What’s this? Another Maverick? Haven’t we covered these to death here at CC? Let us answer your questions, rude though they may be: Huh, Yes, and Kind Of. That last one needs a bit of explaining.
We have turned our spotlight on the Ford Maverick several times, but always in the context of cheap econoboxes or sporty Grabbers. One sub-role of Maverickdom which we have not really looked at is the Luxury Maverick. Yes, the Luxury Maverick – Identified by the letters LDO.
Ford really liked its letters in the 1960s and 70s. We went from a 500 being after everything through the XL, LTD and several flavors of GT. But what the heck was LDO?
If ever there was a car that seemed less suited to a luxury role than the 1970 Ford Maverick, it would be hard to think of one. The 1970 Maverick was a back-to-basics compact that was aimed more at the Volkswagen than at the Nova and Valiant. At least that was what Ford folks said at the time. At an advertised price of $1,995 it was called “The Simple Machine”.
Introduced only as a 2-door on the small end of the compact class, it made the outgoing Falcon feel like a Cutlass Supreme by comparison. It was as if the ghost of Robert McNamara reappeared during the era of Peak Iacocca at Ford. Except for the racy shape which looked great but made the space within the car’s 103 inch wheelbase as inefficient as possible. Oh well, don’t looks sell cars?
A sedan on a 109.9 inch wheelbase joined the lineup in 1971 and was a more direct replacement for the Falcon which had been discontinued a year earlier. Especially once the 302 V8 became available to augment the wide range of sixes (170, 200 and 250 – in order of descending wheeze). With the sedan the Maverick seemed to cover the spectrum a compact was expected to cover in 1971 – cheap, thrifty, small, maybe sporty, and cheap. Did I mention cheap?
There was one place the Maverick had not gone though, and that was in the direction of luxury. Lido (Lee) Iacocca had been displaying an almost supernatural ability to find new niches since taking over as head of the Ford Division at the beginning of the 1960s. In that decade “sport” was what sold cars, and everything in Ford’s lineup got bucket seats, consoles and lots of chrome. Then, with his second act that was the Ford LTD, he tapped into the next wave – luxury for the masses.
Well into the 1972 model run a new kind of Maverick appeared. And, in perfect Maverick-fashion, it was not a separate model but an option package. One, however, that completely changed the character of the car: The Ford Maverick with the Luxury Decor Option. Yes, an unwieldy name, but an intriguing car.
The LDO turned the Maverick into a mini LTD. Inside you got extra thick carpet, super-soft vinyl seats and more sound insulation. Outside you received a vinyl roof, vinyl-filled side mouldings and and color keyed wheel covers. And the LDO was not just about appearance, as it included the handling package and steel belted radial tires.
In the 1973 brochure Ford bragged that the LDO option (is LDO option like a VIN number or a hot water heater?) even got you an extra coat of paint. Really.
Popular Science chose a Maverick LDO for its June, 1973 four-way test of V8 compact sedans. “Don’t think the LDO is like all Mavericks.” PS’s auto editors said. “This $390 option does more for the Maverick than anything else Ford has tried.” The LDO-equipped Mav was a clear step above the others in quietness and luxury, and also led the field in the magazine’s handling and maneuverability tests. The LDO package was noted to be on more than 20% of Mavericks being built – a serious take-rate on an option that was so pricey. How pricey? The tested Maverick (at $3651) was roughly twenty percent more expensive than the decently equipped Hornet and Valiant and came at a premium of well over fifty percent above the car’s $2386 base price.
All was not roses, however – you still didn’t get a glove box. And the interior came in only one color – tan. But if you were prepared for these minor sacrifices all was grand. The Maverick LDO was certainly a better trimmed package than anything comparable from GM Chrysler or AMC. They would, of course hop on the bandwagon shortly with a Valiant Brougham, Dart SE, Nova LN and even a Gucci Sportabout. Just in time for Ford to up the ante with the introduction of the Granada.
That word – Granada – pretty much spelled the end of the Maverick LDO as a viable concept. The LDO would, however, soldier on for awhile with some changes, such as the lack of the tall Mercedes-style headrests for 1975.
By 1976 the Maverick LDO was still available, if in a further de-contented form. It would not reappear for the Maverick’s final year, 1977. But this was as it should have been because the Granada brought credibility to a luxurious small car in the way the Maverick never could have done.
In the fall of 1975 my father traded from Continental Mark IV to a ultra-loaded ’76 Mercury Monarch. He told me that it seemed to be almost un-American to drive a big car after the energy crisis and the terrible recession that followed in its wake. Or maybe he was just trying to save face on a less expensive new car. In either case, the resulting package was a credible small luxury car – a role no Maverick or Comet could have come even close to fulfilling, LDO or no LDO.
With this particular car we dip back into the greasy fried chicken bucket for more pictures by Blurry JPC. My 2011-vintage cell phone camera seems to have not received the memo about “the golden hour” being an optimum time for photography. Or perhaps this is where my father would say “it’s a poor workman who blames his tools.” Anyhoo, your correspondent has spent the years since 2011 assuming that he would soon see another LDO-equipped Maverick. But how wrong that assumption was, and patience has finally worn thin.
I am going to come right out and say that this may be the most attractive Maverick sedan I have ever seen. First, this is a favorite color of mine. After being a mainstay on American color charts all through the previous decade, these metallic silver-blues all but disappeared for a few years before they came roaring back on a bazillion 1977-79 GM B body cars. The color was a rare oasis in the years when earth-tones took over the world – and was even more rare because this was one of three “Metallic Glow” shades for which Ford charged extra.
The car was equipped with an interior that matched the paint, a color which finally joined tan as an LDO offering in 1974 (along with a real glovebox). Also adding points to this example is the lack of a vinyl roof – something that was theoretically standard, so perhaps it was deleted when ordered? And finally, as much as I like the LDO package in general, I find these Comet wheelcovers to be an improvement over the color-keyed Ford covers that were probably on the car when new.
This car also makes me think that there were few Fords that made the transition as gracefully from 1971 to 1975 as the Maverick sedan. The shape of the car had always been nicely done and this one got less gingerbread hung on it than most other cars in Ford’s lineup.
So was the LDO package a genuine advance in small car thinking in the US? Or was it lipstick on a pig? It was certainly a puzzler. This was one of those concepts that should have been featured in Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. Well, it sort of was as the “Custom Option” on the Comet, but the Custom Option Comet never got anywhere near the promotion of the LDO on the Maverick, which handily outsold it. And it is not inconceivable that the success of the LDO guided management in nudging the Granada into much higher trim levels (and sticker prices) in a way that coaxed many Americans to abandon their bigger cars in the way my father did.
But that name – this was really a pretty decent car that never got a proper name. To Ford’s credit it was not a Maverick Ghia – at least they held Ghia for their better lines – like Mustang II and Granada/Monarch. But LDO? Let’s Drive Opulently? Last Ditch Opportunity? Lotsa Dealer Orders? Intended or not, the LDO name hints at what this car really was: the Maverick Lido. Which could stand for Luxury Intersects Dramatically with the Ordinary.