Curbside Outtake: 1978-83 Mercury Zephyr – That Very Rare Clean Design

(first posted 8/23/2015) Some regard the 1978-83 Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr as dull and boring, but to me I see these Fox sedans and wagons as being one of the cleanest and neatest designs of their time. Our Editor-in-Chief has described the Fairmont/Zephyr as being “that very rare honest car“, and this absolutely applies to the styling as well. Strip away the bright mouldings and the vinyl roof – the latter of which fortunately has been omitted from this example – and you have a simple, three-box shape with minimalist detailing. No it doesn’t look particularly racy or athletic, but it is neat. Of course, these are just my two cents.

1978 ford fairmont

The more gingerbread that was added, the more the purity of the design was diluted. The early Fairmont front was perfect, while the quad light set up of Fairmont Futuras and Zephyrs is a bit too blocky. I feel a similar thing happened with the full-size Caddy of the time: 1977-79 models had crisp front detailing, but 1980+ models weren’t as elegant.

mercury zephyr front

If I have one complaint about this design, it’s that the wheels are a little too inset, as though the body is too big for the track. And the Fairmont Futura and Zephyr Z-7 coupes are considerably less clean and a bit oddly proportioned compared to the two-door sedan.

1979 ford ltd

Other than the Fairmont/Zephyr and the Mustang, though, early 1980s Ford design sure could have used some magic. The first Panther LTD/Crown Victoria is something that has been critiqued here before, and I don’t regard it as a thing of beauty, either. Mercury’s adaptation had better detailing but of course the proportions remained the same.

1981 ford granada

The ’81 Granada/Cougar was more harmonious than the ’79 Panthers, and was almost as clean a design as the Fairmont, but suffered from delusions of Town Car grandeur with its semi-bladed front fenders and tall grille.


As for the ’83 LTD/Marquis, I think it’s a wonderful design but I feel as though the design might look better on a slightly larger chassis, particularly with a longer wheelbase and wider track.

1978 ford fairmont 2

I think the Fairmont was one of those rare, clean designs, devoid of stylistic flourishes like unnecessary feature lines or over-the-top coke bottle contours or any other faddish design element. What are your thoughts? Do you love it or hate it? Did you think the ’81 Granada and ’83 LTD were an improvement?


Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1981 Mercury Cougar – The Only Two-Door Sedan Cougar

Curbside Capsule: 1983-86 Mercury Marquis – The Zephyr Goes Aero