(first posted 8/31/2013) This was a radical car for Ford. If you didn’t live through the ‘70s and remember well all the bloatmobiles that Ford (and, to be fair, GM and Chrysler) foisted upon the American people until then, perhaps all you see is the most boringly styled automobile ever. Well, until the Chrysler K car, anyway.
Sorry, there I go again, being hard on the old Fairmont. It’s a drum I’ve beaten often around here. I have to keep reminding myself of what the Fairmont ushered in at Ford. Previously, their family-sized cars were all long-hooded sedans like this ’77 LTD II. It was the personal-luxury era, and Ford was drunk with it. While the enormous LTD II was sold as a mid-sizer and the Fairmont had a bit of a size-class identity crisis upon introduction (is it compact? is it mid-sized?), truth was that the Fairmont was bigger inside – well, not in width, but given the upright seating and airy greenhouse, it felt bigger inside in every way. And it was a better handler by a mile. Goodbye floaty boulevard ride!
I suppose it’s fairer to compare the Fairmont to the Granada, as they shared similar exterior dimensions. The Fairmont was actually shorter by a few inches. Again, the Fairmont won in interior room and handling – the Granada was the final iteration of the outdated 1960 Falcon platform.
But I knew little of handling at the time; I was 10 when the Fairmont was introduced. All I could go on was styling, and I harbored strong negative opinions about Ford’s 1970s styling direction. I was glad that my dad, an avowed Ford man, switched to Chevy and AMC in the 70s. But Ford’s marketing people teased us for months about the coming Fairmont, and I was growing excited. But when they unveiled it, I gasped – in shock at how plain of a car it was. I asked aloud of Ford, which wasn’t listening, “Is that the best you can do?”
Perhaps it was. Ford wasn’t on the firmest financial footing; by the early 1980s, bankruptcy rumors circulated. The Fairmont helped them live to fight another day.
And that’s because the Fairmont was an instant hit – at least, it was among the working-class families that were my childhood neighbors. Many of my school chums’ moms bought these to chauffeur their broods. And this is the Fairmont they bought – the ur-Fairmont, the base sedan, usually in this tan or in light blue, with plain interiors and dog-dish hubcaps. It’s so plain that it’s homely. And this homely ride was simply everywhere in my Midwestern hometown. Higher-trim Fairmonts were few and far between.
So I spent time in them. The first time I sat down on a Fairmont’s back seat almost sent me into sensory overload. There was room back there. It was bright inside; you could see. I actually felt a little exposed and vulnerable in the Fairmont. My friends’ moms had been driving big-on-the-outside, dark-and-cramped-on-the-inside mid-sized cars – Torinos, Satellites, Malibus. But here came the Fairmont, all roomy and open and bright, with gas mileage their former bloatmobiles couldn’t touch. They took to them like moths to a flame.
The styling sort of set the pace for this era of Ford. The new-for-1981 Escort looked like the Fairmont’s younger brother with its thin upper door frames and crisp corners. The Fairmont began a transitional period between the Great Bloat Era and the brilliant jellybean era of the Thunderbird, Tempo, and Taurus.
And then Ford went and got the Fairmont’s styling right in 1983, when the car was rebadged LTD. It’s amazing how new front and back clips transformed the Fairmont. And am I hallucinating, or did Ford slightly rake the rear roofline? One could be forgiven for not immediately recognizing that this car was the Fairmont of yore.
I’m going to admit another source of my anti-Fairmont bias: the two-door ’79 Mercury Zephyr a college buddy owned, and loaned me frequently in 1985 and 1986. With its 2.3L four and the four-speed stick, it was a serious dog. Its floaty, vague front end meant constant steering to keep the car on the road. But given how often the Fairmont has been praised for its strong (for the times) handling, I have to assume now that my buddy’s Zephyr needed serious front-end work.
And so I hereby pledge to quit ragging on the Fairmont. Besides, I remember well my stepson’s red ’93 Mustang GT, which was tons of fun. Gotta thank the Fairmont for that, as it donated its platform to the Mustang. Maybe the Fairmont wasn’t such a bad car after all.
it’s amazing how different the midwest is from the east coast. in new jersey, these were only bought by fleets and senior citizens. everybody else was buying hondas and toyotas by the time ford introduced the fairmont.
My experience in Indiana was that it was the early-mid 80s before we embraced Japanese cars.
That was my observation in the Deep South, as well. It seemed as though Toyota’s introduction of the Camry opened a lot of buyer’s eyes to the possibility of Japanese car ownership. Up until that point, none of the mainstream sedans from Japan seemed roomy or comfortable enough to serve as a primary family vehicle, at least not to the perceptions of U.S. buyers.
I’d say the first Camry was the first Japanese car that was seen as suitable to serve as the primary family vehicle by large numbers of US buyers. Which coincidentally shares a lot of styling cues with the Farimont. Very similar 6 window greenhouse when comparing 4dr sedans. Both are quite boxy and lacking many curves. Similar front treatment, at least compared to the up level Fairmont with the quad lights, and similar taillight, license plate location to the Futura. Certainly there are a lot of differences too. To be fair the downsized B and A from GM also followed the boxy look and had similar grille and taillight treatments.
Keep in mind that back then the division was between the commies on the coasts and the real Americans in the midwest. (grin)
i really liked the fairmont when my dad bought an 81 light blue 3.3 stripper from govt auction. it was the first time i ever saw a horn button on the turn signal stalk. hated that. still do. after two yrs it was in an accident and my dad again bought from govt auction an 85 LTD II 5.0 HO.
commies lol. even though we were poor and had no choice to buy used cars, my dad always bought american cars… built in america to keep americans employed…. faulty thinking since he was buying used, but it made him feel good. today at 78 he will buy an asian, but it has to be built in america.
My ’57 Morris Minor had horn as the turn signal switch, didn’t like it either, but necessary as when the steering wheel came off in my hands under acceleration (Had a ram air MG-A twin cam under the hood) it didn’t have wiring in the wheel to screw up.
I had a Fairmont wagon and a Zephyr 4dr. They were reliable and gave great mileage for the time. The Midwest where I was was still a bastion for Detroit also.
It was a gradual thing, and frankly, in 1979, Japanese cars weren’t all that common on the East Coast. We used to regularly fly from LA to Baltimore during this time to visit the folks, and would be astonished at how different the car mix on the Beltway was compared to LA: a sea of fat Thunderbirds, Olds Cutlasses, etc… I’d say the real tipping point started in the latter eighties, when so many folks had been disappointed by the many mediocre American cars from that era.
BTW, my father, a doctor, bought a new stripper Zephyr in 1980 or 1981, the Mercury version of the Fairmont. He fit right in….
On the west coast Japanese were here, but LOTS of people bought these Fairmont-Zephyr’s most around here in upper level trim.. This has always been a smaller town college atmosphere where most cars were the more expensive variant here. Also popular were the custom Rancero style pickups. As soon as A/C came out in the 50’s it was and is very popular here with our 115 degree summers that are 5 months long. I’d forgotten the early box Camrey, they did look related.
In 1958 my sister bought a Toyopet Crown deluxe sedan. This was my first look (at age 10) that Japanese cars could be very comfortable family cars, with the crashworthiness of a ’64 Imperial, still want the one that looks like a mini ’58 New Yorker.
You speak of your Dad buying a Merc Zephyr in the early ’80s . . . my father did, too. He’d had a mid-70s Mercury Comet (with a sea-green color, I believe) and then he got a Zephyr circa 1980. And his next car was another Zephyr that was white on the outside and a dark blue on the inside. (His next car was a copper or gold-coloured 1986 Ford Thunderbird that he had until he died in Nov. 1998 and which I inherited after his passing — and which in Jan. 2000 got wrecked when someone pulled out in front of me).
I’ve never known anyone else that had a Zephyr. I haven’t seen one in years; I have seen a couple of Fairmonts on the road locally there in the recent past. The Utilitarian Fairmont!
Nope, Ford sold a ton of these on the east coast from Maine to Florida. They were in a lot of middle class driveways. Those were different times; everyone was not ready to jump on the Japanese bandwagon yet.
I had a new ’79 Zeyphr 2 door with the 302. It handled well enough for the time. I think you are right that your buddy’s needed work. That exterior tan Ford used was strangely flesh colored and the interior tan had too much orange in it. It’s odd that this base Fairmont has optional(?) vent windows.
It’s also got trim rings, I think the interior might be one notch up from the really plain soviet spec base interior, the cloth insert is decadent…..
Isn’t it the rare Fairmont Brougham de Sade?
“Soviet spec” – I like it. I’m going to steal it.
This one pictured is a step up from the base-base interior which had the same insert pattern, but stamped in vinyl and rubber floormats. I test drove a stripper Fairmont 2 door sedan, 4 speed stick and the 2.3L four. A little doggy, but you could row the gears for proper propulsion. I don’t recall seeing too many full boat Fairmonts in the Bay Area in ’78 or ’79, but do remember seeing well equipped Mercury Zephys. Baby Lincolns. Most had the 200 CID/3.3L straight six with automatic. Most of the Zephyrs I recall usually had vinyl tops.
I’ve owned four Fairmonts. Loved those cars. After that damned 1976 Ford Torino company car I had, this car was a breath of fresh air. The only thing that ever annoyed me was the blasted placement for the horn. Really, Ford? – the turn-signal stalk, and you have to push inward on it??
The observation on that Zephyr front end was a one-off. These cars tracked straight as an arrow, unless they had major problems. If they had had some properly-sized tires on them, instead of the little doughnuts supplied from the factory, they could have been real handlers. What came on them may as well have been the 155SR12s that came on my new 1974 Corolla 1200. (Only new car I ever bought, and never shall do so again. Actually, it came with Bridgestone bias-plies, some skinny size that squealed over 10mph in a parking lot. The radials were Semperit M401s I put on in 1976.)
The V8 was a waste of money. I don’t remember the 255 being any more powerful than the six-bangers I had in two of my others, and even the 4-cylinder in a later company car was “spirited” if run to the redline (best guess) and manually shifting the automatic on the column. The six definitely had the best combination of gearing, torque and durability. I could flog those cars like draft horses and they didn’t complain. The V8 was just extra understeer.
For the period, build quality was great and the cars were blessedly free of the rattles I heard in prior cars. I’ll cast my vote for the Fairmont, any day.
This was also my experience of Fox bodies in general, that the V-8 was so strangled that it wasn’t worth the extra weight for the power gained. And of course, here in Canada anyway, this is why like 90% of Fairmonts had the 3.3 six.
I will go farther than 62Skylark and opine that this may be the least attractive color combination in the history of the automobile.
You may have a valid point there! Hard to top. Maybe we should have a contest on that subject.
Not to me, I like that Tan ford used. The 77 Maverick brochure shows a 2dr in that color. I hated all the greens they used back then, at least as exterior colors. The tu-tone green interior in a 76 Grand Marquis looked great. I just hated the external greens.
The tan exterior I can take.
The orange interior? BLECCH!
I’m the other way around. I like the interior tan – it makes the inside of the car seem…sunny. But I’m amazed that at no point in the past almost-forty years has this car gone into an Earl Scheib spray booth only to emerge bright red!
About 8 years ago I did a test drive of a 79 Fairmoint with only 7500 miles on it. It had been bought new and the owner died shortly thereafter. His children let it sit for the next 30 years and then put it on eBay. It was plain and vinyl and boring to drive, but it was like driving a brand new car and took me back to memories of drver’s Ed. Saw some really, really bad fellow student drivers in that Ford, but the car was forgiving of bad lane changes, turns and braking and we all survived. After the test drive of this Fairmount, I have no idea how.
It looks like Ford US tried to reverse engineer an Aussie Falcon and got it wrong, try harder next time, At least they rang Mazda to get an Escort, Something Ford OZ had been doing since 1980 with the Laser.
To clarify, the initial U.S. version of the Escort shared little, if anything, with Mazda, as it was built on the CE14 platform, which was developed by Ford Europe as Project Erika. It wasn’t until the 1991 model year replacement that the Escort was built upon Mazda’s B platform, which was shared with the 323.
To further confuse matters, prior to that the Escort’s twin – the Mercury Lynx – was replaced by the Mercury Tracer for the 1988 model year, and the Tracer was basically a rebadged Ford Laser, which in turn was basically a restyled Mazda 323 (whew…now THAT’S a complicated lineage).
Escort was a UK badge made popular in the 60s with the MK1 which became a popular rally car the name continued on until the late 90s when the Focus was introduced, the Tracer likely was a companian to the awful Capri also from Aussie and also a reskinned Mazda,
This one I take it is your Mercury found yesterday along with others check the cohort
Nope that is the later fully jointly developed version we got it both Escort and Tracer flavors. It is your previous generation Lazer that was sold as the Tracer that was different from the same year Escort.
The Erika did actually include some collaboration with Honda. Ford and Honda had entered into an agreement in which they combined their efforts on developing a stratified charge engine which became Honda’s CVCC engine. Ford walked away from that project as they determined it was too expensive to make for the limited time it would meet US emissions. However they joined up again for the power plant for Erika. Once the deal for Honda to supply the engines and transaxles for Erika made its way up the ladder to Hank II the contract was canceled and Ford engineers were told to get to work and come up with an in house power train. The were now in panic mode and they did end up working with Mazda to develop the manual transaxle that ended up in that generation Escort and the first FWD GLC/323.
Hank II was reported to have said no @#%^$*! way in hell is there ever going to be an engine made in Japan under the hood of a car with my name on it!!!. Never mind the fact that they had been selling the Mazda B-series truck with a Ford badge for some time at that point. I’ve read that the deal with Honda called for the engine and trans was to have cost $500 delivered. Of course Ford by the time the second generation Courier made it to production you could get it powered by the Lima 2.3 but Ford only supplied the long block. The intake, carb, exhaust manifold and most other external parts were built and installed by Mazda before the engines were installed in the trucks in Japan.
Ok the KA KB & KC Laser or Mazda 323, Hank11 obviously knew little of Ford’s foreign operations where Ford was firmly in bed with Mazda and had model sharing with Nissan mandated in Australia, GM was forced to model share with Toyota an alliance which had previously seen the junk Starfire 4 fitted to Australian Coronas to produce a shockingly for Toyota unreliable unsaleable used car.
Upon looking closer into the Laser the one we got as a Tracer appears to be the KC/KE and maybe what you posted is a KE, we only got hatchback versions of the Tracer at that point, no sedans.
Hank’s proclamation predated some of those hook ups as that would have been made in 1979 or 1980, and in the case of Mazda at least Ford already owned or was in the process of acquiring a substantial stake in them.
Although Edsel Ford II was deputy managing director of Ford of Australia in the late ’70s. Edsel was generally credited with the XC Falcon Cobra.
Eric, Bryce’s photo is of a 1991 or so model sedan, which had the KF model code.
Wasn’t the Aussie model sharing scheme called the Button Plan ?
The Fox platform had nothing to do with the Aussie Falcon and stayed in production until 2004 as the Mustang (with significant updates throughout its life). It remains one of the best loved Ford platforms in the US with almost limitless aftermarket support. Hardly getting it wrong.
I lived with a Fairmont for a couple of years. It was a good, honest, affordable car and it was reliable too.
My Fairmont handled well and had decent power. It replaced a great VW Rabbit and did not suffer much in comparison.
If I could find a nice, clean example I’d buy one again as a runabout.
Ah yes, the fleshtone Fairmont. Seems like at least 50% of the F/Z’s in the Cleveland area were that color, the rest being that odd shade of light yellow occasionally two-toned with metallic gold (ick) . Fortunately none of my three wore either of those common shades, although my long gone ’79 wagon (my first Fox) did have that color interior. I called it “dirty butterscotch”. My second ‘Mont was a red 4cyl/stick with all of ONE option… exterior decor group. Slow as molasses but at least it looked kinda fancy. My third and current ‘Mont is a white two door with a pimpin’ red velour interior (yep, velour in a Fairmont, seems like a contradiction, no?), a red vinyl top and its original 302 residing under the hood. Yes, I know I have a problem… I have an addiction to Foxes :D.
Quit bitching about the styling of the Fairmont. It’s not a brougham. Which, in itself, makes the car wonderful for its day.
I think that was the radicalness of it. Into a sea of broughams comes a car with plain styling…
The coming of the Anti-Brougham.
Which I’ve always assumed was at least part of the point. Of course, part of it was the newfound emphasis on packaging efficiency, which hadn’t been a strong point of Ford’s U.S. cars since the original Falcon and midsize Fairlane, but I thought there was also a certain amount of “Okay, you say you want a car that’s not oversize and overstyled — try this” going on.
These things were everywhere when I was a teenager and I’ve always liked the styling. I find clean, simple, understated looks much more appealing in an automobile than the crass, garish styling that seems prevalent today.
Basic, competent compact and mid-sized cars are boringly styled, that’s why we have Camcords now. So it was no surprise Ford had a hit with the Fairmont. For a large section of the population that just wanted something decent to drive, a car having a personality was a non issue.
However, the Fox body showed lots of potential with the 1979 Mustang and the 1983 Aero bird and some guys go a step further like this customized Fox-body wagon with a Mustang front end http://forums.corral.net/forums/7156480-post15.html and another guy turned a Fairmont 2-door sedan into a nice sleeper. http://www.musclemustangfastfords.com/features/mmfp_1006_1979_ford_fairmont_late_model_restoration_supply/
That wagon is creative, I like the concept.
I seem to remember one of the car magazines (Car & Driver?) commenting, “Detroit finally figured out how to build a Volvo.”
is that black knob on the upper drivers door for the vent window? it looks like an afterthought. I grew up GM so never had any seat time in these, though i always liked the blandness of the early ones. A built up 302 and a T-5 in one would make an awesome sleeper family sedan, even if its a bit small.
Yeah. That black wheel isn not original. There was a crank there originally. I assume it broke off and the owner fit this thing to the post and just moved on.
I’m pretty sure that is original and yes, it’s definitely for the vent. I remember that knob from the Fairmonts that each of my uncles had in the early 80s. (My Dad went for the downsized Malibu instead)
I’m not so sure that knob is not original; I remember them from when these cars and the Fox-platform LTDs were new, because they looked so out of place. You can get a peek of them in some interior shots on oldcarbrochures.com, although they’re almost always blocked by the steering wheel.
Here you go…as it appears in the 1979 Mercury Zephyr brochure.
wow, thats gotta be original then, thanks for looking in to that. at first when i saw it in the picture i thought it was an aftermarket tweeter, then realized it might be the ugliest window opener ever lol.
Well I’ll be dipped!
Yup, another reason that this midwestern boy didn’t originally take to the Fairmont. That knurled knob that operated the vent window just seemed too European – like a basic little Ford was acting all haughty and fancy. Real American cars used chrome cranks or just little latches.
Later I used these in a couple of cars. Hard to imagine a worse way to work a vent window. The thing required several turns, and was geared just like for a crank. Cranks are easy to do multiple turns, a knob not so much.
Stupid idea that didnt catch on elsewhere similar setup on old Chevies but with crank
I’m sure there were some European cars that used a similar knob for crank open vent windows. So yeah I think Ford was trying to give it a euro flair.
Bryce, we had a number of cars with crank open vent windows in the US that had a proper crank which was just a shortened version of the main window crank.
I think the BMW 2002s had those crank knobs.
Don’t forget Eric, the turn signal stalk horn button – common on the very first Fox platform Mustangs, too. Fox platform – certainly Ford got that very “much right.” Bryce – are you inhaling too much wool down under? The Fox platform from Ford was one of the most durable, versatile automotive platforms EVER. In service in North/South America on a myriad of platforms. If it doesn’t have the Queen’s fingerprints in it, I suppose then it’s crap?
The Rover P6 used a knob for the quarter vents:
The vent windows in my 79 Lincoln are power! Ha!
MY grandma had a Fairmont Wagon until I was 8 years old. I cried when she got rid of it. I loved sitting in the front watching the hood ornament ahead of us as she drove. She traded it on a brand new 1986 Dodge Omni which I inherited. Many would disagree, but the Omni confirmed my love of the Mopar to this day.
Love that it’s this color. It’s the color of many Granadas and Monarchs, and Apple IIs, and Tupperware lids, and Dustbusters, and hot-air popcorn poppers, and answering machines with cassettes…pretty much the entire Service Merchandise catalog for Xmas ’81.
For a sportier look, make my Fox a Fila Edition T-Bird.
WOW! A Fila edition!
piece of garbage.
This is such a simple and straightforward beginning to such a prolific platform. It sold nearly 450,000 in ’78 and about 400,000 in ’79; how many cars achieve such success so quickly?
It’s plain in appearance but isn’t that only one appealing element of it?
Several times when new downsized compacts arrived in the US, they sold very well in the first year or two. The first Falcon and the Chevy Citation come to mind, and there may be more.
Original Mustang and Maverick too
Plus keeping with the Ford theme, the original Escort in 1981 sold about 400k or thereabouts. The Fairmont for that year was down to about 200k. That said, I’m reluctant to use model year ’81 as a barometer due to the economic factors and resultant sales dip that year.
The trick, of course, is that a lot of times those first-year sales came out of the sales of existing models and so don’t necessarily represent sales growth.
I always thought these should have come in a white box with the words “CAR” written on the side, sort of like a govt. issue generic spec item. Especially in this color.
Though these were really a replacement for the long serving Maverick, not the Granada or LTD II, these were humble serving compact family sedans, like the Falcon and Maverick that came before them. Their replacement was the Tempo/Topaz, later the less that successful Contour/Mystique leading up to todays Fusion.
My pal’s dad had one similar to this, 1983-1986 or so. We used to carpool in it and for whatever reason, he ALWAYS wore sixties-style driving gloves. I just thought he was a dork. But now I see that the Fairmont is lauded for its handling…guess he knew something I didn’t…
It took me awhile to warm to these. Where the new Granada seemed bigger, heavier and both more solid and luxurious, the Fairmont seemed thin and cheap. Then, as both of the cars aged a bit, I started to come around. The Granada continued that 1970s Ford trait of leaking, rusting and breaking while the Fairmonts seemed to hold up quite well.
Eventually I came to embrace the Fairmont for its rear wheel drive and its good structural bones. I preferred the upper trim levels, but these plain ones have a certain charm. I prefer the wagon, though. But heavens, not in this color. I simply will not drive something that is the same color as Circus Peanuts.
This car screams “No Country For Old Men”.
(although, if I recall correctly, it was not in it)
No, but the Mercury Zephyr sedan was and it got blown up, http://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_117258-Mercury-Zephyr-1978.html
Thanks. It was the combination of simple, clean sedan lines and the typical color that reminded me of that movie. After all, it all happened in 1980….
Yeah, but Tommy Lee Jones police Caprice was like a 1990, which always bothers the shit out of me when they don’t get detail like that right….
Very sharp !
Quote from this website:
…”Despite the film’s events taking place in 1980, several scenes feature a much newer 1986-1990 series Chevy Caprice (evidenced by the flush-mounted tail lights). The most obvious example is in the very first scene showing the rear of such a police car”….
Another commenter on that site mentions a new Subaru Forester….
I could really enjoy a base six cylinder, three on the tree edition of this car. The fairmont/zephry that I remember as the neatest took the win at one of car crafts contests many years ago. It had the 5.0 transplant which must have been drop in since so many did it. It was a combo of drag strip and economy with auto cross and endurance thrown in IIRC. The sort of thing that 5.0s and buick turbo sixes always won. The car craft annual contests don’t exist in that format any more and memory not real clear on everything. Just remember being very impressed with the 5.0 fairmont/zephyr.
I could be talked into this today but none of the car companies are trying. Have to buy a 4 door truck to get the utility of a family car.
Local Fords came the same way 6 &3 speed manual or auto V8 optional, thousands just drove them without complaint rust ate them without remorse very few left alive now. Good basic cars.
I don’t think these had an “on the tree” variant, I think they were all floor shift on the manuals, column shift manuals were almost gone from cars by the time these came out, I think the 1979 Nova may have been the last “on the tree” domestic.
I think Carmine is right. Even the Volare was using a floor shift by 1980. I believe that the pickups went awhile longer. I seem to remember a friend who had a 3 on the tree Dodge pickup from the early to mid 80s.
Trucks still had them into the early 80’s until 4 speeds started replacing the 3 speeds as the base transmission for economy purposes.
Dodge dropped their 3OTT in the Ram 100/150 in 1985 as part of the factory retooling to get ready for the ’87 Dakota. Also lost in this retooling were the 250/350 crew cab and the Utiline bed. The B-Series van had lost its 3OTT in 1980, according to Allpar. The 4-speed was then the base offering (B150 and 250s only) until the Slant Six was replaced with the 3.9 V6, at which point a 5-speed became the only manual option (for the 3.9 only, of course). I can’t say for sure when the 5-speed was dropped, but it was probably before the 1994 facelift.
Ford used the 3OTT as the base transmission in F-100/150s and Econoline 150s through 1986, the end of the sixth gen F-Series. Apparently, the Econoline still had a manual option (M5OD) through 1991.
Chevy used the 3OTT as the base transmission in C and K10s and 20s in the ’70s, but by 1985 had pared it down to only being used in gas C10s–all diesels, four-wheel-drives, and light-duty-3/4-ton-or-higher trucks had 4-speeds. The 3OTT was dropped entirely at the end of the ’87 MY. As for vans, Chevy had a 3OTT as its only manual option until 1982, then 3OTF for a year (because of issues with the tilt steering wheel), then the 4-speed was introduced in 1983. I can’t find any good sources as to when that was discontinued.
1981 is the last “three-on-the-tree” full size GM van. In ’82, GM finally moved the ignition switch to the column and all manual transmission vans were floor-shift going forward.
Concur with you guys. I remember seeing an ’81 Chevy Malibu wagon with three on the floor. In Mazatlan, in 1989, I rode in a Dodge Dart (M body, mid eighties) taxicab with three-on-the-tree.
I know the Granada was a floor shift if it was equipped with the rare to it manual trans. I’m pretty sure the Maverick/Comet was the last Ford car product to offer the 3 on the tree combo or any 3sp MT.
Funny you mention that about the Granada, Eric. My Grandmother had a ’76 Granada – 302 2-bbl with three on the floor.
Ford Fairmont Mexican taxi in 2013,
If that Fairmont had any more character, it would be twins.
That thing is glorious!
I remember seeing a row of these on a used car lot in Tacoma and finding out that they were ex-rental cars from Hawaii. Several of them were county-sheriff metallic green with the same orangey-tan interior as the feature car.
My father-in-law had a Zephyr Z7 coupe in baby blue. I remember noticing that the trunk lid was wider at the bottom than the top. Also, he put the old snow tires from his ’70 Torino on it every winter – they gave it quite a rake, but he didn’t care – it got him to McD’s and Kmart.
The ex-Hawaii rental car thing sounds familiar. Look for the safety inspection sticker on the lower right hand portion of the rear bumper. Every time I drive down to Sand Island or the waterfront, I see hordes of late model Toyotas, Ford Mustangs, Grand Marquis Mercuries, Chevy Cobalts, Cruzes on the piers heading to the mainland to be liquidated at auction.
Thanks for the reminder how great the LTDII looked. The Fairmont, bleh. Learned to drive on one, it had that nasty typical Ford accelerator tip in. Where they thought just feathering the pedal should trigger a lurch forward accompanied by a frenzied cacophony that might fool some into thinking it had some pick-up.
Is it just me, or is a whole lot of the ur-Fairmont styling cribbed from the Volvo 240? Well, that’s what *I* see, anyhow. And to me, the 240 is a decent design to copy from. Simple, straightforward coupes, sedans and wagons have a certain appeal.
Probably should have put the comment down here, it’d fit better:
I seem to remember one of the car magazines (Car & Driver?) commenting, “Detroit finally figured out how to build a Volvo.”
Yup, it was the original C/D road test.
Another odd (or maybe “European”) feature of the F/Z was, if I remember correctly, the horn was operated by a stalk off the column – not a button on the steering wheel.
The coolest F/Z was the semi-custom but still somewhat stock Ford Durango. It was authorized by Ford as a sort of Ranchero replacement. I have seen in person a Durango only two times. Given the pleasant driving of the F/Z, a Durango would today be a fun little city errand runner.
YES. I’d forgotten about that stalk-mounted horn. Dreadful placement.
Oh God, I have always wondered, what the hell was Ford thinking? However, I had heard that I think the cars were to have airbags, so at the time, the horn could not be integrated into them, but then Ford decided not to use the bags, but the stalk mounted horn remained.
Yes the new column was designed with air bags in mind as the gov’t had been hinting that they would soon be requiring them.
That is definitely an uplevel spec vehicle, it has the full wheel covers (yes, those WERE the full covers, just that they kind of look like dog dishes with trim rings).
I had a car exactly like this one, though sans the fancy mirrors, no right side unit, base all vinyl interior, black steelies with true dog dish caps, and nothing but base carpeting and the AM radio. A rear parcel shelf blower for the rear defroster was all it had in it.
It was the base 200 CID inline 6 with 3spd auto, though mine was white with blue interior (preferable to that hideous color combo). BTW, mine didn’t have the vent window, so I think the base models never had them as if you had to replace the front door windows from a junkyard or wherever, be sure you got the right one as the vents had the cutouts for it.
Here is a photo of it as it was taken around 1992, just after I’d replaced the dented finder, painted all by me, via spray cans too, just before I sold it. It was replaced by a 1983 Honda Civic hatchback.
I owned a 79 Mercury Zephyr wagon (bought new), dark green with the butterscotch interior. I thought it was a reasonably good looking car at the time but actually couldn’t wait to get rid of it. First off, Ford 6 cyl engines from the forties to the eighties were slushy in performance, never did like them. Traveling from PA to Michigan a few times a year with wife, daughter, and two pretty good sized in-laws proved to be very crowded in the Zephyr as well as making performance even worse. And the worst problem was that the car could not track a straight line down the highway. I had to constantly be making little corrections to keep it going straight. Fortunately, after a couple years of this I happened to be riding to a business dinner with a co-worker when he made a left turn in front of an oncoming car that didn’t stop. After that instant head-on collision that totaled his Plymouth Duster, I said “don’t worry, I’ll be glad to sell you my almost new Mercury Zephyr.” I don’t think we had even gotten out of the car when I said that. We were both industrial advertising salesmen so an automobile was essential. He happily bought the Zephyr the next day and drove it for several more years. I bought a new 81 Dodge Omni that was far more comfortable and drove better than the Zephyr. Omni reliability was another story, repetitive repairs led me to many years of driving Toyotas and Nissans.
These came out halfway between my two stints (summer job, 1977 and 1978) working for Hertz, which of course rented mostly Ford models (especially back then)…in 1977 I remember driving lots of LTDII models and (fewer) Granadas, but in 1978 the Fairmont was more common. I liked the car, it was comfortable…besides the horn at the end of the turn signal stalk (which I knew about, my Father’s Renault R10 also had this)…it also was one of the first cars that had the “integrated” side view mirror at the A pilar (I thought this was copied from Mercedes, but I’m not sure if they were first). A couple years later, when I had my first “regular” job, one of my co-workers also had a Fairmont, a four door sedan in powder blue…Frankly, by that time, I was thinking the Fairmont was a bit dowdy, such that I was a bit puzzled by his choice of car (he had bought it new) but had put in his own elaborate stereo (guess this impressed me at the time). Now I wish I’d had a Fairmont somewhere in my line of cars…the closest I came was my Mother’s 88 Tempo (I know the Fairmont was quite different than the Tempo…in fact I’d guess the Tempo probably is one of the least admired cars (well. maybe a Trabant owner might aspire to a Tempo) but other than front wheel drive, I think the Tempo was the successor to the Fairmont)….but my mother managed to keep her Tempo for 21 years (and I think I hold onto cars for a long time, but I’ve yet to own one for two consecutive decades) at least the Tempo had a “normal” horn (plus two of those “neat” Fairmont style side view mirrors)).
I have my folks 74 Montego they bought new on May 11th 1974. I also have my first car, a 71 2dr Maverick bought 11/18/83 for $625.
I drove a motor pool Fairmont when the model was fairly new. It wasn’t a stripper version and the cloth upholstery and other appointments were nice for the price class. It was roomy and visibility was outstanding.The cruise control impressed me: it was the most precise speed control I’d seen then. Ford did that right.
Once in a great while the ghost of old Henry Ford wafts through the Glass House and rebukes management that they’ve forgotten his ideals: cars that are simple, functional, honest, reliable and economical. FoMoCo rarely fails when it goes back to its roots.
Two points here: First, the bland styling…well, budget no doubt played a big part. But it was AIMING for bland Middle America…the part of the country tired of Coke-bottle Gran Torino wagons you could barely see out of, with less room inside than an imported compact. The country was in its “malaise” period – and to sell, there had to be perceived VALUE. The austere cubist style hit exactly the right note, which for Ford in those days was rare.
The other…comments on the handling. When maintained, handling was fine…but up front were those bastardized McPherson struts…and strut rebuilding in those days was not cheap. One of the cab companies I drove for had four of these, in various states of wear. They were moving away from Granadas…Granadas, with their quick-replacement shocks. The cab mechanics just ignored the struts; and with time it showed. Oh, boy, did it show…
No doubt some owners did, too, as well as used-car dealers. Fords in those days were known for sloppy handling; so maybe they figured buyers couldn’t tell the difference.
Since the Fox platform does NOT use MacPherson Struts they are quick and easy to change as there is no spring to compress. put the jack stand under the lower control arm. Remove the mounting nut on top, the two bolts that hold the strut to the spindle and it is out, though you may have to unbolt and rotate the caliper out of the way for clearance to remove the strut to spindle bolt. Actually in some ways it is easier to extract than the Falcon platform where the shock is inside the spring. Of course since it is the upper locating piece for the spindle it is much stronger than a shock and thus more expensive to make and buy.
Okay…correct me here, then. The buff books, the sales literature, all made a big deal of the MacPherson strut front suspension. Granted, it had a new wrinkle: Coil spring off the strut, mounted inboard against the lower-control arm.. But it was still a strut suspension, shock unit serving as pivot and upper-control arm of sorts.
I never owned one; and the cab company I drove for never serviced the struts…but, IIRC, those struts were “rebuildable” just as with any other MacPherson strut unit.
Or am I having a drug-altered memory distortion?
By definition and what MacPherson got the patents for the coil spring had to be concentric with the strut. It also required a lower control arm that had a single inner mounting point and it was triangulated by the sway bar. So by having a conventional “A” arm as the lower control arm and mounting the spring there the Fox platform had struts just not MacPherson struts.
The only vehicles I remember a lot of where the norm was to gut the existing strut and put a cartridge in them were Datsuns. They had a nut that unscrewed so you could dump out the guts and oil and the aftermarket had a drop in cartridge. I know for awhile there were cartridges available for some struts that were crimped together where you used a exhaust pipe cutter to cut off the top of the housing at a specified measurement and the replacement cartridges came with a self tapping nut but I never did any of those instead I went with the complete unit.
On the Foxes I’ve never seen any one that offered cartridges for them since struts were not exotic nor expensive anymore.
I rented a Fairmont in 1981 to drive from Toledo to Indianapolis and back for the US Nationals over Labor Day weekend. It was a dog, with the, I guess 2.3L 4 with an automatic. It was shit brown with the same color interior as the one in the pics. I beat the hell out of it, and hitting a huge pothole on US 24 in a storm didn’t do it any favors, alignment wise. I’ve had worse running rentals, but it was the ugliest. Ford lost it’s corporate mind, styling wise, about 1970, and it took them about 40 years to get back to sanity, IMHO. At one point, when the 2nd gen Taurus was introduced, I was convinced that there was more than a little drug use by the executives at Ford. I seems like they purposely made cars uglier than they “should have been” by doing doing bizarre fender flares on their trucks, and trim that was just ill fitting and didn’t look like it belonged on almost everything else.
The comparison between this and the 1979 XD Falcon is quite marked. The first thing that strikes you is the chrome bumper, then the high waistline (there was a big fight over the XD in this regard), then still having vent windows in a new-for-1979 car. Was the ventilation that poor?
Another thing is the engines still appear to be fundamentally the same as say 1970 – is this the case or had they changed? One of the weaknesses of the 1978 Holden Commodore was that it still had the 1960’s tech ‘red motor’ 6-cyl & V8’s, which let Ford with a larger, heavier car but updated engines achieve better fuel efficiency which was crucial in the early 1980’s.
Fairmonts seemed to be the GSA/Fleet Vehicle of choice in the day (right next to AMC Concords).
Yup, my car, whose photo you see above in my earlier comment started life as a GSA/fleet vehicle when new. Dad bought it in 1982, I got it in 87, and kept it until 92.
I was in the tail end of my college career when these came out; the Mennonites were all excited because it was a lot easier and cheaper to get a de-chromed Mennonite Special from the dealers.
Ummm, it’s actually a ’78. We drove it to San Bernardino from South Bend, Indiana last New Year. Then it went to Washington and back to California. This June it will make the trek back to South Bend.
Hey, I love it when the owner of a featured car finds the post about it! Hard to tell the year of a Fairmont – Ford changed them so little over the run. Glad you’re keeping it running.
Oh, and he got to visit the Grand Canyon along the way. His name is Colonel Mustard.
I hope Colonel Mustard is still chugging along at age 39. Luv those dog-dish hubcaps! 😀
It’s amazing how this car was completely lacking in style. If you ask a first grader to draw a car this is it. And still it bears a resemblance to a Volare.
And yet Ford sold millions of them, allowing it to escape bankruptcy, and build cool stuff like the SVO.
The humble Fairmont did its duty as a family hauler here in Canada. There were loads of them around. The wagon was very popular as Ford Canada sold it at the same price as the sedan. Almost all of ones I saw had the 3.3 litre six, which was a total slug.
Like many underappreciated family cars, they are now gone. Everybody wants a Fox body Mustang with a zillion horsepower bolted in. For me, anyway, a nice Fairmont sedan with a Ghia interior and 3.3 six would be a much more desirable car.
Make mine a 302.
a bazillion horsepower bolted into a Mustang, no. A bazillion Maximum motorsports suspension parts bolted into a Fairmont 2-door sedan, oh yes!
I was in the market for a new car in 1978 and took a couple of looks at the Fairmont. When equipped with the 302 V8 it seemed reasonably quick, at least for that era. What finally made me decide against buying one was that the V8 was not available with the four speed manual transmission, at least not in California where I was then living. I was still in my “no automatics, period” phase and didn’t want any car without three pedals. I purchased a VW Rabbit instead and lived happily ever after.
The Europeans tried some of this very plain-panelled design as did the Japanese around this time. It’d be really interesting to know where it emerged from. I have a suspicion the wish to use CAD programmes with their very restricted abiliies might have been part of the reason. Perhaps the fact flatter panels meant cheaper pressings was another – but who told the stylists? After the early 70s shapes there were other directions the car design game could have travelled but didn’t.
“Plain” design comes from the designers, and their inspiration was always their European cousins. Just look at the “sketches” from manufacturers’ design studios published elsewhere on this site: simple, smooth, strong. And look too at the original post-war customizers: de-chrome, remove inessential hardware, simplify and smooth out and emphasize a few key parts, like wheels and grilles. Make two-piece windshields into single-piece ones. “French” the headlights and taillights.
It’s the sales departments, reading consumer workshop input, that dictate what we actually see on the road, and by my lights owner tastes are on a retro slide. The latest Prius says it all, to me.
Two significant indicators: second-year restyling always mucked up the designers’ creations, for the sake of a product every savvy neighbor knew was “the new one, not last year’s.” And, the European-market version of an international seller is almost always cleaner and simpler than the American-market model — even after the bumper issue was satisfactorily dealt with, here. The first time I saw a British Accord, in the ‘nineties, the trend hit home . . .
Here in 2017, a clean one-owner still comes on to the market now and then, and I get tempted. South Carolina’s a little far away for me, but this $2220 “fancy Ford” Mercury Zephyr is still a bit tempting: https://greenville.craigslist.org/cto/d/1979-mercury-zephyr/6238623266.html
From Jerry in 2013, above: ‘Once in a great while the ghost of old Henry Ford wafts through the Glass House and rebukes management that they’ve forgotten his ideals: cars that are simple, functional, honest, reliable and economical. FoMoCo rarely fails when it goes back to its roots’ .
So true. Stories about HF the 1st and his penchant for simplicity and honesty in his vehicles formed my automotive tastes well before I learned to drive.
The Fairmont is one of those cars. It’s just too big, though. About a foot longer than the Falcon. But that is the only detriment in my eyes.
Hard to find these days. Perhaps the Mirage is the closest one can come. It seems even smaller vehicles are all desperate to establish “upscale” or “premium” credentials.
I suppose it’s the democratization of luxury or cheap leases that drive demand. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s nice to see cars like the basic Fairmont again.
BTW: the Fairmont brochure has claims of lots of time spent in the wind tunnel for aerodynamic purposes. Considering the square and upright styling it doesn’t have a lot of frontal mass when one thinks about it.
The flush grille/headlights presumably help too, ala Torino Talledega/Charger 500. Before the Fairmont Ford’s front ends were very deeply sculptured.
The newly restyled 1977 Ford Courier/Mazda B Series pickup previewed similarly styled body creases and wheel arches as the 1978 Fairmont/Zephyr. To go with the overall upright, boxy styling they both shared. So, the Fairmont already had a degree of Ford family familiarity in its styling when introduced.
It’s remarkable how close they got the resemblance, considering the Courier was a reskin of the 1965(!)-vintage Mazda B series.
I can’t help but credit the 1975 Seville and it’s sheer look styling language set by GM. Simple and honest is something I think that gets attached to the Fairmont’s design because that’s exactly what the Fox chassis is under the skin, but I’m not so sure that’s what stylists set out to create with it. These were as fashion conscious as the 1972 Torino, the fashions were just very different between those 6 years.
Same goes for cars like the 70s Valiant/Dart, they were the best cars put out by Chrysler during the 70s, and the unfashionable boxiness seen in them during that time is looked at as being this intentionally simple and honest aesthetic to compliment the A-body chassis actual attributes, but in reality the body dates back to 1967, when it’s design was very much in line with styling trends of it’s time, and preceding Valiants/Darts were equally styled by their times, but they weren’t any less good honest cars when their styling was full of wacky Exner lines.
In 1983, I drove a red ’79 Fairmont sedan company car in St. Louis for a couple of months while on assignment. It was a four with automatic. The car served me boringly but well. The only thing that was truly memorable was the damn horn located at the end of the turn signal stalk – I hated that with a passion. More than once I found myself banging helplessly on the steering wheel hub trying to honk the horn.
I bought a used tudor in this very color in 1995 as a work car. 4 cylinder, 4 speed, vinyl buckets. 1979 wsn’t a good year for emmision control equipment and the poor engine was managed by many feet of vacuum hoses running from sensors to vacuum acuators. It took a fair amount of work to make sure they were all drawing vacuum and were working correctly or the poor car wouldn’t run. My son learned to do minor car repair on this car as a teenager. Not pretty but it worked. I did have to patch the floor pan where the driver’s seat rail bolted on because the metal was thin there and it tore. I hear this a problem with early fox body cars.
The Audi Fox was a car that I was crazy about in the late ’70s. Car and Driver had a road test in the same issue as the Coupe de Ville test. The Fairmont looked like a big Fox but was cheaper and more readily available. Chose a ’77 CDV instead. Still looking for that Fox,maybe the Fairmont Coupe.
My Dad bought the wagon version of this in 1978. I believe that color was officially called Chamois, and as unattractive as was, it still beat the lime yellow/green of the ’74 Pinto it replaced.
The Fairmont was pretty boring but solid and reliable for almost 7 years, which was pretty good in those days.
With the 6 and auto, performance was at least adequate.
I must have missed this article when it was first published, but seeing the pictures sure brought back a flood of memories for me. My dad bought a ’79 Fairmont wagon in the early 80’s to replace our tired/rusted’67 Chevy II (purchased as a demo by my uncle). That interior is very close to ours, same colour, door panels, but we had the plainer seats. Like many of our family cars, this Fairmont was a stripper. No A/C, base trim, driver side only mirror (pedestal mount, not aero), and the dog dish hub caps. I in particular remember the stalk control horn, the exposed metal on the upper door panels, and the doors that were so thin comparted to our other cars. Our car did have one good option, the 302 V8, which gave it decent performance for the day, when it ran.
For whatever reason, I really got attached to this car. I remember being able to stand on the big front bumper to help dad under the hood. And unlike our Chevy II, I had my own door. While the Fairmont was good on paper, ours was terrible. Design may have improved, but quality was not great. In fact ours was the worst car in my immediate family’s car buying history. Dad had nothing by problems with the car, lots of carb issues in particular. I remember the car stalling out on my parents on numerous occasions, and dad or my cursing it as we help up traffic. When it was less than 5 years old, it already started to rust and needed a complete paint job. Ours was original dark brown and Dad had it painted Gold (it was a factory colour he picked). I remember the car going to the shop quite a bit. One particular occasion was when my mom was in the hospital, and the mechanic came and picked up the Fairmont, again. It was winter, so Dad’s Torino was stored and I remembered worrying about the fact that we wouldn’t have a car to go and see mom.
To compound that, the 302 leaked like a sieve and was completely worn out by less than 100K miles. By 1986 my dad contemplated replacing the engine but decided cut his losses. He threw in the towel and sold the car off. I remember the day it left our yard and I was actually pretty sad to see it go. My dad on the other hand couldn’t wait to get rid of it.
One of my Aunt and Uncle’s bought it and planned to fix it up, but it didn’t last much longer. Rust set it again and it went to the junk yard well before the 10 year mark. He then replaced the Fairmont with a 1982 Cougar Villager wagon. This car also proved to be unreliable. After a few years of sinking money into that car, he replaced it with a brand new first generation Taurus wagon, which was a good car until higher mileage.
Another Aunt and Uncle bought a 1980 Zephyr Villager wagon brand new just before dad bought the Fairmont. This one actually proved to be a decently reliable car, and served the family for 16 years. It had less than 100K miles when sold and always lived under a roof, so that helped it last. It had the 200 six that was an absolute slug and had some minor drivability issues throughout its life. My cousin was a mechanic and he kept it running well for my aunt and uncle. And coincidentally enough, he bought a brand new 1990 Mustang GT. Although the same platform, they were night and day different when it came to driving experience and dynamics. But I do remember it sharing some parts, like the interior door handles, with our old plain Fairmont.
Ill bet it was that crummy carb that ruined the motor, likely always flooding and washing oil down the bores.
I am sure that contributed to the premature wear, although at times the carb was running lean too. It was just full of constant drivability issues. I think the biggest issue was that no one seemed to be able to tune or rebuild that variable venturi carb properly. Or if it did get running properly, it didn’t last long before more problems cropped up. Replacement VV carbs were big dollars in those early years too. In hindsight, my Dad would have been better to scrap the VV carb and swap on a fully mechanical carb. But the carb wasn’t the only issue that car had, it was loaded with constant problems.
One thing I forgot to mention was that even though that Fairmont had a front bench seat, it only had belts for two. My dad had to have a middle belt added for our family of six. He replaced the Fairmont with a GM B-body wagon, that proved to be better in every possible way than the Fairmont.
I grew up in Madison, WI, which had a large percentage of European (the VW Bug engine noise brings back memories) and slowly more Japanese cars than the rest of the Midwest rust belt due to it being a large 40k+ college town (with a lot of east coast students). I was around 15 when the Fairmont debuted I really like it, especially the base 2dr sedan because it reminded me of a Volvo, but always thought those Fairmont bumpers looked fragile.
Flipping between my Fairmont and Fox-LTD papers, there’s definitely a difference between them in the rear roofline. The LTD has a longer C-pillar window, and there’s a slight curve to the more rakish rear window as well.
I almost bought a Fairmont to replace my lousy ’66 Falcon. I still remember being at the bowling alley in a new town with a new teaching job at age 23 trying to decide which car to buy. If I recall correctly it was between a Datsun B-210, the Fairmont and maybe the Chevy Monza. I wanted a Honda but there were no dealers around and they were expensive. No Toyota dealers around at that time either. My Falcon had a lousy automatic and slush box was exactly how it drove. I swore never again would I drive an automatic after the Falcon and an earlier ’66 Buick Special with an automatic that failed around 90,000 miles while on a date. The Fairmont I was looking at was the 4 cylinder with 4 speed manual. I almost bought one, but I think I went with the Datsun based on perceived quality and gas mileage. It’s possible I also looked at a Renault Le Car. I liked that car – thank god I didn’t buy it! The Datsun was nothing to write home about and based on comments here that the Fairmont’s were reliable, I almost wish I had gotten one… I like practical and boxy still to this day.
As an aside to the stalk mounted horn. I saw this design in action while on a marching band trip to France in 1971. We were in Nice at night and the French drivers would come to an intersection and instead of stopping, they would flash their headlights and honk their horn to let anyone else know they were going through. We American’s thought this was crazy and quite funny, along with their small goofy cars. It was later on when I drove the Renault Le Car, that I realized this was done so the drivers could grab the stalk and both turn on/off their headlights (front to back motion) while at the same time honking their horn (side to side motion). It was a fluid motion that warned the world to back off, here I come. I always had a feeling those stalks wouldn’t last long.
The only American automobiles that were conceived on the drawing tables in the ’70s that looked reasonably good were GM’s downsized full size line for 1977 and the 1976 Cadillac Seville. The really good looking cars that came out in ’70s were all designed in the mid to late ’60s.
Had one of these in our govt. fleet back in1979. 302 with HD suspension and factory Michelins. Was surprisingly fun to drive. Quick steering, taut ride and nimble. A huge step up from the Maverick. The horn control on the end of the turn signal stalk was annoying and the vinyl interior was cheap, but it was a perfectly decent car for its intended market.
I remember my dad’s 1979 Fairmont. It was an ugly emerald green metallic with a tan interior, hub caps, 2.3 liter, automatic, and no power steering! I remember the time my mom was driving the Fairmont and she had to use the horn, and she struck the stalk mounted horn button with such force it snapped right off the steering column! The Fairmont certainly wasn’t one of Ford’s better ideas.
I reckon FORD should’ve left the ‘horn-in-the-stalk’ idea on the table instead of on the car. It’s been sooooo long since my Dad had those 2 Zephyr’s I’d completely forgotten the horn wasn’t perched in the center of the steering wheel.
I like these more now than I did when they were new. I still have the issue of Car and Driver that previews these cars. The blurb for the cover story is, “Ford Builds a Sedan for the ’80s, and It’s Great.” It compares the Fairmont favorably to the contemporary Volvo.
After years of Ford dealers selling increasingly over-decorated Broughams, and very tired Mavericks, these really were a breath of fresh air in the fall of 1977. The only Fairmont/Zephyr I remember among friends and family, however, was the 1979 Mercury Zephyr wagon bought by the family of a high-school friend. It was a mid-level version. Her father was a professor at the local university.
My neighbor had a Fairmont just like this…same hideous peachy-flesh tone color. I was about 10 and had been used to riding in my grandparents’ 1971 Mercury Marquis…I can remember sitting in the back of the Fairmont (comparing the two) and thinking “wow Ford has really come out with some cheap crap”. Such a difference with the flimsy doors and cheap trim on the Fairmont.
This brings back memories for sure about my first car, a blue 1979 Fairmont sedan with a white full vinyl top, 200 six and 3 speed automatic. It was probably the least reliable and worst car I have owned to date and soured my family on Ford for years. My grandfather also owned a Fairmont during the time but it was a 1980 wagon with the same drivetrain combo. He left Ford after this car too ironically.
My 1979 was handed down to me in late 1986 from mom and dad after they bought a mint 1982 Cutlass coupe to replace it as it made a far superior road car. The Fairmont only had 60K miles when I got it and plenty of surface rust to take care of. After but a year of ownership the car was already falling apart. The rear end went bad when backing out of the school parking lot standing me there.
The passenger window literally fell down into the door during a cold WInter night after work making for a seriously cold drive home. The plastic door handle broke making it so that if one wanted to exit the passenger seat the option was to wait for me or roll the now repaired window down.
The dash vibrated severely at 55-60 MPH and according to Consumer Guide was a serious flaw on these cars as they noted the same issue. Road noise was horrible as this was a base model with zero sound insulation. Putting on snow tires made it sound like an airplane taking off.
The famous Ford power steering pump was noisy and leaked like a sieve. As did the valve cover. One day when in a hurry I slammed the driver’s door with a little more thrust than was necessary and the glass exploded into shards! There was glass literally everywhere in the interior and I was still finding it years later when vacuum the car out.
The 200 six was barely adequate in my car and downright sluggish in my granddads 1980. And we kept them in perfect tune with several carb rebuilds by that point and every ignition component replaced.
My dad used to complain all the time about the flat as a park bench front seat and routinely brought a pillow on long trips to Rockport, where we used to go overy year for a family trip. It was not a pleasant car at all for these trips with no A/C, those terrible seats and all the racket coming from the tires and under the hood to keep up with traffic as the engine made more noise than thrust.
On the bright side these were well enough designed cars as far as interior room was concerned and the handling when the ball joints and front end were tight was better than average for the time. The stupid horn was not one of their better ideas though and the quality control and obvious cheapness with certain materials was very subpar. These cars were also very sparsely equipped for some reason in most that i saw at the time or one that pops up on Craigslist from time to time. My grandfathers did have A/C and the deluxe interior decor group but little else. Mine had only 200 six and auto plus the exterior moldings and roof. They didn’t even have a passenger mirror, no visor mirror or even a day /night mirror which I think were separate options.
I had a ’78 Zephyr Z7 in the 90’s. It did handle well with slightly wider tires on it. Tracked perfectly. Smooth inline six. Don’t recall ever having rattles. Actually a decent simp!e car.
My dad bought one of these as a former fleet vehicle at his job at Hewlett Packard when I was in high school. When my best friend and I saw it our jaws dropped in horror — it was so bland, so boxy, so beige, oh my god, people at school are going to see us in it, ridiculous teenage drama. We called it the “F-Car,” and thought of it as almost evil. Looking at it now, there’s only a feeling of endearment for a time long past. Shine on, you big ol’ boxy diamond.