Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1969 Ford LTD – The Brougham Formula Gets Updated, Gets No Pundit Love, And Sells Like Crazy

Money people and planners love formulas. ‘Planning’ gets a lot easier when a trend is established, and it mostly turns into giving the public more of what they already crave. Financiers feel much better when investment feels secure, and satisfying a known need is as safe as it gets. Creative types and reviewers, on the other hand, despise formulas (unless it is a quirky one of their preference). They find the predictability of it all, without surprises or novelties, just plain dull. Even cynical. Creatives and reviewers are also usually aware of all the variety under the rainbow. Why should the public settle for Vanilla when there’s Green Tea Tapioca Fudge to try?

The buying public, for the most part, also loves formulas. That is, until they don’t.

Back in ’65, the first chapter of the LTD found much love from pundits and the buying public. Released as the Galaxie LTD, the car delivered a product with upscale pretenses that felt like no other Ford before. The company had placed great effort into improving the underpinnings of their new full-sizers; chassis design had made early use of computer technology to soften noise and isolate vibrations, and suspension had been greatly upgraded. On the LTD, upgraded trim and interior materials completed the package, offering more luxury than any other entry-level brand before. By ’66, success had been so that the LTD had become a stand-alone model. The Great Brougham epoch had started.

All competitors caught on to the idea, of course. And Ford had to up the ante. With that, a fully revised model arrived for ’69, delivering more of the attributes that had made it a success. However, on this occasion, the new model didn’t get much love from pundits.

If you love the ’69 LTD, you may want to skip this road test. Car Life absolutely loathed the car. The featured 429 V8-equipped LTD was part of a comparison of ‘Powercars,’ a segment CL defined as full-sizers that carried the largest available factory engine. In that June 1969 issue, the new LTD was measured against Chevrolet’s Caprice, Dodge’s Monaco, and Plymouth’s Fury III. Of the four, the LTD placed last in CL’s evaluations, with particular dislike aimed at the car’s ergonomics and handling.

But let’s start with the positives. The known quietness of the LTD was the best of its class, “engine noise simply doesn’t exist… heater and air-conditioner are almost silent and the AM/FM stereo has no competition…” Ford’s power disc brakes were also extremely good. The LTD’s traction got good marks as well, with the BF Goodrich radials providing great adhesion.

Considering the publication’s enthusiast-oriented focus, performance and handling were the areas where the LTD faltered. The model suffered from the usual Ford handling characteristics of the era; “heavy front, large camber change in the curves, and lots of lean.” Despite good traction, it “took nerve to take this car into the curve much faster…”

Ultimately, reviewers felt the big engine and the car’s character didn’t match; “with the big engine, big output option, one could only assume that the LTD is being sold for its performance potential. On that basis, our test car was severely old-maidish. It had none of the available handling options.”

The reviewer’s real ire was directed toward the LTD’s cockpit. Ford was clearly trying to upstage everyone with its approach to the LTD’s cabin. Called the Front Room by marketing, it seemed to be a ‘new’ idea to luxury riding, and a sign that Ford was overthinking and trying too hard to be unique.

There were a lot of ideas being squeezed into the Front Room concept. To keep the open bench seating, all controls surrounded a Flight-Cockpit instrument panel, with a few even being located under the dash (ignition and lights). On the other hand, the front passenger’s area was devoid of any instruments. A “room to relax,” in the words of Ford marketing.

The concept was short-lived, and by ’71 the LTD had reverted to a more conventional arrangement. Considering LTD sales figures, the idea wasn’t a dealbreaker to many buyers. However, its short existence is likely the result of user dissatisfaction.

As time went on the Brougham formula proved to be an incredible influence, eventually turning into a poor example to follow. As marketers and planners found ways to reduce the formula’s substance while delivering similar flashiness, it became ever more cynical. The idea of ‘luxury’ was reduced to predictable ploys, ever cheaper and more accessible, leaving an opening for a different approach to ‘upscale.’ An opening taken by European makes -mainly the Germans- by offering high engineering and an understated approach to luxury.

But that was way into the future. For ’69 the LTD delivered on its promise. Pundits may have disliked the model’s progression, but the market loved it. LTD sales for ’68 had been around 139K. In ’69, they exploded to 288K, not counting the new station wagon version (an additional 129K). Numbers would only climb from there. Meanwhile, sales of CL’s preferred Supercar of 1969, the Chevrolet Caprice, paled in comparison (about 167K). For the time being, the marketers and the planners were right. In the long run, those who had tried different automotive experiences would also prove to have a good deal of reason.


Further reading:

Car Show Classic: 1969 Ford LTD – My Fathers Day Present

Car Show Classic: 1969 Ford LTD – How My Dad (Temporarily) Turned My Grandpa Into A Ford Man