Vintage Reviews: Motor Trend’s 1977 New Car Issue – Ford Motor Company

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Ford Motor Company was likely nervous about the downsizing onslaught coming from General Motors, so they must have worked with Motor Trend to get a jump on the competition.  All the new 1977 FoMoCo products were showcased in the September 1976 issue, a month before the new cars from GM, Chrysler and AMC were featured.  Read on to see all the Blue Oval news, from jumbo to small.

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FoMoCo hedged their bets for 1977.  The Thunderbird was downsized and the (still big) mid size cars were given new styling and new names.  Plenty of smaller cars were on offer as well, and these proved to be strong sellers.  But the Blue Oval brigade opted to double down on their biggies, touting size and “road hugging weight” as advantages for full size cars, all in a push to attract traditional big car customers scared off by GM’s first wave of downsizing.

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The smaller ’77 Thunderbird was definitely one of Ford’s better ideas.  The previous “Big “Bird” was a slightly cheaper (and much less prestigious) Lincoln Continental Mark IV, and sales were unimpressive.  The Ford Elite, a hastily-developed Chevrolet Monte Carlo challenger based on the Torino, was introduced midway through 1974 and had sold in decent volumes, though nowhere near the levels of Chevrolet’s personal luxury star.  Clearly Ford needed a new approach in the booming personal luxury category, so they repackaged one of their best icons.  The Thunderbird name still had enormous cachet with the buying public, so when Ford “downsized” the TBird to the mid-size platform and lowered the price, sales exploded.  Compared to the 1976 Thunderbird, sales were up 501%!!  Even adding in the 146,475 sales generated by the 1976 Ford Elite– the ’77 TBird was still up 60%.  Either way, the smaller ‘Bird was one of 1977’s biggest success stories.

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Ford had a bifurcated strategy to reach big car buyers.  For customers potentially tempted by GM’s downsized full-sized cars, Ford served up the “smaller” LTD II, applying a big-car name to a re-skinned Torino.  The mid-sized gimmick worked for 1977, as LTD II sales outpaced the ’76 Torino by 20%.  For shoppers who would accept nothing less than a traditional whopper, Ford proudly maintained the XXL LTD in the roster.  That approach worked as well, with LTD sales rising 18% year-over-year.  In fact, other than the Thunderbird, the LTD and LTD II were the only Ford brand cars to post a sales increase compared to 1976.

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The top-selling Granada saw few changes for 1977, and kept its positioning at the more “premium”-end of the Compact segment.  At the “bottom”-end of the Compact segment, the ancient Maverick soldiered on unchanged as well.  Both lines saw a 29% sales decrease compared with 1976.  The Mustang II also was a virtual carryover, and sales dipped 18%–better than it could have been for a car that was rapidly losing appeal, save for being the vehicle of choice for two of Charlie’s Angels.

So let’s take a look at the final 1977 sales tally for the Ford Division:

Granada  390,579
LTD  343,318
Thunderbird  318,140
LTD II  232,324
Pinto  202,549
Mustang II  153,173
Maverick  98,506
LTD Wagon/Country Squire  90,711

 

Overall the Ford brand dipped just 5% versus 1976.  The compact Granada was still the top selling Ford, while the big cars stayed strong.  Hank The Deuce must have breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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Ford also heavily promoted their truck and van line-up for 1977, replete with fancy paint jobs and unique styling features.  The push was aimed at younger buyers, and was a big part of the Free Wheelin’ marketing campaign that centered around outdoor fun.

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The big news at Lincoln was, well, big.  No shrinking like arch rival Cadillac!  Continental sedans and coupes received a new Mark-style vertical grille, while continuing to offer enormous size and luxurious trim selections.  Buyers loved the updates to tradition, and sales climbed 39%.

The new-for-1977 Continental Mark V brought sharp-edged new styling to the carryover Mark IV platform.  The Mark V continued to offer designer editions and a broad array of interiors, roof treatments and wheel designs, and it was the undisputed leader of super-sized personal luxury, with sales surging 43%.

With either big Lincoln, the 460 V8 was standard in 49 states, but pity the poor California market: they had to make due with a 400 V8 to tug along their baroque barges.

Not mentioned in the September 1976 Motor Trend, but ultimately part of Lincoln’s story for 1977, was the mid-year introduction of the Versaille.  This was a very thinly disguised Granada, and was Lincoln’s cynical entry into the Luxury Compact segment and purported challenger to the Cadillac Seville.

As for the final count, take a look at Lincoln’s sales numbers for 1977.

Continental  95,600
Continental Mark V  80,321
Versailles  15,434

 

Lincoln brand sales rose 53% compared to 1976–beating Cadillac (up 11%) on a percentage basis, though Lincoln’s volume numbers were far smaller.  Still, not half bad for the biggies!

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Mercury division changes mostly mimicked those at Ford Division.  The Cougar and Cougar XR-7 were refreshes of the old Montego-based cars, and sales increased 37% and 49% respectively.  The defiantly large Marquis barely changed, but saw a 38% sales lift among buyers who valued their cars by the ton.  At the other end of the size spectrum, Mercury’s compact offerings didn’t offer much news, and they didn’t sell as well as their 1976 counterparts: Comet -40%, Bobcat -34%, Capri II -29%, Monarch -12%.  Here are all the Mercury sales totals for 1977:

Marquis  135,669
Monarch  127,697
Cougar XR-7  124,799
Cougar  70,024
Capri II  60,000
Bobcat  31,452
Comet  21,545
Marquis Wagon/Colony Park  20,363

 

Adding up all the divisions, and Ford Motor Company car sales remained basically flat year-over-year, with 2,612,204 units sold.  Given the intense competitive pressure from GM, this was a more than respectable showing for a line-up that was not particularly new.  The results allowed FoMoCo to squeak through another year without having to face the pending efficiency reckoning.