We’re nearing the end of an era. The end of Australian vehicle manufacturing is rapidly approaching, and soon those who are looking for an Australian designed and built car will be relegated to the second hand market. As sad as that may be, I am one of those who believe Ford and Holden only have themselves to blame. Large, rear-wheel drive sedans like the Commodore and the Falcon may have been all the rage back in the 80’s and 90’s, but in the years which followed since Australians have turned to mid-size or small vehicles, or over to 4WD’s and SUV’s. I also believe the concept of the “large sedan” is to blame – with many mid-sized sedans like the Ford Mondeo and Mazda6 being as near-as-makes-no-difference the same size, with similar amounts of interior space, while often packing lighter kerb weights and more economical engines. Large cars have gone the way of the dinosaur.
One such dinosaur is the Ford LTD, which itself went extinct in 2007 when Ford Australia smartly decided that there was simply no point (or demand) to offer an even larger version of an already large car. Based on the Falcon and offering a stretched wheelbase for greater rear leg room, the LTD range was the jewel in Ford Australia’s crown and remained the most luxurious locally manufactured car you could buy.
Being a child of the 1980’s, I have many very fond memories of the cars that were around in that era, and also those I travelled in which belonged to my parents, or friend’s parents. My parents’ Kombi camper would have otherwise been forgettable if it wasn’t for the fridge door that kept opening during our travels. The canary yellow Mk1 Golf that came later was very quiet, comfortable and had a very pleasant smelling brown velour interior, but was a tad boring. It was the Fords I liked most. My father owned an olive green XP Falcon sedan and as a young boy I loved the way it looked, but more than anything else I loved how comfortable it rode across the many unsealed roads which were prevalent in the area at the time – almost like gliding on a cushion of air. It was this car that set me up as “a bit of a Ford man”, but as it turned out there would be another Ford which would have an even greater impact on me…
One weekend in the early 90’s I went to visit my friend who lived down the road, and discovered that his parents bought a Ford LTD. When I first saw it, I think it was the sheer size of the thing that impressed me the most, until we all got in it and went for a drive into town. It was unlike any car I had been in before. It handled the gravel roads better than my dad’s XP. It had so much legroom in the back that I was able to hold my legs straight out and not touch the back of the seat in front. The seats themselves were incredible, deeply padded with beautifully soft grey velour upholstery, like riding in a limousine I thought. I knew then and there, that this was the sort of car I wanted to own someday – and when it came time to buy my first car, more than 10 years later, I knew exactly what I wanted.
In the years that passed since my first ride in an LTD, I was able to research how the models differed over the years and was able to determine which one I wanted. I went looking for a low kilometre FE LTD, exactly like the one I first rode all those years ago – but as fate would have it, there were no good examples around at the time. However, I did find an earlier 1984 FD LTD available in Brisbane which looked to be in excellent condition. I felt the narrower headlights didn’t quite look as good as the FE, and ditto for the look of the interior, but it was in such good condition it absolutely had to go for a look. It was also a 4.1L six-cylinder, exactly what I wanted. I ended up loving the car and bought it on the spot.
In the flesh I thought the FD looked even better than the FE that followed it. The front headlight and grille arrangement looked tougher and surprisingly the interior felt even more opulent. It was extremely lucky that blue was my favourite colour, as my LTD was blue with a blue interior, with push-buttoned velour seats, velour door cards and a blue dashboard to match. More amazing to me was the amount of features it had – cigarette lighters with ashtrays in each door (I didn’t smoke, but it was 1980’s cool), electric windows, icy cold air-conditioning, 8-way electric seats, a chilled centre console bin, electric mirrors and it was far and away the most comfortable car I had ever been in. Make no mistake, the FD LTD was a tank of a car, but it was exactly the sort of car I wanted for my first and funnily enough it wasn’t as huge as you’d think by today’s standards. The car itself is only 14.2cm longer and 1.6cm wider than the current model Ford Mondeo, while the Mondeo is 79mm taller and weighs about the same – showing you how mid-sized cars have creeped up in both size and weight over the years.
On the road, the FD LTD was a relaxing place to be, designed and set up with comfort and style in mind. Despite having a big 4.1L injected straight-six engine, it could barely muster 110kW even when new from the factory and was hardly the last word in refinement. But it had a healthy amount of torque at low revs which suited the relaxed and lazy nature of the car well. The 3-speed auto performed well, but I did feel it let the engine rev a little high when cruising at 110kph – hovering around the 3000rpm mark. It may have been adequate back in the day, but compared to more modern vehicles it was probably the Achilles heel of the entire car. That and the size of the fuel tank. At today’s fuel prices you’d be looking at over $130 to fill the tank with premium unleaded, from which you could only expect to get 500 – 600km of cruising.
I learnt a lot about cars from my time owning the FD and unfortunately I ended up loving the car to death. Washing the car every weekend accelerated the speed in which rust worked its way through the body work and after 3 years I was faced with the prospect of putting a few thousand dollars into the car to fix it, or instead replace it with something more modern. Unfortunately I chose the latter, a decision which I later regretted and still do to this day. My old FD LTD will always have a special place in my heart and I do hope to own another one in the future, except next time I’ll do it properly.
For you, the FD may not be anything special. But think back to your first car, what was it? Nothing fancy or special I suppose. But to those who love cars, the first one will always hold a special place in their heart. That’s what the FD LTD is to me.
Specifications: 1984 Ford FD LTD
Price: from AU$4,000
Service intervals: 12 months/10,000km recommended
Spare tyre: Full-size alloy
Engine: 4.1-litre EFI six-cylinder 111kW/325Nm
Transmission: 3-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body: 5011mm (L), 1868mm (W), 1397mm (H)