Ford Fairmont

mminerbimminerbi Member Posts: 88
Given the number of messages about Ford Mavericks and Mercury Comets, here's a topic for readers who may wish to comment on Fairmonts and Zephyrs, the successor models to Mavericks and Comets.

While these cars were plagued by some of the quality glitches that were common to that era (model years '78 - '82), they were generally well designed and decent values. I recall a report that appeared in one of the leading car mags concerning the 1978 Fairmont, whereby they referred to Ford's new intermediate as "The American Volvo." It was intended as a compliment to support the generally favorable results of a road test of the Fairmont.


  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    I'd like to see crash test results of a 79 Fairmont vs. a 79 Volvo 244, I doubt there would be much comparison!
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    My parents had a Granada from May '83 to July '85. It was practically a glorified Fairmont and had a 200 six.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    Our Granada was an '81, purchased used.
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    I was considering creating a topic just like this.
    It's curious how when this car came out,R&T indeed had a HUGE "Research Report" on how great and Volvo-like the Fairmovt was.
    Now I get the feeling this is a car that everyone would slam as a pathetic effort.
    I didn't own one,or anything then,but I was excited that America was starting to get it right.
    Now,I'm not pessimistic enough to think all the auto mags are just paid shillers for the car companies,but I just think before everyone posts what a joke this car is,they remember that the auto press was very encouraging about this Ford.
    It was not a Volvo;iy was way cheaper. But it was a very roomy car with pretty good gas mileage,which so many wanted in 1978.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,060
    Ford was known back then for putting out some of the thirstiest, underpowered, space-innefficient designs possible. In the earlier '70's, the Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant were probably the most space efficient compacts around, but they were also the most dated. Still, in the '70's, that wasn't a bad thing. I remember reading a car review that compared a bunch of 1975 compacts, and they stated that the Dart felt more like a well-preserved 1965 model than a brand-new '75 model!

    But back to Ford. It scored a big hit with the Granada, but the Granada was all style and very little substance. It was heavy, slow, and didn't get very good gas mileage, especially as the engines became more and more restricted. The Maverick upon which it was based was really looking long-in-the tooth, a fact that was only expemplified after GM applied the "European" treatment to its Nova and company for '75, and the Dart/Valiant bowed to the Aspen/Volare for '76. When the Aspen/Volare took over for the Dart, it was probably the most space-efficient of the compacts. The ones I've been in seem huge compared to a Maverick, Granada, or Nova of the timeframe, and not really much smaller than so-called "big" cars today like the Intrepid, Impala, LeSabre, etc. But while it brought an unexpected level of roominess and comfort to the compact field, it also brought a lot of bulk, and two ancient, but bulletproof engines. The 225 slant six and the 318 V-8. These things weighed, on average, about 200 lb more than equivalent Dart/Valiant models they replaced, which was the wrong way to go if you were interested in fuel economy.

    When Ford came out with the Fairmont/Zephyr, however, it signaled a whole new era to the compact field. These things would get badge-engineered into midsize cars with the advent of the '81 Granada/Cougar, but in '78 they were considered compacts. That year, GM downsized its mid-size Malibu, Monte Carlo, LeMans, Cutlass, etc, and while they were marketed as mid-size cars, magazines like Consumer Reports classified them as compacts. That was a confusing time back then, as a '78 Malibu was smaller and lighter than a Granada or Volare, but roomier inside, and pricier. The first Fairmonts and Zephyrs were incredibly light, some weighing as little as 2500 lb. In contrast, the lightest Malibus were around 3000, and the Granadas and Volares were even heavier. As a result, Ford could get by with using a 4-cyl engine as standard, and it probably wasn't much worse than a Volare with a 225 1-bbl or a Malibu with that tiny 200 V-6 they offered for a few years. Ford's 200 inline-6, which would've been hard-pressed in a car like a Granada or Maverick, would have done much better in a lighter Fairmont. And even though it was still a dog of an engine, it would've still gotten better gas mileage than it used to, because of having much less weight to lug around. And Ford's 302 must've been a relative screamer in a car like this.

    As for crash tests, I seem to recall that Ford actually did put a lot of effort into making these cars score well for the time. It was unitized, while the Malibu was body-on-frame, so it was inherently designed to crumple up better. The Apens and Volares were also unitized, but much bulkier, which can actually make a car look worse in a crash test than it might do in real life, where that bulk would help against a lighter car.

    As time went by though, more efficient, modern designs came out. GM's X-car for 1980 offered similar interior accomodations, but a bit less trunk space, along with FWD, which was a strong selling point back then. It was also about 20 inches shorter, although it didn't weigh much less. Still, in a recession-ridden economy with high fuel prices, cars that look big and bulky are going to sell poorly, even if they do get good mileage. Don't ask me, then, why SUV's didn't take more of a nosedive recently ;-)

    Then for 1981, Chrysler came out with the K-car, which again was close in interior volume to the Fairmont, and eventually exceeded it with some of the stretched-wheelbase models. In the long run, a Fairmont would probably give you more trouble free operation than either the K- or X-, but nobody probably thought of this when they were brand new.

    The Fairmont also became overshadowed when the Granada moved to its platform for 1981. It was a very upscale looking car, and didn't cost a whole lot more. In 1983, it was re-skinned and called LTD, and was pretty slick looking for the time. The Fairmont, meanwhile, was quietly discontinued in favor of the Tempo/Topaz. The LTD was retired after 1986, made obsolete by the Taurus, which revolutionized the American family car. Still, the Fox platform wasn't finished. The T-bird/Cougar coupes rode it through 1988, while the Mark VII was around until around 1992. Even today, the Ford Mustang is still riding a heavily revised version of the Fairmont chassis!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Mustang started life on an old chassis, too (Falcon). It is ironic that one of America's best selling cars ever was basically built on 1936 Buick technology or thereabouts. A mechanic from 1915 would have no trouble fixing a 1965 Mustang, except that he'd probably be dead.

    Understanding the Fairmont does, indeed, require some reflection on The Times back then, when American car companies were really struggling. America didn't know how to build small cars. They had never had to do it before, and it took time. Really, there wasn't a decent small car in America, in my humble opinion, until the Saturn.
  • stumack1stumack1 Member Posts: 56
    the nail on the head Andre...the 302 Fairmont WAS an absolute screamer. A 2-door '78 (sedan - not Futura) with 302 and C-4 auto was the family machine when I first started driving, and I can tell you that thing would run with any stock Camaro or Firebird at the time. I think it was about 2700 lbs. and with the 140 hp 302 works out to about 19.3 lb/ great shucks today but excellent numbers for the time. Compare to a concurrent 3500 lb Z28 with 185hp (18.9 lb/hp) and you can see that they were evenly matched.

    I remember reading in 1981 when NASCAR moved to the smaller body styles that Ford wanted to homologate the Futura rather than the Thunderbird. NASCAR rejected the Futura on the basis that the stock wheelbase was too short and would require too much lengthening (to what I believe was a 110" standard). They legalized the T-Bird although the stock wheelbase was EXACTLY the same as the Fairmont (105.5"?)!! General consensus at the time was that the Futura was just too slick and it was feared it would dominate. For all NASCAR's trouble, all they got was the "shovel-nosed" Regal that dominated for 2 years.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,060
    ...and Cougar XR-7, were actually a bit longer in the wheelbase. Don't make me swear to it, but I want to say they were something like 108.4"? I do remember they were a touch longer than the 108.1" wb of the '80 Malibu, '82 Cutlass Supreme, and '86 Monte I once owned.

    Did Ford ever put a Turbo 2.3 in the Fairmont? I've heard rumors about them, but then heard they were never actually offered.
  • mminerbimminerbi Member Posts: 88
    I think that the main drawback of the domestic cars of the '70s and '80s was shoddy build quality. This was partly due to the introduction of many all-new models, as well as over exuberant cost cutting. The upshot was cars that were generally well designed for their day, but were very problematic in terms of reliability. Let's not forget that Volvos of that period weren't exactly paragons of reliability and modern design (with the notable exception of safety), either.

    If only the Big Three had realized back then how much motorists valued reliability...

    Andre, are you sure that the newly downsized '78 GM intermediates were body-on-frame, and not unibody?
  • stumack1stumack1 Member Posts: 56
    Andre...the '80-'82 was on a 108.4" wheelbase. It was with the '83 that it went to a short 104". Generally considered a sales dud, it surprisingly slightly outsold the Monte Carlo in 1980. The Monte took off again with the nice '81 restyle while the T-Bird tanked and dropped 70,000 units and then another 40,000+ for '82.

    I remember the proposed turbo 4 in the Fairmont...I think you're right Andre, it was announced but never produced. There was either an advertisement or a brochure illustration that showed a Fairmont 2-door with the turbo hood scoop. "Encyclopedia of American Cars" shows the turbo available in the Mustang only. "Standard Catalog of Ford" shows it as a $481 Fairmont option but mentions that it was announced but evidently never made production.

    The '78-'88 GM intermediates were body on frame. Rusted rear frame rails are a common malady with older models (sent my '84 Cutlass Supreme to its reward).
  • a_l_hubcapsa_l_hubcaps Member Posts: 518
    My family owned a 1978 Fairmont station wagon, purchased new. We sold it in the summer of 1987, so I was too young to remember it well, but I know that it was a base model with no A/C, and puke yellow in color. My parents say it was a pretty decent car. We replaced it with a 1987 Plymouth Voyager SE, which was a horrible car. We should have kept the Fairmont :-)

    There are a lot of older student-owned cars often seen around my college, including two Fairmonts. One is a red 2-door and the other is a silver 4-door with severely peeling paint. But both of them are still running, which I guess is good enough for a car of that age.

    -Andrew L
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    We should be glad the 2.3 turbo never made it into a Fairmont. That engine was rough as a cob and made like 15 lbs.ft. of torque until you crossed three grand. But an HO 302 Fairmont I could get behind.
  • thedarkwolfthedarkwolf Member Posts: 70
    while I was in highshool. He paid $250 and we beat the living hell out of it. He blew the u-joints out doing nuetral drops and blew the rear brake lines during an quik stop but considering what we did to it it held up very well.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    Volvos of the '70s and '80s weren't all that reliable?
  • jaserbjaserb Member Posts: 820
    A roommate of mine bought an early 80's 240 sedan in immaculate condition with something like 70k miles about 2 years ago. For the money he paid he could have bought something a few years old and Japanese, but he was convinced it would run forever, so it was worth it. He changed his mind as we replaced the water pump in February out in the parking lot. My opinion is that Volvos tended to attract a class of customer who maintained the car very well, which contributed to its longevity. FWIW - my dad bought a brand new Volvo wagon when I was little. I barely remember it, since it was in the shop more often than not with transmission problems. Volvo finally had to buy it back under the state lemon law.

    What was the topic again? Oh yeah. Fairmonts. We also had a dark green Fairmont wagon - I think it was from a gov't surplus auction. All I remember about it was that you could still see where the seal had been on the door if you looked at it in the right light. I used to tell my friends my dad was a spy. That car never left us stranded, as far as I remember.

  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,060
    ...around 1991 or '92. I forget the exact model...I think it was a 760 or something like that. It was the bigger, more modern style. Nice car, but it became a money pit and they unloaded it in 1998 with about 115K miles on it. It had just gotten to the point that every time it went back to the dealer, it would cost about $1000 each time, and then would break again really soon! They have a Legacy Outback now.

    Neither of the Fox-bodied cars my grandparents had gave them any trouble, but they traded every 3-4 years, so the car was usually somebody else's baby by the time it acted up. They had an '81 Granada coupe and an '85 LTD. Back in high school and college, one of my buddies drove whatever spare car his family had. He usually alternated between an '85 Cavalier and a Fairmont sedan (forget the exact year, but it was a '78-80) with a 4-cyl engine. The Cav was that dark GM metallic gray that was designed to fade after 5 years. The Fairmont was a two-tone gray and silver, with a red interior. Hopelessly faded and peeling by this time, but the sucker still ran. It wasn't too fast, with its 2.3 inline 4, but his Cav, with the 2.0, didn't really feel any faster!
  • wevkwevk Member Posts: 179
    From what I recall, the Fairmont was the first car to
    use modal analysis technology to design the car. This allowed the engineers to design the structure so that it wasn't overbuilt in one area and underbuilt in another. This is why the car was reletively light but strong where it need to be.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    I just spent some time reminiscing about my parents' '81 Granada and '85 Marquis Brougham that they had when I was little. Don't remember much about the two, only that the interiors were the same, rode the same, and had similar trunk space. The Granada had a 200 six and the Marquis had the infamous 232 (3.8) V-6 that ate head gaskets for lunch. Oh, and the doors would close with this really annoying tinny sound. You would not confuse these cars with a Mercedes.
  • dweezildweezil Member Posts: 271
    had a TON of recalls in the first year or so.Once the bugs were dealt with they seem to keep going ang going.One of Ford's biggest first year hits with something like 440,000 [someone please check it's been some time since I've seen figures] sold. Almost as good as the first Falcon, Maverick and Mustang II and Granada.
    The Volvo reference was in relation to some of the techniques used in making a lighter stronger, roomier car and the similarity in size weight and styling.Techniques such as swiss cheese type inner metal: same strength,lighter weight.
    Many people such as my Father wound up buying Japanese I think when they were treated like dirt just asking to look at a Fairmont or Chevette.The dealers were just not interested in selling small cars. "They're over there" one of the salesmen said when my Dad inquired about the Chevette.No "Let me show you" or any sort of respect shown, just barely hidden contempt. He bought a Subaru after that. I even suggested at the time a Fairmont with the Pinto 4 cyl, because pricewise it was quite competitive with the imports and got good mileage.
    I wouldn't mind one of the Fox platform station wagons in any form for household hauling chores and occasional commutes to work. My friend just got rid of a Marquis wagon with the notorious 2.8 V6. Comfortable ride, but had that ignition problem so many Ford products have been recalled for.
  • ab348ab348 Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, CanadaMember Posts: 17,312
    Another memory lane thread!

    My dad was in the market for a new car in the fall of '77. I did all the research for him in the car magazines and at introduction time I was sold on him getting a Fairmont/Zephyr on the basis of the write-ups without ever having sat in one.

    When they arrived in showrooms we went to look and were underwhelmed. They just seemed exceptionally cheap. The 4-cyl base engine was a bad joke, and the 200 CID six seemed almost as underpowered. The 302 solved that problem but was ridiculously overpriced. The interior was taxi-like, and the car generally felt tinny. I remember sitting at a stoplight in the test-drive car while it rained and hearing the "plink plink" of raindrops on the roof. It sounded like they were amplified!

    Dad went to the local Pontiac dealer and drove a new '78 Grand Lemans right off the transporter. The dealer didn't even have pricing at that point. What a difference! It was silent, rode like a big car, and was superior in just about every way. He bought it. It turned out to be an awful car quality-wise with all sorts of troubles, but it made a far better first impression.

    As for Volvos being trouble... true. He had a '68 144 that was bulletproof and that he loved, but put a lot of miles on. He replaced it with a new '73 144 which was likely the worst car he ever had. Just about everything went wrong with it. A true money pit.

    2017 Cadillac ATS Performance Premium 3.6

  • mmcnamarammcnamara Member Posts: 27
    Just a quick post- I know several sources say that the Fairmont wasn't produced with a turbo 2.3, but here in the central Ohio area I remember seeing two of them in the early '80's. I can't honestly recall if they had a stick or auto backing them up, but they were the genuine article, not just a hoodscoop slapped on the hood. I think they had full instrumentation, too, similar if not identical to a Mustang, along with a rear sway bar. I owned a '79 Futura coupe with a 302/C4 combo, so I was always keeping my eyes open for them.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    My mom had an '81 Granada with a 200 six and C4 (I believe that was a 3-speed auto). Nothing but a more expensive Fairmont.
  • mmcnamarammcnamara Member Posts: 27
    I remember a really unique Mercury Monarch, a '77 or '78, that was very cool. It was a two-door, black with a biscuit interior and half vinyl roof, those "Magnum 500" mag wheels, and a 351 Windsor under the hood. I'm thinking it had one of those 3-speed plus overdrive manual trannys behind it, but I could be mistaking for it for one of the several 302-powered Granadas with that tranny that I recall. An interesting vehicle, to be sure.
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