In perusing the Cohort I came across these shots by Robadr of this big bruiser of a convertible. It called to me. I have answered. And yes, we all know that Paul Niedermeyer and Jason Shafer have staked out the competing end zones when it comes to the 1971-72 big Ford. I see lots of open space between their takes on this car, so let’s go there.
The shots of this Ford LTD illuminated many disparate places in my brain when I saw them. I considered the ’71 LTD the the ultimate large car when I first saw one in the fall of 1970. Ford, it seemed to me, had finally completed its assault on the medium price field with this one. Which seemed every bit as nice to me as any Oldsmobile 88. And a lot nicer than anything then being built by Chrysler, a company that was in the process of cheapening its cars terribly.
I was at a Boy Scout Jamboree held at the grounds of the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We carpooled from the church where we held our meetings and I got to ride in the orange 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air 2 door sedan owned by one of the assistant volunteers, a young guy about to start college. The Chevrolet was in fabulous condition, not anywhere near the beater status of most of its ilk by 1970.
When we parked, right nearby in the grass was the first 1971 Ford LTD I had ever seen. It was painted a color which Ford imaginatively named “Medium Green”, a coupe with a deep green vinyl roof and a matching (and luxurious) interior. It was clean and shiny as every brand new car is in its first weeks of ownership and it was simply stunning. “What I wouldn’t give for that” said the owner of the orange ’57 Chevy, completely without irony. I remember virtually nothing about that scout jamboree, including what activity our troop was showcasing. I just remember that brand new ’71 LTD on a beautiful day in early autumn.
Although I found the new bumper-taillight treatment a severe downgrade, the rest of the 1972 model was just as appealing. 1972 was the first year I went to a new car show and brought back a stack of brochures, which I proceeded to read over and over until I had them nearly memorized. The 1972 Ford book was one of my faves.
When my mother was looking for a new car in 1972 to replace her trusty but aging ’64 Cutlass, I tried and tried to get her to a Ford dealer, but no soap. “Fords are lightweight cars” she said. “Oldsmobiles are heavier” she said. There is so much wrong with Mom’s thought process, I now see. An 8 year old car with 60,000 miles is practically new to me. And there was no way that an A body Cutlass was heavier than a Ford LTD no matter what year one might choose for the comparison.
But this LTD was no lightweight. Ford was doing a pretty credible job of making its cars feel substantial. When these were new (or near new) shutting a door on a big Ford was a comforting feeling. That door slam felt good and sounded good – it was a little different from the classic GM door slam, but seemed no less impressive.
A neighbor across the street seemed to agree. The family had been GM people but had experienced a couple of used Mustangs for their high school-aged sons. These folks were on a cycle of a new car every three years and were clearly on an upward trend when the olive green ’69 Olds 88 joined the navy blue ’66 Impala. When a medium blue 1972 Ford LTD replaced the Impala my worldview was confirmed.
Unfortunately these cars did not age well. They had not, it seemed, licked the “Ford Rust” problems that had gotten really bad in the 1969-70 models. But where the prior version had at least been a fairly solid structure, the 1971 became downright jiggly.
Being a lover of convertibles I was a fan of these cars. Chrysler had dropped all of its big convertibles by 1972 and the big GM cars were the only other option. And because I was a Ford man through and through at the age of thirteen, Chevrolet was simply beneath consideration.
In my weaker moments I had to acknowledge that the ’72 Chevy convertible was a good looking car in its own right. Fortunately, I was able to point to the cheap injection molded plastics that proliferated in their interiors and a body structure that was every bit as jiggly as that of my Fords as a way to mask my concern that the Chevys seemed to hold up better over time.
I think the peak of my 1972 Ford love came in the fall of 1972 when the 1973 Fords came out. Those new ones were fat. And there was no convertible.
I had watched Burt Reynolds run moonshine in a hopped up 71 Ford. Gator McClusky would never be able to outrun the law in one of the new whale-like LTDs. And please refrain from comments pointing out that the ’71-72 Ford was nearly as whale-like as its swollen replacement. There is no reason to bring reality into things.
Another association this car released from somewhere in my brain was from even longer ago. When I was 7 or 8 my mother bought me a Hardy Boys book. I began to collect them, usually plowing through a new one in a day. When I say new, I meant new to me as almost all of them were either from the 1930’s 0r from a newer re-written edition from the late 50’s. In most of those books, young sleuths Frank and Joe Hardy solved capers with assistance from their yellow convertible.
The yellow convertible was never identified, but I liked to imagine that it was a Ford. The year was always malleable in my mind, sometimes it was a ’60, other times a ’63 or ’64. By 1972 a credible pair of teenage detectives would surely have been in a Mustang and not in an LTD. But that would be their loss because an LTD would have provided a lot more room in the backseat for their overweight friend Chet Morton to spread out with a bag of hamburgers or for the attractive young women the boys were so successful at rescuing from a multiplicity of perils.
The title gives away another association. When I was in elementary school, each week would see us form a single file line and trudge to the room of Mrs. Kurtz, the music teacher. There we would be taught to sing the terrible songs put out by educational publishing houses. (I will remain forever scarred by “Oh Senior Del Gato was a cat . . .”).
Mrs. Kurtz was an older woman who occasionally played a record. It was in her music class that I first heard Harry Belefonte sing The Banana Boat Song (Daaay-O, Daaay ay ay-O . . . “). I have no memory of why she played it. Adult me wonders if she lacked the patience to make us sing on this particular day, but this is just a guess. Teachers are people too, though this thought never occurred to me at the time.
The banana boat also brings up Atz’s Ice Cream Shoppe (yes, with an ‘e’ at the end), the longtime Fort Wayne restaurant and ice cream emporium. We didn’t go there regularly, so it was a big event when we did. They had a full lunch and dinner menu. but we kids were all about the ice cream. In my younger years I made a beeline for the “self-serve toppings bar”, wherein I would take a couple of poor, naked scoops of vanilla ice cream and slather so many toppings onto it that the resulting flavor explosion was not always agreeable.
I later graduated to their chocolate sodas, that virtually extinct concoction of ice cream in a soup of chocolate syrup and soda water. I once ordered their King Size soda, an event that did not end well from a digestion perspective. But I digress – my mother loved banana splits. Which Atz’s always called a banana boat because it was served in a little plastic boat-shaped dish (that was yellow, as I think about it.” Those boats would get taken home and washed and used as toy boats when we were small. As much as I love ice cream, I don’t believe I have ever ordered a banana split. This car makes me want to try one.
So there we are – Boy scouts, childhood neighbors, The Hardy Boys, Harry Belafonte and chocolate sodas. All served up by this genuine, real-life banana boat.