Leisure Suits, Disco, And The Ford Granada

Lee Iacocca and the 1975 Ford Granada

Lee Iacocca and the 1975 Ford Granada

I’ve been amazed by the steady show of interest on my prior post on crummy Ford cars of the 1970s. Interestingly, all of the attention has been to one particular car — the Ford Granada. We get data on what searches have been used to find our blog, and every week there are multiple searches specifically for the Ford Granada.

Why is this so? What is it about the Granada that continues to attract people like moths to a flame, more than 30 years after the first Granada was sold, lumbered clumsily down American roads, and immediately began to rust? It there something in the boxy shape that is intrinsically appealing to the American psyche? Are some American drivers just constitutionally opposed to aerodynamic qualities in their cars? Or, did drivers like the wide-eyed headlight design with the oversized grille that evidently served as the model for the Family Truckster that Clark Griswold was talked into buying in National Lampoon’s Vacation? Maybe it is the “Ghia” design package which — as on the shiny blue and chrome model that Lee Iacocca is posing with — consisted mainly of the cheap, pebble grain plastic cover on the roof of the car that immediately faded in the sunlight and cracked?

The interior of a Ford Granada

The interior of a Ford Granada

What about the interior of the Granada? Did its design elements satisfy the same high standards that Ford met with the body and exterior? My recollection is that the inside of the Granada could be summarized in one word: velour. The attached photo suggests, but cannot fully capture, the stunning amount of velour used on the seats and along the doors. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of driving a car with a velour interior on a hot summer day, you need only know that the velour interior of a Ford Granada captured and radiated heat with extraordinary efficiency and also managed to become both sticky and smelly when the outside temperature exceeded 70 degrees. The seventh circle of hell may involve driving a Ford Granada while wearing shorts on a muggy August day. The interior also featured lots of rubbery plastic, usually in “earth tones,” oversized dials outlined in plastic on the dashboard and, in my case, an 8-track tape player. Let the party begin!

Finally, there was the actual driving and handling of this awesome machine. My Granada was horribly underpowered, so there was no thought of impressing your date with a little rat racing when the stoplight changed. The Granada did not exactly hug the corners as you turned. Instead, it was likely a stately steamship trying to modify its course, leaving driver and passenger alike with a sick, “here we go” sense of drift until the massive front end cleared the corner and pulled the rest of the car after it. And, the Granada’s fundamental lack of aerodynamic design ensured that the billboard-sized grille would be plastered with the pulverized remains of every kind of bug native to the Midwest, and occasionally small birds as well.

So, why are people still interested in this dismal example of the American auto industry’s hubris during the 1970s? Perhaps for that very reason, or perhaps because the ’70s are in right now, and no car epitomizes the decade more aptly. It was a time of bright plaid leisure suits, bad haircuts and long sideburns, white loafers with gold buckles, disco music — and the Ford Granada.

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The Step-Down Phenomenon: Foresaking Vanity

Some months ago I heard a report on NPR that described what I have come to call the “step-down phenomenon.” The phenomenon addresses what people do when times get tough, family budgets become leaner, and belts are tightened. In effect, people “step down” from more expensive items to less expensive items, rather than cutting out an item entirely. Since I’ve heard that report, I’ve noticed a number of examples of the phenomenon, which I’ll write about in the next few days.

A recent report on the sale of vanity license plates in Ohio is a good example. In Ohio, any special license plate costs an additional $35. In 2008, when the recession was just beginning to be felt, the number of “vanity” plates fell by 277, and my guess is that the numbers will fall even farther in 2009. Nobody “needs” a vanity plate, and it is easy to “step down” to a regular license plate and save that $35. Families make these kinds of judgments all the time, when they decide what is really important and might cut out some activities, or scrimp on others, in order to save up to pay for a child’s education or take a special trip. If only Congress had that same kind of decision-making ability!

The extra $35 is a painless way for Ohio to raise additional funds; last year vanity plate fees produced an extra $20 million in revenue.  Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing fewer of them on the road. Vanity is not an attractive quality, and vanity plates often seem to live up to their name by being annoyingly egotistical and narcissistic. Is it really necessary for the Prius driver to have a plate that says “GR8 MPG,” or the BMW driver to have one that reads “MY BEEMER”? And I’m sorry, but I doubt the plates that read “1 BUX FAN” or “TOP DOG” are accurate. This is an instance where the recession may be having some positive consequences by eliminating some of the irritations found on the morning drive.