1981 Ford LTD Crown Victoria Coupe: Last of the Tudors
For a long time, cars were cars, not trucks, and those cars typically came in three versions: a two-door sedan or coupe, a four-door sedan, and a station wagon. And right up to the early to mid-1980s, that was still largely the case. But by 1990, full-size American two-door sedans were basically extinct, with the exception of personal luxury cars like the Eldorado and Mark VII and sporty midsizers like the Grand Prix and Lumina Z34.
For most of the ’70s, the Ford was unapologetically large. Some wags remarked at the time that LTD stood for “Light Tank Division.” In 1979, the full-size Fords were finally downsized on the new corporate “Panther” full-size chassis. But as before, a variety of sedans, coupes, and wagons were offered in trim levels from plain to lavish.
However, by this time sales of the full-size coupes and two-door sedans were beginning to wane. Sure, the personal luxury coupes like the Cutlass Supreme were still going gangbusters, but models like the LTD, Caprice, LeSabre, and others were starting to favor four-door models.
While the initial downsized ’79 LTDs retained the previous trim levels of the final biggie 1975–78 models, starting in 1980 the top-of-the-line LTD Landau was renamed LTD Crown Victoria. It also lost the nifty illuminated C-pillar decor of the ’79. A shame.
And so it was in 1980 that the LTD Crown Victoria came—LTD and Country Squire wagons aside—in either a $7628 coupe or $7763 sedan (today that’s $28,083 and $28,580). Production was 21,962 four-doors and 7,725 two-doors. For 1981, the LTD Crown Victoria sold to the tune of 11,061 two-doors and 39,139 four-doors. Clearly the sedans were handily outselling the two-doors.
The easiest way to tell a 1981 LTD from a 1979–80 model is the front bumper. In 1979–80, there were slots in the bumper with matching grille pattern inserts. Starting in 1981, these were eliminated and the bumper was solid metal.
Starting in 1982, the blue oval Ford emblem was reintroduced, so the grille on LTDs lost the “FORD” capital letters in the grille header in favor of the new corporate logo on the grille pattern itself. So now you know how to positively ID a 1981 Ford LTD. You’re welcome.
The 1982 LTD Crown Victoria prices rose once again, thanks to early ’80s inflation that saw the price of an LTD Crown Victoria two-door go from $7628 in 1980 to $9149 for a 1982 version.
Starting in 1983, all LTDs were renamed LTD Crown Victoria—not just the fanciest models—in order for the new smaller LTD to be introduced. This smaller LTD was essentially a higher-trimmed, restyled Fairmont. At the time, it was intended that the full-size Fords would be retired, and these new smaller versions would ultimately replace them.
But then a funny thing happened: Around 1983–84, big-car sales started picking up again, so the Panther chassis LTDs were kept and actually outlived the midsize LTD, which disappeared after 1986, replaced by the all-new Taurus.
At any rate, the LTD Crown Victorias carried on throughout the ’80s, but with two-door sales continuing to dwindle. In 1987, the last year the Crown Victoria, two-doors (and corporate sibling Grand Marquis) were offered, and in ’88 the LTD Crown Victoria was given a new aero-styled facelift and only the sedan and wagon returned.
The old, standard Ford coupe and sedan, designated “Tudor” and “Fordor” decades before, had changed. The “Tudor” was gone, thanks to changing tastes. Fortunately, two-door lovers still had many choices in a Ford showroom in 1988: Escort, Tempo, Mustang, and Thunderbird were all still there waiting for you and your wallet. Not so much today, except for the Mustang … but I digress! Now, where was I?
I first spotted this nicely preserved ’81 LTD Crown Victoria at the weekly cruise-in held on the Davenport (Iowa) riverfront in June 2021. I was immediately smitten. I’ve seen a few 1979–87 two-doors at shows, but not many—and never one this nice. The owner and his wife were very nice too and opened up the doors and hood so I could get a closer look. At the time, it had about 73,500 original miles.
It was in excellent, largely original condition, with factory applied paint and pinstripes. I really liked the colors too. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think the color is Dark Cordovan. The matching top and upholstery were just the icing on the cake. I don’t remember if it had the 255-cubic-inch V-8—the new standard engine for ’81 LTDs—or the optional 302 V-8 or 351 V-8.
I spotted the car at another cruise night a bit later that year, but I haven’t seen it since. I hope the owners are still enjoying it, as I sure enjoyed seeing it! While it’s not the official designation, I’ve always felt that LTD stood for, or should have stood for, Love To Drive. Friends of mine who have LTDs of this vintage largely agree.
Until next time folks, Brougham on, and always tip your bartender!