Headline superlatives are a slippery slope. But I’m on solid ground here, despite feeling like an idiot for not including the 1965 LTD in my CC survey of five revolutionary cars: 1945 Jeep; 1957 VW; 1958 Thunderbird; 1965 Mustang and the 1973 Honda Civic. But sitting in my old truck across Amazon Creek and spying this ’65 LTD Coupe in a parking lot 100 yards away, the Ford Better Idea light bulb suddenly went off: this is the car that completely changed the marketplace, that singlehandedly launched what I have now officially dubbed the Great Brougham Epoch. Hail the single most influential American car of the whole damn modern era.
Pretty strong words, and this two-door without the vinyl roof doesn’t make the best example (this four door is more representative), but hear me out. Prior to the LTD’s arrival in 1965, “luxury” was just not overtly pushed in the low price brands. Sure, the word “luxurious” might have made into the ads for the high-trim models to separate them from the strippers, but that was a very relative term of the use. Up until 1965, all the top trim models sported shiny vinyl upholstery; and that includes the top line Pontiac Bonneville and most Buicks and Olds, except for their very top sedans. In 1964, vinyl roofs were still as scarce as bell bottoms.
That largely reflected the times: in the late fifties and early sixties lots of folks were sitting on vinyl chairs and couches at home too. The 1959 Cadillac De Ville I shot and wrote about recently brings that home: very casual, if not downright sporty, in the golf club sense of the word. Of course, there was the Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan and such by Lincoln and Imperial. But suddenly in 1965, here comes Lee Iaccoca pushing a radical notion indeed: a new definition of luxury, one that was way ahead of its times.
This notion of affordable luxury was a huge cultural shift that deeply influenced design for decades to come. That includes our houses, interior furnishings, and so much else. This really came to bloom in the seventies and the seeds really popped in the eighties. And it really hasn’t fully ended yet: let’s face it, the Lincoln Town Car is much more of a true successor to the Ford LTD than the 1961 Continental.
The 1965 LTD was not really a separate model until 1967; it started as a trim package available for the Galaxie 500. And not a cheap one: for an extra 20% over the price of the Galaxie, one got different upholstery in a peculiarly sheer and softly-textured synthetic fabric that’s been referred to a “pantyhose fabric”; nothing like the re-upholstered seats in this car. This may be another car for which it might be difficult to ever find an exact replacement fabric.
Past the softer seats, some extra sound padding and the standard 289 (4.7 L) V8 and automatic, the LTD’s additional content was heavy on the badging. The important thing was to let your neighbor know you’d bought an LTD, not just any old Ford. And Ford brazenly started comparing the LTD with the Rolls Royce, including the famous “Quieter than a Rolls Royce tv ad (see related post)
Here’s a more flattering picture of that rear seat. Now that could look straight out of a Lincoln or Cadillac brochure. Yes, this was a whole new ball game. And what relevant role was Mercury ever to play again in Ford’s future?
The direct competition instantly knew what they had to do: rush out their own LTD packages, as quick a possible. Chevrolet’s Caprice package arrived as a mid-year option for the Impala, and Plymouth trotted out their VIP, and even AMC trotted out a DPL. The acronyms of success were rolling off the marketing men’s lips like schoolboys reciting the ABC.
But that was just the opening salvo. The ’65 LTD marked the great turning point, when sporty became passe, or just the playthings of guys who knew the difference. Sure, the final days of the golden sixties performance era were still just ahead in 1965, but the LTD was already looking beyond that. A true visionary.
It foreshadowed the era when emission controls and high insurance rates all but killed true performance cars. But that wasn’t the real market anyway; the overwhelming majority of Mustangs and Camaros had low level V8s or sixes. It was all about the image. And the sporty image is what had increasingly predominated since the early fifties.
That started with the little MGs and such the GIs brought home after the war. Within a few years, it couldn’t be ignored, hence the Corvette and original two-passenger Thunderbird. And by 1961, it was in full bloom: bucket seats and floor shifts were everywhere, even if it was for a two speed Powerglide hooked to a six.
The popular 1961 Corvair Monza gets a big helping of credit. Right on its heels, Chevrolet released the SS option for its big cars: buckets, console, etc.. and a six was still the base engine. And everyone else plunged in too. The Mustang was the explosion. Ironically, the LTD arrived only some six months after the Mustang. All too quickly, it upset the sporty applecart, and the trappings of luxury were the thing to have in your driveway.
I don’t have the resources to do a full cultural survey, but I can’t help but wonder if the 1965 LTD’s influence was even greater than we give it credit for in the automotive realm. Did the whole cultural shift to the seventies’ growing taste for velour, dark wood paneling, and other trappings of luxury in our homes and offices start right here? Was Lee Iaccoca that much of a genius? Or did he just feel the earliest winds blowing in that direction and set sail sooner than anyone else? Brilliant, either way.
Obviously, the LTD didn’t bequeath its name to the Great Brougham Epoch. That name had long been used by Cadillac for its very top sedans. And I’m going to finish writing this before I look up who used the name first on a more affordable sedan (I should know that). But the fact that the long-exclusive Brougham name soon graced the most pedestrian of cars is what this Epoch is all about. So now we also have to define when it ended; it appears vinyl roofs are not available from the factory for the current and last Lincoln Town Car, which in every other way is certainly the last living dinosaur of the Brougham Epoch.
The ’65 LTD is an excellent precursor to our CC Complete Cutlasss Chronicles, because the Cutlass Supreme appeared just two years after the LTD, and was perhaps the first overtly luxurious mid-size car model, and went on to dominate the Brougham Epoch. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, again.
The mechanical details of the LTD are boring and largely irrelevant. It seems like almost all of them came with the first-step optional 352 FE (5.8 L) V8; a dullard of an engine. And the Cruise-O-Matic was well known to be the least efficient of the popular Big Three automatics. The combination suited the LTD perfectly in a way, as Ford’s major efforts to soften and hush the ride of its all-new ’65 full-sized cars resulted in the beginning of another era: the Great Wallowing Big Fords Epoch.
Maybe that’s the real reason the LTD was created; trying to sell the sport qualities of the new ’65s would have been a stretch. The Ford Total Performance Era was already fragmenting before it reached its peak. And the Great Brougham Epoch wouldn’t need all that expensive racing to make its point. Charging 20% more for a different upholstery and a handful of badges was a hell of a lot more profitable too. And Ford sold over 100k of the LTD packages in that first year alone. No wonder the whole industry piled in, and quickly.
All hail Lee Iaccoca LTD; the Emperor of the Great Brougham Epoch!