Curbside Classic: 1981 Ford Granada – The Fox In The Fairmont’s Henhouse

It seemed to be anticipating my arrival.  Parked in the rear of the rain saturated hotel parking lot this old Ford looked quite at ease in all its delightful gray-scale glory.

Was this really a second generation North American Ford Granada?  The Granada we’ve never covered?  The Granada that is thoroughly overshadowed by it’s elder sibling?  The Granada everyone seems to forget about?  The Granada that seems nearly extinct?

It was all of these.

The youthfully conceited Lightning McQueen once said he could create feelings in others they themselves did not understand.  For reasons thoroughly and profoundly inexplicable, this Granada stirs up a bunch of excitement within me.  This excitement makes no sense whatsoever.

We all have our automotive predilections.  Maybe this Granada is just a flirtatious distraction.  It definitely was not any sort of anaphylactic reaction caused by an automotive allergy.  My head hurts from trying to make sense of this.  My excitement is both vexing and perplexing.

Let’s come back to this, shall we?

Undoubtedly we all know the original North American market 1975 Granada was based upon existing Ford architecture.  The Granada was based on a platform that would ultimately live a life that was stupefyingly long in the automotive world.

The manner in which Ford was able to amortize this platform should have been a true source of pride for any number crunching Ford accountant.

For anyone who has been skipping class, the original North American Granada was based upon the 1960 Ford Falcon.

The first generation Granada could perhaps best be described as being like a bottle rocket.  First year sales for 1975 blasted off to over 302,000.  Model year 1976 made a bang, exploding to 549,000.  Sales rapidly dropped back to earth, declining precipitously each year with only 90,000 being produced by 1980.

As the first generation Granada was starting to flame out, Ford reverted to form by raiding it’s platform closet and presto!  The second generation Granada used the much newer Fox platform that sprang forth with the Fairmont in 1978.

Even better this Granada not only used a recycled platform, it elevated the family tradition of having underwhelming drivetrains to a new level.  While a 75 horsepower straight six was no longer offered, much to the sadness of nobody, the engine choices for Round 2 were the embodiment of dull.  The 351 (5.8 liter) V8 had left the factory building several years prior and wasn’t coming back.  Even the 302 (5.0 liter) V8 had taken a sabbatical.

Anybody shopping for a Granada in 1981 had the unenviable choices of a wheezy 2.3 liter four, an anemic 3.3 liter straight-six, or the infamously putrid 255 cubic inch (4.2 liter) V8.  For such a seemingly diverse choice of engines, there was only about a thirty horsepower spread.

This Granada has the distinction of being one of the few vehicles ever concurrently offered with a four, six, and eight cylinder engine.  Of course this was the early 1980s when such things seemed to happen with a smidgen more frequency, especially with Ford’s Fox platform.

Then again it’s still happening at GM today as the current Silverado falls into this same category.  GM has to do something to sell this unfortunate looking thing.

During the brief two year career of the second generation Granada, Ford positioned it as being between the Fairmont and the Panther based LTD.  No doubt somebody at Ford thought this was a splendid idea.

With the advantage of nearly forty years of hindsight, this strategy smells like a cocktail of pragmatism, cynicism, and desperation.

The rub, and it wasn’t a small one, is the Granada utilized the exact same 105.5 inch wheelbase as the Fairmont despite having somewhat different sheetmetal.  The sheetmetal differences of the Granada, primarily the roof, were sufficient to fool the less observant.  But Ford didn’t go the full distance in making a true distinction as some sources state the Granada’s doors interchanged with the Fairmont.

A marginally different body for a car that was supposed to be at a higher pay grade.  Did it pay off for Ford?

It was a gamble, a form of three-card monte on Ford’s part.  Give the market something that looks different and isn’t boring like that old stodgy Fairmont while making it sound like the greatest new thing.  Deception is an old art.

Like it’s offering of unenthusiastic engines, deception, too, was a Granada trademark.  Making an ancient Falcon into an upscale compact was Granada’s original deception.  The second generation simply carried on the family traditions.

Ford was in a pinch trying to compete with GM and Chrysler.  GM’s front-drive X-cars were now on the scene as were the front-drive K-cars over at Chrysler.  Ford needed to stay competitive using a rear-drive car in a market rapidly changing to front-wheel drive.  The best method was to keep presenting something that looked and sounded new.

Ford would repeat the process for 1983 with the “baby” LTD which was also Fox based.  It kept fighting the good fight until the Taurus finally came along for 1986.

It could be argued Ford’s gamble with the second generation Granada wasn’t exactly successful.  With 120,000 Granada’s sold in both 1981 and 1982, it wasn’t setting the world on fire even with the generally depressed market during this time.  Combined into this number is the Granada wagon introduced for 1982, making the wagon a one-year wonder.  It was now the mid-sized Ford wagon as the Fairmont wagon had been terminated.

The only real difference was the front clip.

As an aside, over at Mercury the Granada equivalent was the Cougar, also available as a two- or four-door sedan.  A wagon was also available for 1982, making it and the 1977 Cougar wagon both one-year oddities and the only Cougar wagons ever built.

Incidentally, a friend of my mother’s had a 1982 Cougar wagon, bought to replace a 1976 Impala sedan.

I’ve been lassoing and herding thoughts into writing about this Granada for about ten days, meaning there’s been ample time to think about my weird affections for this silver-ish chariot.  At one point my thoughtful defense was how people can sometimes be highly enthralled with mediocrity, with my proof of concept being the success realized by any number of chain restaurants.  Soon thereafter another, more solid realization began to coalesce.

As one who was about nine years old when this Granada was introduced, and being the car connoisseur I was even at that tender age, the modernity of this Granada’s appearance in relation to its predecessor was remarkable.  The Granada’s modernity of appearance in relation to the 5,000 pound ’70s model Ford LTDs and ’71 to ’76 Chevrolet Impalas / Caprices (and other B-bodies) that cluttered the road in my home territory of Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois was also quite remarkable.

There is a variety of reasons this generation of Granada is memorable.  In addition to their more modern look, they also weren’t the hot styling mess that was the Fox platform based 1980 to 1982 Thunderbird.  The Granada presented a different persona than did the plain-jane Fairmonts that seemed to be the norm, although at the time I did not realize the commonality among these three (and the contemporary Mustang).

My only issue with this Granada is the wheelbase which visually presents itself as being a few inches too short.  The practice of short wheelbases did seem to be an epidemic at Ford for a while.

When these were new(er), I only remember seeing one with any frequency.  It was four-door sedan in the same shade of blue as the wagon seen several pictures up and it belonged to the grandparents of a classmate.

So that is why my heart skipped a beat upon finding this Granada.  It presented itself in a mature and sophisticated manner without being off-putting.  This Granada was also not commonly seen in my world, leading further to it’s level of appeal.

Ford’s Fox platform would ultimately be Ford’s second longest lasting platform ever, behind only the Panther.

With this Fox platform, also used by the Mustang for what seemed to be an eternity, our Granada can accommodate a tremendous number of upgrades in both suspension and engine.  For me, some stiffer suspension bits along with larger wheels and an upgraded engine would make for an awesome interstate highway cruiser.  While a Ford 460 (7.5 liter) V8 will fit between the front fenders, I’m thinking something with a little more finesse, something more fitting of the Granada persona….

Imagine this Granada with firmer suspension pieces and a Coyote 5.0.  Or, perhaps more fittingly, combine the upgraded suspension with a 3.3 liter V6 from a current F-150.  While both would be a challenge to retrofit, let’s not let such minor details ruin a good daydream.

While normally not one that advocates any sort of modification, in this case these would simply take something good and make it even better.  Think of it as an enhancement.

I’d drive that combination anywhere.

Found May 2018

Sioux City, Iowa

Related Reading:

1981 Mercury Cougar Two-Door Sedan by PN

1980 Granada by Carey Haubrick