(first posted 7/28/2015) “Waddya mean “The Last Ford” – Ford still makes cars. Indeed it does. You can buy a Focus, a Fusion, or any number of crossovers. But if you tell someone you drive a Ford, the invariable response is “a Ford what?” But, my young friends, ’twasn’t always so.
For most of my early life, there was a car called a Ford. Sure, Ford made a Falcon and a Fairlane and a Thunderbird, but those were commonly called Falcon, Fairlane and Thunderbird. I’m talking about Fords. You know, just a plain old regular Ford.
What was a Ford? It was just a Ford, that’s all. Sure, up until the mid 1950s, a Ford was really only one car. But between 1955 and 1965, the additional models came fast and furious, so it became necessary to identify your car as a Thunderbird or a Falcon or a Mustang. Owners of regular Fords, however, were not required to go to such lengths. You could get all hyper technical and tell folks that your Ford was a DeLuxe or a Customline or a Galaxie 500, but this was just being silly. When you drove a Ford, all you had to tell someone who was watching for you was “I drive a blue ’67 Ford two door.” And they knew what you meant.
It wasn’t just Fords, either. Lots of folks drove Chevy convertibles and Plymouth wagons, and everybody who knew cars understood what kind of car was being discussed. The driver of a Corvair or a Chevelle was required to be clear when describing his ride. Otherwise, folks would think that the guy drove a Chevy. I mean a regular one.
So here we have a low-trim LTD Crown Victoria. Otherwise described as a Ford. As a prototypical Ford, it has crank windows, manual locks and cloth seats. It has a V8 engine up front (though there were six cylinder Fords too) and drove the rear wheels. Yessir, a Ford.
I’m not sure exactly when we stopped being able to call these Fords. Probably about the time that these stopped being the big seller of the line. This was when the world got all complicated and people started eating quiche instead of ham and eggs, and drinking Perrier instead of water. And buying gobs of Taurii and Escorts and F-150s. Also, because the Crown Victoria was becoming quite the luxury status symbol (at least among the AARP set), even the ones decked out with power everything and turbine wheels ceased to be Fords.
But THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is a Ford. Just a Ford. Who bought these final Fords? Fleet managers, mostly. And unassuming old men in bib overalls. Maybe even your grandmother, who had driven Fords for years, because they were always plenty good enough for her people.
I miss Fords. Fords were basic, no nonsense transportation. They kept you humble, because nobody too big for his britches drove a Ford. Fords were also, however, roomy and comfortable. Fords could even be quite powerful and even kind of stylish (if you picked the right Ford). But stylish or frumpy, fast or slow, it was still a Ford.
Maybe the problem was the LTD. Until the LTD, a Ford was a Ford. But the LTD tried to be something that was not just a Ford. It tried to be an Oldsmobile. Or maybe it was playing dress-up as a Mercury and decided that it liked the clothes. Either way, the LTD was different. As I think about it, I can remember people calling it a “Ford LTD” instead of merely Ford.
However, as time went on, Ford sort of dumbed down the LTD until it became just a Ford again, at least for awhile. The name inflation continued with LTD Brougham and LTD Landau and finally LTD Crown Victoria. By the time this car was built, even the most basic Ford (at least the most basic Ford sold at retail) was this car, the LTD Crown Victoria. But most of us still called it a Ford. OK, we called the really nice ones Crown Victorias (just like our parents had talked about Ford LTDs when they came out) but a car like this did not really merit the Crown Victoria moniker.
I have a love-hate relationship with these Panther-platform Crown Vics. But I kind of like this one. Because it is still a Ford. With blackwall tires, basic low level (non-wire) wheelcovers and in comforting old brown (OK, Dark Clove, if you insist). According to the license plate, this car is from Allen County, Indiana, which makes perfect sense. Allen County is where I come from, and it was (and is) chock full of stoic German Lutherans, many of whom were good, hardy blue collar or farmer stock. This is the kind of car that the Lutherans all bought from Bunsen Motors in Garrison Keillor’s fictitious Lake Woebegon. Probably all in this same color, too.
I shot this car a couple of years ago at Ball State University where my son goes to school. Some northern Indiana German Lutheran’s grandson undoubtedly got ahold of the late grandparent’s Ford. He could do worse. I didn’t get to see the young man that day (I’m profiling here, the customization and the, uh, passenger, don’t look much like things on/in a girl’s car to me). But I hope that someone is around to set him straight if he starts calling the car a Crown Victoria. Because this is just a Ford. He should be proud of that.