Note: The following story was excerpted from the February 2021 issue of Collectible Automobile magazine.
For decades, the prototypical American luxury automobile was a full-size sedan often utilizing body-on-frame construction. Cadillac’s last of the type was the 1996 Fleetwood. Lincoln stuck with the recipe and offered Town Cars through 2011. For a while, 1998-2002 to be exact, one of them was the warmed-up Touring Sedan.
Lincoln styling, especially for the brand’s bread-and-butter sedans, was long defined by sharp-edged boxiness. This history may have made the redesigned 1998 Town Car more visually shocking at the time than it otherwise would have been. The curvy new bodywork was smooth and more contemporary, but was often compared to certain Fifties or Sixties Jaguar sedans. Such comparisons were ambiguous, and many of the car’s lines were quite simple and clean. Your scribe thinks much of this Town Car’s undeniable presence was a result of ample size and generous use of bright trim.
The restyled Lincoln was about three inches shorter than the previous Town Car, but it was by no means small with a 117.7-inch wheelbase and 215.3-inch overall length. Base curb weight was 3860 pounds, down from nearly two tons previously. According to Consumer Guide®, interior room “always was spacious,” but the editors noted the car wasn’t wide enough to comfortably seat six people.
We are most interested in the vaguely athletic Touring Sedan, created from a $500 option package for the midlevel Town Car Signature that started at $39,480. The headline was a 220-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 with dual exhausts, a useful upgrade from the standard 200-horse one-pipe version. Less obvious were the Touring’s other mechanical tweaks including retuned suspension, specific shocks, fatter stabilizer bars, modestly larger P235/60TR16 tires, a 3.55:1 axle ratio, and an 11.25-inch torque converter. Visual differences included perforated-leather upholstery, black bird’s-eye maple interior accents, and an argent-colored grille.
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Like other Town Cars, the Touring Sedan ran a full perimeter frame, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and traction control. Up front there were unequal-length control arms and coil springs. In back there was a live axle with four-bar suspension, Watt’s linkage, and self-leveling air springs.
In a comparison test in its December 1997 issue, Motor Trend evaluated an engineering-prototype ’98 Town Car Touring and a Cadillac DeVille Concours. The Lincoln was judged quieter and smoother than the winning front-drive Caddy, but wasn’t as composed on rough roads. MT thought the Lincoln’s brakes were impressive, and found the four-speed automatic much smoother than it had been in earlier Town Cars.
These Lincolns didn’t change much. The ’99s picked up side air bags. In 2001, a tweaked dual-exhaust V8 was rated at 240 horsepower. For 2002, Lincoln changed Touring from an option package into two separately catalogued models, the $42,875 Signature Touring and $45,005 Signature Premium Touring. Premium added a power sunroof and an Alpine-branded stereo with six-disc CD changer.
We couldn’t locate specific Touring production numbers, but according to the Encyclopedia of American Cars total 1998 Town Car sales came in at 110,718. That was the high-water mark for this generation, with production down to 67,579 by 2002.
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- Spacious interior and trunk.
- Refined and quiet ride remains intact.
- Even the strongest 240-horsepower Tourings are no match for contemporary Northstar-powered Cadillacs when it comes to muscle.
- Thick roof pillars and high trunklid conspire against outward visibility.
Any of these Lincoln Town Cars excels in areas valued by fans of traditional American luxury sedans. Still, the Touring Sedan’s easily overlooked upgrades improve the overall driving experience without introducing obvious comfort trade-offs.
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