(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.
Loved this, JPC!
And I don’t much care for these Panthers but I love that Dark Clove paint!
I’m the opposite – nice CC, dreary colour!
You’re right…my Grandpa had a 48 Ford. Just…a Ford. In the 60’s he considered replacing it with a (Ford) Galaxy but ended up with a VW Beetle instead (his last car)…go figure!
Looks like the box the car shoulda come in! I like the colour and interior, but a bit too square and chromey for me. Just a tad overdone for my taste.
Excellent point. Linguists would call the real Ford the unmarked lexeme. For those other marked Ford-like things you need modifiers and adjectives.
But you missed one essential quality of the unmarked or default Ford: the blue oval BEHIND the car. This modern nonsense with the blue oval ON the car is just another modifier. When you saw and smelled that blue oval of burned oil, you knew you were following a Ford.
That oil smell was so true. Back when the Chevy Caprice cabs all finally died around ’93 or’94 (’97? ’98?), the Chicago hacks all switched their loyalties to the pre-aero Fords (Crown Vics) and Mercurys (Grand Marquis!). Were they mostly V-6s? It was then that I noticed I couldn’t follow one on Lake Shore Drive, for fear of being sick and nauseous by the time we got anywhere close to downtown — all from the constant issue of the oil smoke from the tailpipe. That was never true of the GM-based taxis that had previously reigned supreme.
That Ford propensity disappeared over the the years, ‘tho. The cabs from the last 10 years seemed to be as oil-smoke-free as anything else on the road.
All Panthers were V8 powered.
I actually think this concept started with the early Chevrolet Bel-Air, Then really kicked in with the first Impala. These led to the LTD,VIP and Caprice and ultimately the end of just “Chevrolet” “Ford” & “Plymouth” as now every marque had to have different “unique” “models” although to be fair Buick started doing it in the 1930s, but then there were at least SOME actual differences.
I might go further and say that it began with the two-word names of cars (Bel-Air, St. Regis, Gran Fury, Crown Victoria, etc.). Then, it really started in earnest when Iacocca took over Chrysler and there was no longer a large, RWD Plymouth or Dodge that competed directly with Ford and Chevrolet’s full-size cars, culminating when the Caprice went all rounded-off ‘bubble’ in 1991, followed by the ‘aero’ Crown Victoria the next year. Fords and Chevys weren’t round.
From 1992 forward, there were no longer Fords and Chevys, only Crown Vics, Caprices, and Impalas. You can really tell when Ford ‘jumped the shark’ because Fords had the traditional, old-school stand-up hood ornament.
I suppose there’s some truth to that. Once you get into the aero Crown Vics I don’t think roll-up windows were even an option. I’ve certainly never seen one. so equipped. My ’97 is relatively low-trim (It’s an LX but doesn’t even have keyless entry, let alone high-zoot options like leather) but it still has power windows and alloys. If you dropped down to the fleet-intended “S” model, basically a P71 without the dual exhaust/trans cooler, you could still get wheel covers. But the hood ornament and crank windows were gone for good.
I know the final RWD full-size ‘bubble’ Chevy had a hood ornament (except the SS version). If you could still get manual windows in them, they’d technically qualify as the last no-name Chevy (even if they were nicknamed ‘Shamu’).
“Fords and Chevys weren’t round.”
I guess that depends upon the era. Up to 1954 Chevys were round. Fords were a bit more squared off back then. Again in ’65, the ultra-boxy Ellwood Engle inspired Ford (and Plymouth) contrasted with the fuselage shaped Chevy. But yes, right before the “Shamu” Caprice, the Chevy was also box.
I agree, some younger car fans will look at a ’57 Chevy 150 and think it’s a “custom, debadged” Bel Air.
Ford ltd nice find. I never saw one with a v6 engine. I like how the v8 sounds under hard driving. How about a taurus ltd package.
If not mistaken, certain models of full size Fords could be had with an in-line six cylinder engine through 1972. This particular era of full size Fords ran only with a V8 engine.
Phil, you can buy a current Taurus “LIMITED” which is what LTD stood for anyway…
Maybe not Ford said LTD did not stand for anything
Well, that was because Buick had registered the name “Limited,” so…
This model of LTD/Landau/Crown Victoria from ’79-’91 never offered a V-6.
First car I ever had a ride in in the USA. Bald tyres New York taxi cab. Pooring rain and I was bricking it.
Between people finding they can get by on smaller sizes, the economic pressure on the working class and just how long cars start lasting there is just little market for this type of car. We decry the quality of the old days but in a way it made more sense.
That ad above about driving a car 90k in four years, satisfied now comes back for another to repeat the process and enjoy the advances. Now it is buy the CUV drive it for 150k in eight or nine years and then it passes around relatives till it is 15+years and 200+k. No point in year to year changes just a redo every 6-7 years to meet new standards. Not a car but a refrigerator. We can all see it in our personal buying habits, the once of twice a decade we run a spreadsheet of current possibles and make our best deal. No loyalty or brand or dealer preference. Just consult the spreadsheet.
It was understandable to segment the market in search of higher margins, but one basic model with annual upgrades and advances looks interesting now. Maybe the switch of some to a pickup as the family car is in part an effort to get back to that. Thanks for the interesting history lesson.
Well put, you darn near wrote the biography of cars at my home. And, yes, the leader of our fleet is an F-150 four door Lariet trim. Roughly the 1965 LTD reincarnated.
I think you oversimplify it, John.
Also, is it that bad that cars last for longer now and are more durable and better-built?
For the manufacturer yes. Look at that 60s ad, you got 4yr and 90K now come get another. The very clear point is that buyer got his money’s worth. At 4 yrs 90k almost all new cars are barely broken in, so the manufacturer gets penalized for higher quality. I think its related to cars today becoming just appliances despite their quality, higher safety, less smog, and much higher performance. Also could you even tell a 2011 Taurus from a 2015, I couldn’t.
I think peoples’ perception is that cars cost a lot of money these days (never mind what the economists say), so they tend to hang onto them to get their money’s worth and not trade as often. Plus the coming of the Japanese showed that cars could be well-built and last longer than we were used to – and nowadays we just expect that.
I fail to see how cars today are just appliances, or that people care less about cars and just buy whatever looks best on a spreadsheet… Cars are better-built, last longer and we have far more information available at our fingertips to help us make an informed decision.
The argument you’re making is a very rose-tinted glass argument. Consumers have never had it better than they do today. Not to mention, there are still a wide variety of interesting cars available, and buying, say, a subcompact no longer requires you to sacrifice as much as you used to.
The informed decision is exactly what helps make modern cars appliances, as you said Consumers have never had it better than they do today, there’s nary a car on the market today that is a truly bad car, and the few that really are are really obvious, and even they’re ok. Yet people still get caught up on inconsequential statistics in the rags or on the web – “oh this gets 34 mpg, but that gets 35″, How can I sacrifice .7 cubic feet of cargo space?”, “I’d buy this but it’s not as fast around the Nürburgring than that”, “this car meets every one of my needs but the axle is ancient so I’m not interested”…
So yeah the consumer has it great today, they can nit pick and nit pick and nit pick to make the ever important “informed decision” rather than act on their actual desires, which, in their defense, with cookie cutter styling and the mandatory choice of sedan/CUV to choose from(thanks to the many many other consumers making their “informed decisions” consistently), there isn’t many a modern car that tugs at the heart strings like the good old days.
I’m not saying cars today aren’t better in every stat possible, but your iphone6 is better than every phone you’ve ever had too, and where will it be in 10 years? Yep, dumped off the coast of Nigeria with the rest of the electronic appliances. I may be looking through rose tinted glasses at the past but when I put on my pair and look at the present world with them it still looks like shit.
I have to agree with William. Cars are more comfortable, safer, efficient and reliable than ever before. There are some distinctive styles too….Miata-Juke-Beetle-MKZ and many others.
I am very fortunate in that I have 3 cars that all have strong character and I fall in love with those traits every time I drive them. None of them are perfect but neither am I.
I guess my point is these are the good old days.
MKZ? Distinctive? Not quite.
Ingredients for: Lincoln MKZ
1)take 1 Ford Fusion
2) add chrome and all the other Euro-Brougham trim
3) stick it in the oven
4) wait till all the gingerbread is nice and fluffy
5) Voila! Your MKZ is now ready
Lincoln’s way of taking a cheaper Ford model, spicing it up, and charging extra for the Lincoln moniker.
Why does the Versailles come to mind? Hmmmmm…
I like the MKZ, almost bought one last year before I bought my Buick. Both were on my spreadsheet, but Buick made the better deal, and was more happy to take my 2011 Saab 9-5 in trade.
I think the *current* MKZ is actually quite well-differentiated from the Fusion. There’s certainly a resemblance but it’s different sheetmetal sharing the same hard points.
The *previous* MKZ/Zephyr, however? That one was pretty blatant badge engineering. It truly looked like a Fusion with a different nose and taillights.
None of them are perfect but neither am I
Well that’s also the case with actual old cars 😀
As I said, if you want state of the art in the things you’re programmed to think are important, we’re living in a golden age. If you want a car with a soul, look to the past.
Very nice write-up and find! I never did see too many LTD Crown Vics in base form that weren’t fleet vehicles. It’s a shame in general that most large cars today don’t come in basic form. With only premium-ish large cars, it’s another factor that contributes to the ever less clear line between mainstream and luxury cars.
Good point. I can’t think of many base Taurii or Impalas I’ve seen that weren’t police/taxi vehicles.
When I had my ’89 Mustang, my great-uncle Stan once asked if that was the standard Ford. It was at that point I realized Ford (and many others) had fractured itself into many different market segments. For better or worse is open for debate!
Pre-CC Effect….the local newspaper this past weekend had a red ’86 LTD-CV with 25,000 miles on the clock. A person could definitely do worse if looking for a thirty year old ride.
You made me think of Merle Haggard’s line in “Are the Good Times Really Over”. (1981)
He sings – Wish a Ford and a Chevy
Could still last ten years, like they should
He was obviously talking about the “standard Ford” and “standard Chevy” – not that they ever lasted that long in the 60s or 70s.
JPC, thank you so much for this post. This is a ringer for my grandparents’ car!! Had the orange pin stripe and everything. Took me right back there.
Reminds me of an early segment of “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” on 60 Minutes, where he sat in front of a chalkboard covered with Chevy model names, and opined, “For years, Chevrolet sold more cars than anyone else in the United States, and they were simply called, ‘Chevrolets.'”
The model proliferation isn’t just limited to automobiles. Go to the supermarket or drugstore to buy a tube of Crest or Colgate toothpaste. You’ll walk away scratching your head in confusion, trying to decide between varieties of “whitening,” “freshening,” “tartar control,” and so forth.
The Coca Cola Company for years would not use the “Coke” name on anything but “regular” old “Coca-Cola”, Calling their diet product “Tab” instead, so as not to dilute (no pun intended) the parent brand. The success of “Diet Pepsi” made it “ok” to produce “Diet Coke” and now ordering a “Coke” is like buying a “Ford”! Oddly, even after ” Diet Coke ” went on the market they still made “Tab” due to it’s own following!
I remember when you could just walk in and buy a box of Cheez-Its. Not any more:
” I remember when you could just walk in and buy a box of Cheez-Its. Not any more:
Yeah ~ Trojans too ! =8-) .
I remember when you could just go and buy a Prius. Not anymore…
Now, you have to deal with the family.
Great article, and interesting angle on the car. These days the make is almost superfluous in casual conversation (i.e., “I drive a Taurus”), which is an interesting transformation from how things were before.
Another car (totally different from the CV) that was commonly known just by its make was the Saab. I believe that even Saab advertising through the early 80s often referred to the 99 or 900 as “a Saab,” or sometimes as “a Saab Turbo.” The model name was unnecessary, until the 9000 came along.
On another note, as someone who appreciates Plain Cars, I’d say this was a great find.
Take a hard look at the pictures.
There appears to be a passenger in the back seat (ghost of the original owner who refuses to let loose). Also note the “frown” face on the front license plate as in “don’t mess with me dude”.
Still a great find!! Something to give your son or nephew for college; especially the size of the back seat (ghost excluded)!!
As far back as the early 50s EVERY car maker had the same model names. There were Custom, Deluxe, and Special at Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth dealers.
As a child of the 50s, I don’t remember that Chevy “jet smooth ride” advertisement. I wonder if that ad inspired Hertz and their “put you in the driver’s seat” ads….where the driver “flew” down to nestle behind the steering wheel, or if Hertz inspired the Chevy advertisers.
When I delivered pizzas, about 6 years ago, there were 2 identical LTD Crown Vics similar to this car but for being 2 doors and loaded. BOTH were owned by elderly woman.
BTW, when Ford downsized the LTD in 1979 there was an “uber cheap” trim level. That basic car had dual instead of quad headlights, almost always had “dog dish” hubcaps, and NEVER had a vinyl roof but occasionally sported 2 tone paint. It was available as a 4 door sedan and wagon (without the wood siding).
According to the 79 brochure, the two headlight car was the LTD and the 4 headlight model was the LTD Landau. I believe that LTD became the base non-fleet model in 1975. The Crown Vic name came a year or two later as a super dolled-up high end model. IIRC they were all Crown Vics by 84.
I think I remember a re-introduced Custom 500 model around 1987 or so that was meant for fleets. With a plain roof and dog dish hubcaps, it may have been the best looking one of these ever. I doubt that they were retail models, though.
I’m pretty sure the Custom hung around through ’76 when my dad bought his LTD. The Custom may have remained the fleet car through ’78.
Our LTD was pretty much what you would have expected from Impala or Galaxie 500 trim a few years earlier.
I’ve always preferred the styling of the two-headlight ’79 LTD. It’s not as glitzy or overpowering as the four-light nose. The two-lighter was only available in 1979 and 1980.
I prefer the twin headlight nose as well, the 4 headlight one is just so blatantly 76 Oldsmobile(yes, in the spirit of the topic, the full size one) cribbed. The twin headlight version is actually kind fitting, I’ve never been a fan of the Box Panther styling but the twin headlight one is more cohesive and distinctive overall, it actually bears a strong familial resemblance to the 75-77 Granada and better matches the design evolution the big Ford was going through the 70s(for better or worse mind you)
Agreed. MUCH more attractive.
The Marquis also seemed to look cleaner and more elegant to me, too, even though Mercurys were often fussier.
You could get the dual-lamp “plain” LTD as a coupe–at that point there were, I’m assuming, still folks who didn’t associate the 2-door with “personal luxury” quite yet. One resided in my neighborhood until recently. I did get some photographic evidence of this and hope to write it up at some point.
Oooooh, I hope you do write that one up. Those 2 light 79 (and 80?) LTDs are few and far between these days, and the two doors even moreso. Remembering yesterday’s R body discussion, I wonder whether a Plymouth Fury version would have done decently out of the gate. If you could get one bolted together properly, it would have been a much more appealing car than the lower level 79 LTD.
The LTD/LTD Landau arrangement appeared in 1975, when the LTD effectively absorbed what had been the Galaxie 500. The base LTD was the equivalent to the former Galaxie 500, and the LTD Landau was the equivalent to the former LTD. Similar to the prior Galaxie 500 and LTD, the 1975-78 LTD and LTD Landau had noticeably different front end styling, with the Landau featuring fold-away headlights. This distinction continued into 1979, with the base LTD having dual headlights, and the LTD Landau quads.
I don’t believe that “Crown Victoria” was used as a model name until 1980, when it replaced the Landau. I don’t know if it existed before that as an option package.
The last year for the Custom 500 in the U.S. was 1977. From 1975-77, it was sold only as a fleet model. For 1978, it was replaced by the LTD S. There was also a similar-in-concept LTD II S all three years the LTD II was built (1977-79). According to my copy of the Standard Catalog, the LTD S disappeared in 1979 — only an LTD II S was offered that year — then reappeared in 1980. From past discussion here, the LTD S appears in the 1980 fullsize Ford brochure, so it was apparently sold to the general public (not fleet-only) for at least that one year.
For 1980, both the base LTD and the Crown Victoria got the quad headlights. The dual headlight front end was used only on the LTD S. I don’t know whether the S kept the dual headlight front end beyond 1980, or for how long. The S definitely adopted quad headlights at some point.
For 1983, all Panther-platform LTDs were called “LTD Crown Victoria” — even the S was now the “LTD Crown Victoria S” — in order to distinguish them from the smaller Fox-platform LTDs which appeared that year.
I thought I remembered the Crown Victoria as being a top line trim package on the LTD somewhere in 1980-81 or 82, sort of like the Chrysler LeBaron Fifth Avenue of 1980 which became just Fifth Avenue after the R body got killed. But it has been a long time, and I may not remember this correctly.
When I said Crown Victoria was first used as a model name in 1980, I meant as opposed to an option package, not necessarily a distinct model apart from the LTD. It was still the “LTD Crown Victoria”, just as its predecessor had been the LTD Landau. The LTD prefix didn’t disappear until the Aero-panthers came along.
In Australia in the sixties, if you said you had a Holden or Falcon it was assumed you had the middle trim level. That’s what most people bought. The base models were mostly for taxis, but you might see the odd one or two as private cars. People who bought the upper trim levels tended to say they had a Premier or Fairmont.
Valiants were less common, and were regarded as more upmarket anyway. In ’68 Chrysler ran a series of ads quoting “the $3 or $4 difference” pointing out that for a comparatively equipped car, they weren’t really that more expensive.
“a Ford”, an interesting look at car brands and model names.
If you said “he bought a Mercedes” in the seventies you just knew it was a W115, and later on a W123. You also knew it was a diesel.
And all Volkswagens T1 to the recently introduced T6 are called a “Volkswagen bus”. More because the word bus is widely used as a synonym for panel van. Then again, if you say “Volkswagen bus” nobody thinks you drive a VW Caddy, LT or Crafter panel van.
As someone born in the early ’90s, I was always confused by teachers and relatives using “Volkswagen” to refer to the original Beetle. When a teacher described something as the size of “a Volkswagen”, I would think to myself, “the size of a Golf or a Eurovan?”
Or “my four tall uncles piled into a Volkswagen”: not too bad if a Phaeton, but pretty miserable if a Cabrio.
Also, the C-segment (think Ford Focus) is often referred to as the “Golf-segment”. Everybody knows what kind and size of car you’re talking about.
Of course it’s only logical that the Mercedes E-Class is the E-segment’s benchmark.
So the S-class is so gigantic it’s in the S-segment? 🙂
I never really cottoned to the looks of these Panthers , too blocky .
It’s odd because I think that red/black ’65 Hard Top Coupe is the shiznit and have ever since I first saw one in 1965 .
Nevertheless , those square panthers were , like every Panther I’ve ever driven , ridden in or worked on , good solid cars Henry would have been proud of .
This post reminds me of my Pop’s father, Granddaddy Will. He drove Fords religiously for his whole life. He was born in Mississippi in 1898, served in WWI, lived through the Great Depression, WWII, etc., etc., so I imagine his worldview was rather jaded and he saw no sense in spending a lot of money on a car. I am sure he would have admired Henry Ford as a smart country boy who never gave up and accomplished great things. So I believe Fords were sort of a statement for Granddaddy Will. I remember he’d give my Pop grief by deriding our Buicks and Oldsmobiles as “fancy.”
As for his Fords, Granddaddy Will drove them hard and put them away wet. He never repaired the scars from fender benders, so they looked like the battle warriors that they were. He would flog them until he became concerned about their continued reliability and decided they’d require too much time and money to keep running well. He’d then seek out a remnant Ford at the end of the model year and drive a hard bargain with the dealer. He wound up with some bad colors (1973 copper, 1979 baby blue) but undoubtedly good deals. And yes, they all had crank windows.
As a child, I never liked his cars and always preferred the “fancy” ones that my other family members had. As an adult, though, I’ve really come to appreciate Granddaddy Will’s perspective and how his cars fit into his life. He was successful but humble, and as JPC so beautifully describes, the Ford fit him to a “T.”
Interesting and humorous write-up, JP.
All no nonsense or fluff, no excess gingerbread or extra conveniences like A/C, or cruise control, either. Not needed here.
Just good ole transportation, that’ll give you it’s all and ask for squat back.
When you jump in it, it starts and if you park it in a crowded lot, and it gets a scratch or ding … Who cares? It’s just a Ford. Yep, the ole standby.
When I think of just, “the Ford”, the unsung hero who gets nary a mention, but is always there, but never noticed… I think of the 66 Fairlane on Dragnet.
* This is a replica, if you notice the SUV in the background. Obviously.
Great article, JP!
Is it me, or do the old, boxy designs have a certain panache or class about them that today’s cars lack? “Stately” is a term I would use, whether it is a box panther, GM B body or even a K-car or other older Chrysler model. Those cars have a formal presence about them.
I’ve said it before, but I prefer the overall design – not necessarily the car – as nicer-looking than the GM B bodies of 1977-1989.
As for me, I look at my humble 2012 Impala as just a “Chevy”, just like whatever car passes for a standard (full-size) car that reflects that particular OEM. Hope that makes sense!
I think what you’re seeing is the rectilinear vibe of late ’70s and early ’80s downsizing, intended to reassure buyers accustomed to earlier products that were considerably larger. What I think has been lost in a lot of cases since then is that these cars were also designed with a greater emphasis on packaging efficiency, again because the manufacturers were keen to demonstrate that buyers trading in big mid-70s models weren’t giving up anything: “Bigger inside, smaller outside — you have nothing to lose but your overhangs!” As people got used to slightly smaller exterior dimensions, the boxy space efficiency disappeared pretty quickly in favor of style, aerodynamics, or platform-sharing, except on much smaller models like B-segment subcompacts.
Agreed that the ’79-’91 Panthers and the ’77-’90 GM B-bodies were really just shrunken versions of their behemoth predecessors (though more boxy). I prefer vehicles with straight (both horizontal and vertical) lines. One modern design trend I absolutely despise is the ever-rising belt line. Eventually, the window sills will be two inches from the roofline, and windows will be no more than gun slits.
My first car was this kind of Ford. I was trying to get a powder blue Grand Marquis like my grandfather had had. This is what we found available. A two tone blue (navy/powder) ’87 with cloth full bench seats (no split armrest either), crank windows, manual seat controls, an AM/FM only, no power antenna, manual door locks. The only options it had were Traction-Loc (and therefore dual exhaust) and a/c. Not positive but it may not have even had a power trunk lid.
Drove it for four years.
Absolutely right on with the nomenclature. I called it a “Crown Victoria” because the newer versions emphasized that.
But I remember some of the “grown-ups” at church coming by me at coffee hour during that first exciting week of ownership. “Orrin, is that you we saw driving that Big Ford yesterday?” Not an LTD. Not a Crown Vic. Just a “Ford”.
I’m not sure this low option version, particularly the manual windows, carried over into the ’88 mild redesign, so the ’87s may well have been the last of that kind. I always liked the crank windows…I’ve never minded them to begin with but the solid steel cranks on these are the last I’ve seen anywhere, nothing like the cheap plastic cranks I’ve seen since. This may well be the last car whose crank windows didn’t detract from it.
In 1988 there was still a Crown Victoria S below Crown Victoria Standard with power windows optional. They were giving AC by then.
This brought back the memory that my Dad called his Galaxie a 64 Ford way into the late 80’s. It became “Galaxie” when I started driving it.
Always a devoted follower of the Big Fords, he bought the Galaxie in 1969 and it was our family car until 1984. Then they got an 82 LTD Crown Victoria that was driven until 1997. It was and still is known as “The Black Car”. From then on, they’ve had two Mercury Grand Marquis’ that are now just known as “The Mercury”.
The doorjam capacity label on my grandparents’ ’92 aero-panther referred to the car and its twin not as a Crown Victoria or Grand Marquis, but as a “Ford/Mercury.” I remember being confused by it at the time.
The pictured car is the first Panther series Crown VIc I have seen with roll down windows that wasn’t a police (or ex-police) car.
I had one. They were pretty nice for roll downs, it didn’t really feel like a step down because the hardware was so upscale compared to that of economy cars.
My mom bought a new 1982 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Brougham (the top of the line) that was optioned really weird. Manual crank windows with power locks, sport mirrors with formal wire wheel covers; dark blue interior with charcoal gray paint and roof; 3 speed tranny without the OD. It was a weird mix of options.
To me, the success of the Taurus was the end of the Ford brand as we knew it. The same goes for the K-car being the end of the traditional Plymouth. For Chevy, it was less clear, as the CItation was not such a clear successor to the RWD Chevy.
Yes, this article is about model names, but more importantly about the end of the large RWD car as the mainstream volume seller. Calling it an LTD/Crown Victoria, Caprice/Impala or Gran Fury didnt change much, as these were already mostly cop cars or taxis by then.
The start of the end of full size dominance was when the Olds Cutlass line hit #1 for 1976. Was a huge deal then, for decades was the ‘standard Chevy’.
The 77-78 Chevy Impala/Caprice [as it had to be known by then] went back to 1st place for a 2 years, until ’79 Chevette, ’80 Citation, then Escort for awhile in then 80’s.
To JPC’s point about what a standard Ford was, many Ford print ads in the ’60s would list the line up at the bottom of the ad. I forget the exact order, but it was a hierarchy, maybe Falcon, Fairlane, Mustang, Thunderbird, Ford – encompassing several model names and body styles. Choosing a standard Ford was a lot like choosing an F-150 today, except you can’t get a convertible anymore.
This takes me back too. My dad was a field service rep for a company that leased out wirebound crate machines. The boss man was convinced that a van or a pickup with a shell wasnt the right ‘image’ or some such so fullize Fords and Chevies like this were the company cars chosen for lugging 800+ lbs of tools, supplies and machine parts to different clients despite a LOT of squawking that even these cavernous trunks could only hold so much. Hammering the freeways and pounding thru some lousy roads in their lives (100k-ish/4 yrs is when the leases were up) but i dont remember ANY major failures. Many of these sleds were bought by employees at ludicrous low prices. A changing of the guard in the 90s and Dad finally started getting F-150s. These old sedans may be ugly (at least to my eye) but they were damn tough and dependable. Critics just love to pick apart Detroit for our inability to knock off toyotas and hondas. But these cars are what the big 3 were ALWAYS good at doing.
Very. Well. Written, JP.
Great account of changing times in the auto industry and Pop culture in general.
This would have been the car my dad would have looked for on the dealer’s lot. As long as it had cruise control, air conditioning, and a nicer radio, he would have been happy. I see this one has a tilt wheel also. All the power equipment, etc, would have been “fluff” to dad and would just possibly cause problems later on.
Excellent write up, JPC! I’m certainly of the age when people just called the full-size cars “Fords” or “Chevies”, and a “VW” was an air-cooled Beetle, no further detail needed, though I’ve never owned any of those. But I realize that occasionally I also over-simplify the kind of car I drive in certain conversations, to subconsciously avoid the implications of being model specific. For example, I might say that I owned a Chevy in college, to avoid explaining why I owned a Vega ( or even what a Vega was); and even today I might just say that we own a Toyota (actually two) in case I’m talking to a Prius-hater or someone who has no idea what a T100 is. And. I think that all stems from being of the era when people did just say the manufacturer and you knew exactly which model it was also. But I never thought about it until reading JPC’s article. I’m not an early Panther fan, BTW, but a nice find.
Growing up in the 90s “the Ford” or “the Chevy” was sort of an alien concept to me. Even as a young enthusiast who was fascinated by 50s/60s/70s cars I’d still ask “which Ford???” when I’d hear someone refer to a Galaxie or whatever in a movie from the time. It really didn’t hit me until the last few years that it was essentially widely used slang for the full size model, aka standard.
Looking back Ford’s model lineup in the mid 60s was already pretty expansive, even by today’s standards, without the context of sales figures and the day to day visibility of a model only someone from the time could experience, “the Ford” was already over. The only thing that’s really changed has been the sales success of segments has been shuffled.
I learned this when I went looking on lov2xlr8.no for brochures and kept seeing “1977 Ford brochure” and getting excited because, “Hey, it’s a full-line brochure! They didn’t make too many of these!” And then I would open it and it was just LTD and LTD Landau.
An enjoyable read. But no picture of the back seat “passenger”? 🙂
Yeah, I was kind of surprised that I didn’t take one either when I found these when looking for something else. It’s been awhile, but if memory serves, it was some kind of plastic religious figure, like one of the light-up Josephs that accompany the manger scenes at Christmas in certain areas. I do recall that it was securely belted in. 🙂
Good Job JP. Good or bad the world she is a changing. Think cars are just one of the more obvious manifestations. Thanks.
XR7Matt shows what is different in branding. The old days the make was the ‘standard big car’ model. The Big 3 were still pushing that the big car was to aspire to, and ‘little’ cars were just stepping stones.
Indeed, the domestic auto leadership just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) comprehend a well-built small car. The thought process, unlike the Japanese, was ‘planned obsolescence’ all the way. The business model was simply to make Americans buy a new car every several years because the old one would wear out that fast and, if they were moving up in pay scale, they would get a more expensive, larger car each time.
The inexpensive, well-built, small Japanese car turned that well-honed process on its head.
In the big three’s defense the Japanese makes didn’t have to cope with such expansive model lineups when the shift to smaller cars occurred en masse, and Japanese cars were already small at their biggest. It could be argued the Accord was/is essentially “the Honda”.
If you’re old enough , a ” Honda ” means a mid 1970’s Civic CVCC two door tiny little thing made of tin foil but amazingly fun to drive .
Naw; if you’re really old enough, a “Honda” means a motorcycle. 🙂
I am but I was thinking of the Automobiles and only you and I will remember the 1964 two cylinder cars Honda tried importing along with Super Hawks , Dreams and Benlys .
(who has a dozen or so vintage Honda Tiddlers under a big tarp in my back yard…)
Naw; if you’re really old enough, a “Honda” means a motorcycle. 🙂
I must be ancient then. To me a Honda motorcycle was a step through Honda 50 in the early 60’s
You’re just thinking of Motocycles in an Automotive discussion .
My first Moto was a 1962 Honda C100 Cub , the same one you’re talking about , I had several including a lilac colored 1959 .
Also the Electric start C102 , the 1963 C105 , C114 & C115 and so on ~ those remain the most popular Motocycles in world history . _ever_ .
Slow but durable and amazingly economical to operate and repair .
Once I discovered the 90 C.C. and then the OHV versions , I never looked back , I’ve ridden my CM91 step through from Los Angeles to Death Valley then beyond , and home again , many times .
For some fun , look up ” Benly ” ~ pronounced ‘ Benri ‘ , it means ‘ convenient ‘ in Japanese and that’s what those early Honda Motos were above all else .
GM tried premium small cars in the early ’60’s without much success. The ’61 Skylark my uncle owned and grandma’s ’63 stand out in my mind as miniature premium cars. By ’64 they had grown in size and sales volume.
I still see a good number of that era’s full-size CrownVic cars on Craigslist–though sometimes seems to be a descendent selling for an ailing/deceased elder. You could do worse with a send-your-kid-off-to-college car, for sure.
For anyone who didn’t know already: “There’s a Ford in your future” was Ford’s advertising slogan in the later WWII years (not sure when it started), encouraging everyone to be patient–and to purchase once production resumed in peacetime:
I didn’t; but thanks for enlightening me, as usual. 🙂
When I read your comment I had to add my two cents. My Father came from a family of 16 kids. After WWII, getting new cars was very difficult and to take an American car into Canada had a crippling duty added to the cost. Each citizen, however, could bring in one per year duty free. My Dad had connections as he had worked with Pete Estes before the war, and was able to get one car per family member for two years. The seed money he and my Grandfather made in ’46-47 made our subsequent lives possible.
My first memory of these was driving a trade in ’81 302 AOD from DeBorgia, Montana to Coeur d’Alene. I was cruising over Lookout Pass and thinking what an effortless cruiser it was when the lights went on in my rear view mirror. Thank the fates that this particular cop had been one of the fleet recipients, and allowed me a warning. This one was equipped with a rear stabilizer and was better than many costing more money. And, I believe they came as a true two door coupe until 1988?
So, what does “LTD” really stand for? “Limited”, “Luxury Trim Decor”?
Or does it mean, as one of my neighbors who had a most troublesome Ford LTD, called his car a “Fixed Or Repaired Daily, Long Term Disaster”.
But I remembered the top-of-the-line Fords as being quiet and comfortable-riding and elegent, more so than the comparable Chevrolet models.
Somewhere I read it was supposedly “Lincoln Type Design”.
I wasn’t convinced.
But how can it mean “Limited” when they produced them in the hundreds of thousands? 🙂
Like that joke by,… I think it was Jay Leno, who said,…..
” These car manufacturers have the Limited Edition something… Yeah, they’re really limited, alright… Limited to as many, thousands upon thousands, they can make.” 🙂
I’ve often wondered what would’ve happened if Fomoco had held the Model T’s overall length and width dimensions sacred and inviolable for The Ford and made any larger cars line extensions, rather than allowing the “standard Ford” to grow until it and the “standard Cadillac” were functionally the same size and then infilling with smaller cars. The article makes me think even more that it may have allowed the concept to survive since it would’ve been spared several rounds of size increase and decontenting.
For reference a Model T Ford is 134″ long x 66″ wide while a Fiesta hatchback is just short of 160″ long x 67.8 wide (mirrors add another 10″ total); a Chevy Spark (parallel-universe Standard Chevy) is 144.7″ long and 62.9″ wide less mirrors, so the T’s length/width puts it in the A-segment in modern terms.
I can definitely relate to this being called a Ford. Being a product of 1953 that is the naming standard I grew up with. It was a Ford, a Chevy, a Mercury, a Chrysler and so forth. Still use the terminology today. When someone asks what car I drove over the weekend then I tell them Cougar, Mustang or F100. If it is the Polara or Park Lane I simply say the Dodge or the Mercury and nothing else. If you are from that time then you know exactly what I mean.
Yes, when my son’s 89 Grand Marquis was in the driveway, both the Mrs and I always referred to it as “the Mercury.” And we called the 85 Crown Vic we had “the Ford”. But the 93 Crown Vic somehow came to be called “the Vic”, which always reminded me of shorthand for “the victim” as heard on the Law and Order TV shows. Appropriate, I suppose, as the Vic bore the brunt of three teenage drivers in a row.
I was born in 1970, and I can’t say I really remember hearing people refer to contemporary new cars in this manner. That said, I have long been aware of this usage. I remember seeing contemporary model-by-model production breakdowns from the ’70s or even early ’80s that were organized in this manner, and the edition of the 1946-1975 Standard Catalog that I have has calendar year production figures laid out this way.
Today, I think people commonly refer to cars from the ’60s or earlier this way, but it kind of breaks down after about 1970. I would understand “1958 Chevy” or “1965 Chevy” to refer to the standard fullsize model. I would be less sure of what was meant by “1973 Chevy” or “1980 Chevy”. (A better way to put it might be that you just don’t typically hear people say things like “1973 Chevy” or “1980 Chevy”.) There was always little doubt in my mind that the ’60 Chevy referred to in the lyrics of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and the ’65 Chevy referred to in Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” were fullsize cars (the latter confirmed by the song’s video). How about the ’69 Chevy with a 396 in Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing In The Streets”?
In a past thread, I had looked at the fullsize Chevrolet brochures, and discovered that the first year that the fullsize brochure was billed as “Caprice Classic and Impala”, as opposed to just “Chevrolet”, was 1981. Chevy began listing the individual fullsize models on the cover in smaller print beginning in 1974, however. Technically, the 1977 through 1980 brochures all refer to “The New Chevrolet”.
I just checked the Ford brochures. Ford began listing the individual fullsize models in smaller print in 1973, and began labeling the brochure as “LTD” rather than “Ford” starting in 1975. For the ’75 model year, the LTD absorbed the Galaxie 500, and the Custom 500 was no longer being featured in the brochure (it had become a fleet-only model), so all fullsize Fords being sold to the general public were now badged as LTDs.
I just put two and two together on this; in the early postwar years when Ford was making baby steps to being a multi-model brand, starting with the imported British Fords in the late ’40s, then the Thunderbird, those cars all carried their model names rather than the Ford brand in the prime badging location on or above the grille.
When the ’57s went to two wheelbases, Fairlanes had “Fairlane” scripts atop the grille while Ford block letters were reserved for Customs and wagons.
The 1960 Falcon was the first line-extension car to carry the “FORD” name proudly across its’ hood.
Early in my working career (in the late 70s), the weekly publication Automotive News still classified the largest nonluxury cars as “standard” cars. This quickly went by the wayside as the 80s ushered in a new wave of smaller cars, both import and domestic, and seems such an archaic term now. These were the cars that were just “Fords” and “Chevrolets.”
Now, every vehicle is named by size (compact or small, midsize, large), and for cars in particular, it’s now common to use the European size classes A, B, C, etc.
I know that my Dad’s first new car was a ’59 Ford & I know it was red (maybe red & white) but I don’t actually know what model. Based on all of his later choices, I’d guess it was a 2 door sedan, in one of the lower trim models, but like this one, it was just a Ford.
I’m enjoying the discussions immensely .
“The argument you’re making is a very rose-tinted glass argument. Consumers have never had it better than they do today. ”
And how .
That being said , I’ll keep my oldies thankyouverymuch ~ it’s not by chance I no longer live in the rust belt so this is possible .
I was chatting with a guy from Nigeria yesterday and he commented they still have old Mercedes W-123 Diesels like mine in daily use there .
Great article; the larger tires on this one combined with the plain hubcaps seem to defy all the claims of Panther awkwardness wrought from too small wheels. Hmmm. . . brown 80’s Ford. . . solid construction against parking lot dings. I think it’s time for an ode to Kathy Bates: “TAWANDA!!!”
My late inlaws bought an 85 Crown Vic 2 door brand new. It was the classic old geezer car, refrigerator white with pale blue/gray mouse fuzz upholstery. It was powered by the venerable 302, mated to an awful transmission that finished upshifting by the time you hit 25 or 30 mph.
When visiting them, I always drove, because my father in law was a scary driver. He was a scary driver when he was young, too, but it got worse with age.
What disturbed me when I drove that car was that I didn’t hate it. Sure, I hated how it looked, and I hated the transmission, but there was something that just felt right about it. It was solid, had great power steering and was very quiet. Not a car that I would want to own, but one that I enjoyed driving occasionally.
Oh, and yes, we are all Lutherans, but I am from Southern CA and I would never have bought that car!
Hmm, my Aunt Sue had an ’83 four door that just seemed wrong to me in a way that a couple other relatives’ Caprice/Imp – sorry. Chevys, weren’t. I always chalked it up to how I and everyone else in the family didn’t really like her, but I wonder how much of it is down to my family being Catholic…
Basic, no nonsense kinda car. There is just something so honest about this car. Another bygone era in automotive history. Great write up!
Great article. I also enjoyed the comments. I need some parts in this color. If anyone can help me out, I’d greatly appreciate it!
Now imagine that this car doesn’t have any options other than a/c and am radio – and you have my dad’s beloved LTD. Same color.
He got it from his brother who used it for funerals. He was a small church pastor, and it was used to shuttle mourners.
When my dad’s beloved Buick Park Avenue finally threw a rod, he drove this home as the replacement.
I saw it as going from Las Vegas, Nevada to the Amana Colonies, Iowa.
My dad couldn’t have been happier. His big brother gave it to him. It was a symbol of love.
My dad took care of it like it was worth a fortune. I waxed that blistering hot Dark Clove paint every weekend, and it was garaged every night. It looked like it was ready for a funeral at a moment’s notice.
It was my dad’s last car. Although he was an amazing healthy and took great care of himself – he suddenly was diagnosed with colon cancer and it killed him within three years. I watched him go from being a youthful energetic manufacturing foreman to an old man who couldn’t make it to retirement age.
Thankfully, he got to enjoy this brother’s gift for the few remaining years he had.
So, I love this car. It also breaks my heart.
Thanks for sharing. That’s a neat story, but also really sad! I’m also in Iowa and would love to see it someday.
Just getting a plain Ford ended far longer ago than you think by the mid 30s there were different types on the road here you could have an American Ford V8 or a British Ford Y 4 banger and it just got worse from there, The British invasion began in earnest post WW2 and they never really let up then the Australian effort tried and got a toe hold in the early 60s finally cracking NZs market in the 70s after Ford UK shot itself in the foot with the MK4 Zephyr/Zodiac debacle the US variety disappeared around the same time and never really came back except as used collector cars, Kiwis had the choice of Falcons Fairmonts and Fairlanes Escorts Cortinas and Transits plus D model trucks,
Just a plain Ford ended with the model A or 18 since As were still on sale new here in 34 as dealers tried to clear stocks during the depression.
The last time I saw a manufacturer use the marque name like this was in the deluxe full-line 1981 Pontiac brochure. The back section of the catalog had a few pages showing standard and optional features, broken down by model: 1981 Grand Prix, 1981 Firebird … and 1981 Pontiac. “Pontiac” in that context meant the real Pontiacs, the full-sized models, Catalina and Bonneville (or Laurentian, Catalina, and Parisienne in Canada). For 1982, there were no more “Pontiacs” in the US, and when they returned (sort of) the Parisienne was just another Pontiac, not THE Pontiac.
Buick’s full-line brochure as late as 1984 (iirc) opened the section on the Electra as something like “For some people, the Electra isn’t just a Buick, it is THE Buick”. It wouldn’t be until decades later I understood what they meant. For me, 18 at the time, the days when only full-sized Buicks were real Buicks was long past.
To this day though, people who own (or refer to) specialty models usually don’t call it by the marque name. I don’t know many Mustang owners who say they drive a Ford, nor Corvette drivers who have “a Chevy”.
I was curious about this, so I checked it out on old car brochures, and the other weird thing is that at least going back to 1976 (I didn’t check back any farther) the full line brochures DO split it out to Bonneville/Catalina. So I guess for old time’s sake they went back to just Pontiac for that year? Or maybe they didn’t want to spend multiple pages on the then-outgoing full sizers.
Funny that this post should re-appear on the day that I took my ’85 out of the barn for a run. I bet you didn’t think that Ford would be down to just a Mustang when you wrote this post in 2015!
Chevrolet actually produced a pretty goofy commercial in 1964 referring to its full-size line (represented by a swanky red Impala convertible) as the “Chevrolet Chevrolet.” The Corvette, Corvair, Chevy II and Chevelle got a mention as well, but Chevrolet knew where its bread and butter came from, even if it never uttered the word “Impala” in the spot.
That is a terrific find!
Wow that is bizarre…
The jingle writers sure weren’t up to date on musical trends; they sound like they haven’t turned on a radio in ten years.
I had an 89′ Crown Vic with every option and that thing couldn’t be killed.
I sold it ten years ago with 180000 miles and the guy is still driving it !
He’s only got it up to 230000 and the original starter and R12 A/C finally and recently died..
He fix it and sent me a picture of the OEM starter..
I have owned 1989 and 2004 Crown Victorias and still have a 2010 Grand Marquis with 90,000 miles that I hope to keep the remainder of my life. The Panther is the only Ford car platform in the last 30 years that will provide reliable service well over 100,000 miles with little fuss. I remember reading in the car magazines that the original plan was to discontinue the platform around 1983 and use the Fox platform LTD and Marquis to tide things over until the Taurus was introduced.
What gets me about this car is the apparent incongruity between the interior and exterior trim levels.
Outside, slathered in chrome, even a shiny band across the roof. Full-Brougham and then some.
Inside, the seats look nice enough but – crank windows?
Amazing to think someone would spring for all that nonfunctional exterior gingerbread, and not get the convenience of power windows – surely a proven technology by the time this came out?
Remember the target market for these cars: conservative, conservative, conservative. For a large chunk of whom, that meant chrome on the outside and no frivolous frills on the inside.
I don’t like panther cars—I know that is not a universal opinion, which is fine—but I really think these Fords look a whole lot better with the first-two-or-three-years base-trim front end. The one with single large rectangular headlamps. And I think it looks even better still with that early/base front end cleaned up a little further.
It’s a pet theory that holds little water, but in 1983 you still had plenty of buyers/owners who remembered pre-1960, when Fords *were* all the one (full) size—-but that was changing…
I still think it’d be great fun to take one of these for a coast-to-coast interstate drive!
Dean Edwards: yeah, the demise of the sedans (Fusion, Taurus) really saddens me….
I’ll take the 1988 vintage sans vinyl. Still a “block” but less sharp edged and cleaner. Like the later Jeep Cherokees, same but better looking.
This brings back memories. I remember objecting to my father referring to our Falcon as a ‘Ford’. To me it was clearly a Falcon, and to call it a Ford was just wrong. He then pointed out the large F-O-R-D letters spread out across the hood, and I retreated into confused silence. I’m not sure I had even noticed those letters before.
I had lost the argument. But ‘everyone knew’ what Fords were, and this still wasn’t one. 🙂