It’s not uncommon for a nameplate to appear, either float above the waterline or promptly sink, and then disappear from the market the same way it arrived. Every major automaker has had a few such models. Those that were rightfully axed promptly after being introduced and those that never got going the way they were supposed to. This time we’ll focus on obscured and forgotten classic Ford models that disappeared from the scene before they managed to leave a lasting impression. Even though they deserved to. Some were maybe unremarkable, some ahead of their time, and some simply arrived at a wrong moment. Something like these forgotten Chrysler-Mopars.
Unlike Chrysler and accompanying badges, Blue Oval always had a major share in sales among the U.S. buyers. It’s the second largest American automaker and one of the largest carmakers in the world. With that kind of recognition, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Fords are everywhere. And that they always have been. But, unlike Mustangs, F-150’s and long-gone Escorts which were, and still are some of Blue Oval’s record-selling cars, we’ll try to remind you of less lucky Fords that probably deserved much better.
A side note: I’ll refrain from listing special edition vehicles as I’ve already gone through Blue Oval’s dusty records trying to dig them up in part 1 and part 2 here.
These Classic Ford Car Models Should Be Better Remembered!
1993-1996 Centurion Classic
Behold the forgotten 4-door Bronco you never knew existed. You’re forgiven, though, since, technically, Centurion Classic was never actually a Ford. Although met with competition such as Chevy Suburban and Tahoe, Blue Oval never ventured beyond the proven two door Bronco styling. They never wanted their badge on a 4-door Bronco-based SUV. Reason was, Ford has already decided to introduce the Expedition by then. But they never said anything about aftermarket 4-door Broncos.
This is where Centurion Vehicles enter the fray. Third party Ford trucks converter out of White Pigeon, Michigan was contracted on Blue Oval’s behalf in order to fix the above mentioned problem. They answered the call with two custom-stretched models; Centurion C150 Classic and Centurion C350 Classic. Former was based on F-150 truck, while latter got its body from F-350 donor. Furthermore, four-wheel drive was standard with larger model and optional on smaller Centurions.
Engine lineup consisted of Ford trucks’ respective powertrains. C150 Centurion, thus sported either 5.0L or 5.8L V8 mills, while C350 Classic came with either 7.5L gasoline V8 or 7.3L Navistar International’s diesel V8. Centurion C350 Classic was the only Bronco sporting such large displacement and diesel engines. Sadly, most of them have rusted through by now. This makes them even more prized possessions, though, since already low number of Centurion won’t get multiplied in the coming years.
1998-2000 SVT Contour
Back when Taurus used to be smaller, there was no place for another mid-size sedan in the U.S. market. Yet, Mondeo’s strong sales across the globe practically forced Ford’s hand into bringing rebadged version of the family car stateside. Contour was chosen for Blue Oval version’s name, while Mercury twin got to be known as Mystique.
That was in 1994, and it wasn’t until 1998 and first substantial facelift when Contour finally got the true performance version. True, Contour SE Sport models with up to 170 horsepower were available since 1996, but SVT badge elevated Contour’s status in performance enthusiasts’ eyes. Just like it did with F-150, Focus and Cobra Mustang. SVT Contour had the same 2.5L V6 as the SE Sport models, but with upgraded internals like unique pistons, revised intake and exhaust camshafts. This setup was initially worth 195 ponies and rose to 200 horsepower the following year.
Ford SVT Contour was also praised for its fun driving dynamics. After all, Contour was always intended as a sporty Euro-feel 4-door sedan. It was one of the best handling and most wanted sedans for under $25,000 at the time. Sadly, it never really succeeded. Apart from having had poor front impact safety ratings, it was just too small for American audience. It never found its niche, but SVT Contour certainly deserved more credit than it received. Maybe it’s not a classic Ford yet, but it certainly might become one in the near future.
1978-1981 Fiesta (U.S. Mk 1)
Fiesta is one of the best-sold Blue Oval models globally, but Americans had to wait almost 30 years for it to return here. Fiesta made a comeback in 2010 after first generation models got exiled in 1982. But, although donning the Blue Oval badge, Fiesta was never really an American car. It was built and developed in Spain, Germany and the U.K. Even U.S. spec models were imported from Germany, although they differed from their overseas counterparts in order to comply with more strict American regulations.
American Mk 1 Fiesta models all came with 1.6L Crossflow Kent in-line four engines which was the largest available offering in a Fiesta back then. They developed 66 hp and 88 lb-ft of torque. Lowly figures, but then again, the car itself was petite. Subcompact hatch was nimble and fun to drive. What’s most important, Kent engine proved to be durable and easy to modify. But it was all in vain as Ford introduced American version of the Escort in 1981. It was intended to replace the outdated and never respected Pinto compact, but also pushed smaller Fiesta out of business. At least that decision proved to be successful as Escort became one of the best-sold Fords throughout the decade.
But we’ll never know what might have happened to Fiesta had it been allowed to continue competing with VW Rabbits and Honda Civics of the time. A car originally designed by the late Tom Tjaarda at Ghia that even offered upscale Ghia trim level, surely deserved that chance.
Although selling close to 2 million Mavericks throughout eight production years, compact sedan is all but forgotten now. Falcon replacement did have its flaws – and plenty of them – but car that was pitted against the likes of Dodge Dart and Chevy Nova deserves more credit.
But Maverick was first intended to do battle with smaller imports. A job that was taken by the above mentioned Fiesta and Escort later on. Maverick only got repositioned after Falcon failed to meet the upcoming safety regulations. It was affordable and good looking but suffered from well documented malaise era car’s shortcomings. Rust was a serious issue, and then there were the outdated engines. Initially, only 170ci and 200ci Thriftpower sixes were available. 250ci straight-six was added mid-year. 210-horsepower 302ci V8 would debut in 1971 alongside the 4-door body style and Maverick’s mechanical twin Mercury Comet. But 210 hp wouldn’t remain its spec for long as figure slid to as low as 122 hp in 1975.
Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find Ford Maverick in fine shape. Rust has had its way with them and so did general indifference on their owner’s part. Being cheap as they were and readily available (combined with rust-proneness), very few people could be bothered to take good care of them. No car deserves such a fate, except maybe this lot, and neither did the Maverick.
Ford has had a compact pickup truck offering for a full decade before Ranger made its debut in 1982. It was a Mazda B-Series based Ford Courier which lived on until 2007 in overseas markets. It even had a Fiesta-based spin-off Courier Van produced between 1991 and 2002 in Europe, and until 2013 in Brazil.
While still being offered in the U.S., Courier went through two generations. Older models were powered by 1.8L 4-cylinder mill capable of putting up 74 hp and 92 lb-ft of torque. After the 1977 facelift, Courier received more powerful powertrain. 2.3L Lima 4-cylinder taken out of Pinto and Mustang II now helped Courier generate 88 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque. It also received front disc brakes which pushed compact’s price range dangerously close to that of base F-150 models. With payload of 1,400 pounds, Courier was never able to compete with half-ton trucks, hence its sales started to decline.
Although Courier was one popular truck, we understand why Blue Oval had to give it the axe. Its replacement the Ranger became even more popular, and remained in their portfolio until 2012. And it’ll soon return to the U.S. market alongside another iconic vehicle the Bronco. Maybe in some parallel universe there could have been enough space for two small truck offerings by same manufacturer. Not in this one.
1983-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
As one of the longest-running Ford’s nameplates, it was only natural for Thunderbird to sport a number of distinctive and rather interesting models. Arguably, the most interesting Thunderbird was the Turbo Coupe. Available across five model years, Turbo Coupe delivered where most cars in the eighties had failed. In performance department.
Personal luxury coupe was a fun and capable 2-door car that you could drive on a regular basis. It came with 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder capable of making 145 horsepower initially. That figure would rise to 155 hp in 1985, but only with 5-speed manual trans. 3-speed auto that became an option in 1984 kept the output at bay. In 1987, Thunderbird Turbo Coupe received a facelift and new 4-speed auto which still limited the output – this time at 150 hp. Models with the stick, on the other hand, generated 190 ponies. Thanks to a new intercooler, they practically shared the engine with Mustang SVO. Sadly, it was Ford who consigned Thunderbird Turbo Coupe to extinction. It might have been their GNX, but Ford simply didn’t want it to be faster than the Mustang.
Apart from healthy amount of power for mid eighties, Turbo Coupe also packed limited-slip differential, anti-lock disc brakes at all four corners, and Automatic Ride Control. They were replaced by even more potent 10th generation Thunderbird Super Coupes. These 3.8L supercharged V6-powered models ran until 1996 when they peaked at 230 horsepower. Although even more powerful than Turbo Coupes, their accomplishments were never comparable to those of 4-cylinder-powered Fox platform-based Thunderbirds.
EXP is rightfully considered one of the ugliest Fords ever made. Both the first generation EXP and its stablemate Mercury LN7, to be more precise. But EXP was also Blue Oval’s first 2-seater after 25 years and departure of the original Thunderbird. So, things are a little bit more complicated than they seem at first glance.
Although it looked like it came straight out of 1984 Gremlins movie, Ford EXP actually shared most of its cues with the Escort. It even had the same wheelbase, suspension and 1.6L CHV in-line four engine. While branded as sports compact, EXP failed to deliver more than 70 horsepower. HO option introduced mid-year, however, was capable of making 80 ponies. That still wasn’t enough so Blue Oval introduced 120-horsepower Turbo Coupe models in 1984. At the same time, Mercury LN7 got the axe. When Ford finally restyled the sports car during mid-1985, it was already too late. They knew it since they didn’t bother at all to up its performance. Although powered by larger 1.9L CHV 4-cylinder, second gen EXP only raised 90 ponies. Even high output models only managed 106 hp for 1986 and 115 hp for 1987.
Had Ford designed the car more in tune with the eighties, and had they offered more power, EXP might have been a success. This way, as soon as Probe debuted , EXP became redundant.
Speaking of Probe, EXP’s successor didn’t fare that much better either. It was much, much better looking, though. So, what went wrong with another in the line of Ford’s sports cars? Apart from obviously poor choice of a name. Well, there were a few things. For starters, Blue Oval secretly planned to replace the Mustang with it. As you can imagine, that didn’t sit well with Ford fans. Especially when these plans came into light. So, you might say Probe was abhorred by Ford fans from the get-go. Furthermore, with all its plus sides, Probe was never as interesting as Prelude, Integra, Celica or Eclipse.
Probe itself was based upon a Japanese import. Mazda MX-6, to be more precise. But that’s only half truth. You see, Ford experimented with the Probe name much earlier than that. It was 1979 when wedge-shaped Ghia-designed Probe I concept saw the light of day. When Ford Probe finally arrived, it was powered by assortment of engines ranging from 110 hp to 145 hp. In 1993, second generation Probe Debuted. Apart from even more astounding look, it featured Mazda’s 2.5L V6 mill worth of 164 ponies. Sales, however, plummeted with each passing year from some 120,000 units in 1993 to less than 20,000 sold models in 1997.
There’s no doubt Probe was one fine sports compact. Contemporary stylish design, enough power, solid economy and affordable sticker were all there. For some reason, people never liked it enough. Maybe it’s the fear of losing Mustang that discouraged people from buying it. We’ll never know. Only thing that’s certain is; Probe is as forgotten Ford as forgotten Fords get.
1977-1979 LTD II
LTD II owes its name to lack of creativity of Ford’s naming department. Back then, they had Mustang II and Bronco II. As if that wasn’t enough, they even plastered Roman numerals to much less prominent LTD. It wasn’t a downsized LTD like the former two, though. LTD II was actually a replacement for discontinued Torino. And it was anything but small. In fact, it was one of the largest intermediate cars ever produced.
But LTD II only survived for three model years. Reason was, its competitors got much smaller while still managing to offer more interior room than LTD II. As valid as a reason can get, if you ask me. Still, LTD II will remain loved for its robustness, unique styling, mandatory V8 power and three different body styles which included a coupe, a sedan, and a wagon. Standard engine was 302ci V8 rated at 130 hp. 351ci V8’s (both standard OHV 351W and canted valve 351M were available) made between 149 hp and 161 hp. Finally, 400ci V8 yielded up to 173 hp as the strongest available offering. It wasn’t available for 1979 model year, though.
LTD II’s biggest issue was wrong timing. Had it arrived earlier, it could have remained in the market much longer. It simply couldn’t compete with the new generation of intermediates more efficient in every single way. Hadn’t there been for the LTD which circled around for 20 years, LTD II would have been completely obscured and forgotten.
1981 Fairmont Futura Wagon
1981 exclusive Ford Fairmont Futura Wagon is not to be confused with neither conventional Fairmonts nor Fairmont Futuras. It’s something similar yet different altogether. As you might know, Futura extension was only there to distinguish Fairmont coupes which had distinctive forward-slanted B pillars and special roofline. Then, in 1981, Ford added both sedan and wagon body styles to Futura label. At the same time, this was also the last year for Fairmont wagons which would migrate to Grenada the following year.
Since 302ci Windsor V8 was removed from options list by 1981, largest available powertrain for Fairmont Futura Wagon was 255ci Windsor V8. It delivered up to 120 horsepower. As anemic as V8’s got back then, but still much better than 94 ponies out of 200ci Thriftmaster Six or 88-horsepower out of 140ci Pinto’s OHC in-line four.
Ford Fairmont Futura Wagon remains one of those surprising and unexpected offerings only the Big Three were capable of marketing. It single-handedly diluted Futura badge’s meaning, but offered much sought after versatility of a wagon body style as compensation. Like most forgotten and obscured cars, it fell victim to model and trim shifts within lineups. It’s just another forgotten classic Ford these days, but Fairmont Futura Wagon certainly deserved more.