Curbside Classic: 1971 Ford LTD Coupe – Have My Feelings Changed After Twelve Years?

Niedermeyer’s hate for 1971 big Fords is a tired old trope hereabouts. It started twelve years ago, when I excoriated one (tongue in cheek) back at the other site, also to be found here at CC. I’ve been hearing about it ever since, even though I came ever so close to buying a ’72 version. It would have been my redemption if I had, so I guess the issue is still an open question.

Now that I’ve found another ’71, a fine LTD coupe no less, here’s my chance to redeem myself. Have my feelings changed in twelve years? Was I unfairly harsh? My family tells me I’ve mellowed a bit with age. Does that apply to 1971 Fords?

To answer that, we have to consider where and why my juvenile loathing for these first developed. I got a job as a lot boy at Towson Ford in the fall of 1970, just as these new ’71s were arriving. I was a rebellious long-haired kid, tagged a “hippie”— as compared to a “straight” — in the highly polarized atmosphere of the times.

I was also a car freak, and deeply ingrained in the cult of imports. Yes, there were a few domestics for which I made exceptions, like the 1970 Camaro Z-28, but for the most part in my world view, most domestics were boring, dull and highly uncool.

Of course there was some relative nuance to that. A four speed 2.0 L Pinto was obviously fun to flog, but then except for its silly low and impractical body it was in essence a European Ford Cortina.

I actually found the ’69-’70 big Fords not all that objectionable, in relative terms. Their rounded contours were more appealing that the hard edged ’71s, and I rather liked the hidden headlights. I drove several ’70s that were still on the lot, and I used to “borrow” a ’70 LTD coupe service-department loaner on a number of weekends, and rather enjoyed wafting along with three neighborhood girls in the front seat next to me. That’s what big wide bench seats are for; well, among other things.

I was not a fan of the new ’71’s styling; the “Bunkie Beak” seemed affected, and of course echoed Bunkie’s beloved Pontiacs, whose beaks had run out of steam, and charisma by 1971. There was an echo of the Edsel as well. No wonder Hank gave Bunkie the boot so quickly.

I wasn’t a fan of its rear end styling either. The third red center “tail light” also struck me as affected. I thought the ’71s were retrograde, with their blocky and chiseled styling. But that’s all highly subjective.

Driving them gave me the distinct impression that they were inferior to their predecessors. They felt less of one piece; the handling and steering were softer and mushier. There was a loss of structural integrity; stiffness, in other words. And that’s a serious negative in terms of handling as well as perceived quality.

It wasn’t just my imagination: Turns out Ford really did made changes to the ’71’s frame and body that were intended to presumably increase isolation, but the at a price. The structure from the cowl forward felt flexible, a bit like a convertible with out adequate stiffening.

There was also the issue of performance. The ’71s were more sluggish, when comparing 351 equipped cars. The gross hp rating for the 351 dropped from 250 to 240, presumably because of emission regulations. The ’71s were some 200 lbs heavier than the ’70s. Whereas the ’70 with the 351 still felt adequately-powered, in the ’71s they felt decidedly weaker. No wonder the new 400 V8 found itself under the hood of so many of them. FWIW, its 260 gross hp rating was a bit less than the 390 two-barrel that it replaced. Again, with the greater weight, they too felt slower. Retrograde.

So between the sloppier handling and floppier bodies and the reduction in performance, can you blame me?

So much for the more objective parameters. I admit to having had something of a bias against LTDs, precisely because they started the whole Brougham Epoch in 1965, which represented just about everything that I was in deep rebellion against. My politics at the time were pretty radical; the LTD was as convenient a representative of the status quo as well as anything. Sure, I wasn’t above getting paid to drive LTDs, at least until the revolution came…

In the meantime, they made great weekend party-mobiles, with their big comfy two sofas…the sexual revolution already had arrived, ahead of the political one, which was presumably just around the corner. The trick was to navigate the LTD around the corner.

In February of 1971, two weeks after I turned eighteen, I packed my Boy Scout backpack and split Towson, hitchhiking west. I left the security of those soft cushy LTD interiors in Towson for standing on the side of the freeway, freezing my butt off. Life is a series of trade-offs. And I was plenty happy to hop into an LTD or its ilk when one pulled over, although that was very much the exception. LTD and brougham drivers did not pick up hitchhikers, unless one of their kids had Dad’s car.

So what’s the verdict? Yes, the ’71s were objectively inferior cars to the ones that they replaced. Stylistically, that’s debatable, but to my eyes they’re also inferior. Does that warrant my loathing?

Um, maybe in 1971, but who gives a damn anymore? The differences between the ’71s and its predecessors would be night-near impossible to discern after all these decades.

This one seems to be in reasonably good original condition, and its owner still drives it regularly. She was just leaving as I stopped, and was amenable to my grabbing a few shots including the interior before she headed out. Looks like it’s got a big tach, although I would be hard-pressed to know what actual use it has.

Before I forget, the ’71’s dash material felt cheaper to me than the ’69-’70, but my bias might have been working a bit overtime.

I love finding CCs like this, genuine survivors still being used as daily drivers. How could I possibly have any negative feelings?

And I saved its best angle for last. In this color, it’s a fairly handsome car, for its time, although it’s pretty obvious Bunkie told the stylists to think of the 1967 Eldorado when they came up with this. Of course it’s way too big, heavy and thirsty for a coupe, but that’s some folks still hankered after, instead of a BMW 2002 or Datsun 510. To each their own.

I’m not seventeen any more; that was 51 years ago. Of course I’m still the same person, and the logic of this big coupe that was lost on me then is just as questionable as some of the motoring choices I see folks making today. To each their own. And it’s nice to see that there’s some still loving the ’71 LTD today as others were in 1971. This owner may well have fallen in love with it back then. She was a bit too distracted with her phone for me to ask. Some things have changed; others not.


Related reading:

CC 1971 Ford Galaxie 500 – Domino’s Delivers Even If Ford Didn’t

Auto-Biography: Getting Paid To Break (In) New 1971 Fords

Auto-Biography: Thanks For All You Car Buying Advice, But I Bought This 1972 LTD Instead

CC 1971 Ford LTD Convertible: The Name On The Title Starts With The Letter N   Jason Shafer