The "look" of New York City is about to change.
Thanks to my parents, I visited Paris many times in my youth, and loved the city. But I'm sure many of the things that made an impression on me then are gone now. An indivisible part of my memories of Paris are the Citroëns that were ubiquitous at the time: the 2CV, DS, and SM—along with some other characteristic French cars such as the Peugeot 504. I imagine Paris has changed in many ways since I saw it last, but I'm sure when I visit again next year (I've just committed to be a part of Peter Turnley's Spring Paris Workshop in May of 2012), the absence of those particular Citroëns will be one thing I'll notice.
The cars on any street are part of the photographic "look" of any era. I'm sure many people remember the era of the classic Austin LX4 black cab hackney carriage in London, or the era of the yellow or green-and-cream Checker Marathons in New York and Chicago and the other big urban centers of America. (Checker stopped making cars in 1982. My father owned a Checker—bought new—when I was young, and I sometimes used to play chauffeur for his NASA associates around D.C.).
For many decades now black Lincoln Town Cars have dominated the livery business (a.k.a. the "black car industry") in New York City. But, as reported in a recent article by Preston Lerner in Automobile magazine called "Last Call for the Lincoln Town Car," times change, and it's gotten to the point where the livery car industry is about the only market left for Lincoln Town Cars. They're extremely reliable, cheap to keep in service, made to stretch, can go more than a quarter of a million miles...and they're outdated in just about every way. Almost no one buys them any more except fleet operators. Sales, which peaked at 150,ooo in 1990, are projected to be well under 10,000 for 2011, the model's last year. Ford hopes that a special version of the Lincoln MKT crossover modified for livery customers, called the Lincoln MKT Town Car, will replace the City's current 25,000-strong black-car fleet.
Of course, Lincoln Town Cars will be seen on the streets of New York for years to come (Preston Lerner even notes that the livery companies that can afford to are stocking up on the 2011 model). But it won't be long now: the currently very common sight of a black stretch Town Car will soome become as rare on the streets of Manhattan as a Citroën DS is on the streets of Paris today.
Sounds like it would make a nice excuse for a photo project, doesn't it?
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.