(first posted 1/16/2015) It’s a peculiar pattern. From the early 1970s all the way up until their demise in 2006, the Australian Ford Fairlane and LTD would completely transform visually with each generation. Even more peculiarly, the Fairlane and LTD would alternate between looking uncomfortably close to its shorter wheelbase Falcon/Fairmont platform mate and going for a bold, American design.
The Fairlane started off in 1959 as a locally assembled version of the US Ford, using parts from Ford of Canada.
In 1962, it was aligned with the new intermediate Fairlane. This arrangement would be short-lived, as 1964 would be the final year of this size of Fairlane; Ford Australia was making room for the larger Galaxie.
That decision, too, proved short-lived; the Fairlane would return for 1967, once again closely related to its American counterpart. It’s important to note the Fairlane was available only as a sedan over the years; no swoopy fastback Fairlanes reached our shores officially.
Early in the Seventies, Ford launched its bulbous XA Falcon that shared much in the way of design language with the American Torino and Mustang. A corresponding ZF Fairlane arrived in 1972, with the same organic lines. Nineteen seventy-three would see the arrival of the LTD, a higher trim version of the Fairlane.
Despite some detail changes over the years, this generation was clearly related to the Falcon and didn’t look particularly prestigious. P5 LTDs did come with hidden headlights, though, a sleek touch that would soon make way for something bolder.
For 1976, the Fairlane and LTD received more formal angular sheetmetal and a more upright grille, while the Falcon received only detail changes.
If the Fairlane was a breath of fresh Dearborn air, the P6-series LTD went full American Brougham. Pie-plate headlights, a Lincoln Mark IV-inspired grille and upscale Silver Monarch and Town Car editions made a night-and-day visual difference between Falcon and LTD.
The Eighties beckoned, though, and cleaner, sheerer designs were quickly becoming the norm. Despite a unique six-light glasshouse, quad headlights and a formal grille, the 1979 ZJ Fairlane and FC LTD were once again much closer to Falcon in appearance.
The FC LTD did come with heavily tinted, wide taillights though, which I’ve always loved. Overall, however, this line of Fairlanes/LTDs always looked like frumpier, fussier versions of their corresponding Falcons despite numerous visual changes over their nine-year run.
It may look somewhat like the 1988 Lincoln Continental, but the 1988 NA Fairlane and DA LTD’s new underpinnings retained a conventional rear-wheel drive layout. Ford Australia had ditched V8s in 1983, so the new luxury Fords were similar to the Continental in having only six-cylinder propulsion.
These new Fairlanes and LTDs had their own application of the smoother, aero look that was taking over Ford. The six-window glasshouse remained, as did the large taillights and extended length, but overall they were much more modern and more clearly differentiated from the Falcon. It helped, too, that the new Holden VQ Statesman and Caprice looked uncomfortably close to their Commodore platform mates. For 1991, V8s would return to the Aussie Fords to help in the battle against Holden.
Like the EF Falcon, the 1995 NF Fairlane and DF LTD were a heavy revision of the existing platform. While the new-for-1994 EF Falcon looked curvier and yet somehow more substantial than the EA-ED Falcons, the Fairlane/LTD once again became more closely aesthetically linked with the Falcon.
They still had their unique roof and glasshouse, but the front and rear ends were visually similar to the Falcon.
New Edge was taking over at Ford, though, and the end of the Nineties would see the beginning of bolder designs. The 1998 AU Falcon’s design had shocked Australia, with many lambasting the design for repeating the mistakes of the 1996 Taurus.
The next year, Australia would be greeted with the most American-looking Fairlane/LTD since the gaudy, gauche P6 LTD of the late 1970s. The new AU-series luxury Fords were a stark departure from the AU Falcons. The LTD even came with chrome wheels, a design touch far, far less common here than in the US.
The final Fairlanes and LTDs would be far more austere in design. The 2002 BA Falcon had been a heavy visual revision of the AU, with handsome, clean and more premium styling and a dramatically higher-quality interior. They were so impressive, I bought one.
The gaudy AU had basically halved sales of the Fairlane, and they had never recovered; what’s more, the LTD had only ever sold a fraction of its lesser brother’s sales. Private buyers were a shrinking percentage of Fairlane/LTD sales, with the majority being Silver Service taxis, limousines or official government vehicles, so Ford Australia didn’t bother to invest too much money in visually differentiating the longer twins from the Falcon. This time around, they even kept the same taillights.
Despite a sportier G220 (later G8) line with a stylish burgundy leather interior, the Fairlane/LTD’s days were numbered. Unless you really needed the extra rear legroom, it was much better and cheaper to get the shorter Fairmont Ghia. They had the same high-quality dash, smooth inline six (or optional V8) and automatic with manual shift. Despite the bland styling, these final long-wheelbase Aussie Fords were the best overall, with strong power, good handling and a comfortable ride. A Lincoln Town Car was positively antediluvian in comparison but sadly, Ford executives didn’t see the value in exporting the Aussie Fords or building them elsewhere.