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Our Cars--1976 Ford LTD

BattleshipI called Dad's '76 LTD "The Battleship," and that was not a term of endearment. It was the size of a capital ship, and painted an appropriate shade of gray. Put a couple of aftermarket gun turrets on the hood and a mast on the roof--there was already space enough for the helicopter landing pad on the decklid--and you'd have a fair representation of USS New Jersey as she appeared during the Vietnam war.

The Battleship had a vinyl landau roof treatment and opera windows. Its interior was festooned with imitation wood and plastichrome. Its engine was an emissions-strangled V-8 mated to a three-speed Slush-O-Matic, which produced a 0-60 time geologists could relate to. It had no-lateral-support bench seats, soft springs, overboosted power brakes, and steering that employed Ford's most advanced sensory deprivation technology.

In other words, it was exactly the kind of car I hate.

This is, however, a "Car Lust," not a "Car Disgust." The reason why is because of what that ugly, overweight, underpowered, hulking monstrosity of a car did for Dad and me on one extraordinary January day 31 years ago.

I was a high school senior, and I was interested in applying to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, which was about as far as I could go from my home in Youngstown and still get in-state tuition. My father took me down for an admissions interview, which got me out of high school (and him out of work) for a few days. We drove to Columbus and got a motel room at the Howard Johnson's on 161 just off the interstate. The next morning, we drove to Oxford for the day-long campus visit. We got back to Columbus in time for dinner. It was the evening of Jan. 25, 1978.

That evening, two low-pressure systems converged over the American Midwest. Because of the peculiar way in which they came together, they produced a sudden extreme drop in barometric pressure which meteorologists refer to by the colorful term "bombogenisis." I remember the weatherman on the 11 o'clock newscast on Channel 10 patiently explaining all this in layman's terms--the best TV weather report I have ever watched.

What all this bombogenisis meant was that we were about to get bombed by a big honkin' snowstorm. That snowstorm is now remembered as The Great Blizzard of 1978.

When we woke up the next morning, there was nearly a foot of new snow on the ground, with ice underneath, and more snow coming. The snow was said to be even deeper up north in Cleveland and Youngstown, where the "lake effect" had added to the meteorological fun. The TV told us that the governor had proclaimed a state of emergency, everything was closed, and so on. I figured we were just going to stay in Columbus an extra day.

Dad had other plans. Dad had survived combat in World War II and the Korean War, and a career in local politics in Northeast Ohio. He laughed at adversity. He was not going to let a little thing like the worst snowstorm in Ohio history make him miss supper at home that night!

The motel parking lot had not been plowed. I never found out if that was because the motel had not called for a plow, or because the plow truck couldn't get there because of road conditions, or because the plow truck driver, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before him, had just given up and collapsed in a pathetic sobbing heap. (I suspected the latter.) Whatever the reason, we were not going to get out of there unless we dug ourselves out.

In a gesture of either comic futility or grim irony, the motel management had left a snow shovel leaning against the wall by the office door, in case anyone was crazy enough to actually want to leave. We dug our car out with it. There were three other people trying to get out of the parking lot ahead of us, and we helped dig them out, too. All of us had big old rear wheel drive Detroit dinosaurs. These cars did not have today's sophisticated traction control. They didn't even have positraction rear ends. In conditions like these, the only way to get a car like that moving from a dead rest was to have one or more people pushing.

So Dad and I pushed the other cars out. Once the way was clear, we got in the LTD--and promptly spun our wheels, as there was no one left to give us a push. Dad looked at me gravely and said, "Get out and push, but leave your door open 'cause once I get moving I'm not stopping."

Dad was a kind and loving soul, not the sort who would drive off and abandon one of his children to hypothermia in a Columbus parking lot--but he said those last three words with such ruthless certainty that I resolved not to take any chances. I got the passenger door open as wide as it would go.

Dad put it in gear, I heaved mightily on the Ford's trunk lid, the wheels spun and threw snow on my shoes, and suddenly the car was rolling away from me. I ran after it, caught up to the door before inertia and acceleration could slam it shut on me, and sort of half-stumbled, half-dove, and half-belly-flopped in. I ended up with my nose by the floor heater duct and my knees up near the headrest.

By the time I got myself reoriented into something approximating a normal seated posture, we were charging up the northbound on-ramp, having blown through one red traffic light and taken a very aggressive attitude toward two yellow ones. Dad was quite serious about the "not stopping" part.

The scene on Interstate 71 was surreal. There were abandoned cars and trucks on both sides of the road, and all over the median, some covered in several inches of snow. As for the road itself, it too was covered in snow. It had obviously been plowed, and maybe even salted, but the new snow was coming at least as fast as the plow trucks could clear it. As you might expect, there wasn't much traffic. There were three kinds of vehicles on the road: the big yellow ODOT plow trucks, a few Jeeps, . . . and us. Our own LTD was the only conventional automobile we saw moving under its own power.

We made it home safely. The LTD stayed on the road, the rear end only fishtailing every once in a while, and never so badly that a little counter-steering didn't get us right back on track. Dad didn't stop until we hit the end of the off-ramp at Belle Vista Avenue, five hours after leaving the HoJo.

A lot of that was Dad's driving skill, but I have to give that old LTD credit. It was a terrible car in snow--but the one time Dad and I really needed it to get us through, it performed like a champ.

The LTD in the photo at the top of the page isn't Dad's, but one very much like it that I saw this past summer at a cruise-in. If you want to learn more about the Great Blizzard of '78, there's an article here, a first-person account here, and a photo gallery here.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

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Great, great story - I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading it. I can't imagine how people got around in the snow in those cars, but somehow they did it (in more normal storms, at least).

"Dad looked at me gravely and said, "Get out and push, but leave your door open 'cause once I get moving I'm not stopping." "

Classic.

Cookie, you just brought back two memories for me... The Great Blizzard Of 1978 (Which also hit us here in Nashville), and the 1976 LTD. I was 21, had just bought a new Chevette for my birthday, and that little car performed magnificently in the snow... the white stuff was so deep it beat the floor pan, but the car travelled on, with bias-ply tires, no less! I even got it up a steep driveway a bud's Jeep would not dare climb. Queen's "We Will Rock You" was the song of the time, Disco (EGAD!!!) was the rage of the land, and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" scared us into seeing UFOs everywhere.

Our friends had a new 1976 LTD, and I was always amazed how well that car was put together... not a squeak or rattle on the roughest county roads. Theirs was a 4-door, and did not have the opera windows or landau roof. It was a dark green metallic, and the owner took a hacksaw and cut the headrests off the front bench seat because he just didn't like them. The LTD became his wife's car, and she was so petite, she didn't need them anyway. I drove it a few times and yes, it was a mushmobile, but that was the general rule of the time anyway. Cars then were judged at how easily they drove, not how well.

Great article as always, Cookie!

Well, this past March, my son and I were going to Louisville and got caught in the middle of a similar snowstorm. We were in Willoughby, and we figured once we were on I-71 headed south, we would be home free. Not.

If you all recall, this particular snowstorm affected almost everybody east of the Mississippi, including parts of Mississippi. They had the roads plowed, all right, but the truckers had the snow the plows didn't get to packed down to a nice even coating of ice a couple of inches thick. Nevertheless, we managed to get to wherever King's Island was before we got tired and called it a night. Twelve hours from Cleveland to not quite Cincinnati, creeping along at 35 MPH. Fun. The following day, the salt crews having been busy all night, we had a much easier time of it, and we made the last 125 miles or so in about three hours.

The car? A 1999 Honda Accord with snow tires. After arriving in Louisville, Dad wanted me to park on the road in front of the house. He actually meant we should go straight to the spot, facing backwards. We swung around the cul-de-sac, not even coming close to the Lexus Dad wanted us to avoid hitting, and parked the car the right way. "Snow tires, for the win," I told Dad as I got out of the car.

My dad also owned a 1976 LTD, navy blue, that car survived so many road trips with 4 feuding kids, and still plenty of room for all of the junk we brought with us. This car was not affected by any misfortune, such as my sister driving into it while she was learning to drive, or by being taken onto roads created for 4-wheel drives only! My father was adventurous, to say the least. Thanks for this great post.

My uncle had one of these. Our family had a 1975 Buick Century which had already been somewhat downsized, but as I was relatively young and only vaguely remembered our previous cars (see http://www.acagle.net/ArchaeoBlog/?p=2522), it still felt huge.

Until I got in his LTD. Criminy, it felt like you had to shout to whoever was on the other end of the bench seat just to be heard.

Coupla snow tires and we were good to go back then. I think I only ever spun out once and that was no big deal. It was a November ritual, taking off the regular tires and putting the snow tires on the back and then driving for 3-4 months with that loud humming in the back. Studded tires had been banned by that time (interestingly, here in Seattle which rarely gets snow they are still legal) so we made do. Seems to be just as many cars and SUVs in the ditch here -- heck, probably more -- when it snows than there was back then.

But maybe my memory is a tad rose-colored.

Ahh, the joys of the Ford LTD. My folks loved their white LTD with the white vinyl roof. I hated it since I had to wash the car weekly and the top always looked gray with dirt and such. I'm not sure my mother never forgave me since I was driving the car when it was T-Boned in 1979. (The police report cited the other driver for running a red light.)

Since I was a senior in high school, I was much happier when they replaced the car with the redesigned '79 Mustang. Unfortunately, I only got to drive it a couple of times before I went off to college since my folks worried that I might want to cruise around in such a stylin' car. I was charged with driving the family station wagon which I consider more of a Battleship than the lowly LTD.

GREAT posting.. I remember the 78' Blizzard fondly as a high school senior. It shut down the Boston metro area I grew up in for a week. My old man's "snow" vehicle at the time was a 1964 Tuxedo Park Mark VI (your basic CJ-5 with chrome bumpers and a three on the tree). Before the snow emergency went into effect in our town, I spent the day taking groups of kids "bumper skiing" up and down Wedgemere Ave. For those not from the northeast, this was a favored form of winter entertainment
whereby one would position oneself on a street corner and would grab the rear bumper of any moving vehicle that slowed down to make the turn. This required a heavy falling snow, a good "base" of fresh packed powder on the road, and a some old smooth-soled leather boots or shoes to "ski". Living in the South, I miss those snow days!

My first car was a 1978 Ford LTD Country Squire. Same strangled (but loud!) V-8, same three-speed transmission, same mushy steering (you didn't steer it, you aimed it) but even greater bulk. Plus it had those cool vacuum-operated headlight covers and peeling wood grain all down the sides. We called it the Battlewagon. It had seen years of hard service as the family car before I got hold of it in the mid-90s. Great first car. I still miss it.

Hrm. You've inspired me to write a carlust of my own.

Wonderful! Needless to say, I absolutely love those old tanks. My own experience was with a '73 Custom 500: same basic car as the 76, but with considerably less chrome. It was owned by a friend, and had spent its first two years the personal transportation of a man who could afford a Caddy but wanted something less ostentatious than even the glitzier LTD. He wanted his amenities, though, and had checked every box on the option list, including the one for the largest (429ci?) engine.

I spent a lot of time in that car, mostly in Brooklyn and Long Island, and have vivid memories of its smooth ride and *very* quiet interior. I also remember running out of gas more than once, thanks to my friend's habit of buying gas by the pint, and his belief that he was smarter than the fuel gauge.

Here is the first paragraph of Patrick Bedard's 2/76 C/D road test, entitled "Ford LTD: All is Well with the American Dream."

"If you were to blindfold the average American and take him around the block in a Ford LTD, then in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and finally in a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL, he'd come back and buy the Ford. The others are too noisy and uncomfortable, he'd say."


My 1971 LTD, otherwise known as "Light Tank, Domestic". A white vinyl top with a light green paint job, often referred to as something you find in a sick baby's diaper. It was a two door, either of which out weighed my scrawny 15 year old self. When the Town and Country Drive In had "Dollar a car load night", we packed eleven teenagers in the front and back seats and four more with a cooler full of beer in the trunk. It must have looked like the clown car at the circus when we got out and sat on the hood and roof. It came with an AM radio , an eight track under the dash and a FM converter. Learning to drive that car taught me a lot. If I could park that car, then parking an A-4 Skyhawk (which was slightly larger) would be a snap.

Cookie The Dog's Owner: "...steering that employed Ford's most advanced sensory deprivation technology." Which is why in high school we called my friend's LTD "The Sled." Turn the wheel . . . wait for it . . . there! It's begun to turn!

I too remember the '78 storm. My brother was driving home in it in his Opel Manta. What normally was an hour-and-a-half drive took several hours, and our family literally sat at the front window watching for his headlights. And worrying. When he finally turned toward the driveway . . . and slid past it, we ran out into the snow to help him get the Manta off the road. I'll never forget it.

Great story, Cookie!

jdgjtr: So, I'm NOT the only person that's ever had an FM converter in their car! Sweet!

I don't remember the blizzard of 1978, but I do remember my grandfather and grandmother and myself going around in our 1977 Ford LTD. I remember going to the tire store and changing the "all season" tires to snow tires around the 1st of December, it seemed to be a winter ritual in Southwestern Virginia at the time.
The LTD we had was white no vinyl top, but all the chrome. It has a 351M/400 engine wit the "fuel saver" carb and FMX tranny. We stil have that car and have restored it pretty much to OEM quality.
You had a snow story and it was great. I have a story it was in 1987 April and it came a big snow storm in Smyth County, Virginia. We were in Marion Va when it started sleeting and snowing and were driving to our house 25 miles away. We left Marion and before we got to the 2 lane road off the interstate all the roads were covered. I remember all kinds of cars off the road in the ditches and that big ole' LTD with the snow tires just kept on going. I don't think you could stop that car. It was only me, the two trucks and ambulance on the road that day that was getting through.
I drove that car in high school, college, but now it is relegated to antique status and sitting in the garage. I guess a fitting rest for a car that had 175,000 miles or so before the restoration. That car was the car I learned to drive on. I drove it to high school graduation, I graduated college with that car, it has been into Canada and Mexico and most of the 48 contiguous states. It has outlived an 1984 LTD, my grandfather, and most of my friends cars. They dubbed it the great white shark in high school.
I love my LTD and wouldn't sell or trade it for anything it has too many great memories of childhood, adolesence, young adult hood and now the post resoration period. Most people I know have very fond memories of these cars it is a shame so many have been crushed when metal prices skyrocketed last year..
Great post Cookie.

A late comment, but thanks for a really great story, Cookie!!! In one for the "it's a small world department", that same 1978 storm made it to New England a day or so later. I almost didn't make it back to UMass Amherst from Boston.

One could forgive that we all really thought the next ice age was coming in 1978. After the January blizzard, we had two more large storms in February. The second of those two storms came late on a Friday, when I was driving back to Boston from Amherst. I had a job interview scheduled over that weekend. The snow was so bad that my wipers and defroster couldn't keep up: the snow was clumping on the wiper blades.

And THAT is why I drive a full-sized, four-door, 4x4 pickup with a 4" Rancho lift and 33" Nitto AT tires. I was one of the only vehicles moving in the 2003 President's Day blizzard in D.C. too, less than three weeks after buying that truck while my friends sneered that it was a ridiculous purchase. HA!

I picked up a 1975 LTD this past winter.The car is in really nice shape inside and out.This is a true "little old ladys" car. I'M not even a big Ford guy (PONTIACS RULE) but the car is so nice and the price was right I had to buy it. I would have past on it if it was a 4 door, but a big old 2 door, white with a white viynl top and blue interior and a 351, I couldn't pass.I'd love to find a set of magnum 500s for it, but other than that its a nice driver.

A great story, indeed.

And, whatever its faults, the Ltd will forever have a special place in my heart, as it is the car that taught this foreign-exchange student to drive and made me pass my driving test in June '84. (As a celebration present for getting my license, the family's dad let me drive his cherished '72 Continental Mk IV, which oddly enough was of the same color scheme as the Ltd above.)

"The Battleship had a vinyl landau roof treatment and opera windows. Its interior was festooned with imitation wood and plastichrome. Its engine was an emissions-strangled V-8 mated to a three-speed Slush-O-Matic, which produced a 0-60 time geologists could relate to. It had no-lateral-support bench seats, soft springs, overboosted power brakes, and steering that employed Ford's most advanced sensory deprivation technology.

In other words, it was exactly the kind of car I hate."

Funny, because those are qualities that I admire in a vehicle. To each his own, I suppose. :) That was an excellent story.

Great post!

1977 LTD w/snow tires all around did ok in WV snow. Once saved our lives when the adjacent county did not salt the road. At 35mph Black ice! LTD haze grey aircraft carrier did a 360 hitting both sides of the guard rails. Sustained small damage at 20mph impacts on 3 corners of car. Solid steel/pot metal. You will notice that the armor plating is quite extensive on this vehicle. Especially while filling up w/gas. ~14mpg hwy.

well. back in 1976, i bought the little woman a brand new '76 4 dr ltd landau"town car" to replace our 71 ford econoline van(a 300 series long wheelbase window van ) not big enough for our 5 kids& 120 lb sheep dog.the thing was loaded with EVERYTHING but a decent engine ( 400m with a c6 & 4wheel disc brakes) was a fast road car, (notice i DIDNT say "quick").comfort? mousefur interior some of the kids forgot the others were there.use to set a portablr tv on the front center arm rest(facing back) and haul aass to maine(or florada)gutless smogger moter finally went BOOM at about60k.couldnt afford to sell a useless car, bought a junkyard 400, rebult it myself(bypassing ALL the stupid smog stuff). gunboat lives!! would now smoke the tires at will, became a fire breathing beast(sic) any way it ran decent at last! put a nother 50k on it and sold it after mostly good service &11years. one of the few cars i owned that wasnt afraid of my kenworth.

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