(first posted 11/19/2015) America is famous for having some big rivalries that can get people passionately fired up in support of one side or the other. Think Coke versus Pepsi, Democrats versus Republicans, Yankees versus Red Sox to name just a few. In the American automotive world, rivalries don’t come any bigger than Ford versus Chevy.
For their December 1978 issue, Motor Trend tested the newly downsized 1979 Ford LTD against the 1979 Chevrolet Caprice, which was just entering the third model year after its enormously successful downsizing program. Which car would Motor Trend declare as the victor of this shootout? Read on!
Motor Trend spends a great deal of ink lamenting that the two cars look so similar. While they certainly share styling characteristics common to the early downsizing era, to my eyes the cars look quite different and in keeping with the heritage of their respective nameplates. The boxy Ford comes across as more utilitarian, while the Chevrolet seems sleeker, just as it was in 1965…
The plush, top-level Landau model earns a lot of praise for its integrated interior. Motor Trend’s test car carried the extra cost Interior Luxury Group, which added a number of niceties that weren’t seen on the rest of the LTD line. The package included features such as the full-length door armrests, which the editors praised so highly, along with fold down center armrests both front and rear, unusual for the class at the time. I do think that the Luxury Group interior in the Landau was attractive and luxurious, and a cut above the optional Special Custom interior in the Caprice.
For a car that Motor Trend had named Car of the Year just two years prior, it was odd to see it perform relatively poorly in so many subjective areas in the MT staff rating. For the most part, the criticisms of the Chevrolet’s interior seemed pretty harsh. While I’d agree that the power window controls mounted on full-length door armrest of the LTD Landau with the Interior Luxury Group were superior to the Caprice’s awkward door panel mounted controls, I’d certainly quibble with MT’s assessment that Ford’s stalk mounted controls were better. They did not even mention how bizarre the Ford’s horn location was on the end of the directional signal stalk—there would be no way to argue that was a better placement than the Chevrolet’s horn control, mounted as it should be in the steering wheel hub.
When this article first appeared, I remember being completely floored by the final verdict. Sure, the new LTD was a much better car than its predecessor, and a much better match for the Chevrolet. But how could anyone argue that the LTD was superior to the Caprice? Interior trim and cushy ride aside, the Chevrolet outperformed the Ford by every measure.
Reading the objective test results for each car, the Ford lost badly. The LTD was slower than the Caprice, both in zero-to-60 and ¼ mile tests. Based on EPA measures, the 351 V8 in the Ford achieved 2 miles per gallon less than the 350 V8 in the Chevy. The driving range on the Ford would have been worse too: in additional to lower fuel economy, the Ford also had a smaller gas tank. Most damning of all was that Ford’s braking was far worse, trailing the big Chevy by an alarming 66 feet in 60-to-zero braking! The Ford’s results were distinctly inferior in all the measures that really matter for a car, rolling living rooms notwithstanding.
Put simply, any reputed car enthusiast magazine that ignored such significant performances variances could not be fully trusted. So, at the ripe young age of 13, this Ford versus Chevrolet test truly opened my adolescent eyes to the notion of extreme subjective bias, potential payoffs, and various other unsavory notions about journalistic integrity.
Though I was certainly a huge Chevrolet fan back in 1979, had the Ford won fair and square, the results would have been easier to swallow. For example, I definitely preferred the new ’79 Mustang to the dated ’79 Camaro., since it was clearly a better, more modern car. But the ’79 LTD over the ‘79 Caprice? Not for me!
Eh, everyone has their own personal biases. I can see how someone who values ride comfort, quietness, seating position, interior appointments, and overall “comfort” and “quality” (in the high trim versions, at least) would very easily prefer the Ford. It was a very practical, comfortable, and pragmatic design… handling and styling be damned. Yes, the Chevy beat it handily in those two departments, and for many people. that was enough for them to sign on the dotted line and make it the best seller. You also can’t discount brand loyalty, which was much stronger in 1979 than it is today. There are so many people of the WWII generation who just bought endless strings of Fords or endless strings of Chevies and never even test drove the competition. This is less common now, with millennials and baby boomers jumping to different bodystyles and/or brands quite easily with each new car purchase.
Look at it with a modern example – there are a lot of mid-size sedans that brake, handle, “feel tighter”, look more stylish, and overall “drive better” than the Toyota Camry, from any decade and looking at any generation. But the combination of ride comfort, quietness, interior appointments, room, and quality (that part is debatable in some generations – specifically Gen6) make it hit that sweet spot for reviewers and especially consumers to recognize it as an all-around excellent car for Joe Sixpack. Just like the 1979 LTD. The average American consumer has VERY different priorities than the average American auto enthusiast. Americans really do value ride quality, quietness, and (perceived) luxury over typical European and Japanese sensibilities. I will never forget about a friend in college who waxed on and on about the (very fake looking) wood trim inside his Camry XLE.
I think the hate for the box Panthers is very exaggerated on this site – I have owned and drive multiple examples of B-body and box Panther (sedan, wagon, Olds, Mercury, Ford, Chevy, worn out, well-preserved, you name it) and none of these cars feel and drive drastically different from one another, especially when viewing them three decades in retrospect. It depends what your priorities are. Want a high seating position, cushy seats and a soft ride, but a boxy utilitarian body? Ford. Want a low bathtub feel with a giant steering wheel, firmer ride, and a more sleek, flowing design inside and out? GM. It’s all in your personal preference.
I know a couple of life-long Ford guys who became a bit disenfranchised lately. One was my wife’s grandfather who, after owning a 2005 Focus and a 2010 Ranger, said “I’ll never buy another Ford.”
The other is my mother’s second husband. He’s 77 and he’s been a very loyal customer all his adult life. He had a 32 hot rod when he was young, raced Fords in NASCAR, has a collection of Ford tractors, a ’65 Mustang he restored, a ’55 F-600 (it’s where I got my avatar) with a matching ’55 tractor he takes to shows, both also restored, and he had always bought new Fords to drive.
He runs a small trailer business in his retirement and uses one ton trucks to haul the things around. His latest work truck is a Dodge. When I asked him why he jumped the ditch, he just said “It was a better deal.” We were all very surprised.
So, it does happen.
An interesting comparison. On the “scoring”, Ford got 9s on things like ride, noise, vibration and trunk space. Those of who have owned these know that these were the car’s best features. The Chevy did not score a 9 on anything.
I wonder if the era of this test was an issue. The testers were likely used to frequent updates of styling and features, but the Chevy was on year 3 with virtually no change. I wonder if they were let down by a perceived lack of improvement from the 77 model. Ford probably got the benefit of the doubt on some things because of the car’s all-new status.
I’ll put a bit of credence towards manufacturer pressure: You know that the Ford wasn’t handing the car over to Motor Trend without a bit of a talking to, while the Chevrolet was probably just handed out as yet another magazine test car, no particular pressure put on, as GM had other fish to fry at that point (the upcoming X-Car?).
And, this is Motor Trend. How much advertising had Ford contracted for in the coming year?
Regarding the comment made on “hatred towards Panthers”. I don’t think it’s so much hatred (definitely not in my case) but rather a reaction to a car that has gotten a lot of Internet bandwith virtually describing it as God’s Own Car, the Perfect Automobile, the Best That Was Ever Built, etc. Which, when you drive one, isn’t even close to true except in the eyes of those to whom a proper car must be V-8 in the front, rear drive, bench seat and column shifter. I’ve always put them down because after listening to this line for more than a few years, I was finally in the position to drive a few and without exception they didn’t come even close to the above descriptions. Quite frankly, I found them inferior to my father’s last car – a ’96 Caprice with the police suspension.
‘… a lot of Internet bandwith virtually describing it as … the Perfect Automobile,’
Agree! Lots of this on Ford message boards since the 1990’s. The fanatics wanted the CV as #1 selling car and expected Ford to push for more sales. Mainly they wanted “the good old days of Big Cars to come back” and were dismayed at SUV and uninbody car sales overtaking the landscape.
“If there were more TV commecials, educating buyers about Panthers, Ford would be #1!”
It was all bias and psychology, they felt “young again” riding in something reminding them of “the 60’s”, etc…..
Unibodies have been part of everyone elses landscape since the late 30s, BOF is 1920s technology.
As I recall, MT took a ton of heat for this result, and a rematch was done the following year, which the Caprice won.
The article does seem to read like the writer got treated to some expensive “companionship” at no charge. Interesting that the significant price difference wasn’t mentioned.
I remember that rematch article (using the coupes) very well but they compared a more stripped-down LTD against the Caprice when they should’ve used either an LTD Crown Victoria (that replaced the previous year’s LTD Landau) or used an Impala (if using said-LTD).
Additionally, Chevy (& GM) revamped/reskinned its full-sizes for 1980 (the coupe’s exterior styling changed the most) & shed about 300 lbs. thereby giving their then-three-year-old cars some newness. The LTD they used wasn’t equipped with Ford’s newest option that year… the automatic-overdrive transmission; something that would become a standard feature (for all vehicles equipped w/automatics) years later (and still used to this day).
So while the Caprice won in MT’s rematch; the bias (towards the Chevy) was obvious the second time around. MT’s worst GM bias of the decade would be the ’82 Camaro Z28 vs. the Mustang GT comparison a few years later (they praised the Mustang’s performance but chose the Camaro) but that’s another story.
Big Fords had been available with Lincoln worthy interiors since 1973. If you wanted to match the Ford interior at GM, you were cordially invited to visit your Oldsmobile or Buick dealer.
And I saw where the Ford trimmed like this was significantly more expensive than the Chevy (in the area of 10% of the base price and 5% as optioned), though probably not on a monthly payment basis.
Fords always seemed to be more opulent than Chevy. I had two friends whose parents each had a ’67 Caprice and a ’67 LTD. Both top of the line for that year. The interior difference was quite noticable. The LTD was far more luxurious and contained lights, armrests and other touches the Caprice didn’t have. Ford interiors always seemed nicer.
Regarding the downsized generation, I drove many Impalas and LTD’s from our fed. govt. fleet all during the 1980’s. Most had the optional handling suspension and largest V-8 available. My impression, I suspect, was similar to many. The Fords were more comfortable and nicely finished, but the Chevys were far superior in power and handling.
If one wanted a more opulent interior you just had to move up to a Bonneville Brougham, a LeSabre Limited or a Delta Royale Brougham. Those cars interiors were much nicer than the Chevy.
I assume the fleet LTDs and Impalas had the base interiors. How did those compare?
Yes, they were all the base Impalas and LTD’s. The LTD’s seemed more comfortable and better finished. Performance and handling was another matter. The Chevy 350 4 bbl with the F-41 suspension was head and shoulders above the Ford with the 351 and their HD suspension.
Since Ford didn’t have Edsel anymore, they had to make 60’s LTD’s plusher, and GM had 3 other brands, too.
Caprice didn’t outsell Impala until the mid 70’s, btw.
They did have Mercury, and Ford borrowing from the Mercury parts bin sort of negated the need for Mercury’s existence.
The write-up on this article falls into a trap that so many enthusiasts fall into-it looks to the numbers as dictatorial of the driving experience, when in reality the numbers can only hint at what the driving experience might be like. When someone falls into this trap, it becomes impossible for them to consider that, perhaps, a car that’s a bit slower to 60 or pulls fewer Gs in a slalom course still is the more enjoyable one to drive. Driving is about the sensations and the experience, not the numbers.
Because let’s be real-people weren’t buying Caprices and LTDs for their sporting abilities (and kudos to MT for acknowledging how people actually used these cars!). People were buying these to haul the family, drive to work, and take long car trips. When one is doing those things, whether it gets to 60 a bit slower is immaterial. It’s in how the car *feels*.
And the MT article makes it plain-they like how the LTD *feels*. They talk about the control placements and the interior layouts and the functionality of things like the tilt wheel. These are the things people who are going to live with a car for thousands of miles and at least a couple of years consider first and foremost. Hell, even when I bought my Fiesta ST, the things I considered (after I realized how much fun it was) were mundanity: Did I like the shifter placement? Did I like MyFordTouch? Did I think the seats would be comfortable for any length of time?
I’ve mentioned before I think the LTDs looked better than the Caprice at this point. It’s been a decade or more since I drove a ’79 Caprice (and then only once), and I’ve never driven a Panther from this era. Based on these write-ups today and over the past few days, and my own motoring preferences, though, I imagine I’d have chosen the LTD if I were buying one in that era. I like comfortable seating and big floaty ride in my big cars (why I have a ’78 Continental, as well). And that Ford interior IS the better interior, even with that stupid horn on the stalk.
Absolutely – you and Max P are both right on the money. The demographic that were purchasing the LTD and the Caprice weren’t interested in a sporty vehicle’s ride…if they wanted that, they would buy a sporty car. The folks choosing the LTD and the Caprice were looking for adequate power and a comfortable car to ride and drive in. I had a 1984 Crown Vic and it was one of the most comfortable and solidly built cars I’ve owned.
Although I’ve never been a big fan of the Panthers, I will admit that the Ford interior is better than the Chevy. The power window switches on the Chevy are way forward and low down on the door panel, a poor design. Also the liftover height on the Chevy trunk is quite high while the Ford has a much lower cutout, making it easier for lifting heavy things in. Performance is subjective, and in real-world driving the braking issues may not have mattered as much.
The trunk design was one area where these cars really varied. Having owned both, I’d call them trade offs, with a personal preference for the GM approach.
The GM cars had a broad flat floor. It was terrific for lining up grocery bags, luggage, and golf bags.
The “deep well” trunk, a feature in Fords dating to 1965, gave you a deep spot for putting tall objects. Getting heavy objects back out of that well could be a bit back breaking. Objects sitting on the high sides of the trunk floor were prone to dumping into the deep well.
I’m a fairly big guy, so lift over height has never been much of an issue for me. Objects that are low, (like in a deep well trunk) are a bit of reach. And, while this Ford has a low cut out reducing lift over height, the Mercury version, which I owned, did not. So, really heavy objects in the bottom of the deep well practically required a crane to extract them.
Never, ever, put a 36″ CRT style TV into a Ford “deep well” trunk. Seriously, NEVER.
I finally got a chance to really go over the article. I blew out my coffee reading the article’s comments on the new Ford tilt wheel.
I have hundreds of thousands of miles of wheel time in these Panthers and B Bodies. The first time I saw the Ford tilt steering wheel teetering on the end of the column, I thought “ya gotta be kidding.”
It turns out they were. The 2005 and 2012 Fords in my garage tilt at the base of the column, as they properly should.
As has been discussed several times during Big Ford / Chevy downsizing week, the ’79 Ford was chock a block with errors, oddities and misses – many of which were corrected during its long and eventually successful run during the 1980s.
Same – I couldn’t believe the way the tester gushed over that Ford tilt wheel. That was always one of my least favorite features of Fords of those years. The horn on the stalk thing was also a no-go with me. How they could figure out how to keep cruise control buttons on the wheel but not the horn buttons, well . . .
I have a fox lincoln with said tilt wheel, and I much prefer it to column base tilts. I has a much more variable angle, all the way from f1 racer to school bus. Most other wheels just don’t travel enough to get in a comfortable position.
I agree tilting at the top makes it adjust the angle of the steering wheel while tilting further down makes it adjust the height of the wheel. The fact that on my wife’s Fusion it tilts farther down is one of my least favorite things about that car, if you want the angle of the wheel more vertical it means that it significantly cuts into your leg room.
That shocked me too. Seriously?
Ford’s Tilt from this era just moved the wheel from an annoying position to a slightly less annoying position.
GM always had a lock on proper Tilt Wheel.
Interesting the perspective on the Ford tilt in these comments.
I have long legs that I have to get in and out of a car. I always saw the tilt as a way to get the column and wheel out of the way to facilitate entry and exit. Column up to exit, column down a bit to drive.
For those that don’t worry about entry and exit, its more about wheel angle adjustment, so they like the Panther era Ford tilt.
But yes, I always thought the GM tilt from the beginning in the early ’60s and through the RWD era was perfection. In one motion, I’d swing into the car, my left hand would go through the wheel, pull the lever and drop the column – single handedly. Reverse to exit. I still miss that type of operation.
Occasionally my much shorter wife will leave a tilt wheel down, and I’ve cracked my legs on the damn wheel trying to squeeze in in our sometimes crowded garage.
GMs’ Tilt &Telescopic columns of that era are the best. I’d prefer a “B/C” I’d take a Panther, But give me the Mercury version!
That was a change at Ford, as the big Fords (I have a ’77 Thunderbird Town Landau and a ’78 Lincoln Continental Town Coupe in my fleet) both tilt at the base of the column. In the Continental, it’s ok. In the Thunderbird, the tilt wheel is absolutely useless. I can adjust it exactly one stop from the top of the range before the wheel’s in a place where I as a man would rather not have it.
I don’t know if the tilt at the end of the column was any better or worse, but the base of the column tilt wasn’t perfect, either.
That change was probably part of my “what the heck” reaction when I first came across the Panther tilt. I knew that Fords previously featured what I’d call a “conventional” tilt.
By 1979, these were how the Big Three (AMC was already out of the large car bandwagon) stacked up against one another including Chrysler’s version to the mix.
Did Panthers of this era run 14″ wheels stock? That might explain some of the visually huge wheel gap, though the fender openings were also larger and squared off. It also looks like the Impala is running higher sidewall (as is the Chrysler but those obviously aren’t the OEM tires).
If so, they fixed that later on. My ’91 LTD Crown VIc ran 205/70R15 as the stock tire size. The B’s still had more sidewall though–our ’86 Pontiac Parisienne ran a comparatively huge 225/75R15. That would be a truck tire today.
YES as a matter of fact when the 1979 Ford LTDs were downsized for 1979, they were the only large cars to have offered a 14″ set of tires and used the same size and type of tires FR78-14 as the smaller Chevrolet Camaro used during that era. 205/70R15 is roughly equal to GR70-15 the same size and tires that the Chevrolet Impala/Caprice Classic were using.
When both cars came out it was still alpha numeric sizes on both. The base on the Ford was the FR78-14 while the Chevy had FR78-15 as its base tire.
Strange how the 14’s were standard fare on the LTD’s back then, even the wagons. Our ’82 Country Squire had the upgraded 14’s – the size was 225/75/14 to be exact – which today are almost non-existent. The funny thing was if you upgraded to the 15’s you got size 205/75/15’s – a thinner tire and in my opinion not a very good upgrade.
We had issues with our wire wheels getting stolen several times so we got a set of the turbines with tires already mounted on them from a local salvage yard. They were the 205/75/15’s and honestly the Country Squire didn’t handle quite as well with them as it did with the 14’s. Also the ride quality suffered a bit as the sidewall was not as thick. Eventually we put 215/75/15’s on which helped a bit.
I agree with the author: tests like this is what gave MT a bad rep. I stopped reading them about this time. It’s a classic case of trying to justify a subjective outcome that is not supported by sufficient objective criteria.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that way,obviously. MT got a lot of heat over this comparison. And the next time the re-did it, the outcome was (predictably) different.
Frankly, it may be hindsight, but this review was pretty poorly written. And if MT’s writers couldn’t tell the difference between these cars, they were obviously dimwits. Although these two cars have some similarities, there are very significant differences that make these easy to tell apart even at considerable distance. That fact alone makes this an embarrassing review.
I can’t recall a time when Motor Trend wasn’t essentially a shill for the domestic car companies (their paid-for Car of the Year which was rotated among Detroit every year is a great example). Motor Trend ‘never’ said a reviewed car was bad, particularly if it was a just-introduced, brand-new model.
Back in the day, Car and Driver was much more objective and didn’t have a problem describing a car as a complete POS if it was warranted (and in a clever and well-written manner, to boot). But, then, they eventually capitulated to market forces and softened up, too, becoming just as vague as MT.
I totally agree with your last paragraph Paul. At age 15 in 1979, I could easily tell the difference between the big Fords and Chevys, as well as the difference between the various other GM B & C bodies and the Chryslers. Sloppy journalism, at best.
At the time, we thought that the downsized LTD was Ford’s version of the 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88. The resemblance was particularly strong at the front.
No one thought it looked like a Chevrolet Impala/Caprice.
As for Motor Trend – it was a confused magazine in the 1970s. Car and Driver once called it “Detroit’s Charlie McCarthy.” Almost as if in reaction, the magazine become very critical of Detroit cars around 1971-72. Then it backed off, and the comparison tests, in particular, became virtually worthless. Every car was a “winner” for one reason or another.
Around 1979, it started to get more critical. In particular, I remember that the magazine’s reviewer had hardly anything good to say about the 1979 AMC Spirit. But then, AMC wasn’t exactly a big target.
and Chrysler’s R Body Newport was MOPARs LeSabre!
I’ve long read MT. It’s still a lot of information, even if the editorial side has lacked objectivity. The draw for me is the better coverage of U.S. domestic vehicles, and stuff that average people drive. I can only read so much about Porsches, Bimmers and Benzes that I’ll likely never own.
But, as Rudiger noted, MT is rather famous for gushing over a new car, only to call it like it is three or four years down the road.
The last two paragraphs of this article are almost hysterically funny. He says he prefers the Ford for its cushy interior and therefore “overlooks” the poor braking. Translation: “I’ll be comfortable in this rolling coffin when I can’t get this thing under control.”
The last paragraph about wanting the Ford interior on the GM chassis is also a hoot. GM sold millions of such cars, they were known as Oldsmobiles and Buicks! You’d think an auto writer might be aware of that.
I have never owned nor have I driven either of these cars. To me, these cars look nothing alike. The Ford has a tall grille, squared wheel openings, forward leaning rear panel, large rectangular tail lights and low lift over access to the trunk. All of this is very different from the Chevy’s low horizontal grille, round wheel openings, rearward leaning rear panel with long horizontal tail lights and near fender height lift over into the trunk. Functionally, only the difference is at the trunk opening. Folks who regularly use the trunk would find the Ford superior in that area. I, personally, think Ford wins out on interior design. I find the Ford’s steering wheel to be more refined in appearance and feel, but the placement of the horn button on a stalk is lame and the tilt wheel which I’ve experienced in other Fords is awkward. I want to be able to raise and lower the wheel and controls, not just aim the wheel. Those two things would probably be a deal breaker for me.
Even though the road test shows the Chevy to be the superior car, performance wise, Back in 1979, I would likely not have tested the braking performance of these cars during a test drive. Today, I would.
The guy who road tested these two cars admitted that he would have chosen the LTD based on comfory and aesthetics, not performance. If not for the horn and tilt wheel issues, I probably would have too. But, in 1979, I wasn’t attracted to these two cars and probably would not have bought either one. If I could have one of these 36 year old cars today, I’d take the Ford. Then I’d find a way to change out that steering column.
One has to wonder if the writer of this article actually really read the review or just based it on his own bias. The review clearly states that the horn button is on the stalk. The reviewer clearly states that picking the Ford goes against his tendency to favor performance, yet in the actual real world driving he prefers the Ford over the Chevy despite the fact that the Chevy accelerates faster and stops shorter. Speaking of braking performance the reviewer does note that the Grand Marquis previously tested did much better on the 60-0 braking, though still not as well as the Chevy, so maybe he discounted this particular Ford’s performance somewhat because of that.
Truth be told, I really didn’t start liking the Panther Crown Vics until they smoothed out the styling in 1992.
FoMoCo kept updating and refining the Panthers as the model years accumulated; GM rested on their 1977 laurels for wayyyyy too long.
GM did had a tendency to rest on their laurels when the produced a winner. It seems like the lemons got all the attention trying to make them into lemonade. I wish they still made the downsized Caprice. I have owned three of them and wish I had never sold them. To me they were the apex of an “affordable” full size family 4dr sedan. Others may have differing opinions.
I’m with Paul in that M/T was pretty much bordering on a shill for whichever car company had the deepest pockets and/or the latest product. (Let’s face it, if the launch budget for the Vega had been 1/2 what it really was would it have been named “Car of the Year”?)
I own an 09 Crown Vic, but never drove either of these cars when they were new. For me, I’d give the LTD a real good going over if it performed so poorly in braking tests. For me, that would be THE biggest red flag.
Agree. All too often Motor Trend’s “COTY” award was more about advertising dollars spent than the actual car it was given to.
During this time period I trusted the road tests and columnist opinions of “Car & Driver” MUCH more than “MT”.
My automotive idol was David E. Davis, from “CD”.
I have owned both. I found the Chevy superior in terms of performance. However, I do agree that the Ford’s interior was “softer and plusher.” The Chevy seemed more utilitarian. I found my Crown Vic’s interior packaging closer to my Buick Roadmaster than my Caprice. I also found the interior bits (trim, switches, etc.) to be more durable in the Ford.
In terms of performance and mechanical reliability, I found the Caprice to be the better car.
My friends’ parents had a beige on beige 81′ Caprice (LOADED), and another friends mom had a 79′ LTD also beige on beige.. Loaded except for manual windows.
The Ford interior was MUCH better than the Chevy.
Literally there were 20 different shades of beige in the Chevy, the Ford maybe 5 shades.
The Chevy had a nasty lifter tick also, at 40000 miles, this was in mid 80’s.
I hated being in that Chevy but it had a great A/C, on MAX with the blower on high you could barely hear the ticking.
Thankfully the days are long gone when otor trend would ignore such diastrous braking and other performance data in favour of cushy seats! I’m surprised the author didn’t rhapsodize about the vinyl roof.
The LTD did do some details better, compare the liftover height of trunks. Both dashes strike me as plain, I’m surprised GM never sprung for a new dash design for the Caprice over 13 years.
I quit reading MT in 1977, when they seemed so nerdy and dumbed down. And I was 16 y/o! Some “road tests” were like reading a sales brochure or an options list. Swtiched to C&D, but quit them 10 years ago, since it was just same old snooty-ism.
The LTD name was dragged down to strippo level by this time, and Ford should have kept it on top. Landau trim was replaced by Crown Victoria one year later, and we know the rest…
“…And the MT article makes it plain-they like how the LTD *feels*… ”
MT essentially “likes” any “all new car” and thus… snoozzzzze. The writer simply liked the “newer” car.
Until they merged Import and Domestic COTY, they usually picked what was the “neatest new car” from Motown. Like the ’97 Malibu or ’91 Caprice LTZ*.
*I think Caprice won simply because it was “so much newer” then the previous model year. Would like to see posting on this dubious story.
Notice from the engine compartment pictures that both cars (as did most cars of this era) had factory Cold Air Intakes (CAI). Which most aftermarket-parts-meddlers quickly did away with. I always have and continue to laugh at people who turn their CAI into a HAI which they proudly then call a CAI (if you are sucking in underhood air, it’s a HAI).
[‘a’ or ‘an’ HAI, discuss . . . ]
Yep all those great intakes in parts stores that people fit and suck under hood hot air negate any better flow said filter may have.
I’ll gladly take the Chevy Caprice, I always thought GM had superior powertrains, handling and styling to the Ford’s of this era, heck you could still get a 403 cubic inch in an Oldsmobile and Buick from that year, I also find GM’s styling to be more sporty looking to the Ford’s of that year, the GM full sizer’s are some of my favorite cars of the late 70’s.
I wish Ford offered a 351 4bbl engine of this period.
I have a 1980 road test comparison by C&D of a Caprice coupe vs an LTD coupe and the Chevy won that comparo. Methinks Motor Trend wanted the Ford to be the better car which it obviously was not.
I also find there comment on how surprised they were that the near 40 Hp stronger 350 Chevy was quicker than the Ford by almost 2 seconds. What were they expecting from a wheezy 351 with only 132 HP?
Having extensively driven later variants of both cars (’91 Crown Vic, last year before the aero restyle, and ’86 Pontiac Parisienne, which was by that time a Pontiac body on Chevy underpinnings) I agree that if you valued a softer, traditional ride, the Ford was the car for you. The B-body was by no means a driver’s car but it felt more connected to the road, “heavier” on its wheels somehow. Both had upgraded interiors (“LX” and “Brougham” respectively) and I think the driver’s seat of the Ford was more comfortable and the driving position clearly higher. The Pontiac was better to be in as a passenger due to the more cushioned seats in a nicer grade of velour. I doubt the fabrics offered by the Caprice were anything like that in ’79 though (or maybe even in ’86 as the Parisienne was still a step up the ladder). We also owned a ’79 Malibu with the base cloth interior, which while an attractive subtle plaid pattern, was constructed of stiff and not particularly forgiving fabric.
Where is all this talk of old-school Fords and comfy seats coming from!?! Every Ford product from before the turn of the millennium had terrible seats, bolstered at your shoulder blades and with seemingly negative lumbar support that forced you to slouch whether you wanted to or not.
Sure, GM’s seats were sometimes cheaply made or upholstered, but they didn’t deliberately kill your back. The early Focus was the first Ford product I could see myself sitting in long enough to drive across town without an aching back, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Panthers kept the old spasm-makers to the bitter end.
Just looked up Fred Stafford on LinkedIn. He spent a bit more than 2 years as features editor at Motor Trend and then spent about the same amount of time as the Vice President and Chief Driving Instructor at the Scotti School of Defensive Driving (“Never mind the brakes, this thing is pretty”).
Since then, he’s spent the past 35 years where “Never mind the brakes, this thing is pretty” isn’t a liability…as a Creative Director for Young & Rubicam, Wunderman, MRM and McCann.
Honestly, this verdict strikes me as the one people seem to have about Fords vs. GMs throughout the 70s and 80s:
“Give me a GM chassis/drivetrain with a FoMoCo interior”
You get the GM handling, which is frankly amazing for big full frame cars, the (pre-200) TurboHydramatic, and generally bulletproof V8 engines (not that the Fords aren’t good, but the Olds and Cadillac engines were legends)
And then you get the Ford interior, with better quality switchgear, overall better ergonomics, and no cracking dashboards.
This is what people on CC (save the absolute GM and Ford partisans) have been mostly agreeing upon (re. GM and Ford and not factoring in Chrysler) for eons.
Do I think that the article is right on a point by point basis? Absolutely not, nor do I think the cars look that alike. The author loses a ton of credibility on evaluating individual issues.
But again, I think the overall final verdict is pretty much everyones final verdict on Big GM vs Big Ford. The downsized big car to have (and maybe even pre-downsized) would have a GM chassis/drivetrain and Ford interior
The following year Motor Trend redid the test with a 2 door LTD and 2 door Caprice, and the Caprice won.
One only has to consider M/T’s Car of the Year awards from 1970-80 to consider the veracity of their reviews:
1980 Chevrolet Citation
1979 Buick Riviera S
1978 Chrysler, Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon
1977 Chevrolet Caprice
1976 Chrysler, Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare
1975 Chevrolet Monza 2+2
1974 Ford Mustang II
1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
1972 Citroën SM
1971 Chevrolet Vega
1970 Ford Torino
Consider that the ’77 Caprice, ’79 Riv and arguably the ’73 Monte Carlo were the only good picks. Vega, Aspen/Volare, Citation, and Citroen SM — boggles the mind today!
Well, the Omnirizons weren’t total disasters.
what about the 1970 Ford Torino? I always liked the 1970-71 Ford Torino’s the best, they were nice and aggressively looking cars and wished that body style lasted longer than it did.
The Ford Mustang II wasn’t a bad car, and it was a big deal at the time.
The 1970 Ford Torino wasn’t a bad car. There just wasn’t anything remarkable about it.
When looking at these choices, we have to keep in mind two things.
One, what other cars were new that year, and were they released in time to be considered in the competition?
For 1970, the AMC Hornet and Chevrolet Monte Carlo were the only truly new cars introduced in the fall of 1969, aside from the Ford Torino and Mercury Montego. (And the Monte Carlo was essentially a cleverly restyled Malibu.) The 1970 Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, for example, were delayed until the spring of 1970, which meant that they missed the deadline. Same with the AMC Gremlin.
For 1974, aside from the Mustang II, the only really “new” domestic cars were the AMC Matador coupe and the full-size Chrysler Corporation cars. Neither was a better choice – let alone more significant – than the Mustang II. For what it’s worth, the magazine Road Test also chose the Mustang II as the most significant domestic car for 1974. (The Honda Civic was the most significant imported car.)
Second, these awards were not about long-term reliability. Motor Trend and other “buff” books had no way of knowing how a car would fare over thousands of miles in the hands of owners all over the country.
The Chevrolet Vega and the GM X-cars WERE a big deal at the time. And they were genuinely new (at least for the domestic industry). They were also initially big sales successes.
Motor Trend had no way of knowing that both would turn out be among the all-time lemons when it initially tested them.
I realize that I’m not being completely fair to M/T, as the competition had to be considered, and long-term (or not-so-long-term) reliability could not be predicted. Still, what were they smoking when they picked the totally out of left field Citroen SM?
The Ford does require less lift over to get things into the trunk which is something Chevy should have done instead of having full width taillights.
There was another trade-off involved there, though–the Chevy had the fuel filler right there in the center of the back panel, behind the license plate (which was mounted on a hinged bracket). Yes, it did increase the lift over, but it’s also extremely convenient to not care which side of the car is facing the gas pump, not to mention no filler cap spoiling the lines on the rear fender.
Oddly, it was Fords that had the behind the license plate fuel filler for many years, probably until the deep well trunk in 1965. And the 1949-57 Chevies had a down to the bumper trunk lid, which Fords could not because of the filler location starting in 1952.
They traded places on this.
I actually loved the small Ford steering wheel and tilt-wheel setup. My father hated the horn on the turn signal stalk, and it took him a while to get used to the tilt-wheel location after having many GM cars with it on the left side behind the turn-signal stalk. He turned the wipers on many times in error! But he ended up loving that car in the long run. The smaller steering wheel felt much more modern and overall the Ford interior had a very nice feel to it.
Having owned a 78 Caprice, I am biased, but the big question is who won the sales race in 1979? Impala Caprice or the LTD range?
’79 Caprice/Impala – 588,638
’79 LTD – 356,575
Thanks Stumack! There’s your real proof! USA-1 still sold better then Ford’s “BETTER IDEA” big car!
In an issue published a few months after this comparison test ran, Motor Trend was flooded with hate mail. I think one guy wrote four or five letters to the editor, all skewering the article and its author.
Reading the article again all these years later, it really is appalling. I will fully admit upfront that I was a Chevy fan back then. I still think The New Chevrolet was one of GM’s greatest hits, with the LTD being a pale imitation. I’ll concede the LTD’s power window switch placement is better, and the seating position is likely better too, but the “dash is far better looking.” Really? Did Mr. Magoo write this?
But it’s picking the LTD despite its pathetic braking performance that totally destroys any credibility of this comparison. Most drivers probably don’t care that the Caprice is a little faster and might care a bit that the Caprice gets slightly better gas mileage. But the fact that the Caprice stops 66 feet shorter than the LTD from 60 mph should matter to everybody.
Fred Stafford even calls the LTD’s braking performance “alarmingly poor,” yet a few lines later he says “I’m willing to overlook its poor showing in the braking test.” Well, I’m not. Nor am I willing to overlook Stafford’s idiotic judgement 40+ years later.
I’m surprised nobody mentioned, in the original article or now, how much cruder the details of the LTD’s styling were. it looked like a six year old had drawn their version of the Caprice. Awkward proportions, larded on chrome trim, the LTD had nowhere near the finesse of the Caprice’s looks.
It says the LTD is 54.5″ tall, 1.5″ less than the Caprice. How did it manage a high seating position?
This illustrates the problem GM had with 5 car divisions. Chevy interior quality needed to rise to meet the competition, but that meant Cadillac needed to go up even more to leave room between them, with every model having at least 2 trim levels.
I’m amazed at their comment on the first page about how similar the cars look. Were these guys blind? One’s smooth and sleek and up-to-date, and the other’s rough and craggy with funny sunken-in windows. From that point on, I took their comments with a grain of salt.
And MT followed up this top-notch journalism in 1980 with the unanimously loved pick for car of the year!
Having drove my mother’s Chevy and a friend’s LTD, I’m totally stunned anyone would pick the LTD. Slow, bad brakes, and just shitty handling. Yeah, I suppose the seats might be a little softer, but I would pick the Caprice everytime.
People who complained about results of these tests are same people who wonder why Toyota Camry outsells Mazda 6 10:1 these days when “Mazda is better in every way”. Sure, if you’re a car enthusiast – 6 probably is better, but you’re forgetting who the customers are.
As the owner of a 2018 Mazda 6, I can see your point. It’s definitely more of a driver’s car, but it still has a comfortable ride, and the interior is luxurious and classy for a mainstream car. And unlike most mid-size sedans, it’s gorgeous to boot. I don’t understand why it wasn’t a sales success, but I’m very happy with mine.