admit is not exactly pocket money. But it was a loaded down, top-of-the-line LS model, and 15 thou can hardly be considered outrageous for a full-sized luxury car that looks, acts and feels like the more expensive Lincoln Town Car.

Just how big is the Grand Marquis? The EPA defines large cars as having more than 120 cubic feet of passenger and cargo volume. The four-door Grand Marquis is rated at 133 cubic feet (111 passenger/22 cargo) which makes it oneof the biggest of the big cars. If you really want to talk big, consider the Grand Marquis station wagon, which has a rating of 165 cubic feet – 112 passenger/53 cargo – making it the largest station wagon available.

The Grand Marquis has a wheelbase of 114.3 inches, overall length of 214 inches, width of 77.5 inches, height of 55.2 inches and curb weight of 3,780 pounds. As can be expected, there is ample room inside for six adults, however, back seat leg room is the true indicator of how big a car is and the Grand Marquis has a minimum of 40.7 inches and maximum of 42.1 inches, which is quite roomy.

Aside from being big and roomy, what else does the car offer?

The Grand Marquis has what is described in the trade as a boulevard ride. It is smooth over all road conditions including potholes. To be sure, you are going to hear it when a tire slams into an unavoidable pot hole but it is not going to throw the car or jar the driver’s teeth loose. The suspension features coil springs on all four wheels (long-and-short-a rms up front and a four-bar link system in the rear). Steering is by the recirculating ball design which is the used in most larger cars.

The test car had the standard suspension which should satisfy the needs of most drivers There are, however, two other suspension systems offered. One is a heavy-duty option which includes increased diameter front stabilizer bar andheavy-duty front and rear springs and shock absorbers. I’m not sure why anyonewould want to put a heavy-duty suspension system on a luxury car, but it is there if you want it. The other option is a heavy-duty trailer towing package which would appeal o anyone planning on towing a camper or boat. The package includes a heavy-duty battery, trailer towing suspension and wiring, auxiliarytransmission external oil cooler, auxiliary power steering external oil cooler, heavy-duty radiator, heavy-duty rear brakes and a 3.55:1 rear axle ratio (standard ratio is 3.08:1). Keep in mind that it is much cheaper to havea car equipped for towing from the factory than it is to have the individual components installed later.

The Grand Marquis’ powertrain features an electronically fuel-injected 302-cubic-inch V-8 (5 liter) and four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The 302 has been powering Mercurys and Fords for a number of years so there’s no surprises here. The Marquis version is rated at 130 horsepower at 3,200 rpmand 240 foot pounds of torque at 1,600 rpm and provides above-average power for all Lehigh Valley driving conditions.

Helping performance is the four-speed automatic transmission which allows for lower gearing in first for power and higher gearing in fourth for fuel economy. Ford Motor Co. was the first American manufacturer to produce this type of automatic overdrive transmission (in 1980) and other manufacturers soon picked up on it. It is simple to use, just slip it into gear and let it do the thinking. It will shift into overdrive at about 40 miles per hour whichmeans the engine will be running at lower rpm and producing better fuel mileage. The transmission also features a lock-up torque converter that shouldalso improve gasoline mileage.

The test car averaged 12 miles per gallon for city driving and 22 mpg over Lehigh Valley highways. The city figure is just about what should be expected from a big car and the highway figure is quite respectable. In fact, if the big cars of the past produced highway mileage like they do today, sales would not have plummeted and there would be a lot more big cars around today.

Base price on the LS test car was $12,184 which includes a high level of trim and appointments and a number of pieces of standard equipment. With almost $2,500 in options and a delivery charge of $480, the suggested retail price came to $15,133 including a deduction of $782 for an optional bonus discount. Included among the options are automatic air conditioning, $889; tilt steering, $118; speed control, $176; power driver’s seat, $227; rear defroster, $140; AM-FM stereo with four speakers and cassette, $310; premium sound system, $179; wire wheel covers, $174; dual illuminated vanity mirrors, $106, and power locks, $108.