Ah, Ford: The Blue Oval, Henry’s Baby, the perpetual second-largest automaker in America. Fords are everywhere. You may have even owned at least one, too — if you’re not a Chevy or Dodge guy, that is. Well into its second century now, the marque has given us so many icons that it’s hard to name them all. Even if you’re not a gearhead, chances are you’d be able to identify a few, like the Mustang, Model T, F-150, or Galaxie 500. Even cars from the not-too-distant past would probably be recognizable: Escort, Taurus, Ranger. The lists go on.
1978 Ford LTD II | Ford
Then there are the duds. The cars so bad that they’ve managed to build a legacy on their own: The Edsel, The Pinto, The Aspire. Just the mention of these names is liable to send a chill up the spines of former owners. But what about all the cars in between? The dozens of models that came from Dearborn that burst onto the scene, hung around for a few years, then quietly disappeared? Some were bad cars, sure, but others were simply unremarkable, or even a little ahead of their time.
Read on and see if you remember any of these Fords that have all but disappeared from memory.
1. Ford Maverick
Introduced for 1970, the Maverick was a cheap, good-looking compact designed to replace the long-serving Ford Falcon and take on the Dodge Dart and Chevy Nova. While the Falcon has a strong following as a bona-fide classic, the Maverick is all but forgotten. Why? In its first year alone, Ford sold nearly 600,000 units, and it stayed in production for eight model years. But the Maverick was plagued by wheezy engines (its common Thriftmaster straight-six dated to 1961), cumbersome emissions equipment, heavy federally-mandated bumpers, and sub-par build quality. Well over a million were built. Today, we’d be shocked if 2% survive.
2. Ford Courier
From 1972 to 1982, Ford sold a rebadged version of the Mazda B-Series truck to compete in the growing compact pickup segment. Handsome and surprisingly rugged (it had a 1,400 pound payload), the Courier was an affordable and popular little truck. In 1976, it was significantly revised, with a larger 2.3 liter engine and front disc brakes available. This brought its price dangerously close to full-size F-Series, and sales began to decline. For 1983, it was replaced with the Ford Ranger, which was hugely popular and would remain in production for 28 years.
3. Ford LTD II
In the ’70s and ’80s Ford’s product names could be hilariously direct. New back-to-basics Mustang? Mustang II. Love the full-size Bronco, but want a smaller, entry-level model? Bronco II. And in 1977, it replaced the Torino with the LTD II. It was a tough time for Ford; mired in the Ford Pinto scandal, and with GM already responding to the fuel crisis by downsizing most of its lineup, the LTD II still ranks as one of the largest vehicles to ever classify as midsize. What’s worse, it was launched at a time when Americans were ditching big cars en masse. The unloved model was dropped after 1979, and replaced with the fifth car on our list.
4. Ford Fiesta
Today, most of Ford’s lineup is available around the world, but in the late ’70s, the idea of a “world car” was fairly radical. With the rise of imported compacts, Ford decided to follow suit and import one of its own from across the pond. The Fiesta was (and still is) a massive success for Ford in Europe, and when it arrived in the U.S. for 1978, it was a true breath of fresh air. Positioned to take on the Volkswagen Rabbit and Honda Civic, the Fiesta was actually one of the most fun-to-drive cars of the era, and its 1.6 liter inline four proved to be robust and easy to modify. The Fiesta left the U.S. in 1982 when Ford introduced the Americanized Escort, and not many survive today. There is a small but dedicated group of American Fiesta fans still out there, many of which have set their cars up for rallycrossing.
5. Ford Fairmont
Most Ford fans hear “Fox body” and likely think of one model: the 1979-’93 Mustang. But the compact, rear-wheel drive platform underpinned no fewer than 16 different models, and after undergoing significant revisions in 1993, soldiered on until 2004, making it the second longest-serving vehicle architecture in Ford’s history. In 1978, the platform debuted with the Ford Fairmont, a compact and boxy model that was available as a sedan, two different coupe styles, and a station wagon. By 1983, it had disappeared, but thanks to its mechanical similarities to the Mustang, a few survive with a big V8 transplanted under the hood.
6. Ford LTD
In the ’60s and ’70s, the LTD was Ford’s full-size luxury sedan. In 1983, the big, boxy model became the LTD Crown Victoria, and the LTD was introduced as a new mid-sizer based on the Fox platform. In its first year, the model became America’s third best-selling model. But by 1984, GM and Chrysler’s front-wheel drive, more aerodynamic competitors, made the car feel out of step with the changing times. In 1986, it was replaced by the Taurus, which transformed the midsize segment almost overnight, and became America’s best-selling car for most of the following decade. The Crown Victoria would survive another 25 years. The smaller LTD was quickly forgotten.
7. Ford EXP
In 1982, Ford released its first two-seater since the iconic 1955-’57 Thunderbird. But instead of creating another icon, the EXP was an oddly-styled sporty version of the front-wheel drive Ford Escort. Its “unique” looks didn’t win many buyers over, and once the sportier Pontiac Fiero, Toyota MR2, and Honda CRX debuted a few years later, the EXP was outed as the commuter car in a flashy suit that it was. Half way through the 1985 model year, it received an emergency refresh, with revised mechanicals and a front end shared with the Escort. It helped boost sales, but not enough. In 1988, the EXP was discontinued after just over 200,000 units were sold.
8. Ford Tempo
Launched in 1984, the Tempo was a major step forward for Ford. An aerodynamic, front-wheel drive compact coupe and sedan, over two million models were sold over its 10 year production run — including over 400,000 in its first year alone, and it ranked as one of the top 10 best-selling cars in America every year. But the car was underpowered, handled poorly, and ultimately, was the definition of boring. Most Tempos were used up and thrown away about 10 years ago — they’re a rarity on the roads today.
9. Ford Probe
The Rodney Dangerfield of Ford’s sports cars, the Probe gets no respect. Aside from its unfortunate name, the Probe was based on the front-wheel drive Mazda MX-6 (itself a great little sports coupe), and Ford was eager to add the car to its lineup — as a replacement for the Mustang. Autoweek caught wind and published an exposé on Fords plans in early 1987, and Ford was swamped with angry phone calls and letters. The Mustang was ultimately saved, and this new car debuted as the Probe in 1989.
But despite a small following in tuner communities, the Probe never quite caught on; in fact, it never outsold the aging Mustang it was supposed to replace. Despite a sporty redesign in 1993, it disappeared for good in 1997.
10. Ford Contour
Today’s Focus, Fiesta, Fusion, and even Mustang are sold in markets around the world. But back in the ’90s a “World Car” was still a rarity for a mass-market automaker. Following in the footsteps of the ’70s-era Fiesta, Ford tried it again with the strong-selling Mondeo, which it sold here as the Contour. Like many other cars on this list, it was fairly well-received at first, but its small size and high price doomed it, and it was gone after the year 2000. In 2013, Ford brought the Mondeo back to the U.S., this time as the second-generation Fusion. Needless to say, the automaker got it right this time.