The cars we loved.
American performance sedans have come a long way since cars like the Pontiac 6000 STE and Dodge 600 were considered Detroit’s best efforts. Although the first widely accepted modern American sports sedan from Ford might be the Taurus SHO, there was actually a short-lived sedan before it that connected with everyone from NASCAR drivers to police officers, a full decade before the B body Impala SS ever saw the light of day.
That car sprung from the Fox platform, the same fertile ground that brought us everything from the Mustang to Granada. One of the more prolific spawns from that platform, the Fairmont was the basis for so many variants, that it’s difficult to find Ford cars from the era that did not have a little bit of Fairmont in them. The LTD, once a big proud sedan, the type of car you might see in an episode of 1970 era episode of Barnaby Jones, had morphed into the midsized LTD of the early 80’s. Ford was working on its revolutionary Taurus/Sable pair and needed a stopgap until it arrived in 1985. By stretching the Fairmount body and giving it an aerodynamic front end, the new LTD was born.
Typically the LTD was equipped with a four or six cylinder engine. As they were, they sold well and did what they were expected to do, as long the road was straight and you were not in a hurry. That’s where former NASCAR and Formula 1 driver Bob Bondurant steps in. His Arizona based police certification driving school needed a fast car that could carry more than two people. His affiliation with Ford meant that while he could have chosen nearly any car they were making at the time, the new LTD fit the bill best. It already had much of the same chassis bits as the Mustang, so with some borrowed Mustang parts including a similar 5.0 V8, he created a performance car that fit the bill.
Impressed with Mr. Bondurant’s, creation, then Ford President Donald Peterson, rushed a production version of the car to market, and called it the LTD LX. The LX badge was beginning to symbolize no-nonsense performance in the Mustang and did not disappoint in the LTD. With only 3,260 built in what amounted to a model year and a half, very few LX cars survive today. The LTD’s Mercury twin the Marquis also got a similar treatment in even smaller numbers for Canada as the LTS. Due to the Bondurant connection the LTD had become a popular police car with a beefed up suspension mostly separating it from the civilian car. Inside was not a lot to suggest that you were in a sport sedan beyond the tach on the instrument display. A full console further distinguished the LX from the more run of the mill LTD. No room for bench seats here, as the LX looks to have nabbed it’s front sport seats straight from the Mustang’s parts bin.
While today the output of 165 hp for the 5.0 litre V8 does not sound all that impressive, it was a big deal for the time. The closest competitors from Pontiac and Dodge had V6 engines and were more or less cosmetic specials with less power. The LTD was not without its exterior decoration, but it was subtle and in the form of black out trim and vaguely Thunderbird like 14in wheels on Goodyear Eagle GTs. Like the Mustang, the LX had a live rear axle with a four link suspension in back with a MacPherson strut setup up front. Brakes were disc with drums in the rear. For all intents and purposes, having an LX was the closest thing to a four door Mustang GT.
The motoring press was impressed, as the LX generally ranked above the Pontaic 6000 STE and Dodge 600 SE in most performance tests. 0 to 60 was an almost leisurely 9 seconds, but that was believed to be mostly from the limitations of having a four speed automatic transmission, the only sore point with most testers. Transmission aside, part of the LX’s appeal was that it did not draw too much attention to itself. With only three colors offered for each of its model years and more limited interior color options, the LX hardly stood from the horde of LTDs at dealer lots. Aside from the blackout trim, red LX badges distinguished the car as did the slightly wider tires and aluminum wheels.
Whatever fame and limelight the LTD LX got was cut short by the arrival of the Taurus. Like a younger sibling stealing all the attention, the Taurus slick aero shape made everything else look dated (LTD LX included). Regular versions of the Taurus performed nearly as well as the outgoing LX. For a while in 1986 the two were sold side by side, showcasing the evolution of Fords take on the sport sedan. Finding a second-hand bone stock LX would be difficult today. Because the LTD in general is a Fox platform car, many enthusiasts have taken to dropping in V8 engines from Mustangs along with suspension bits from the Ford/SVO parts bin to make their own take on the LX. One of the biggest modifications was the addition of a five-speed manual transmission. Form a historical perspective, the LTD LX may have been Ford’s first real attempt to make a sports sedan in the mode of the Europeans, even if it took an old NASCAR guy to get the ball rolling.