The cars we loved.
It’s not often that a crisis ends up a blessing in disguise. But for the ill-fated Ford Maverick, the Oil Crisis of 1973-74 gave it an extended lease on life. Not a few more years of Ford’s entry level midsize car was a blessing for anyone, but it did allow Ford product planners to reposition the Maverick’s, replacement the Granada more upscale. It turned out to be one of the best decisions Ford made in the mid-70’s as the Granada became a hit. During the mid-70’s an American made luxury car was still a big overweight chrome yacht with an emissions choked V8 engine. The Big Three had become so comfortable peddling this type of car that the fuel crisis found many them unprepared for the rush towards smaller cars in the aftermath.
Most of these choices were hastily engineered shrunken big cars with low-end practicality or decal based sporty pretensions, but could not be considered plush or luxurious. Ford’s response was to market the Granada as a luxury car, while leaving its traditional big cars alone while it figured out a what to do with them. As a luxury car, the Granada was a bargain at under $4,000. Just ask a Mercedes owner. While today Samsung is accused of copying Apple, Ford purposely was inspired by Mercedes design direction and openly flaunted the similarities between the Granada and the Mercedes 280.
While serious downsizing was happening all across the board over at GM, Ford was content to sell the Granada as a step up from the Maverick. Oddly enough at about the same time Ford was using the Granada name in Europe for a car that was larger and more sophisticated. It too was a rear wheel drive executive car, but was as different from its American cousin as the roads they prowled. Once again we Yanks were shortchanged while Europe got a more believable 280 alternative from Ford.
The American Granada used the Maverick sedan’s longer wheelbase and many of its old innards, some of which could be traced back to the 60’s Falcon. In its effort to position the Granada as an alternative to larger luxury cars, Ford consistently compared its new mid-sized car to the standard bearing Mercedes 280 as well as its own LTD. As laughable as it sounded, the concept worked thanks to a media blitz that often showed people confusing the Granada in one of its luxury trims for a Mercedes. This joke could only have been funny in a car centric place like Southern California where the $24,000 Mercedes 280 nearly outsold the Granada. At one point the Granada was compared to the Cadillac Seville, a car that cost just three times more than the Ford. Built in either Michigan or New Jersey, the Granada immediately struck a chord with luxury buyers wanting to scale down to smaller cars or start out smaller in the first place. Ford had a surprise hit on their hands.
Looking back it was easy to see why, but it was certainly not because of advance technology. There were three 6 cylinder engines and two V8s offered all carburetted. In high-brow trims like the Ghia, a 351 Windsor V8 was the top option. The versions of the 351 once powered legendary cars like the Mustang and Torino. In the 1975 Granada, the best it could muscle was 143 hp. That little bit of power in a Maverick or Pinto might have made for a fun to drive stoplight brawler, but in the 3640 lbs Ghia it was less than thrilling, especially when saddled with the three-speed automatic. 13 seconds was needed to reach 60 mph, a figure that was only marginally reduced with one of the floor mounted three or four-speed manual transmissions.
The illusion of sport was more successfully executed on the outside. The Granada was available with an S for sport trim by 1977. The sport designation was mostly cosmetic in the form of blackout trim and only came as a two door coupe. It could be equipped with any of the available engines for a range of 86 to 135 hp. The 351 Windsor had progressively lost power thanks to EPA regulations, making the “sporty” Granada both less powerful and slower than pre 77’ cars. The S became the ESS (European Sports Sedan) designation in 1978 with slightly more power. It was also available as a sedan. ESS cars were extremely rare, as Ford left the sport pretensions to Mercury’s Monarch. Horsepower remained about the same while suspension tuning was minimal at best. ESS models were identifiable by their optional color coed wheels and bucket sport seats.
The Granada was more about luxury anyway, or near luxury. It was very much in step with Ford’s late 70’s styling trends of boxy shapes with opera windows and vinyl tops. Leather seats and all manner of power equipment offerings made the Granada a potential rival to Ford’s own LTD. It even offered a similar soft and mushy ride with imprecise handling due to a dated leaf sprung rear suspension.
Its twins over at Mercury (Monarch) and Lincoln (Versalies) were not much different. Unlike its platform mates, the Granada was available only as a coupe and sedan. In Europe a different (and much better) car Ford called a Granada was available as a station wagon. Buyers who wanted to downsize found that it filled a niche that would not be exploited by other U.S. car makers for a few years.
Very few changes occurred up to 1978, when the front end was modernized with square headlights and a revised tail lights. The competition had watched the Granada become a success and rushed their own versions of compact luxury in the form of the Cadillac Cimarron and Chrysler’s downsized K Car based variants.
As for the Granada, its fortunes would change with the market’s tastes. Undaunted by yet another oil crisis in 1979, Ford was already making preparations for an all new more modern Granada. When it arrived in 1980, it would be based on the all new Fox platform would last for just two model years before being replaced by the LTD and Marquis.