Wanted: An all-American car

I have a somewhat unusual request that I hope to get some inspiration for from my fellow knuckleheads here.

I am looking for an all-American, used car to drive around town (I commute only 5 miles) and revel in American ride characteristics, engineering and history.

Background info: I was born and raised in the south of Germany (literally only a few hundred or even less miles away from the factories of BMW, Mercedes, Audi AND Porsche). I love cars but am not mechanically inclined. My family hauler is a 2003 BMW 525i wagon.

But this whole bailout discussion has rekindled my fascination with American cars, in particular the all-American family sedan with the characteristic “floaty” ride, big engine and grandezza that one can simply not find in Europe. I figure that while I live here I should drive one.

A few criteria:

- Used and affordable: Under $8K, ideally even cheaper

- Relatively late model

- Reliable (average or above as indicated by Consumer Reports or another source, including this forum)

- Comfortable

- Spacious

- Safe: I’d drop my toddler off at daycare every day. ideally with stability control.

- Sensible (whatever that means): I guess a Shelby Cobra would not be sensible.

- Ideally built by UAW labor

- Of American significance

I have owned used American cars in the past for strange reasons:

- 1986 Buick Park Avenue: Because it was so big and comfortable and had plush blue seats and a bench in the front. And because it was manufactured in Flint, Michigan

- 1988 Plymouth Voyager: Because of its significance as the first minivan and the trend it started

Warped, I know :wink:

Here are a few models I am considering and a few thoughts I have about them so you can see what “drives” me:

1. Ford Crown Victoria: The classic American V8 RWD sedan. Supposedly reliable. Ridiculous depreciation which gets you a 2004 CPO for under 10K.

2. Ford Taurus: Because it is so bland and boring that it is already exciting again for my warped mind :wink: It’s floaty, spacious, reliable and safe. And it’s built in the US of A. But I am wondering if there are better options.

3. Ford F150: Best selling vehicle in the US for 26 years in a row - it does not get more all-American than that. But: I have no really NO - use for a pick-up truck and I am a sucker for comfort which a truck has less than a Crown Vic, Taurus and the like

4. Toyota Camry (2002 or newer): Best selling passenger car and hence also all-American. Not of any significance anywhere but the US. Disadvantages: The affordability and UAW requirements are not met. You can get much more and newer American car for the same price. But: It’s a sweet car.

5. Honda Accord: see Camry but not “floaty” enough in the first place.

6. Lincoln Towncar: See Crown Vic. I think the CV is big enough

7. Muscle Car: I don’t care for sports really. I drive a BMW because of its refinement not because people think it’s sporty. But a Mustang or so may be an option, being all American at all.

8. Chevy Tahoe & clones: They are so dirt cheap right now but reliability is spotty as I understand it. I have never really driven one but I am more for floaty and not so much for harsh. But I may be swayed.

9. A Cadillac: I do not now much about Cadillacs but if there is a heavily-depreciated, reliable, later model Caddy out there that matches my criteria I would be curious to find out about it.

10. A minivan. So uncool that it is already cool again. Cheap for the amount of car you get. Quintessential American, too. When I looked at the Camry I saw that you can get a Japanese minivan from the same year for the same price. Why settle for less car at the same price?

Cadillac, Ford Crown Vickie, Lincoln are the cars that best fit your request. They are as American as it gets these days, and you can get used ones for a song. I think the Caddies hold their value more than the Fords and Lincolns, and they all get better gas mileage than the SUVs. My personal preference is to stay away from Taurus’s, but I dislike large FWD sedans.

The SUVs also match your criteria, and easier to work on than a sedan, but get terrible gas mileage. Many now have a floaty feel to them if you look at the 2WD models. These were designed more for comfort than ruggedness. Heavy and soft with a lot of creature comforts.

My vote would be for a Crown Vic or its slightly more luxurious clone, the Mercury Grand Marquis. The Town Car is built on the same chassis, and unless you buy one of the extended wheelbase “Executive” models, the Town Car is not as roomy as the outer dimensions would suggest.

Regarding the F-150, only the latest redesigned F-150 has good safety ratings in terms of passenger protection. Anything built prior to the most recent redesign is NOT safe in a collision. And, in case you are not aware of it, unladen pickup trucks have extremely poor traction, thus leading to other problems that could result an accident. If you will be carrying children, I don’t recommend a pickup truck.

[i]Baseball, Apple Pie, And [/i] Chevrolet …

Chevrolet Impala 2005 (00-05 body style) or possibly 2006 -2007 (current style). I would definitely look for a 3.8L or 3.9L engine, for sure. I picked up a clean 01 Impala for my son last year. What a pleasant surprise. It has leather, aluminum wheels, spoiler, driver information, stereo with lots of speakers, etcetera, etcetera, classic American car amenities. The ride is pleasant, not yacht like. The back seat can fold down partially, or completely, which is very handy. All that for 4 grand last year before the whole economy went completely in the toilet! That car handles confidently, has a couple hundred HP and still delivers over 30 MPG on the open road. Did I mention his came with a driver’s side airbag, ABS, and traction control? The insurance company likes it’s safety and collision insurance was relatively inexpensive for the 20 year-old college senior, owner! There are lots of these out there, too.

Before I forget, lets talk about your commute for a second. Particularly if you live where it gets quite cold in the winter, a 5 mile commute can be tough on a car. Sometimes the car is really just starting to get “good and warm”, but not quite. I will assume that once a week, you probably wind up going on a little longer trip, which is good.

I drive an Intrepid and a Bonneville (American classic).
America, What A Country!

P.S. I’m pulling for you Youngtimer. Car shopping, especially used can be a lot of work (as in pain in the butt), but oh what fun you’ll have dashing through the snow in that 4-door Chevrolet(?) or whatever American classic you choose.

I would vote for the Crown Vic. A friend (6’ 4") picked up a clean 2004 with <20k miles in 2006 for ~12k. It was driven by a little old lady but has the Interceptor package and looks like an unmarked car. Needless to say, he finds most other drivers to be courteous and law abiding. He’s been very satisfied with the car so far.

I have a 93 Caprice and it doesn’t get more American than that, but try finding one in decent condition (last year for RWD was 96). However, if you can find a clean 94-96 Impala SS, you can have a Yank Tank with a little muscle to boot.

Ed B.

My vote is for a Lincoln Continental. I think they stopped making them in 2002, but with your price range, you will probably be looking for a vehicle that old anyway. Besides, when you consider the Continental, the older it is, the better.

If you are looking for a car with American driving characteristics, the Crown Victoria has all those. However, Ford used so many imported parts that it is classified as an IMPORT for EPA fuel economy calculations. It has parts from as far away as Spain. So, most of the content is not made by UAW workers.

As a matter of interest, I sold my old Chevy Caprice to a German gentlemen who loved chrome bumpers and the bedroom-on-wheels ride. I’m sure he is taking good care of it.

I don’t recommend the Lincoln Continental of that era, due to problems with their air-ride system. These cars were prone to a lot of electrical/electronic problems, as well as collapsing air suspensions. The Lincoln Town Car is far less prone to problems.

Yea, but that air ride suspension was smoooooove!

I think my uncle’s butt grew three sizes as soon as he got a Continental.

Thank you all for you great initial responses! A few replies ad thoughts form my side:

  • I love used car research. It is nor a chore at all for me. Thanks “common sense answer”. I think I’ll research this over the course of a few weeks and keep you guys posted if you are interested
  • I looked at Cadillacs in a little more depth today. I saw a 2000 fully loaded DeVille with 80K miles for 7500$ online. Then I looked at Consumer Reports expected reliability “much worse than average” and made up my mind that I will not go below “average expected reliability”. I have been following the discussions about CR accuracy and trustworthiness and take everything they say with a grain of salt but I just believe them too much to go with anything they claim is “worse than average”. Unfortunately this does seem to rule out all Cadillacs in my price range.
  • I looked at the Impala as I was impressed by “common sense”'s report about his son’s car. I was particularly impressed by a 4000$ car having stability control. CR rates the Impala average for a few model years (below for others) so this remains on my list.
  • I looked at the Lincoln Continental recommended by Whitey and it is actually a CR “good bet” with average to above average reliability. Its weak spot is indeed its air ride suspension with “much worse than average” reliability. When looking at one, I’d have to pay close attention to that particular area. Does anyone know how costly a repair of this suspension is? If it has this problem and CR still thinks it’s a"good bet" it can’t be too bad.
  • The Crown Vic and Grand Marquis are staples on my list. The selection s overwhelming because most of them are old police cruisers. I hear a lot about various “interceptor packages” etc. At the same time I sympathize with buying a car like this from the stereotypical “old lady”. Can anyone enlighten me about these various packages and if they are good or bad.
  • I for a second was thinking about adding the Lexus LS 400 to the list because it’s also to some extent quintessential American (the rest of the world does not care much for it) and extremely reliable. But then I want real American.
  • Making my way through the list of American cars I also researched Buick a bit but was not overly excited.
  • I also remembered that I drove a GMC Envoy Denali once and was very impressed. But I owned a Toyota 4Runner for 5 years and have had enough of SUVs.
  • Other rentals cars I drove and that reflect what kind of cars I like: Camry (very impressed), Buick Century (underwhelmed by the interior), Malibu Classic (took some getting used to but nice in the end), Chrysler Pacifica (utterly horrible), Chevy Cavalier (good but unexciting), Geo Tracker (horrible, rattling), Ford Taurus (pleasant), Chrysler Sebring (not my thing - especially fit and finish and interior design were horrible), the new 2009 Malibu (very impressed with interior design and ride), Toyota Sienna (scary floaty, horrible cornering), Honda Odyssey (pleasant, tight)
  • Common sense asked about my commute. I live near Los Angeles so temperatures almost never go below freezing. My drive to work is 35-45 MPH with a few stop lights. A stretch of freeway when I pick my daughter up. It’s not highway driving but I don’t think it’s particularly hard on the car. I hardly rev above 3000 rpm during the entire commute. Ad I love cars, so I sure take them on long road rips.

Thanks for all your help and support. Keep it coming. I take everything in, process it and will keep you posted.

The Crown Victoria or Grand Marquis are good choices for you. They are classic RWD (right wheel drive) body-on-frame sedans with updated engineering. The Town Car will be even harder to park and has a lot more electronic gizmos to go bad as they age. Go to this page to find model year differences if you will be looking for a used one: http://moldyrabbit.com/liquid/index.html. The models and options section should be useful as well. www.crownvic.net is also a good resource. There are a lot of big car chauvinists there. As you know, they are reliable and inexpensive to purchase and maintain. I am a fan of the rugged suspension that stands up well to insults from our brutal streets here. (A few months ago, my groceries hit the trunk lid when a pit apparently opened up in front of me. Two beer bottles broke, but I have not detected any issues that need attention. I do have an HPP model.)

A Mustang probably has more significance. It certainly more of an icon than the large sedan even though that was THE family car for several decades in the 20th century. A six cylinder would be O.K… A GT would be better and you are probably right that anything more powerful will probably not suit you. The ride of a Mustang is not as good as the sedans and the Cobra and other models have a harsher ride yet.

I am sorry, but I can’t agree that the current FWD (feeble wheel drive) Wimpala should be in the same discussion. It does have the advantage that the OP might be able to get by without snow tires whereas the RWD vehicle might need them if snow fall is significant.

The phrase “American” as used in referring to a vehicle manufactured entirely in the U.S. is not true though. Ford, GM, and Chrysler vehicles all have many of their components manufactured overseas or in Canada/Mexico, etc.
I used to own an '87 Mercury Sable and much of it was built in Mexico and assembled in Chicago I believe.

The Crown Vic/Mercury Marquis is probably the best fit for what you’re looking for.

If you want to carry that theme a bit further you could consider the obsolete Lincoln Mark VIII like I have. (Last year of production was '98)
Think of a Crown Vic on steroids with a sporty look.
The Mark has been by far the best driving and most comfortable car I’ve owned in my life (235,000 miles on it now and still running/driving like new) and gets great gas mileage to boot.

If you want a true all American vehicle, you’ll need to look towards the pre 1970s era vehicles.

Thanks for the links. Very informative!

From 1977 through 1989 or even maybe 1991, the typical American car was the Chevrolet Impala. The Pontiac Catalina / Bonneville and the Cadillac that looked the same are just as good. Nothing compares to them now except the Crown Victoria / Mercury Grand Marquis. Have you noticed that a lot of our roads are completely misengineered? I wonder who makes the plans for them.

I wanted to give you guys a quick update:

  • As such an endeavor requires wife approval I talked to her and we decided to get an all American car this spring and tour the US for 2-3 weeks this summer with our 3 year old. Nice, huh :wink:

  • I have set up a couple of web agents that automatically alert me when one of the following models becomes available in my area: Crown Victoria, Marquis, Continental & Impala.

I have seen a 2006 Grand Marquis for 11K (http://www.autotrader.com/fyc/vdp.jsp?ct=u&car_id=256054663) and a 2004 CPO Crown Victoria for 10K (http://www.autotrader.com/fyc/vdp.jsp?ct=c&car_id=255039534). I have also seen a 1996 Crown Victoria that has been religiously garaged and maintained by its 72 year old owner for 1500$. Those are the 2 ends of the price spectrum that I am currently looking at. Any thoughts on what the sweet spot between value and reliability is? Before I start taking a look and test driving, I am also interested in opinions on the differences in ride quality and interior between the Crown Victoria and the Grand Marquis. On the pictures the Grand Marquis looks a little more luxurious. I guess I’ll find out but I appreciate any opinions and pointers beforehand.

I’d vote for the Crown Vic, the Mercury look alike, or the Lincoln. Just can’t beat the Ford ride on the larger cars.

Now as far as the 86 Park Ave. goes, the one we ordered was made in Wentzville Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. Maybe they had two plants. Also it was downsized and not exactly a large car although full sized. It certainly was a quiet and comfortable car though and 27 mpg.

With regards to the Buick: The papers it came with said manufactured in Flint, Michigan, so I assume they had more than 1 factory. For someone coming from Europe that Park Avenue was almost ridiculously big. And that’s a good thing in my book. I understand though that for the traditional enthusiast the FWD 6-Cyl configuration is unacceptable.

Look for a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado Barritz, preferably a droptop. Huge, floaty, room in the trunk for multiple golfbags, monstrous V8, leather and padding everywhere, and you can get one in good shape for under 8K if you look and negotiate. A friend just bought two over the course of the past year.

Here is an off-the-wall candidate. 1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS. Chevy started with the last rear drive version of the Impala and upgraded the engine, brakes and suspension. It meets your criteria for American as well as anything on your list and, in my opinion, is the best example of its general type from any of the Detroit manufacturers.

If you are willing to live with a muscle car’s high fuel consumption, consider a 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO. Prior to the current G8, it was the best Pontiac ever made.