We’ve been on a bit of a Fairmont tear here lately, if you hadn’t noticed. As a result, I must have had Fox-bodies on my mind when I was cycling my framed vintage ads. While I was putting the above ad out for display, the thought occurred to me: just how rare were the oft-forgotten 1980 Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr turbos? Well, that depends who you ask: either there were 1158 sold or there were zero.
Sometimes, books like the Standard Catalog of American Cars make mistakes. That book claims the distribution of turbocharged Fairmonts and Zephyrs to dealers never eventuated because of some technical difficulties. Despite this, there are various people on the internet that have claimed they owned one. While it may be easy to doubt the accounts of anonymous people on the internet, it’s also plausible a book may have made a mistake.
The turbocharger option was detailed extensively not only in advertisements but also in Ford and Mercury brochures. The two-barrel carbureted, 2.3 turbocharged four-cylinder produced 120 hp and 145 ft-lbs, matching that year’s 255 V8 in power and the naturally-aspirated 2.3 in fuel economy.
The only transmission available was a three-speed automatic with a floor shifter, which mandated bucket seats. Additionally, turbocharged Fairmonts and Zephyrs were available only in two- and four-door sedan and two-door coupe styles—there would be no turbo wagon. When selecting the $500-600 turbo option, full instrumentation and a unique, bulged hood were included.
The Mercury Zephyr brochure for 1980 suggested you should select the Sports Handling Suspension option as well, with firmer springs and front and rear stabilizer bars. There was also a special ES trim that added the aforementioned mechanical improvements as well as European-style blackout trim. Ticking these option boxes would have netted you a surprisingly capable, continental Ford and certainly a rare one, considering most Fairmonts and Zephyrs probably left the factory with bench seats and the 3.3 six.
Lest you think the Fairmont/Zephyr turbo was a truly inspiring, European-style automobile, however, it’s worth mentioning how disappointing these early turbo 2.3s were. Lacking an intercooler, many owners experienced persistent drivability and overheating problems. Although initial reviews spoke in glowing terms of superb power delivery and smoothness, Ford pulled the 2.3 turbo from the market after just one year in the Fairmont/Zephyr and two in the Mustang and Capri. For a company concerned about meeting CAFE targets, that was quite an admission the engine was underdone.
Over the course of my Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited-Run Models series, I’ve often had great difficulty finding photographs of much more common vehicles than this. So, it’s a bit surprising that there’s a glut of promotional material for a car that was allegedly never sold. As for that 1158 figure I mentioned earlier, that was from an ad for a turbocharged two-door sedan on a forum somewhere. It’s unclear where the seller obtained that figure considering the VIN number coding didn’t actually delineate whether one had purchased the naturally-aspirated Lima or the turbocharged one.
Just to make matters more perplexing, here are some press photos that detail the availability of a four-speed manual with the turbo–a potential option that was dropped before prices and specifications were released to media outlets and before the rest of Ford’s promotional material was released.
I’m inclined to believe the Fairmont and Zephyr turbo did exist but were sold in pitifully small volumes before they were withdrawn. Does anybody remember seeing these back in the day? Better yet, did any of you Curbivores own one?