Curbside Classic: 1970 Ford XL Convertible – The XL Goes XX

It is by pure coincidence that this car comes on the heels of yesterday’s roundup of last editions of the big American convertibles.  So let’s keep the theme rolling with a closer look at one of the cars Will featured – jpc.

The XL model has a fairly short history as Ford model designations go – at least on passenger cars.  It went from birth to death within a decade and changed its personality fairly severely in that short span.  This was the last one.

The first one was a welcome sight.  The Ford showroom of 1960-61 must have been a dreary place.  Sure, there were some Thunderbirds and the occasional highly-optioned Galaxie convertible, but overall this was the House that McNamara Built.  Meaning good, solid, ordinary cars for good, solid, ordinary citizens.  And police officers.

There were, of course, some boxes that a dedicated buyer could check which would result in the delivery of some pretty serious performance machinery.  Those, however, were rarely seen once you got about a mile away from a major stock car track.  Even then, your hot new Ford would lack the youthful vibe of the Impala SS that looked like the hottest car around.  Even if it hid a 283 and a Powerglide under its highly-styled outerwear.

There is much that can be (and has been) said about Lee A. Iacocca.  His name is associated with some of the most iconic cars produced by two companies over a span of twenty-something years.  If there was anything that Iacocca knew it was that some things will sell and some things won’t.  And when it came to the image being projected by the Division’s new 1961 models that were coming into showrooms as he was being promoted to Vice-President and General Manager of Ford Division, he knew that the competition had it and his own company’s offerings did not.

When Chevrolet introduced the ’61 Impala SS with its floor shifter on the heels of the Corvair Monza with its bucket seat interior he surely knew that this sports car vibe was “it” – the next big thing.  There was nothing he could do about the ’61 Fords, but he got his people focused on what could be done with the ’62s.

There had not been time to do anything with the hard points of the car but interior trim was a different matter.  The Galaxie 500 XL was not part of the lineup at the beginning of the model year, only showing up in a revised catalog with a print date of March, 1962.  The car took a page from the Impala SS by bringing luxury and sport together in one package, but turning it up a notch as Iacocca knew how to do.  And taking another page from the SS, your sharp new Galaxie 500 XL came standard with the less-than-Total-Performance 292 V8, making you pay extra for all of the performance goodies.

Still, it was a winning combination with over 28,000 2 door hardtops and over 13,000 convertibles finding owners that first year.

Advertised as the flagship of The Lively Ones, the interior of the new XL model was the high point of the car.  Suddenly a Ford felt expensive.  At least if you could avoid looking at that dreadful dash that was a holdover from 1960-61 (so expertly obscured in the advertising photography).  So did XL stand for Xtra Lively?

By midyear 1963 there was a fastback roofline added to the XL line (made available on the regular Galaxie 500 as well) and in 1964 there was even a 4 door hardtop version, complete with bucket seats and that gorgeous chrome console.  Over 88,000 folks agreed that the Galaxie 500 XL was the car to have in 1964.

And then . . . LTD.  After only a couple of years Iacocca had discovered a new “it”, and its concept could not be more different from the youthful sportiness of the Galaxie 500 XL.  The new rule would be that big cars are for luxury, small cars are for sport.  In hindsight it is amazing that the XL hung on as long as it did as the LTD became the 800 pound gorilla of the Ford lineup.  Production of the XL was back down to 1962 levels, even with the ’62 being a short year and 1965 setting industry sales records.  Lee was right.  Again.

The 1965-68 generation  went through a transitional phase.  The buckets and console remained but the 4 door was immediately shown the door.  My first car was a 1967 Galaxie 500 convertible and I liked it a lot, but really lusted after the XL (no longer called a Galaxie 500) with its bucket seats and console.  But even then the XL was starting to morph into a sporty LTD/Galaxie 500 mashup being sold on its comfort and how your wife will like it.  Even the buckets and console became optional by the 1968 models.

XL sales did perk up a bit in 1968-69 but that would not be surprising when the cost was barely above that of the Galaxie 500 but gave you the LTD grille with the hidden headlights.  Then for 1970 things fell off a cliff.  Big and sporty were definitely out.

Now I’ve gone and done it.  Just like the old car hobby showers adulation on the 1962-64 version and ignores all that came later, so have I – even when I set out to write about this one.  Let’s see if I can do better.

This convertible is one of 6,348 built.  The number may not seem totally pathetic until considering that the Galaxie 500 convertible had been dropped after 1969, leaving the XL all alone in carrying the flag for big open Fords.  In other words, if you wanted a big Ford convertible, this was your only option.

Really, this final XL was just one more cross between a Galaxie 500 and an LTD which seemed to get virtually no advertising support.   Oh well, at least with an XL you got a 351 V8 standard (just like in LTDs and wagons) instead of the 240 I-6.

With no choices other than the convertible and the slightly bizzare Sportsroof model (shared with the Galaxie 500), the low popularity should not be surprising.  And while Ford tried to sell the Sport theme with the XL, paint and wheelcovers seemed to be the extent of it.  Even the 4-speed transmission had disappeared somewhere along the line, though the 429 V8 was now available.

Isn’t it funny how a white Ford convertible with a red interior was a hot combination in the early 1960s but an oddity by 1970?

The Ford convertible carried on for another couple of years with the new 1971-72 body, but this time it would just be an LTD.  Truth in advertising?  Because the XL had pretty much been an LTD for the last few years anyway.

At least the XL matched the Impala SS’s lifespan, both coming and leaving the market one year behind the sporty Chevy.  But there was one difference.  The ’69 Impala SS came standard with a 427 V8, disc brakes and the good suspension but with virtually no exterior identification, making it more “go” than “show”.  The final XL was the opposite, being essentially an LTD Sport with pretty much nothing else in the way of standard performance equippage.  So all “show” and little “go”.  Except for this convertible which has very little “show” either.  And in modern times Chevy brought the SS back in its original role while Ford slapped it on a bazillion stripper trucks and vans.

I have a confession – I have a hard time getting 100% on board the Brougham Bus.  The LTD and the Broughamance it inspired killed my favorite kind of big car – a car like the XL with a little youth and dash to go along with its uncompromising size.  Sports fans praise certain players by saying “he’s pretty quick for a big man”.  Just like some athletes can be both big and fast I see no reason a car cannot be the same way.  I seem, however, to be part of a very small minority which the industry of that era stopped serving once the Chrysler Three Hundred and Plymouth Sport Fury disappeared at the end of 1971.  And while the 1970 XL may be a little past my personal expiry date on this kind of car, I still prefer it to an LTD, if only for the name.

So what did XL actually stand for?  I recall reading a magazine article in the late 60’s that claimed it was a shortening of Excel (something I used to my advantage when trying to find cars starting with “E” in car bingo on highway trips.)  Some wags have claimed it stood for eXcellent Lee.  And there is, of course, the ubiquitous Extra Large, though this was probably not intended but is kind of appropriate for these later models.

The Urban Dictionary online claims that “XX” is slang for “kiss kiss” as in goodnight.  If this is true, 1970 was the year that the XL went from any one or more of those definitions above to saying goodnight to the car-buying public.  Which is too bad because XL fit this convertible’s personality so much better than the LTD it tried to be in its last two years.  Before that one went XX too.


Further Reading

1969 Ford XL Sportsroof (Paul Niedermeyer)

1969 Ford LTD (J P Cavanaugh)

1970 Ford LTD Country Squire (Paul Niedermeyer)

1971 Ford LTD Convertible (Jason Shafer)