The cars we loved.

1976-1979 Ford LTD/Fairlane: An Alternate History

1976 Ford LTD

1976 Ford LTD

Auto brand legacies are usually not limited to just one nation. The globalization of the auto industry started well before the Second World War, giving Chargers and Valiants as much resonance in New South Wales as they had in New York. For Ford, names like Fairlane, LTD and Galaxie were just as fondly remembered in Australia as in the United States. Australians had different things to cheer about as the names were the same, but the packaging was different.

Separated At Birth
American Fairlaines at one time were assembled in Australia for the Austrailian market, until home market left hand drive versions were created just for Australia by the early 1970s.  The hierarchy of Falcon to Fairlane and Galaxie to LTD was turned on its head somewhat as the Falcon would become the base and performance oriented car while Galaxies, Fairlanes and finally the LTD would be more luxury oriented. Although they had varying trim details, the Galaxie (later called Fairlane) and the LTD were similar cars that had evolved separate from their American counterparts since 1970.

1977 LTD limo with custom grille

1979 Ford Fairlane limo

Bigger Is Still Better
Code named ZH/P6, the series of Fairlane/LTD produced from 1976 to 1979 represents the last of the old school type boxy designs coming from Ford of Australia. Ford called the new LTD variant “the pinnacle of Australian motoring”. In route to becoming that pinnacle, the LTD became the choice car for limo duty across Australia. While not as long as a limo, the LTD/Fairlane was lengthened with increased front and rear overhangs to distance the pair from the Falcon. The bulking program gave both cars more of a luxury presence when bigger is better was still popular in Australia (the opposite was happening to many big Ford cars in the States).

1976 Ford Fairlane 500

1976 Ford Fairlane 500

The added length in the back allowed the pair to swallow up luggage with ease. 1976 was also the first year that engine displacement was being stated in metric in Australia, so now there was a base 202 hp 4.9 and optional 217 hp 5.8-liter V8. In America we knew these engines as the 302 or 351 Cleveland V8. 15 hp did not seem like much difference, but the 5.8 had plenty of torque for hauling butt or boats. While the names seemed similar, the marketing mix was different from the now defunct American cars that used the Fairlane name.

Luxury and Restraint For the Masses
The Fairlane 500 was very much like the Holden Statesman (or American Chevy Caprice for that matter) in that it was a large near luxury car with a comfortable ride and plenty of features at a reasonable price. The big Fords were heavy, closing in on 4,000 lbs when loaded with options. Even the base car offered plenty of standard features including plush bucket seats, consoles, and intermittent wipers. Clever packaging of concealed seat belts gave it a sophisticated flair to further distinguish it from the more working man’s Falcon.

1976 Ford Fairlane Marquis

1976 Ford Fairlane Marquis

Within the Fairlane range, the Marquis (much like the Mercury car in America) was the top Fairlane. Often identified by a  two-tone landau top and body color combination, the Marquis was essentially a better equipped Fairlane 500. The Fairlane had a severe business-like appearance with quad headlights and a horizontal grille. The front of the ZH/P6 Fairlane had an almost “Soviet State Car” brutishness about it. There was no direct linkage with any of Ford’s contemporary American designs except vaguely resembling certain Lincoln Continentals from the mid to late ‘60s.

1979 Interior with console

1979 Interior with console

Few If Any Sporty Pretensions
Fairlanes of this time were not sport oriented, but they did offer Ford’s column mounted Select-o-matic shift system that acted as a kind of semi-automatic allowing drivers to select gears for themselves. The sportier looking T-bar was console mounted. Ironically, its muscle car-like aesthetics managed a 3-speed automatic that offered no driver involvement. Other sporting touches beyond the bigger optional engine centered around a handling package with beefier springs. If a loaded Fairlane Marquis was not enough for you, there was always the step up to Ford’s ultimate expression of Fairlane based luxury; the LTD.

Two LTD’s Similar Mission
Called Limited Type Design (as opposed to “Lincoln Type Design” in America), it had four big round halogen head lights. The odd look was very un-Ford like and resembled the American Chrysler Cordoba. The awkward front end did not relate to the rest of the car’s shape or detailing. Ford had hoped it would recall the splendor of Rolls Royce, but lacked the intricate detailing the Rolls was known for. The LTD took nearly everything that was optional in the Fairlane like the bigger engine and made it standard. Other luxury touches like leather seats and trim ensured that it would not be confused with the Fairlane.

The LTD was the largest car built-in Australia and it carried its nearly two tons of opulence with a kind of restraint that was more typical for German cars rather than one from Australia. While the front end looked like a bad Chinese Cordoba/Silver Shadow copy, the rest of the car was clearly derived from the sensible Fairlane with different end bits. Dual exhausts may have been the only clue to the big V8 inside, as the LTD did not wear its performance abilities on its sleeve, even if fitted with the optional handling package. Steel belted 15 inch radial tires featured hubcaps with separate chrome trim rings. Of the few options, air conditioning and a heavy-duty heater (odd for Australia?) were available. Two available towing packages could make use of your V8’s 429 lb-ft torque at 2700 rpm, all while carrying five passengers in comfort.

1979 Ford LTD Dash

1979 Ford LTD Dash

Comfortably traversing terrain (or highways) was the LTD was primary mission. Designed to be the ultimate cruiser, it could be equipped with the larger gas tank that insured better coverage of Australia’s vast open spaces. To stay entertained FM stereo was standard while the newfangled cassette tape player was optional.  While getting there in a hurry was not beyond the LTD, it could get to 60 mph in just under 12 seconds.

Growing Apart
The Australian Fairlane/LTD would continue to evolve separate from any of Ford’s American products. There were even a few special editions, most notably the “Silver Monarch” LTD, built in 1977 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.  After five generations of Australian built cars and more than 17 variants, Ford ended Fairlane/LTD production in 2007 due to reduced demand for long wheelbase cars in Australia. With the end of production the Fairlane and LTD names were retired and have not resurfaced on any of Fords global plans.

1976 Ford LTD Landau

1976 Ford LTD Landau


One comment on “1976-1979 Ford LTD/Fairlane: An Alternate History

  1. John
    June 2, 2017

    Great article but two of the photos are of Brazilian Fords based on the full size U.S. 1966 body style. Very nice looking cars and deserve a story of their own.

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This entry was posted on December 29, 2013 by in 70's Cars, Ford Motor Company and tagged , , , , .
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