Curbside Classic: 1971 Ford Mustang Grande – Como Se Dice Brougham?

(first posted 10/31/2012)     A while back, jpcavanaugh told us about a Ford product that didn’t get any respect. Here’s another one: The “fat” 1971-73 Mustang. And while the Boss 351 and Mach 1 fastbacks may get a little love, the flying-buttress hardtop, in Grandé trim no less, may well be at the bottom of a Mustang lover’s list. To appreciate these Brougham Mustangs, you have to view them not as hot-blooded tarmac terrors, but instead as junior Thunderbirds.

The Mustang: All things to all people, or almost. From the first, it could be equipped as anything from a plain-Jane secretary sportster to a thoroughbred V8 sprinter, and it branched out even further throughout the ’60s. The 1967-68s got a bigger engine bay to accommodate big-block power; then, in 1969, the Mustang grew longer and added a Brougham model, the Grandé. And while all 1969 Mustangs appeared, well, grande, they were in fact only 3.8 inches longer than the ’68 models and rode the same 108″ wheelbase.

In a sense, the Grandé was the Mustang aping the Cougar for a change. Instead of flashing scoops, spoilers and stripes, the Grandé was rather elegant, with its subtle metallic colors, notchback roofline, vinyl roof, full wheel covers and suitably plush interior. The Grandé was priced about $200 above the plain Mustang hardtop.

Poor Mercury: Always living in the shadow of more salable Fords, and now that they did come up with a winning formula, the Mustang cheerfully copies it! Is it just me, or does the ’69 Grandé look like a knockoff of the Cougar, right down to the plush seats, roof line and chrome trim? Yes, I know they were corporate cousins, but maybe FoMoCo could have let the Cougar keep the Brougham pony car market to itself. Throw Mercury a frickin’ bone!

OK, sorry about that, but Mercury’s slide into irrelevance still chafes. Back on topic: The ’69 Grandé sold 22,182 copies, not bad for a first-year model. And just as the 1965 LTD was a simple re-trim of the more common Galaxie 500, I’m sure Ford made good money on every one. So naturally, the Grandé returned for ’70. Despite a new vinyl canopy-roof option, sales nosedived to 13,581. Perhaps that was due to the availability of more tantalizing Mustangs like the Boss 302 (my favorite Mustang), Boss 429 and Mach 1. Nineteen seventy was the last really big year for muscle, so maybe Mustang buyers wanted one last taste of it before the pony’s slide into Broughamified personal luxury.

Things changed drastically for ’71, at least appearance-wise. The “classic” Mustang look had been replaced with a billiard table-size hood, sheer, scoopless sides, and “flying buttress” C-pillars on the hardtop. Yes, the ’71s were longer, lower and wider than any previous Mustang, but as with the ’69 model, the look was in large part an optical illusion; versus their predecessors, they had a wheelbase only one inch longer, and sported a mere 1/10th-inch more in overall length.

Here’s an interior shot from the brochure. At least in this case, Ford was now pitching the Grandé as a “Ford Cougar,” or even a more affordable Thunderbird. Note the particularly campy ad copy. I’d never before seen the term “sparkles like champagne” used to describe a brown interior. Oh, those wacky ’70s Ford marketeers…

As expected, the hardtop, fastback and convertible all returned for ’71. Sadly, the legendary Boss 302 and Boss 429 had been dropped, although a new Boss 351 fastback offered partial compensation. In terms of power, everything from a 145-hp, 250 cu in six to a Ram Air, Super Cobra Jet 429 with 375 oh-so-understated horses was available. Six-cylinder Grandés started at $3,117, and V8s at $3,212.

While most of the V8s probably were the “cooking” 210-hp 302, theoretically a buyer could have ordered up the 285-hp, four-barrel Cleveland 351, the 370-hp CJ 429, or even the 375-hp SCJ with Ram Air. I recall seeing an SCJ-equipped Grandé in a recent issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines, but I believe it was a 1969 or ’70. Still, a handful of ’71 Grandés may have gotten out the door with this configuration. Our featured Calypso Coral Grandé most likely has either a 240-hp two-barrel 302 or 351 underhood.

You’d think Ford would have consulted a Spanish-to-English dictionary before bestowing “Grandé” nomenclature on these plush mini-T-Birds; in Spanish, “Grandé” means “large”, not “great” or “grand.” How deliciously ironic.

Here we see the flying-buttress C-pillars and recessed backlight. Since ex-GM executive Bunkie Knudsen arrived at FoMoCo as the ’71 Mustang was being pinned down, I think it’s a safe bet that he remembered the similar treatment used on the ’66-’67 GM A-body hardtop coupes. Bunkie’s mark can also be seen on the GM-ified 1970-71 Thunderbird and 1972-76 Continental Mark IV.

As you can see, the interior was just as orange–excuse me, Calypso Coral–as the exterior. Although this is a snooty Grandé, it still shares a plain ol’ two-spoke Ford steering wheel with Galaxies, Pintos and F-100 pickups. The optional three-spoke, rim-blow steering wheel was much cooler looking.

And here’s the back seat. The upholstery is just as plush, but that vacu-formed armrest/quarter panel looks decidedly non-Grandé.

Automatic, tape player, sport mirrors…but no power windows? And although it looks cool, I’m not sure why the clock was placed so far out of the driver’s line of sight. I can just picture it: “Hey Bob, what time is it?” “Well, it’s quarter to….AAAUGH! (CRASH). Not exactly a Ford Better Idea, eh?

Clock of doom notwithstanding, I was drawn to the orange and black interior…now this I like! No wimpy, apologetic gray or beige interior here. And how very appropriate, since today is Halloween. But is this Grandé a trick or a treat?

Well, keep in mind the Muscle Car Fallacy, to wit: Many, nay, most pony cars in the ’60s and early ’70s were not hot rods. Sure, high-test variants were available, but they were certainly in the minority. Most Chevelles were not SS396s, most Camaros were not Z/28s, and most Mustangs were not GTs, Boss 302s or Boss 429s. Thanks to well-off Boomers and a surfeit of repro parts, Sadie the Secretary’s powder-blue 250-cube six-cylinder Mustang is today a bright red SCJ Mustang. Taken in its proper 1965-71 context, the Grandé was not all that unusual. And besides, what’s wrong with a little comfort?

With that in mind, the Grande was actually a nice, plush boulevardier; broughamy, but sporty too. No, it wasn’t a classic ’65 Mustang, but still was a perfectly nice car in early ’70s America. To my eyes, this Mustang has some style–and clearly remains a Mustang with the characteristic long hood and short deck. The lines are clean and trim, at least when compared with the gun-slit windowed, used-bar-of-soap mid-sizers on the road today. I’m not ashamed to say that I like it.

Grandés received all the usual Mustang features, plus bright pedal pads, Deluxe cloth-and-vinyl, high-back buckets, Deluxe instrument panel and steering wheel, electric clock, special door panels with integral door pulls and armrests, dual paint accent stripes, color-keyed sport mirrors, bright rocker and wheel lip moldings, vinyl roof and more. In addition to the previously mentioned range of available V8s, options included Cruise-O-Matic transmission, power front disc/rear drum brakes, power steering, power windows (although only 1.9% of Mustangs got ’em) and a rear window defogger.

I found our featured Grandé sitting at a used car lot about 10 minutes before I spotted the Euclid dump truck. Most of the cars were the expected late ’90s/early ’00s fare, but this one stood out despite its slightly down-at-the-heels appearance and one flat shoe. Of course, I had to investigate.

I really liked the orange/white/black color combination, and the slotted mags and whitewalls just looked right. I have no idea what they were asking for it (or if it even runs), but this car has style–a trait sorely lacking in most of today’s cars. Why can’t we at least get bright interior and exterior colors on 2012 models? Yes, I know certain sporty models come with them, but what if I want a 2013 Impala or Camry sedan in red with a red leather interior?

Annual Grandé sales for the 1971-73 period were 17,406, 18,045 and 25,274, respectively, a telling sign of the advancement of the Great Brougham Epoch. And while both the Grandé and the zaftig Mustang would go away after ’73, the Brougham Mustang would carry on in Bristol fashion through the early Fox-body years, albeit as a Ghia, not a Grandé.

The Grandé, like all the other Mustangs, got a minor face lift for ’73, as vertical parking lights moved up into the grille and a body-colored bumper replaced the previous chromed version. As you can see in this vintage ad, Ford was now trumpeting comfort and handling, not quarter-mile drama; rising insurance costs had seen to that. After ’73, the Grandé and the convertible were dropped; eventually, the convertible would return, but the Grandé would not.

Yes, the Grandé was a kind of odd offshoot of the classic pony car, but one that would look pretty good to Mustang fanciers once they got a gander at what Ford was passing off as a 1974 Mustang: The Super Pinto, AKA Mustang II! The Brougham Mustang was now the Brougham Pinto, as least in Ghia notchback form. But that’s another CC for another time.