Vintage Review: 1980 Caprice versus 1980 LTD – Rematch!


(first posted 11/20/2015)    In their comparison test of the 1979 Ford LTD sedan versus the 1979 Chevrolet Caprice sedan, Motor Trend gave the victory to the Blue Oval. To say the least, it was a controversial call. So when the 1980 model year rolled around, Motor Trend revisited the topic by performing another head-to-head test in their February 1980 issue. Who would take the crown this time?



The article started out by addressing the controversy directly, citing the tremendous amount of mail, much of it negative, that they received on their 1979 LTD versus Caprice test. Motor Trend did print a number of the Letters to the Editor reacting to the comparison in their April 1979 issue. However, not one letter praised the decision, the quality of the article, or the Ford LTD itself.



For the retest, Motor Trend evaluated the LTD and Caprice coupes. Neither one was a big seller: for the 1980 model year Ford sold 23,058 LTD coupes (16% of total LTD sales) while Chevrolet sold 33,532 Caprice/Impala coupes (14% of total Caprice/Impala sales). Hardly the meat of the full size market, but testing coupes instead of sedans enabled Motor Trend to claim at least a smidge of a legitimate rationale for conducting another Ford versus Chevy test so soon after the ’79 shootout.



The 1980 LTD coupe was not as lavishly equipped as the 1979 LTD tested. It did not feature the extra cost Interior Luxury Group, which had given the ’79 car much of its upscale ambiance. The 1980 looked far more utilitarian, with striped cloth seats and crank windows. The highly praised full-length door armrests in the ’79 test car were nowhere to be found, replaced by the basic and cheap looking standard LTD armrests.



Looking at the test results data, the Caprice once again topped the LTD. The Chevy was faster, more fuel efficient, with a larger driving range than the Ford. In addition, the LTD’s braking performance was still subpar, suffering from rear wheel lock-up and notably longer 60 – 0 stopping distances (34 feet more than the Caprice).

It is interesting to note that the highly subjective MT Staff Rating data tables, which were biased in favor of Ford for 1979, had disappeared entirely for the 1980 test. Perhaps the tremendously negative fallout from the 1979 rankings made the editors reconsider the wisdom of including these tables. After all, why add fuel to the fire?


80CapriceVsLTDp5 1

Motor Trend finally pointed out the lunacy of the Ford horn control mounted on the end of the turn signal lever, noting that American drivers would have trouble getting used to the location. I would argue drivers anywhere in the world would prefer the horn mounted in the center of the steering wheel hub.


1980 Ford LTD-11-1

One bit of erroneous reporting concerned the control placement for the optional power windows.  Motor Trend stating that when power windows were ordered, the control switches were mounted the full-length door armrest. Not true, as this 1980 LTD catalog shot shows—power windows controls were flush mounted on the door, just like Chevy, unless the buyer spent extra for the Luxury Interior Group. Oops…




Motor Trend attempted to reclaim some semblance of credibility by focusing on the actual vehicle performance results. By that measure the Caprice was the easy winner, as it arguably should have been for 1979. However, Motor Trend went on about how the Caprice was a better, more integrated package overall—quite the about face from the 1979 article. It smacked of flip flopping, just like a politician. So, rather than restoring any bit of their reputation for journalistic integrity, to me this test simply looked like nervous editors caving to pressure.

I will say that for an adolescent boy (me), the striking contrast between the 1979 and 1980 test did provide some useful insights. First, it taught me to maintain a skeptical eye about the media, which is a good life lesson to learn. Secondly, it clearly proved that Ford’s Interior Luxury Group was the package to have, since that element seems to have been the deciding factor in the differing test verdicts. So the ultimate victor in all of this was velour!