(first posted 2/20/2014) Good morning, Curbsiders. Today, our subject is Bloat. Please turn your attention to the photograph above. We are going to examine this poor, unfortunate swollen subject in some detail. This is the sad result when a handsome but large American car simply lets itself go.
Sure, the 1971-72 Ford LTD had been a piece of crap. But it had at least been an attractive and appealing piece of crap, one that made its (first) owner feel handsome and successful, at least until the rust started bubbling up through the paint after its third winter. But the ’73 model, ugh!
I vividly recall this car’s debut. I was thirteen. My Mopar fandom was still developing, and my automotive heart was still with the big Fords. From my earliest consciousness, I worked hard at identifying every year and following the new models when they came out. I suppose it was my way of rebellion in a family dominated by GM vehicles. Finally, my Uncle Bob got a used ’64 Galaxie 500, and then Dad got a new ’66 Country Squire, followed by a ’69 LTD. Each of these cars seemed better and more appealing than the last. I still remember the first ’71 LTD I ever saw – I was stunned at how beautiful the car was. Yessir, Ford was on a roll. Then came this one.
“My,” I thought of my old flame in late 1972, “haven’t you put on weight?” Actually, my dear Ford LTD had gotten outright fat. This was bloat of the highest order. Sure, Chevy and Plymouth had usually been better performers, but Fords had at least looked trim and athletic from the curb. No more. The ’71-72 LTD always made me think of Burt Reynolds. Maybe this is because I remember him driving them in the movie White Lightning. This car? More like John Candy. Only not as funny. Middle age spread had taken hold.
I wanted to like the car. Really. But every feature of the thing seemed designed to look less appealing than last year’s model. Every detail on the car was dull and puffy compared to the prior version. I knew that the fat bumpers were not Ford’s fault, but everything else certainly was. To tell you how bad it was, the ’73 Caprice started looking good to me, which in my Chevy-phobic youth was a serious matter indeed.
Let’s be truthful for a moment. Does anyone really like the ’73 big Ford? I don’t mean do you like the way it rides, or how much you can put into its cavernous trunk. I mean does anyone think that this is an attractive car? I suspect that we will get two or three contrarians out there who will disagree with me, but on this one, I claim to be in the comfortable majority. I ask you: even aside from its all-too-obvious weight problem, is there an original (or even interesting) line anywhere on it?
I can hear those two or three apologists now: “But JP, maybe you have not actually spent enough time with one of these.” To which I shall reply “you sir, are wrong.” A close family friend traded a black ’68 Mercury Montclair fastback (which I dearly loved) on one. Six of us rode in that car on a vacation that summer. It was certainly comfortable, and as a top-line LTD Brougham 2 door painted a reddish-copper, it was about as good looking as these got. But attractive on its own? Not really. I also remember from a few years later the rust, the hollow-sounding doors and the duct-taped upholstery. A school-friend’s dad bought one too, in that ungodly metallic pinkish-red, no less. My father got them as rentals (usually Galaxie 500s) more than once on family trips. And I got to spend a whole day cleaning and detailing a lime green ’73 Country Sedan wagon, getting familiar with its every nook, crevice, squeak and rattle. I have firsthand experience with an impressive variety of models, trim levels and colors. These cars, to me, are like Green Eggs and Ham–I do not like them, Sam I Am.
Really, I think that this is the car that singlehandedly started the Malaise Era. The ’73 model was not so much a new car as a new platform for hanging ever-more parts from Ford’s massive Brougham Catalog. This car was the white pine that would be transformed into the Christmas Tree by 1976-78 (which we will call Peak Brougham). How many square yards of earth-toned padded vinyl and woodgrain applique swathed these things? It may have helped them.
Sometimes, we can be surprised when we find that a reviled broughamified chariot can look quite trim and appealing once all of the gingerbread is stripped away. But as we see with rather basic version here, it doesn’t help one bit. Just like some people don’t look good in a Speedo, some cars just don’t look good wearing nothing but metal. Quick, somebody get this poor swollen thing into a trim shop. It’s gonna take their broughamliest vinyls, and lots of them, to cover this automotive hippo. And if anyone ever wondered whether a finer grille texture would have helped this car’s look, we can now give you a definitive no.
It has been quite awhile since I have heaped such hate onto a car, but to tell you the truth, it feels kinda good, in a soul-cleansing kind of way. Am I being unfair to the poor, helpless thing? Perhaps. I am man enough to admit that the 1973-74 generation of this car was probably a better quality package than Ford offered in 1971-72. But not by a lot, and truthfully, this was not a particularly high standard from the outset. No matter what Paul Niedermeyer says (here). Although it depends on which day you ask (here). I can also concede that the car was one of the smoothest and quietest interstate cruisers of its day, capable of devouring miles (and gallons) in great quantities.
If pressed, I can also acknowledge that there is a sort of cohesiveness to the design. We can debate about how good of a thing this cohesiveness actually is, but it is at least there compared with the muddled hash that followed as 1975 models. I have reviewed Paul’s rant (here) about the odd two-door greenhouse on the 1975-78 version, and see his point. But is the 1975-78 version of this car an overall improvement over this one? Fodder for the commentariat indeed, because I just can’t decide. It’s like having to choose between a splitting headache or uncontrollable itching.
In anticipation of at least one comment, I will freely acknowledge that I have walked past hundreds of well-kept versions of this car, just waiting for a picture of a real shit-box in order to support my bile-filled diatribe. Who am I kidding? It is amazing that even one of these lived long enough to get this worn out. Most of them rusted to powder, at least until their 400 cid engine blocks cracked or until they were totalled after slipping into reverse and backing into something or another. The few that avoided such these fates were doomed by their 8 mpg fuel habit after 1979, so it is entirely possible that this is actually the last one of these in daily service anywhere. (Oh, wait. This was a Ford, not something made by GM, so the griping about my choice of a crappy one to photograph won’t even come up. My bad.)
Well, everyone, my spleen has been vented and I feel a lot better. But now I am actually starting to feel a little bad about some of the abuse I have flung at this poor car. It is not this poor LTD’s fault that it is overweight. It’s engineers simply gave the poor thing abnormally big bones. OK, and maybe some extra padding. Besides, it is now the second decade of the twenty-first century, so we are not supposed to say such unkind things. Maybe I should go back and buy this poor car, and give it some love. And an ice pack to relieve the swelling. Yes, perhaps I really should do this…
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Or, as those from the southern states might say, “HAYLE no.”