Ford’s long-running and recently retired Panther Platform, which underpinned vehicles like the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town car for many years, could be much older than experts previously believed. Often thought to have been introduced in 1979 with the Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis, the Panther continued until its retirement in 2011 as the longest-running vehicle platform in North American automotive history.

Until recently, the oldest Panther known to science. Conditon and color: Mint.

However, recent finds by paleontologists from the University of Colorado Boulder and the Universidad de Quito (Ecuador) indicate the platform may date back to the Early Pleistocene Epoch, over 1.8 million years ago. Dr. Juan Lavamanos and an excavation team of graduate students first came across a parallel set of heavily corroded metal rails in the Altiplano region of eastern Peru last year. Initially believed to be remnants of a 14th century Inca sculpture, further research with local men revealed the boxed tubes to be a nearly complete frame from a Mercury Grand Marquis. With the help of published documentation from a long-lost Chilton publication, these findings were verified.

As researchers dug further, they found similarly unexplained discoveries from towns and villages across the region. A few corroborating accounts from West Africa, many of which were substantially older than the Peruvian discovery. This geographical diversity does not date the vehicle all the way back to the Pangea Supercontinent, but rather indicates that the vehicle’s technology could have been shared across oceans, among numerous cultures, over several millenia.

When asked who might have utilized the large, V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive vehicles during that time period, Dr. Lavamanos replied “Probably a bunch of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.” The early hominids actually went extinct during the same period, leading researchers to speculate the extinction might have been linked to aggressive driving, including drag races, “doughnuts,” and burnouts.

Team members also speculate that the Panther’s performance antics could be the exact technology the early Peruvians utilized to create their complex “Nazca Line” designs across the high desert. The designs—ranging from impossibly straight paths to intricate, enormous animals—have confounded researchers for decades.

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Intricate designs that could be tied to the ancient Inca practice of Gimkanna — the origin of a word still in use today.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site once again made the news recently as an allegedly unsuspecting truck driver drove across them. A police investigation has identified several persons of interest, with the key suspect a Colombian man who operates a Chevrolet fan website. They believe the man had become aware of the Ford connection and acted with a motive of intentional vandalism.

Dr. Lavamanos is quick to point out, however, that the majority of Panther usage would have been for taxi and police services. “Aggressive maneuvers were usually efforts to encourage mating among the species, but evidence suggests only the weakest and least mentally competent females would have been impressed. This trend probably further contributed to the species’ demise.”

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“With the difficult terrain of the Andes, mobility was very important for the Inca.” Dr. Lavamanos continues, “However, many of these vehicles fell from steep cliffs and remained buried in mud and rock for eternity. It would be another two millions years before all-wheel-drive would be invented. And Inca folklore believed that using the front wheels to move a car was the work of demons.”

A typical ancient Andean road, which no modern human would dare challenge in a body-on-frame, full sized, rear-wheel-drive car.

In related news, The Thor Heyerdahl Foundation has announced preparations for their “Lincoln-tiki,” a modified Lincoln Continental that will be driven by a crew of four from Alaska to Argentina as a tribute to the resourcefulness and engineering of ancient man.