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!