Savannah Postcard (7)

Would you agree with me that the building could very well have been built so as to serve as a backdrop for this exact car?

Ford LTD Crown Victoria

There is little that remains to be said about the Ford LTD Crown Victoria. It’s biggest claim to fame, as I see it, is that it used Ford’s Panther platform which was new in 1981 and soldiered on until Ford was unable to justify its production, by then relegated to the police and chauffeur market.

The car here is the Ford LTD Crown Victoria, a descendent of the Ford LTD Brougham. If you’re interested, nobody seems to know what LTD stands for. Wikipedia has a number of ideas which are offered with the information there is, but there is not much information to go on. Perhaps the meaninglessness of LTD led the designation to be shown into the hole, leaving ‘Crown Victoria’ as the nameplate to garnish the Panther on its last jungle stroll.

This car here is most likely a 1985-1988 model: it has a Ford emblem on the grille (replacing a Ford script) and a high-mounted rear brake light. The 1989 model had a revised front end, with more smoothly detailed chrome trim and lamps and a higher density mesh on the grille. Some models had a Targa-style brushed metal strip running over the roof from B-pillar to B-pillar.

In 1987, production of the two-door version stopped. Ford sold just 5,000 examples that year compared to more than 100,000 units of the four-door saloon.

There isn’t much variety in the mechanical specification of the LTD cars: V8s in three sizes: 4.2 litres, 4.9 and 5.7 litres. Like the Chevrolet Caprice, this was a kind of archetypal car which didn’t need to adjust to much market fluctuation and didn’t need to smother its market sector with choices. Contrast this to the heyday of the Astra/Focus/Golf cars with their blizzard of engine choices in 0.2 litre increments, in diesel and petrol. Huge cars like the Silver Shadow also get by with (one!) engine. Is there a law waiting to be written on the relation of engines to the weight and size of the car body?

The styling, such as it was, is as hard to fathom as a 1960s pop song.  There is no very clear trope being put into operation at the medium scale. It is about details such as the chocolate-bar texture on the lamps, and some chamfers, plus some chrome trim in the places you would usually expect. And it has average, generic RWD proportions.

You would need to psychologically reconstruct the mental states of the entire team who designed it and explore just what other images they were aiming for before being able to guess at what prompted this exact shape. If I try to examine the side profile by concentrating on the shape indirectly I can eventually extract suggestions of brute strength. The watered-down quality coupled with the noise of the details makes me think of mid-80s Japanese design. Chrysler went through the same kind of phase at around the same time, resulting in generic cars whose most important identifying feature was the badge.

I presume that the image and exact shape of the car didn’t matter all that much to customers. It is like when you go to a chain restaurant: you don’t care about the details of the lasagne, it’s the chain’s image that matters. We can then perhaps glean from this that Ford’s image at the dealership and corporate level was where the identity of the product lay, not in the metal. As long as the lasagne was tasty enough, it got sold.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

37 thoughts on “Savannah Postcard (7)”

  1. Good morning Richard. I have to admit a certain affection for the LTD Crown Victoria. It may be ‘generic large RWD body-on-frame American sedan’ but I think its proportions are spot-on and there’s a rightness to all the detailing. It is best appreciated in low-line spec:

    Ironically, that garnish you mention, the bright metal finisher on the b-pillars and across the roof that is actually the ‘Crown Victoria’ from which the car derives its name (rather than a long-deceased British monarch) is actually a dissonant and disfiguring element for me and the car you feature looks much better without it. The only detail that spoils the car in your images is the awkwardly placed side-rubbing strip.

    Here’s another example with the aforementioned Crown Victoria:

    Interestingly, given that the two examples above are the same vintage with identical front-end treatments, the high-line variant features fixed front quarter-windows that are absent from the low-line example and the car you feature.

    1. The naming protocols for US cars is not easy to remember. While trying acknowledge some merit in the car (the proportions), the detailing is what I can only described as American Soviet. It lacks finesse, compared to a European Granada of the same vintage. The EuroGranada owes something to the fillets/radii solutions worked up by Dieter Rams (or just Ulm design generally). I can´t charitably describe the US LTD as more than inspired by repro neo-classical furniture. The pointy corners on the chrome trim, for example. It is evident the customers were not looking directly at the car but saw it as an acceptable commodity from a reliable source.

    2. Hi David. Ah yes, I can now see the upper hinge on the quarter-light in the photo of the red car. It’s a weird optional extra in a car that presumably had air conditioning as standard. One for left-handed smokers, possibly?

    3. That black one looks nice,Daniel. As you write: low spec works well, as do ‘police cruiser’ wheels. I think any ornamentation just detracts form such a blunt shape. It’s a ‘generic big American sedan’ that your almost namesake Harry Callahan might get into to chase some baddy, of get chase by one.

    4. The 1985 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency if I’m not mistaken. It looks more modern than the LTD Crown Victoria from the same era, but I’ll agree it’s generic. What a shock the 1986 Mercury Sable must have been.

    5. Quite, Freerk, from the mid-eighties the US automakers (well, viewed from a distance) suddenly tried to be interesting again. It produced some good looking cars like the Mercury you mention, the next generation of the Crown Vic referenced in another comment and of course the 1991 Caprice.

    6. Tom, Freerk,

      I don’t think you appreciate how obsolete these cars felt in the mid-1980s. They sold exclusively to fleets (police, taxi, government), and to retirees. No person of reproductive age would ever buy one!

      Even the Big 3 had moved-on. GM, Ford, and Chrysler made the bulk of their sales with smaller front-wheel-drive cars and minivans. Everyone remembers the Dodge caravan, but few now remember that the Chevy Celebrity was the best selling car in the US and Canada in the mid-1980s, and that its near-identical cousins from Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick also sold in huge numbers. Ford had their Tempo, which was ungainly, “aero,” FWD, and popular. The Taurus was just a better-resolved Tempo.

  2. These cars look best with some additional decoration on the roof and sturdy bumper overriders

    The ‘police package’ trim option included heavy duty interior material and for whatever reason a 140 mph speedometer.

    1. The police package doesn´t help any more than putting bull bars on a neo-Georgian style cabinet for storing VHS cassettes. I take back what I said about the proportions. The front wheel should be further foward by 20 cm.

  3. Hello

    Doesn’t LTD stands for Limited?

    I allways thougt so, even if I am not aware of said word’s meaning.

    1. The origins of LTD are not clear. It might have its roots in a trim designation “limited” (as opposed to “custom”). Nobody really knows. “ltd.” does mean limited in a business sense. That is not what is meant here.

    2. The always impeccably researched Ate Up with Motor provides the answer:
      “LTD, Ford carefully noted, did not mean anything, although “Luxury Trim Decor” has been suggested. It most emphatically did not mean Limited, which was a Buick trademark and thus a potential source of lawsuits.”

    3. Robertas,
      My biggest achievement was fittinng a 6 ft fridge in my 1st gen. Panda: rear seat out, front passenger seat out… not a big deal, now that I think about it… 🤔

  4. Ltd. stands for Limited, which describes a ‘Limited liability company’. I’m buggered if I know what LTD denotes.

  5. What they were aiming at? Straight into the GM B-body. Ford was lagging behind GM in downsizing, they were half a cycle behind GM:s incredibly successful downsized B-body of 1977, specifically the Chevrolet Impala/Caprice. Which in my mind is a more successful design, it really hides its smaller size very well, mostly due to Bill Mitchells sense of harmony and proportion. Ford was simply trying to replicate this formula, but without all the subtle touches Mitchells team put into their cars. It’s like Ford had no idea what made the ’77 B-body such a successful design and just ended up with a bland me too copy without anything that could even distinguish itself.

    Here’s an article about the success of the Chevrolet and a comparison to the Ford;

    1. American “full size” cars offered a huge variety of engines prior to 1973. You generally had one or two six cylinders, one or two or three “small block” V8 (4 to 5.8l displacement), and of course the “big block” V8s which started around 6l. Some of these were available in either 2 or 4-barrel versions.

      Big blocks disappeared when bodies were downsized, as they were no longer needed or desirable.
      It amazes me how the biggest of these engines barely equalled the torque and horsepower of a modern 2.0l motor. My Mom’s ’78 Impala put-out around 150HP and 300Nm of torque, with a 3-speed automatic. As you can imagine, efficiency was appalling, but better than the previous generation of “big Chevy.”

      We may look at these cars with nostalgia, but they were hated at the time. I remember my Mom’s friends being very jealous when one of them upgraded to a compact (Volvo, Datsun, etc.). They couldn’t wait for the kids to move out, so they could get rid of their “boats.”

    2. Ingvar, I think it goes too far to conclude that Ford was merely making a poor copy of the 1977 Chevrolet.

      Here’s a picture (which I believe is credible) of an unrealized LTD proposal, obviously on a larger than 114″ wheelbase, so preceding the decision to downsize.

      The design direction prefigures the downsized 1979 car, but doesn’t seem inspired by GM (or for that matter particularly inspired).

      What is interesting to me is how GM’s design deliberations leading to the 1977 Chevrolet indicate a strong Fiat 130 influence, and that Ford also took this direction for their largest car in Europe (Granada Mk2), but pursued a different theme for North America.

  6. Yes, they were aiming at the Caprice and Olds 88. It’s a traditional, roomy, comfortable, well-equipped, reliable, good value car, that would please older buyers.

    Even when it was launched in the late ‘70s, part of its brief was to offer reassurance, as US manufacturers moved to producing relatively smaller cars – its traditional look would have said to customers that things are changing, but they’re not losing out.

    I quite like the ‘targa’ roof band – it cheers up quite a plain design. I suppose the good thing about plain designs is that you can add extras and charge more for them, or create equipment packs that offer good value against the competition.

    Regarding engine sizes – smaller European vehicles do tend to have more variants, often very close in terms of performance. I guess that’s a result of stiff competition in the segments and an attempt to meet customers’ (and legislators’) needs more closely. All that’s changing with the move to EVs, of course.

    Here’s a brief road test:

    1. Surely the variety of engine sizes in European cars was to suit company car hierarchy and local taxation barriers. Everything changed with CO2 taxation, of course….
      As for the Crown Vic, I prefer the next generation.

  7. I’ve always preferred the Caprice from this era. I really like the last Crown Vic, though.

  8. If we look at the variation of engine size as a *proportion* of the smallest engine available, it turns out a typical mid-seventies European hatchback actually has a WIDER spread of engine capacity than the LTD:

    The 4.7 is 116% as big as the 4.2
    The 5.7 is 136% as big as the 4.2

    but look at the VW Golf

    The 1.3 is 118% as big as the 1.1
    The 1.6 is 145% as big as the 1.1

    And since we’ve been discussing the Allegro:

    The 1.75 engine is a full 159% as big as the 1.1 one! (To match that, an LTD would have to pack a 6.7 motor)

    1. I don’t think anything surpasses the Mercedes-Benz W204 C-Class.

      The figure is 389%.

    2. A 2CV6 has 150% of the engine size of a 2CV4.
      Power delivery is even more impressive as the last 2CVs have more then 300% of the power of the first.

      Somebody seems to have decided to use the same name as me. From now on I will use DaveAR to avoid confusion.

  9. I thought the Panther platform was a couple of years older than the article states; as far as I can tell, it was new for the 1979MY full-size Fords.

  10. As Douglas writes, the platform was new for 1979, and amazingly from today’s perspective, got a fair bit of press for being “downsized.” Ford certainly got its money’s worth out of the platform.

    I have a 1989 estate version that I really should sell, because it’s mostly a hangar queen. If I had a clue how to embed photos here (a link is below), you might be able to see that the body widens subtly but awkwardly behind the rear doors. Apparently the cargo area had to be able to hold the proverbial 4×8 sheets of plywood.

    It is one of these cars that George Barris customized so hideously to create the “Wagon Queen Family Truckster.”

    1. The ability to carry 8 x 4 feet sheets of building material, and also Euro-pallets, should be a given for large “dual purpose” vehicles. I’m all but certain that every current mega-suv wouldn’t pass the test.

      Incidentally, I find it interesting that ply sheets are always cut to converted Imperial 2440mm x 1220mm, while plasterboard in the UK is 2400mm x 1200mm.

  11. The thing that spoils the styling of these cars for me is the way the B-pillar stands proud of the side window frames and is accented by all that chrome trim. Apart from going against the stylistic trend to conceal the pillar behind the window frames, it gives the impression the windows are sunken in more that usual. While this might work fine for the minority ordered with the ‘crown’ roof moulding, it looks strange otherwise. The wheel arches seem cut too large for the standard rubber that fills them, a fault Richard’s Savannah specimen appears to have corrected nicely.

    1. Robertas;
      Audi 5000 Wagon, Peugeot 505 Wagon, Volvo 240 Wagon all passed the “4×8 plywood test”…..

      Car and Driver once did pit them against each other during their heydays.

  12. I don’t remember the C&D comparison you mention, and at the moment can’t seem to find it anywhere. Anyway, the real ‘4×8 plywood test’ is the ability to pile them suckers flat on the floor between the wheel wells, which I suspect is beyond the capabilities of those esteemed FLFCs.

    1. I’m guessing that the Audi 5000, Peugeot 505, and Volvo 240 had the ply sheets at atop the rear wheel arches.

      My best achievement in this matter was carrying 8′ x 2′ t&g flooring panels in a Golf Mark.2 by bridging between the rear parcel shelf and the passenger side of the dashboard, with the front passenger seat reclined just enough to provide mid-point support. When the project reached the plasterboard stage, I relented and bought roof bars.

  13. Not sure what FLFCs are … but I can assure you that my Crown Vic passes the plywood test. That was the whole point of the subtle widening of the car’s hind end …

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