It's been a staple of police and taxi fleets for decades - but as of last week, the Ford Crown Victoria is no more. The very last example of Ford's long-running full-size sedan rolled off its Canadian assembly line Thursday, finally closing the curtain on one of the automaker's best-known products.
After entering production in 1979 as a trim level of Ford's full-size LTD, the Crown Victoria instantly became a hit with taxi firms and police departments thanks to its tough body-on-frame construction and simple mechanics. By 1992, the rear-wheel drive sedan adopted a more stylized design and dropped its "LTD" prefix to become exclusively known as the "Crown Victoria" - a name that would be shortened to "Crown Vic" by countless movie and TV characters, car buffs, and fleet operators.
The Crown Victoria's big break came in 1996. That's when Chevrolet ended production of its full-size Caprice sedan, essentially handing Ford the entire police and taxi market. Although competitors like the Dodge Charger have recently emerged, the Crown Victoria hasn't dipped below 70 percent market share among police and taxi vehicles since.
Unfortunately for Ford, police departments and taxi firms - along with the occasional rental car agency - were just about the Crown Victoria's only customers. Since 2008, the sedan has been marketed exclusively to fleet buyers along with its Mercury Grand Marquis sibling, which was cancelled last year with the discontinuation of the Mercury brand. Competitors with more advanced unibody designs have outshined the Crown Vic's body-on-frame construction, and smaller, more powerful engines that get better gas mileage have upstaged its thirsty V8.
That helps explain why the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and upscale Lincoln Town Car combined for just over 80,000 sales last year - far short of their St. Thomas, Ontario plant's capacity of around 250,000 units. Sales have also been threatened by rising fuel costs and the emergence of new challengers like the Charger and Chevrolet's new Austalian-built Caprice, made specifically for the police market.
While Ford will continue selling its current Crown Victoria stock to fleet buyers, the automaker will undoubtedly run out of cars eventually, forcing customers to look elsewhere. In New York City - naturally, one of the US's largest taxi markets - that will soon mean the Nissan Quest, which was recently named the metropolis's "taxi of tomorrow."
Other customers will undoubtedly turn to the Charger, Caprice and other full-size sedans to fill the gap, ensuring the Crown Victoria will one day end up just a memory in the minds of taxi-riding business travelers and speeding drivers who grew to fear the car's distinctive horizontal headlights.