Ford Landau: Aussie original

By: John Wright, Photography by: Marque Publishing

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 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau
 Ford Landau Ford Landau  Ford Landau

Launched as the coupe market dried up, was the compromised Landau the answer to a question nobody was asking?

Ford Landau: Aussie original
Aussie original: Ford Landau

 

Ford Landau


MISSING THE MARK

When a young Ford executive told me in 1979 that the Ford Landau had been designed around its elaborate wheel covers I was convinced. By 1979 this strange bedfellow of the P5 LTD was about as out of fashion as it would ever get. When the P6 (‘Rolls-Royce grille’) LTD was developed the Landau failed to proceed beyond a single design study: Just imagine how such a car would have looked!

Behind the spaceship hubcaps lurked the first set of four-wheel disc brakes fitted to an Australian-manufactured car. The LTD/Landau twins preceded the XB Falcon GT to market. Ford Australia managing director, Brian Inglis, conceded that no local Ford would have come thus equipped had it not been for the demands of racing.

Few locally manufactured cars have enjoyed as short a production run as the Ford Landau. Just 1385 were made between 1973 and 1976. What must have seemed (to at least some Ford Oz executives) a good idea at the time turned out not to be.

The Landau was a Ford LTD on Falcon Hardtop underpinnings. It shared mechanicals, equipment and the retractable quad-headlight frontal treatment with the limousine but lacked its interior space. It was cramped and claustrophobic in the rear and even the front occupants sat too low. Unkindly, one could say it had all the drawbacks of the Falcon GT Hardtop without the merits.

Like its GM-H counterparts, Ford Australia product planners looked more to the US than Europe for inspiration, at least until the second half of the 1970s. The Landau was the most US-inspired car ever manufactured in this country. It blended Lincoln and Thunderbird themes, as epitomised by the big but lazy V8 and the over-elaborate wheel trims.

While the LTD, with its sprawling cabin arrangement and lavish equipment, pioneered new territory for Australia and the Falcon GT brought Mount Panorama to Moonee Ponds, the Landau parked itself in no-man’s land.

Perhaps the closest US parallel is actually the Lincoln Continental Mark IV, a car designed to seat two in great comfort with room for hangers-on in the rear.

Bill Bourke, the marketing genius and MD of Ford Australia who came up with the idea of a four-door GT when all US GTs were coupés, was – perhaps paradoxically – the man who decided that a luxury variant of the Falcon GT Hardtop would fill a niche. It turned out to be a tiny niche!

What was not tiny was the weight penalty. The Landau weighed almost 200 kilograms more than its GT Hardtop sibling but had the same power and gearing. The need to keep the Landau quiet and relaxed made the choice of a tall final drive ratio inevitable and by 1973 standards nearly 52km/h per 1000rpm was extremely t-a-l-l.

As a consequence, the performance was somewhat muted. With the same 2.75:1 final drive and three-speed automatic transmission but with a kerb weight of 1719kg, the Landau needed half a second more than the GT Hardtop automatic for the standing 400 metres at 16.9sec. This was the difference between fast and brisk, and consequently the Landau lost much of its potential status by lacking the performance of the less expensive GT.

Of course, its softer suspension settings also detracted from the driver appeal. The XB GT automatics were equipped with slightly softer suspension than the manuals and this might have proved a smarter choice for the Landau. Instead, it wallowed like the LTD and was slightly less stable due to its shorter wheelbase.

Another anomaly was the US-style foot-operated parking brake. Even the GT had an under-dash handbrake which hardly screamed ‘sporty’ but it was still preferable to the LTD/Landau arrangement.

The Landau failed to capitalise on the GT Hardtop element of its character.

So who was going to buy it? Economies of scale combined with a lack of precedent for large, soft two-door luxury coupes in this market meant that the Landau appealed to the few who wouldn’t have preferred either a Falcon GT Hardtop or an LTD.

Pricing is instructive. The XB Falcon GT sedan cost $5200, the GT Hardtop was $5316 and the Landau was $6950. Automatic transmission added $280 to the GT. The LTD commanded $7770.

Lovely Howe leather distinguished the interior from all other locally manufactured cars of 1973. But the LTD/Landau did not escape kitsch with its excessive, unconvincing fake wood. The dashboard housed a full set of instruments apart from the glaring exception of a tachometer (following Rolls-Royce practice perhaps?). Sliding chrome levers set into the thickly vinyl-upholstered centre console controlled the standard air-conditioning. Power windows and power steering cost extra on lesser Fords; they were standard in Landau.

There was an electrically heated rear window, deep pile carpets (even in the boot) and fully reclining front seats. Wide (by 1973 standards) ER70 15 radials were standard. The wheel covers remind us that by 1973 there was little expectation of alloy wheels and the road test in the January 1974 edition of Wheels implies that $34 was a big expense if you lost one of these ‘wild’ items.

Collectors will now pay plenty for a Landau, but a Falcon GT Hardtop will always be worth more. Perhaps it would have been wiser to have added LTD luxuries to a premium version of the XB GT Hardtop?


 

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