It’s pretty difficult to put into actual words what makes a car cool, partially because different people have different perspectives regarding what that adjective even means. When you say a car is special not everyone is gonna agree with you, even if it’s one of the best looking, best performing machines in the world. Thing is, a car doesn’t even have to be fastest or the best looking, it just needs to tug at your heart strings just right. Ford and Chevy both came up with something which accomplishes exactly that and to do so, they decided that “robbing” the cops was a great way to do it.
Pretty much anything which has the name “Marauder” is alright with me and despite this not being the people frightening, wall demolishing, explosion surviving kind, it’s still a pretty respectable little piece of machinery. Meet the 2003/2004 Mercury Marauder. Not particularly impressive to look at. Not a pinnacle of automotive design…not tremendously exciting in any way. In fact, other than the abundant black paint covering all the chrome bits it doesn’t have a lot to set it aside from its base model, the Grand Marquis. So you could easily assume that there’s absolutely nothing special about this car at all…but you’d be wrong. You see, the Marauder was built on one of the greatest car platforms that the US ever created: the Ford Panther platform. For 33 years, starting way back in 1979 and ending in 2011, Ford fine tuned and upgraded this format, outfitting some of the most massive car fleets in the world with their product. Think of the Crown Vic alone; how many cabs and police cruisers have been made? How many millions of miles have they traveled? What kind of abuse have they endured? And still, even with all the alternatives today, many still maintain and prefer these superbly reliable machines. So you know the Marauder isn’t sensitive…but why is it different than its endless siblings, and why is it so damn cool to car enthusiasts? Well, Ford decided it would be fun to make a performance Panther so they raided the spare parts bins and came up with this. It’s hard to define the Marauder since it’s not just a big sofa on wheels or a crazy European super sedans predator…it’s kind of like what I imagine a retired cop grandpa would do if he were to tune a car; he’d still need something big and comfy so his arthritis wouldn’t act up, but he’d want to get to the early bird specials fast too. The Maruder has 32 valve aluminum block V8 which kicks out 302 bhp. Not breathtaking but not bad either, especially when we consider that this was 10 years ago and the idea of what a good performance number is has definitely changed a lot since then. Plus, the Marauder’s V8 can easily be persuaded to work a bit harder if you’re willing to spend a few extra bucks in some customization. But it isn’t all about what’s under the hood; the rigidity of the whole car was greatly incremented, dramatically changing its behavior on the road when compared to other Panthers; there’s a limited slip diff in the back and springs from the Crown Vic police interceptor at the front. Jalopnik (which I’ve been quoting throughout this article) very appropriately named the Marauder as a future classic. Only around 11.000 reached the market and, at the time, they were a solid 5 grand pricier than a regular grand Marquis. Today you can pick one up from between $8.000 and $14.000, not exactly cheap but then again it is quite a bit of bang for your buck. Big comfy lump of metal with just happens to be great for burnouts? Why not!
So Ford was definitely on to something with the Marauder; however, Chevy was on to exact the same thing, only 10 years earlier. When the Impala SS arrived in 94, it was the definition of unique. In a time when American Muscle was particularly weak due to emissions restrictions and years before it’s renaissance (the one we’re living today), Chevrolet deemed fit to hot rod one of its more popular sedans, the Caprice. Built on the very, very old and reliable GM B-platform, the Caprice has served with distinction for years in the fields which Ford’s Crown Vic later conquered. So when Chevy decided to make a performance car out of it, Jon Moss (the designer) knew exactly what he was dealing with and just how to improve on the already solid creation; it only took 14 days for the Impala SS to be born. The Caprice’s major issue was power; these are big cars and 180bhp just didn’t cut it. The solution for the first sedan to ever hold the legendary SS badge of honor? A 5.7L 350 cu in V8 derived from the one used on GM’s baby (the Corvette) putting out 260bhp, backed up by suspension which was lifted straight out of police interceptors and then lowered. The Impala does 0 to 60 in 7.1 seconds, certainly not impressive today, but in 1994 and in a car which weighs 2 tons it didn’t look bad at all. However the main thing about the 94-96 Impala SS isn’t that it premiered (to my knowledge) the concept of adapting law enforcement capabilities into performance packages for the public, but instead the absolute cultural phenomenon that it became. The Impala SS was one of the coolest cars of its time and I still nowadays highly revered. It appeared in more hip hop/rap videos than I can possibly remember and anyone who was anyone in the music business needed to have one. It has been tuned, modded and transformed in every way imaginable, the all black menacing appearance replaced by bright flake metalics and gigantic chrome rims. Now, should you turn your wonderful looking continent of an Impala SS into a lime green donk with Lamborghini doors? Not at all, but the point is you can because there’s a whole niche of car culture which celebrates and appreciates that kind of creation in this particular model. Chevy delivered and people lovingly responded. If you’re a bit of a purist like me and the SS is talking to you right now in a “buy me” fashion, there are still plenty of stock examples to be found out there. The best year (in my humble view) would be the 96 because, despite a manual gearbox not being available, the automatic was floor mounted that year which means you can make the conversion if you wish and get into some serious driving territory. Plus, instead of the iffy digital gauges available in 94 and 95, you get proper analog ones. And of course, you’ll want this car in black. Although in 95 and 96 Dark Cherry Metallic and Dark Grey Green were available as factory colors, you’re not gonna drive something advertised as fit for Darth Vader and have it in anything other than black are you? Just make sure to have between 15 and 25 grand to part with when on the hunt for a good one.
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