The "Fox" program that produced Fairmont was one of Ford's first projects initiated after the 1973-74 energy crisis, but it wasn't Dearborn's only attempt at downsizing. For 1977, the old Torino was refurbished with cleaner exterior sheet metal and "badge-engineered" to pass as a new-wave big car.
Called LTD II, it was only a little lighter than before, and sales went nowhere. One reason was the simultaneous arrival of a new downsized Thunderbird on this same platform. With much lower prices than before and that magical name, the T-Bird swamped LTD II in sales.
Besides a new Fairmont-based Mustang, 1979 saw the fruition of the "Panther" design project in an LTD that was genuinely downsized. Yet it was less successful than the Fairmont or Mustang -- and that was curious. In size and execution this smaller LTD was fully a match for shrunken GM opponents, riding a 114.3-inch wheelbase yet offering more claimed passenger and trunk space than the outsized 1973-78 cars. Styling was boxier and less pretentious, and visibility and fuel economy were better. So were ride and handling, thanks to a new all-coil suspension with more-precise four-bar-link location for the live rear axle.
Coupes, sedans, and wagons in two trim levels were offered. With all this, what Ford trumpeted as a "New American Road Car" should have scored even higher output than the 357,000 recorded for '79. The new LTD thus trailed the big Oldsmobiles for second place in full-size car sales and ran far behind Chevrolet's Caprice/Impala.
Two factors seemed to be at work. One was GM's two-year lead in downsizing. The other was a severe downturn in the national economy -- abetted by another fuel crisis -- that began in the spring of '79 and put a big crimp in all new-car sales.
The new LTD would enjoy a sales resurgence, but not before Ford and the U.S. auto industry passed through three of their bleakest years ever. Those years -- 1980-82 -- saw Ford Division output drop from 1.16 million cars to just under 749,000. But thanks to an economic recovery and an ever-changing line of ever-improving Fords, the division went back above the 1.1-million mark -- and would stay there through decade's end. In the process, Ford overhauled Chevrolet, becoming "USA-1" for 1988.
For more on the amazing Ford, old and new, see:
- Ford New Car Reviews and Prices
- Ford Used Car Reviews and Prices