"I think it was probably bad timing," said Councilman Brian J. O'Neill.
City mechanics inspected the 17 cars - mostly 1984 Ford LTDs - traded in by Council members and found 15 of the discards worthy of use by other city employees.
Four of the cars had been driven less than 30,000 miles, according to Department of Public Property records, the lowest being the vehicle assigned to Councilwoman Anna C. Verna, who lives in the 1200 block of South Broad Street. Hers had just 17,935 miles on it, according to Timothy Kennedy, supervisor of the city garage at Front Street and Hunting Park Avenue.
But other cars were, in the word of Deputy Commissioner of Public Property Charles L. Finney, "dogs."
Councilman W. Thacher Longstreth drove one of the dogs. He turned in a 1979 Chevrolet with 89,719 miles on it, the most-traveled car in Council, which Kennedy said would be auctioned rather than reused by the city.
Longstreth, who is 6-foot-6, has said he preferred the older car because it gave him greater leg room than the Ford LTDs that most Council members had been driving since they were purchased in 1984, Kennedy said.
Kennedy added that Longstreth's car was too worn to be used elsewhere in the city.
City records show the runner-up in the mileage category was another 1979 Chevy, with an odometer reading of 84,328, driven by O'Neill, who is an inch shorter than Longstreth. O'Neill's car still may be usable, but the one turned in by Councilman David Cohen is questionable because it was damaged in an accident, according to Kennedy.
Some Council members say the new cars really are needed because the old ones were unreliable.
"It's like a piece of junk," said Councilwoman Joan L. Krajewski.
Councilman Angel L. Ortiz put his old LTD to the test, driving it to and
from the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, where he said he met with Gov. Casey and conducted other official business.
"The fact that the car made it down there and back is a miracle," Ortiz said.
Assembled in Canada and delivered last month, the eight-cylinder, fuel- injected Crown Victorias are rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway.
According to the sticker on one of the new vehicles, their rich color is ''deep shadow blue." They have tape decks, air conditioning, tinted windshields and a steering wheel that tilts to six positions.
The sticker price was $18,142, but the city apparently got a better deal than that. According to the bid documents and other city records, the Council cars were among 20 purchased from Pacifico Ford for $15,543 each - still nearly twice the per capita income in Philadelphia, according to 1985 census figures.
Officials at Pacifico, the only bidder among 67 solicited, refused to comment on any aspect of the sale.
The Crown Victorias not destined for Council members go to the Council chief of staff, the sheriff, the register of wills and the clerk of quarter sessions, according to Gary Henderson, head of operations for the Procurement Department.
New cars for politicians usually are controversial. In 1982, Council members retreated from plans to order new cars after publicity about the plan generated criticism. This year, there was a citizen protest against the expenditure for new cars at so critical a period for the city budget.
Coleman said in an interview that he requested the new cars because the city, including the mayor, was replacing its fleet.
"Let me just bring this to your attention," Coleman said. "The mayor's car was bought at the same time."
At the time, Goode's portrayal of the city's financial shape was darkening. He campaigned saying no new taxes would be required, but by March the mayor announced that Philadelphia faced a $200 million deficit.
City records show that on April 12, the city opened bidding for the car contract. On April 20, Domenick Schiavello, director of automotive services for the city's Department of Public Property, noted in the bid documents, ''This bid is acceptable."
By May, as Council was struggling to assemble a budget that would include tax cuts and potential layoffs, Councilmen John F. Street and Lucien E. Blackwell sent a letter to Coleman asking him to cancel the car order.
But when they spoke up, the purchase already had been concluded.