1978 Ford LTD II: Gran Torino redux
Do you remember the 1977–79 Ford LTD II? If not, you almost certainly remember its corporate sibling, the downsized 1977 Thunderbird. The LTD II was a victim of the T-Bird’s success to some extent. Coupes, especially personal luxury coupes, were the “gotta have it” body style through most of the ’70s. As a result, the LTD II is a largely forgotten car today.
While the 1977 Thunderbird and LTD II may have looked all new, they really weren’t. Under the squared-off and more formal skin, they were essentially the 1976 Ford Elite and ’76 Gran Torino, respectively. Like its predecessors, the LTD II was all about a soft, Lincoln-like ride. Handling? Bah! It was still a time when Ford was more concerned about a smooth, quiet ride and “road hugging weight.”
Just like the Torino, a full lineup of vehicles was available: coupe, sedan, station wagon, and wood-sided Squire station wagon. As was the case with most American cars of the ’70s, the basic versions had relatively few creature comforts, but a long option list could correct that if you checked enough boxes.
The Thunderbird, by far the most popular of the reskinned ’77 midsize Fords, came only as a two-door coupe. It differentiated itself from the LTD II coupes with hidden headlights, a narrower grille, full-width tail lights, and a unique “basket handle” roofline with an inset opera window in between the front and rear quarter windows.
The entry-level LTD II was the S, which came in all three body styles. While they did feature a 302 V-8, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and an automatic transmission as standard equipment, they were still rather plain.
All LTD II models got those stacked rectangular headlights, regardless of trim level. It appears that this new style originated with Chevrolet on the 1976 Malibu Classic and Monte Carlo. Then Ford got into it with the LTD II, and Chrysler with the mid-size Monaco and Fury in 1977. Finally, the 1978 Cordoba got them. Were there others? Anyone? Bueller?
Next up was the LTD II, which had more brightwork and a nicer interior. One of my earliest car memories is one owned by my mom’s parents, Fred and Mae Stamp—a jade green LTD II Brougham “pillared sedan” much like the one pictured above and below. It was triple green: matching paint, vinyl top, and interior.
I was extremely young at the time, but I liked that car. No. I LOVED that car. In fact, I was little enough at the time that I called my grandmother “Grandma green car.” It may also be the reason my favorite color is green. In fact, it’s highly likely.
Station wagons were also available in all three series, but they showed their Torino origins much more clearly than the coupes and sedans. Naturally, the wood-sided Squire was the top-of-the-line LTD II wagon.
The wagons are also the rarest LTD IIs, as they were only made in 1977. The next year’s models would be limited to coupes and sedans. All wagons got the 351 V-8. It was optional on other LTD IIs, as was a 400 V-8.
So, was there a Brougham? You bet there was a Brougham! The top model, Broughams were available in two-door or four-door versions. You had your choice of a canopy, landau, or full vinyl roof, depending on the body style.
While the coupe was rather attractive in my opinion, it never had a chance against the Thunderbird, which outsold it many times over. Actually, the 1977 T-Bird outsold the entire nine-model LTD II line by a comfortable margin.
The lower price of 1977 T-Birds vs. 1976 T-Birds,and the snob appeal of the Thunderbird name were major factors. Despite this, LTD IIs did pretty well in their first year, selling 40,000 more units than the 1976 Torino line.
Naturally, the Broughams had the nicest interiors. Bucket seats and a center console with floor shift were optional on coupes. The instrument panel was nearly identical to the Thunderbird’s.
While the LTD II may have looked good to Ford product planning when it was being designed in 1974–75, by the time it came out in 1977, things were beginning to change in the domestic midsize market. The all-new ’77 full size GM B-bodies were smaller, handled better, and were roomier than the LTD II, while the 1977 Malibu, its primary competition, was in its last year in a similar size.
The 1978 Malibus and Ford’s own 1978 Fairmont would make the LTD II look fairly dated at the start of its second model year. True, Chrysler was in the same boat with its midsize Fury and Monaco lines, but they had the hearts of law enforcement with their 440 V-8 police cruisers.
LTD II sales steadily went downhill during 1978–79, with its 1972 Torino underpinnings becoming ever more apparent with each new slimmed-down competitor. After the all-new Panther-platform ’79 LTD debuted, LTD II sales got even worse, as the fresh and modern LTD and Fairmont caught most Ford fanciers’ attention in the showroom.
Ford tried to keep things interesting with its Sport Touring and Sport Appearance packages (seen upper right and lower right in the photo above), but it just wasn’t enough, and the plug was pulled early in the 1979 model year with less than 50,000 made that year.
Our featured car, a 1978 LTD II pillared sedan in triple dove gray with a dark red pinstripe, was recently acquired by Tom Durak. I saw it on the Facebook group 1970s Great American Land Yacht, and was immediately hooked. Finding any LTD II in any condition these days is a daunting task, since most were just driven and not saved for posterity.
As Durak related: “If you are serious about writing up my car, I would be happy to help! It is insured with Hagerty; both my cars are. I do have a little bit of history on the car also, a copy of the eBay auction where it was purchased from an estate in 1998. I don’t know much about it before then. It is not 100 percent original; it was painted in 1999. I was told just because of dents and dings, never any rot. It is definitely in incredible condition for a 42-year-old car for sure. My other car, a 1971 Torino, was featured in the movie Cold Brook with William Fichtner a few years ago. The guy that owned the LTD II before me had it for 22 years and only put 2000 miles on it!
“I hate to admit that I actually enjoy driving it even more than my Torino. Just a beautiful car to drive. It’s not a car I would’ve gone looking for; I just happened to be browsing craigslist and ran across it, and I couldn’t pass it up for the condition. You just don’t find cars like that anymore.”
Durak also sent a copy of the eBay auction from 1998, which stated that this car was originally sold at Keating Ford in Stratford, Connecticut, on August 26, 1978. It had 50,776 miles on it at the time. Equipment included the 302 V-8, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, and AM radio.
You can find a decent amount of the LTD II-based Ford Ranchero cars/pickups for sale. Even now, the related 1977–79 T-Birds are easily spotted online, but not the LTD II. So I was very happy to find Tom and his car and give it its 15 minutes of fame!