How Ford Works

Ford LTD

Ford focused on downsizing and better fuel economy in the late 1970s. The 1978 Ford Fairmont Squire is shown here.

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:

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