Automotive History: The Slippery Slope of Measuring Up – An Examination of Vehicle Dimensions


Growing up, I heard a lot of anecdotal exclamations about cars becoming smaller in every way imaginable with each downsizing.  But did they really?

As this issue has been bugging me for a while now, I had to investigate.  For this particular examination, I have focused strictly on Ford-built products to better illustrate my findings.  Perhaps another occasion could see this expanded to various other manufacturers.

Let’s start in the past and work our way forward.

1968 Ford Fairlane-14-15

The first entry into our comparison will be the mid-sized 1968 Ford Fairlane.  This is the first year for this generation, a departure from the Dragnet-era predecessor.

1969 Ford Full Size-20-21

We will compare the Fairlane to the 1969 Ford Galaxie (okay, this is a Custom; is there really any tangible difference?).  As luck would have it, 1969 was the first year of an updated generation of full-sized Ford.  It’s also safe to say the 1969 Fairlane had dimensions little changed from 1968.

1969 Mercury Full Size-08-09

For giggles, and to illustrate what was different when flipping the extra coin for a Mercury, we will also look at the 1969 Mercury Marquis.

1968 and 1969 comparison screenshotUnless stated otherwise, all dimensions are in inches.

When looking at these dimensions, there is a clear distinction in most cases between the Fairlane and Galaxie.  This should come as no surprise.  What does come as a surprise is nearly identical front and rear headroom, as well as the lesser amount of legroom, in the Galaxie.

Transitioning our comparison to the Galaxie and Marquis, we see the Marquis has less headroom in both the front and rear.  We also see a smaller fuel tank which is intriguing as I pulled information for a 240 six-cylinder Ford and a 429 V8 Mercury.

The truest area of intrigue is comparing the Fairlane and the Marquis.  Going bigger really didn’t net a bigger catch in several instances, such as front legroom.

In an effort to keep this comparison as equitable as possible, all three of these dimensions come from those of the four-door sedans.

As the 1970s wore on, and moving into the 1980s, it became apparent that downsizing was the name of the game.  So while the names have changed in this next round, the function is still the same.

1983 Ford LTD-02-03

Here we have the 1983 Ford LTD.  This is the Fox-bodied LTD that originated in the 1978 Ford Fairmont and would live until 1993 with the Ford Mustang.

1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria-04-05

In the other corner, we also have the 1983 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, the Panther based full-sizer that saw duty until 2011.

The Mercury Grand Marquis is not being included here as, apart from overall length, all dimensions are identical to those of the Ford.  The exclusivity of a Mercury was quickly eroding.


For comparison and contrast, the 1986 Ford Taurus has also been thrust into the crosshairs of scrutiny.  The Taurus had a huge influence on the direction the American automobile would take, as its execution was quite outside the traditional Detroit mindset.  This comparison would be incomplete without the Taurus.

1983 comparison

There is distinction aplenty between the LTD and the Crown Victoria.  Except for headroom, there is a distinct difference between the two and a buyer got the size they paid for.  At 22.4 cubic feet, the Crown Vic has the best trunk room of anything we will be examining.  Its interior room is also the best we will see, beating out the cabin volume of the 1969 Mercury Marquis.  All this from the “downsized” Panther, a car that keeps touting its perpetually underestimated engineering prowess over thirty years later.

The Panther does start to pale in some regards in comparison to the original 1986 Taurus.  The original Taurus was a very good car and the nameplate is still around.  Let’s fast-forward thirty-two years.


For the 2015 model year, Ford has the Fusion as its mid-sized model.  For this comparison, dimensions for the SE trim level are being used as the hybrid does vary considerably in some dimensions.


After a brief hiatus several years ago, the Taurus name has returned and is being slapped on what is now the biggest Ford available.  With automotive progression getting faster by the year, let’s see how these two stack up:

2015 taurus fusion

So what does stepping up to the 2015 Taurus get you over the Fusion?  A longer wheelbase and a bigger trunk plus a cabin that is smaller in nearly every other measurement.  Perhaps this is why Ford has this information buried so deep in their website.

To its credit, the 2015 Taurus is bigger in every regard that was the original 1986 model.

While I have limited this examination to Ford products, would such an examination of other manufacturers reveal similar information?  And, from a truly subjective feel, do the raw numbers reflect how this room is being apportioned?