I’ve given the original 1965 Ford LTD credit for launching the Great Brougham Epoch. It was the first in the low price field to offer the overt signals of luxury, including its legendary “panty cloth” upholstery. Over time, the LTD came to define the affordable big “luxurious” sedan, but I put that in quotation marks, as all too soon, the LTD suffered from name debasement as within thirteen years every big Ford, even taxis, would carry that enigmatic acronym.
Chevrolet’s quick answer to the LTD, the Caprice, was launched six months after the LTD’s arrival. It’s interesting to note that although the Caprice got off to a strong start, outselling the LTD in its first full year (1966), it never achieved the relative success and stature of the LTD. Part of that may have been that Chevrolet didn’t debase the name as quickly as Ford did, but in looking at the sales stats, it’s quite apparent that the LTD’s trajectory was much steeper. Let’s let the charts speak for themselves:
Here’s the sales stats of the two from their first year through 1973. There are no production figures available for the 1965 Caprice, as it was an option package, and became available mid-year. The surprise for me was just how strong Caprice sales were in their first full year, 1966. I had started to tally up the numbers for the Plymouth VIP, but since they never got out of the teens, they were essentially irrelevant. Folks were more likely to buy a Chrysler Newport, if they were Chrysler loyalists.
That strong showing in 1966 for the Caprice may well be in substantial part to the exclusive new roof that the coupe had that year (the ’65 Caprice package was only available on the four door hardtop).
By doing so, Chevrolet differentiated the Caprice much more effectively than Ford, where the LTD coupe was virtually indistinguishable from the sporty semi-fastback Galaxy 500/XL/7 Litre (shown) coupes.
Ford rectified that for 1967, although only partly so, inasmuch as all they did was to add a filler panel in the C pillar of the semi-fastback coupes, unlike the Caprice’s roof, which was all-new. But then in these early years, the coupes clearly were not the LTD’s forte.
The ’68 LTD finally got its unique coupe roof, for better or for worse (count me in with the latter). I consider the ’68 Ford to have the weakest styling of the ’60s Fords. The ’65 – ’68 LTD coupes were generally outsold by the four doors by a very healthy margin. But it didn’t seem to matter much, as soon enough LTD sales, coupes and four-doors, really perked up.
1969 was the year the LTD really come into its own, with sales almost doubling. Unlike previous years, where the LTD was something of an afterthought, a tarted-up Galaxie, now the ’69 Fords clearly were designed to be LTD’s first and foremost.
While the lesser Fords all looked like poverty-mobiles in comparison. The LTD’s front end and hood were exclusive to it, and the increasingly marginalized XL.
The results speak for themselves, as in this chart that shows their respective share of full size Fords and Chevrolets. And the LTD’s trajectory quickly headed to 100%, as 1974 was the last year for the Galaxie and 1977 the last for the stripper Custom 500.
From 1978 on, every big Ford was at an LTD, even police cruisers and taxi cabs. The LTD’s saturation was complete. As was its name debasement.
No wonder only two years later the Crown Victoria appeared. And eventually the LTD name would be tossed overboard, as the Galaxie and Custom had been.
Meanwhile, back at Chevrolet, the Caprice had only a 52% share of big Chevys in 1978. Of course the Impala would also eventually disappear, its last year being 1985. But by the mid ’80s, these big RWD cars were the last of their breed, clinging on to a combined 5% of the total market. Having multiple name plates/models certainly wasn’t warranted.
So let’s take a closer look at this LTD. The youngish owner came out and told me that he’s acquired it fairly recently. And that it came with the original wheels and wheel covers in the trunk (yea!). He also told me he was thinking of painting it, black.
I understand that impulse. On the other hand, it’s acquired its patina honestly and wears it proudly. How many original ’67 LTD four door hardtops are left in the world? I gently encouraged him to not rush into a decision, and consider leaving it as is.
That was reinforced when I saw its interior, which is also totally original, right down to the “panty cloth” upholstery. Admittedly, this shot through the window on a bright summer day did not do it justice. What exactly is this stuff?
Here’s a better shot, from a decidedly non-stock ’66 LTD, except for its upholstery. It has a strong sheen, is slippery, and is obviously woven from some of the wonderful new space-age synthetics of the time. It had very distinctive feel, and although I’m not sure who originated the “panty cloth” moniker, it really does suit it. Or it did back in the day; panties have changed too over the decades, to the extent they even still exist.
The brochures aren’t much help either; the best one is from the 1965. Let’s just say it was quite different and new, especially on a big old Ford.
The front seats were covered, but according to the owner, the upholstery up there is in fine fettle too.
My one disappointment was the lack of a vinyl roof. These LTDs just cry out for one, and in my mind’s eye, that’s all I see when I think of one. But no such luck. And the ’65 coupe I found some years back was a slick top too.
It’s got a 390, but I forgot to ask which version: the 270 gross hp two-barrel or the 315 gross hp four barrel. It probably doesn’t matter much anymore, as this car is intended for easy cruising with the kids in the back and the missus in the front. If you were a speed freak, you could still get a wild and wooly 427, in either 410 or 425 hp guise, for the last time. There undoubtedly were a handful of buyers who did, along with the obligatory four speed stick.
The optional mild 428 was of course the better alternative to those seeking the ultimate LTD experience that included a bit of a shove into that panty-cloth upholstery.
Related reading at CC: