Curbside Classic: 1988-95 Australian Ford Fairlane/LTD – Identifying The Common Lincs

To help you, our predominantly North American community, understand the Australian 1988-95 Ford Fairlane and LTD, let me describe it to you in North American Ford terms. Imagine a car that’s styled and sized like an ’88 Lincoln Continental, positioned above the equivalent to the Ford Taurus but with an interior like it, and with the rear-wheel-drive layout of a Lincoln Town Car. Add to that a Continental-sized engine and, later, an optional Ford Mustang V8 and top that off with two familiar yet defunct Ford nameplates. Voila! You have the 1988-95 Ford Fairlane and LTD.

Ford DC LTD

To those of you in Australia and New Zealand, you’ll know this car as the long-wheelbase, luxury version of the Ford Falcon. Once favored by upwardly mobile professionals, the Fairlane and LTD eventually became the car of choice for limousine companies, politicians, and old-fashioned buyers who maybe had something large to tow. The LTD was the rarer and pricier of the two and came with plusher trim and even more chrome trim.

Now, North American readers: you probably saw that mention of an ’88 Continental in the first paragraph and thought, “Sheesh, I hope it’s better than that!” Well, yes and no. In terms of refinement and feature content, the Fairlane and LTD fall short. They used the EA Falcon wagon’s platform, albeit with the EA sedan’s coil-spring and Watt’s link rear suspension. There was also plenty of components carried over from the XD-XF series of Falcons, which in turn had carried over plenty from the XA-XC cars and so on. The cars betrayed their humble underpinnings and the result was rather underwhelming for a luxury sedan, automotive journalists criticizing the cars for a creaky structure and floaty handling. The standard three-speed automatic was also one gear short of the Continental’s and, by that point, most luxury sedans.

Ford Australia had stopped putting V8 engines in their Falcons, Fairlanes and LTDs in 1984 so the NA Fairlane and DA LTD launched in 1988 with only a six-cylinder engine, much like the ’88 Continental. Fortunately, the multi-point fuel-injected, single overhead cam 3.9 inline six was more reliable and more powerful than the Continental’s Essex 3.8 V6. Producing 186 hp at 4250 rpm and 249 ft-lbs at 3500 rpm, it was up 46 hp and 35 ft-lbs from the Continental. Alas, it wasn’t up anything from the $3k cheaper Fairmont Ghia, the plushest of the regular-wheelbase EA Falcon range. The Fairlane and LTD, measuring 16 inches longer (5 in the wheelbase), also weighed around 200 pounds more (at 3500 pounds) which blunted performance somewhat: 0-60 mph took around 12 seconds.

The dashboard also wasn’t any different from the Fairmont Ghia. It was a rather drab affair and, like the rest of the car, lacked the level of quality control found in premium Japanese sedans. Ford had spared no expense in differentiating their luxury twins’ exteriors from the Falcon – only the windshield and front doors were shared – but the development money seemed to run out by the time they got to the interior. At the Fairlane’s price point, the Falcon interior was disappointing. At the LTD’s price point, it was infuriating.

The LTD added rear air springs and automatic load-levelling and a separate rear audio system with headphones, along with an ostentatious grille, extra chrome, and velour trim. That hardly seemed worth the whopping $14k price premium, although in fairness that gaping chasm was largely due to the LTD crossing a tax threshold. As with the Fairmont Ghia and, by then, the majority of Aussie sedans, the Fairlane and LTD featured front bucket seats and a console-mounted shifter.

The Fairlane may have had a roomy interior but it also was priced right up against the Toyota Cressida and Mazda 929. Both were down on torque compared to the Aussie – well, there’s no replacement for displacement – but they compensated with greater refinement and superior build quality. While the Fairlane had largely avoided the litany of early build and reliability issues of the EA Falcon that spawned it, the Japanese still trounced it in overall quality.

Fortunately, Ford Australia worked to remedy the Fairlane and LTD’s problems as well as the Falcon’s; compare that to Ford North America, who increased the power of the Continental’s Essex V6 but didn’t resolve its reliability issues. The Fairlane and LTD luckily had a solid heart in their 3.9 six but the rest of the car needed work. Late 1989 saw the belated arrival of a four-speed automatic in the revised NA II Fairlane and DA II LTD.

The following year, however, saw the arrival of a crosstown rival: the resurrected Holden Statesman and Caprice. Ford had had the domestic, full-size luxury segment to itself since Holden’s withdrawal in 1984 but now the party was over. The new Holden duo also came with independent rear suspension and an optional V8 engine, both of which the Fords lacked, as well as slightly sharper dynamics. As a result, 1990 saw Fairlane sales plummet by 31% and LTD sales by 48%.

IRS would have to wait until 1999 but Ford, to much celebration, reintroduced a V8 engine to the revised EB Falcon, NC Fairlane and DC LTD ranges in 1991. It wasn’t a moment too soon, either, as the Falcon had lost the sales crown to the Holden Commodore in 1989. The V8 was just as crucial for the Fairlane and LTD, considering the higher profit margins of these models. The 4.9 Windsor V8, imported from Canada, produced 221 hp at 4500 rpm and 286 ft-lbs at 3000 rpm. Those were almost identical outputs to the 5.0 V8 in the Statesman and Caprice, although with the benefit of slightly more low-end torque.

The NC revision also brought a new base Fairlane with steel wheels and a price that undercut the Fairmont Ghia and its rival, the Holden Calais. Atop the Fairlane sat the Fairlane Ghia, which cost around $2k more and featured plusher cloth trim and V8 availability. There was still a huge, $14k jump to the LTD but at least it now had a standard V8 and limited-slip differential; the I6 was a credit option, while leather (instead of velour) trim was available at no extra cost.

Fairlanes and LTDs received another update in 1992 – the NC II and DC II series models – which saw the six’s capacity bumped up to 4.0. The engine was also now smoother and more powerful, producing 198 hp at 4500 rpm and 256 ft-lbs at 3750 rpm. The performance divide between the six and the V8 had narrowed considerably—the 4.0 took just under 9 seconds to reach 60 mph. In comparison, the V8 was only half a second quicker and 2 mpg thirstier. Anti-lock brakes were now standard on both Fairlane and LTD, the body was strengthened and the glass was thicker. Although they were scarcely changed visually, the Fairlane and LTD were now palpably more quiet, refined and responsive.

Alas, Holden had settled into the segment for the long haul and they weren’t going to rest on their laurels, either. For 1994, the Statesman and Caprice received a huge exterior overhaul. Gone was the bland, Commodore-esque styling of the VQ models, in its place a polarizing yet prestigious pastiche of American styling cues. It appealed to buyers in the segment, however, who wanted their longer and plusher Falcodores to not look like longer and plusher Falcodores. Just like in 1990, Ford was on the back foot, made worse by the fact the new Holdens undercut the Fords by $1500 and had a standard airbag.

By 1995, the Fairlane and LTD were looking rather old-hat. Although the gremlins of the NA/DA series had been vanquished, the cars looked much as they had in 1988, both inside and out. Funnily enough, in that respect they were much like the Lincoln Continental. For 1995, both the Lincoln and the Ford twins were heavily revised inside and out, although they both retained the same platforms.

There were a lot of similarities between the NA/DA through NC II/DC II Fairlanes and LTDs and the Lincoln Continental but the differences were even more marked. Where the Lincoln was fragile, the Fords were stout. While the Lincoln had thoroughly modern features like keyless entry, memory seats and adaptive suspension, the Fords only had the standard power accessories and didn’t even have fully power-adjustable front seats.

No, while the Continental and the Fords are the same length, have similar styling and were launched rather half-baked, they’re very different cars. But, if you can imagine a hybrid of a Town Car and a Continental with a Mustang V8 and a Taurus-grade interior, you’re pretty close to the Fairlane and LTD.

DC LTD photographed in Bracken Ridge, QLD, Australia in December 2014. Other curbside photos courtesy of OSX from Wikimedia Commons.

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