Not too long ago, the Curbside Classic Cohort came together to say some kind words about some of the most maligned and disappointing Chrysler and AMC products of the past few decades, like the AMC Pacer and the Dodge Aspen. To paraphrase an advertising slogan, “When a better idea was built, sometimes it was Ford that built it.” While the following Fords mostly sold well, they get little respect from enthusiasts. But perhaps my fellow Curbsiders can think of one nice thing to say about each of them?
Ford sure got a lot of mileage out of its first American subcompact, the Pinto. Over 3 million units of this cute little car were produced over its lengthy 1970-80 production run. Never an exceptionally well-built or dynamic car, the Pinto sold on price and the Ford name. The vastly more entertaining European Capri was offered in Mercury showrooms, but Ford did offer a wider lineup of little horses: wagons, hatchbacks, V6 engines, Cruising Wagons, even a tonier Mercury version, the Bobcat.
Some Pinto componentry was used to create the most maligned Mustang in history, the 1974 Mustang II. Drastically downsized and initially not even offered with a V8, the Mustang II was a sales success in a country reeling from the oil crisis. However, its weak engine offerings, so-so handling and somewhat dorky styling means it is an often overlooked or ignored chapter in the history of pony cars. Still, these weren’t entirely without fault: a Capri or Camaro may have run rings around these in terms of handling and performance, but the Mustang II did have a plush interior and was quite economical.
Another extremely successful and likely quite profitable Ford during the 1970s was the Granada, which rode Ford’s tried-and-tested (tired-and-bested?) Falcon platform. Showing once again they had their finger on the pulse of the market, Ford’s new upscale compact offered elegant styling and a plush interior with trim dimensions. Underneath, it was nothing spectacular – the basic bones dated back to 1960, after all – but while a Chevy Nova handled better, the Granada (and its Mercury Monarch twin) had a much nicer interior.
Ford tried to squeeze as much out of the Falcon platform as possible. There was the aforementioned Granada, as well as the Mustang and Maverick. The most ambitious and least successful was the Lincoln Versailles, a thinly disguised Granada that even shared much of the lesser Ford’s sheetmetal and interior pieces. Targeting Cadillac’s much more convincing Seville and ambitiously priced higher than the flagship Lincoln Mark V, the Versailles’ plebeian roots were all too apparent. You did receive industry-first clearcoat paint and, most famously, rear disc brakes which were frequently ripped out of junkyard Versailles and used in old Mustangs. Lincoln’s first compact was ridiculously overpriced but it was certainly the nicest Granada money could buy…
Before Lincoln started reaching down, Ford was expanding upwards, not just in prestige but also in size. The 1972-76 Torino was Ford’s largest-ever intermediate, and Ford used the platform almost as much as it did the 1960 Falcon’s platform: Ford’s Ranchero, LTD II, Elite and ’77 Thunderbird, as well as Mercury’s Montego and ’74 Cougar all used the Torino platform. Like most 1970s Fords, the ’72 Torino was very much tuned for comfort (unless you opted for the upgraded suspension) and these were wallowing, plush, barge-like “mid-size” vehicles.
Our final Ford is the 1980 Thunderbird, the follow-up to the extraordinarily successful Torino-based 1977-79 model. Ford’s efforts at downsizing were poorly received compared to GM’s, and the blame can be levelled at the clumsy styling. Trying to use as many styling cues as its predecessor but on a much less grand scale, the ’80 Thunderbird (and related ’80 Cougar XR-7) just looked plain ugly, and performance wasn’t sparkling either thanks to detuned V8 engines and Thunderbird’s first six-cylinder. But interior styling was handsome and the new, smaller ‘Bird was certainly more wieldy and just as comfortable to drive.
Many of these Fords had fans in their time, but history hasn’t been too kind to them. Can you say something kind about them?