Dollar-Store Decadence: The Luxurious Ford LTD

The epoch-making success of the Ford Mustang and Thunderbird tends to leave other Ford cars of its era looking like poor relations, but in the 1960s Ford really led the pack when it came to new product development. One of the least-acknowledged — but most lucrative — new concepts was the Ford LTD: Ford’s cut-price luxury car.

1966 Ford LTD hardtop emblem


Unlike the Mustang, whose design process is well documented, it’s hard to find a lot of specific information about the development of the full-size Fords of the mid-1960s. Even the men who designed these cars had little to say about them. The cars were ordinary, everyday products and they never inspired the same fascination as their more glamorous or innovative brethren.

Despite that lack of data, we will go out on a limb and speculate that the Ford LTD was the inspiration of Lee Iacocca, who became general manager of the Ford division in 1960. Unlike his boss, the efficiency-minded Robert S. McNamara, Iacocca was a believer in what pundits of the day called “selling the sizzle.” He understood very well that even shoppers on a budget could be lured by the promise of a little opulence.


The Ford LTD was introduced in 1965 as a luxury-oriented sub-series of the full-size Galaxie line. (Until 1967, it was technically a Ford Galaxie 500 LTD.) It was offered in two body styles, a two-door hardtop coupe or a four-door hardtop sedan with a severe-looking, squared-off formal roof. For a hefty $548 premium over an ordinary Galaxie 500, a surcharge of more than 20%, the LTD transformed the mundane Galaxie into a kind of cut-price Cadillac.

1966 Ford LTD front 3q view
This is a 1966 Ford LTD hardtop coupe. All 1966 full-size Fords were slightly less angular looking than the 1965s, although the body shell was the same. Stacked quad headlights, angled slightly forward, were reminiscent of contemporary Pontiacs.

To make sense of the LTD, we must first consider the way American cars were marketed in this period. By 1965 each automaker offered its bread-and-butter products in several basic sizes: compact, intermediate, and “standard.” Each of those was divided into several distinct series and those were divided in turn into a number of different models, most of which were available in two or more body styles. Chevrolet’s full-size car, for example, was offered as the Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala, and Impala SS, most of which could be had as a two- or four-door sedan or a two- or four-door hardtop. The mechanical differences between the series were usually minimal; the main distinction was in ambiance.

Besides the LTD, Ford’s full-size lineup in 1965 consisted of the Custom, Custom 500, Galaxie 500, and Galaxie 500/XL, plus the Country Sedan and Country Squire wagons. The Custom, the cheapest big Ford, was pure taxicab in its upholstery, carpeting, and trim; dour and functional. The Galaxie 500/XL was a glittering, chrome-encrusted, color-coordinated, all-vinyl palace, like some kind of halfway house for Vegas high rollers.

The Ford LTD went for a different flavor of posh, more British men’s club than flashy casino. Upholstery was a silky-soft nylon tricot (which Ford’s own designers nicknamed “panty cloth”) with highly ornate door trims. You got deluxe carpeting, a folding armrest for rear-seat passengers, a set of interior courtesy lights, a clock, and extra sound insulation. Four-door models had Ford’s new flow-through ventilation system, which had debuted the previous year on the Thunderbird and before that on the English Ford Cortina, for better ventilation with the windows raised. You also received a set of prominent exterior badges to inform the neighbors that yours was not merely a Galaxie, but an L T D. (LTD, Ford carefully noted, did not mean anything, although “Luxury Trim Decor” has been suggested. It most emphatically did not mean Limited, which was a Buick trademark and thus a potential source of lawsuits.)

Of course, insuring that your LTD was properly outfitted in a manner becoming its luxury image would cost you a fair bit more than the $3,300-ish base price. While most big Fords came standard with a six, the LTD (and the 500/XL) came standard with a V8 engine and the three-speed Cruise-O-Matic transmission, a combination that cost around $300 extra on lesser models. If you wanted to add a bigger engine, air conditioning, power windows, radio, and a few other toys, you could expect to add an extra $1,000 or more onto the sticker. A fully loaded Ford LTD carried a price tag more befitting a Buick.

1966 Ford LTD rear 3q view
Two-door hardtops had a more slanted roofline than the four-door, which had a more formal-looking, upright backlight. This body style was also available as the sportier 7-Litre, which came standard with the big 428 cu. in. (7,008 cc) V8, but buyers preferred the LTD by a significant margin. With big engines now available in mid-size cars, performance-minded shoppers were no longer interested in sporty big cars.


Given how little of substance really distinguished the Ford LTD from a regular full-size Galaxie, you would be forgiven for assuming that buyers would be hesitant to lay out Buick-sized money for a tarted-up Galaxie. But Iacocca understood his market; unlike McNamara, he had been in sales and had a good grasp of what customers valued.

Iacocca knew that while there was nothing on the Ford LTD’s spec sheet to excite an enthusiast, the car had showroom appeal. True, from a strict dollar-value standpoint, the LTD was a questionable proposition, but Iacocca knew that the average Ford buyer thought in terms of monthly payments, not cash cost. The LTD’s obvious plushness made an easy case for the salesman trying to talk a hesitant Galaxie buyer into stepping up to the more expensive model.

Dubious dollar value notwithstanding, the Ford LTD’s luxury-car impression was not wholly unconvincing, thanks to the revamp all big Fords received for 1965. Iacocca proudly proclaimed that Ford had spent $425 million on the full-size line, a lot of money in those days (by comparison, the ill-fated Edsel project had cost only $250 million). Except for the powertrain, the big Fords were all new.

Like some GM divisions, Ford abandoned its self-supporting chassis in 1965 in favor of a more rigid body shell on a perimeter frame with torque boxes that deliberately encouraged chassis flex in specific areas as a way of absorbing shock and harshness. Ford had previously used Hotchkiss Drive for its big cars — a live axle carried on parallel leaf springs — but the 1965 Fords adopted coil springs in back with three trailing links and a Panhard rod to locate the axle, much like contemporary Buicks. In the front suspension, rather than the traditional wide lower wishbone, Ford used a lateral control arm, located by a trailing link with a flexible rubber bushing. This link, which Ford called a “drag strut,” allowed the front suspension arms to move backward rather than just vertically in response to bumps. (Ford had introduced this feature on the 1961 Lincoln Continental and it was also adopted by GM big cars in the mid-sixties.)

The net effect of all this was a ride so isolated from road harshness that you could amble over lane markers without feeling them. Of course, the consequence was sloppy handling, not to mention a kind of nautical lope over undulating pavement that soon had passengers reaching for the Dramamine; Ford thoughtfully sprayed the “panty cloth” upholstery with stain repellent to protect against mishap. At least seasick passengers could lose their lunches in silence. With its extra dose of sound insulation, Ford boldly claimed that the LTD was quieter than a Rolls-Royce.

1966 Ford LTD 390 badge
The 390 cu. in. (6,391 cc) FE-series V8 was optional on the Ford LTD. It was rated at either 265 or 315 gross horsepower (198 or 235 kW) depending on whether it had a two-barrel or four-barrel carburetor. Either rating was generous — the 390 was never as strong as similarly sized engines from Ford’s competitors.

The Ford LTD’s powertrain options were basically the same as those of any other big Ford. With the standard 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) V8, the LTD needed around 13 seconds to amble to 60 mph, topping out at a little over 100 mph. If you had a really pronounced disdain for your passengers’ digestion and were on a first-name basis with your Ford dealer, you could theoretically specify the big 427 cu. in. (6,986 cc) “side-oiler” and a four-speed manual transmission in your new LTD, although doing so precluded you from ordering power steering, power brakes, or air conditioning.

Many buyers opted for the more mundane big-block engines, the 250 horsepower (186 kW) 352 cu. in. (5,766 cc) or 300 hp (224 kW) 390 cu. in. (6,391 cc) FE-series V8s, which were both quiet, torquey, and unexciting powerplants. With the 390 and Cruise-O-Matic, reaching 60 mph (97 kph) took about 9.5 seconds with top speed in the neighborhood of 110 mph (175 kph). Fuel economy with that combination ranged from 12-15 mpg (15.7 to 16.9 L/100 km), although with leaded premium still hovering at around 30 cents a gallon, few buyers cared. Sadly, none of Ford’s $425 million had been spent on brakes, so slowing down was not an LTD strong point.

Despite the lousy brakes and premium price, the Ford LTD was exceedingly popular, moving more than 105,000 units in its first year. Since most of the model’s price premium was pure gravy, it fattened Ford’s profit margins in a most agreeable way. Naturally, GM and Chrysler quickly trotted out their own pseudo-luxury models, the Chevrolet Caprice and Plymouth VIP, and even American Motors got into the act the following year with its Ambassador DPL.


Like a lot of popular successes, the critics weren’t sure what to make of the Ford LTD and Caprice and had a hard time justifying the cars’ elevated price tags. The buying public clearly had no such reservations and bought both cars in large numbers. In some markets, stretched LTD limousines also became popular as executive transportation.

The confounding thing about the Ford LTD is that Ford Motor Company had Mercury, an entire separate marque theoretically intended for people who wanted something a little bit more expensive and luxurious than a standard Ford. Indeed, in price and concept, the LTD was a direct encroachment on Mercury territory, just as the Chevrolet Caprice encroached heavily on the turf of Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

Since internecine warfare is seldom good for business, one might wonder why the corporations would allow that kind of overlap. The answer was simply that the divisions were not managed by the same people. Lee Iacocca was responsible for the Ford division, not Lincoln-Mercury — if boosting his margins meant cutting Mercury’s throat, well, c’est la guerre. The same kind of thinking ran rampant in GM’s divisions, to their eventual cost.

The Ford LTD naturally returned for 1966 with some very mild styling tweaks and a new powertrain option: the Thunderbird’s 345-horsepower (257 kW) 428 cu. in. (7,008 cc) engine. Buyers who insisted on stopping quickly could now buy front disc brakes for an extra $97.21, a bargain. Sales remained strong.

1966 Ford LTD rear view
Squared-off tail lamps replaced Ford’s customary round “dog-dish” lights in 1965. A Ford LTD’s trunk space is generous, but interior room is unimpressive when you consider this car’s dimensions (a wheelbase of 119 inches (3,023 mm), 210 inches (5,334 mm) long overall, 79 inches (2,007 mm) wide) and two-ton (1,800 kg) heft.


In 1967, the Ford LTD became a series of its own, no longer a subset of the Galaxie line. The popularity of that series kept growing well into the seventies, as did the car itself. It peaked at 223.9 inches (5,687 mm) in the mid-seventies, tipping the scales at two and a half tons (2,270 kg) and offering engines up to 460 cubic inches (7,536 cc). Smog controls meant that even the big engine made only a meager 197 net horsepower (147 kW), so no LTD was fast, but that was never the point.

In 1977 Ford also applied the much-loved nameplate to its midsize models, creating the short-lived intermediate LTD II. The full-size LTD soldiered on for a few more years as Ford advertising tried vainly to make a selling point of its undiminished girth. A downsized version, riding the now-familiar Panther platform, arrived for 1979. The trusty LTD nameplate survived until 1991, becoming the LTD Crown Victoria after 1986. By then its original luxury connotations had become rather diluted, but it still had its fans.

If the Ford LTD doesn’t exactly make sense to modern eyes — five hundred bucks for better upholstery and armrests? — we certainly can’t say that Iacocca was wrong about the tastes of the market. Even the most mundane econobox can be ordered with features that were once reserved for high-end luxury cars. Today, you can order leather upholstery on a Toyota Corolla, so perhaps we shouldn’t point too many fingers at the LTD and its “panty cloth”…

# # #


Our sources for this article included the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, rev. 4th ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Tim Howley, “Hot and Heavy: 1964 Ford Galaxie 500XL,” Special Interest Autos #49 (February 1979), pp. 12-17, 64-65, reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Postwar Fords: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000); “Car Life Road Test: 1965 Ford Galaxy LTD,” Car Life December 1964; “Ford Galaxie 7-Litre: A 6-quart Package of Performance With a 10-gallon Measure of Stopping Power,” Car Life January 1966; “7-Litre vs. Caprice 427,” Car and Driver January 1966; Steve Kelly, “Ford Road Test: Henry’s T is Now LTD: Unlimited Luxury with Quiet to Match,” Motor Trend April 1966; “Powercars: Ford Named It ‘LTD,'” Car Life June 1969; and Patrick Bedard, “Ford LTD: All is Well with the American Dream,” Car and Driver February 1976, all of which are reprinted in Ford Galaxie & LTD Gold Portfolio 1960-1976, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2003); and “Ford LTD: Here is the most silent, most luxurious — and possibly the best — Ford ever built,” Car and Driver Vol. 10, No. 8 (February 1965), pp. 30-32, 82-83.


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  1. The first car I ‘owned’ myself was a 1966 4-door LTD with the 352 and a 4-bbl carb. I bought it used in about 1972 from the dad of my sister’s friend. He apparently never did any service on it, either! I eventually had to repeatedly flush the coolant system so it wouldn’t overheat after about 20 miles, and then I had to clean out all the oil returns from under the rocker arm covers to get it to stop using a quart of oil every week or two. It didn’t have A/C so it did go like stink when you needed to. The best mileage I ever got was about 8mpg. This was at the start of the gas crisis. (That 1st one, ha!)
    Unfortunately, being a college freshman I was unprepared for the day when the trailing links that held the rear axle to the box frame rusted through, and as I hit the brakes for a red light, the now-free axle dragged the emergency brake cable and spun me through the intersection. I couldn’t afford the repairs to the frame, nor the leaking gas tank, so I ended up getting $20 for the wheel covers, and $20 for the car!
    There are other stories about my mom’s 1963 Falcon that lost its brake lines, or the scary number of Pinto models we owned. 5 were in the driveway at my parents once, and I owned 3 myself, and my licence plate is still a little bent from being rear ended on the highway in a Pinto.
    True stories and thanks for the page and pictures!

    1. Wow, you actually got rid of the car when the torque box failed! My dad had a ’65 Custom, the taxicab version of the LTD. When the torquebox on the passenger side rusted through thanks to road salt and non-existent factory corrosion protection, my dad just hooked a log chain around the axle extended to the frame to hold everything together for another year and a half. I learned to drive with that car. As a beginning driver, my reward for inept clutching was a rapid “THUMPTHUMPthumpthumpthumpthump!” of the logchain (with a shop towel wrapped around it to dampen the noise) slapping the bottom of the floorpan as the car lurched forward. To this day I can ease a clutch in and out and grease through gears so smoothly you’d think it was an automatic transmission.

      1. Nothing like a strong motivator!

  2. Another great article about a car my family owned. My father bought a 72 LTD coupe as he gave me the 69 Buick Skylark. The 72 LTD was simply one of the best big Fords ever. It got better mileage from its 400 than the Buick did from its 350. The back seat was a little less comfy and high-backed than the Buick, but not bad. It had the usual big Ford handling, ponderous at slow speed, but fine highway manners. It had the much vaunted “Front Room” recessed dashboard on the passenger side, which only served to allow a belted passenger to hit windshield before he hit the vestigial dash. It was a big, solid, dependable car and it made both its 69 Buick predecessor and its 78 Monte Carlo successor look like the half-baked junk they were. My father sold it to a young man from Texas who had just sold some cows. The feller took out his wallet and peeled ten $100 bills out.

  3. What a hoot! Yes, I even owned a 1984 LTD for 11 years. Bought new, and it didn’t have many miles on it when I traded it in, but with few miles and a couple of layoffs, seals were drying out and the engine sender unit would always light up.
    Now my Dad’s 73 Ford (Galaxie? LTD? I forget) was ENORMOUS, and I swear it idled at about 40 mph…

  4. In the 7th paragraph just above the photo of the white ’66 LTD coupe, you mention that automatic transmission was an extra-cost option. The 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic was actually standard equipment on 1965-67 LTDs along with the 289 V8 (as was the case with the Galaxie 500 XL), both of which were extra-cost items on regular Galaxie 500s and low-line Customs – which came standard with the 240 6 and 3-speed manual transmission.

    However both of the LTD’s rivals, Chevy Caprice and Plymouth Fury VIP came standard with the same 3-on-the-tree stick shifts as lesser Impalas and Furys with automatics as extra cost, but did offer V8s as standard equipment. In 1968, Ford shifted the automatic from standard equipment to extra cost on both LTD and XL (along with a change in base engine from V8 to six-cylinder in XL) and made Cruise O Matic optional with the now-base 302 V8 and a mandatory option with the 390 and 428 V8s, though a 4-speed manual was available with the big engines through 1969.

    In mid-1971, Cruise-O-Matic again became standard on LTDs along with power steering and power front disc brakes, followed by Galaxie 500s and Customs in 1972.

    1. My original sources were very ambiguous on whether the Cruise-O-Matic was [i]standard[/i] on the LTD or merely compulsory, which isn’t quite the same thing. However, I looked up a ’66 Ford brochure and confirmed that you are quite right; I’ve amended the text. Thanks!

  5. My dad ended up with a ’66 Galaxie that had a 286, and that was more fun to drive around town, for me. H couldn’t get a company car anymore, and that was what he got. I don’t remember when/how he went to the 1974 (correcting the model year of 2009-05-29 post). He did repaint the ’66 white, in the back lot of a dealer he knew. I like that car better than mine. The 286 was just perky.

    Rob M

  6. [quote=Rob M]My dad ended up with a ’66 Galaxie that had a 286, and that was more fun to drive around town, for me. H couldn’t get a company car anymore, and that was what he got. I don’t remember when/how he went to the 1974 (correcting the model year of 2009-05-29 post). He did repaint the ’66 white, in the back lot of a dealer he knew. I like that car better than mine. The 286 was just perky.

    Rob M[/quote]

    Make that the 289 motor. Had a ‘286 PC once, though.

    Rob M

  7. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your articles on the Ford LTD and Plymouth VIP, and hope to someday see a similar article on the Chevrolet Caprice.

    Brock Yates, in [i]The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry[/i], maintains that the Caprice was not so much an competitive counter-measure against the LTD; rather, it was created after a corporate edict mandated that executives of the five automobile divisions would only drive company vehicles produced by their own division. Prior to that time, most senior executives -across all divisions – chose Cadillacs as their company vehicle. Buick and Olds kingpins could drive Electras and Ninety-Eights without much shame, but Pete Estes and his lieutenants wanted a nicer sedan than the Impala.

    I’ve never seen that story repeated elsewhere, but admittedly it [i]sounds[/i] logical.

    By the way, it is interesting as to how the Plymouth VIP failed where the LTD and Caprice succeeded. I believe that you and several readers are correct in noting that Ford and Chevy dealers of the time more commonly sold only one make – unlike Plymouths, which were usually sold alongside Chrysler. A rural Ford buyer would choose an LTD (a dressed up Galaxie) over a long trip into town to the Mercury or Lincoln dealer, but a rural Plymouth buyer only had to walk across the showroom to buy a Chrysler.

  8. I bought a ’73 Galaxie 500 2 door hardtop in Helena, Montana back in 2000. It cost me a 1991 Cutlass Calais with an ailing transmission as a trade and $900. It was comfortable, quiet and well mannered on the Montana highways at 80 mph right from the start. When I drove it at a steady 60 on a trip as an experiment, it returned 16 mpg from that big 400 engine. I averaged 11 or 12 in regular use. The A/C blew ice cold after I converted it to the new Freon and charged it to specs. Even at that age (27 years) it was in good shape, much like a 2005 Crown Vic would be now in 2011. Defects were minimal and easily/cheaply fixed by a visit to a local salvage yard.

    Sometimes I wish I still had it, but some unseen rust damage due to road salt had been poorly repaired by the previous owner. After I moved to hot & humid Arkansas in 2005 I started noticing a mildew smell. I guess that bondo repair led to rainwater retention in the quarter panel and wheel wells and caused a toxic amount of mildew to quickly spread over the entire interior one summer. Even the rear view mirror dimmer handle and plastic steering wheel had mildew on it. It was on the panels, windows, headliner, it was even in the air conditioning ducts. Since I have bad sinuses and my wife has asthma, I sold it to someone who wanted the engine and transmission. It was a good car and I’d still have it now if things had worked out.

  9. my neighbor had a ’66 LTD. Dark blue, matching top and interior. It was a very classy looking ride. And I remember how slick the panty cloth upholstery was – I can recall sliding across the set quite vigorously upon entering. Must have been a challenge for an unbelted driver in an emergency manuever.

  10. My first car was a ’67 Galaxie which I missed ever since I traded it for a Maverick in ’74. I had many dreams I still had that car(strange!) so I found a LTD in Gilford, Maine in 2008 and it has been my baby ever since. She is a Christine that has 93K and is still in showroom condition. Interior is perfect and exterior has been worked on to keep her up. The dreams have stopped!

    1. What a interesting story. My first LTD was 1966 model. Burgundy exterior and interior with white vinyl top. It was in 1969, I was 15 years old. The car was owned by famous locale sports radio announcer.
      It had 32,000 miles, he was drunk, ran of road into some ones living room. Bought it from insurance co. rebuilt front end body damage. I was the hottest thing in high school. For some reason after a few years (almost traded for new Maverick) I sold it. Regrets were apparent. For years I sought another.
      In 1998, Memphis Tenn. found a black on black (factory air)68,000 miles. All original. They call interior panty cloth. Plus it has the same smell. LOL
      I’m now back in love.

  11. You mention the through-flow ventilation system introduced in the 1965 models.
    I suspect it’s the same as the “Aeroflow ” system introduced in British fords around the same timeline.
    Ford cars in Britain, whatever their other shortcomings, were noted for their excellent heating and ventilation systems. Air conditioning was unheard of except in super luxury brands such as Rolls Royce at the time. I often wonder why they abandoned such a great system, their ’70s models were often significantly worse in this respect than their predecessors.


    1. Yup, and Ford of Britain actually had the flow-through system before Ford’s U.S. cars did. If I recall correctly, I think the Cortina had it prior to the Thunderbird.

      Decent flow-through ventilation seems to be as much an art as a science. Even on modern cars, its effectiveness is often hit and miss; one car will be pretty good and then the next will have negligible airflow unless the fan is turned well up. It’s a pity because with a good flow-through ventilation system and effective tinted glass (all too rare today, presumably for cost reasons), you can get away without using air conditioning except on very hot days.

  12. My penurious father’s favorite trick was to buy the lowest priced big model and then hit junkyards to get upscale interior appointments. In 1954 he transformed a Mainline into a Customline. In 1965 he transformed a 4dr Custom into something approaching an LTD. Only the sharpest eye could catch the truth that the snazzy LTD was really a gussied up base model Custom. The biggest tipoff was the 3spd manual tranny. No flow-through air, though.

    1. pretty crazy, my Dad was the opposite….a trust fund kid who bought a ’65 LTD 429, then proceeded to strip anything weighty out of it so he could race it at the old air base landing strip….he won a lot in that car. his previous car had been a ’62 Impala, same story, bought loaded, then stripped…

      1. That seems like going about it the hard way unless he really just liked the fancier trim…

        1. key word: penurious. Hard way is the fun way for penurious folk. It sure was for him.

      2. Trust fund babies… you have to admire them. I’m acquainted with one who had a dragster with the 409 Chevrolet engine. When the 396 Mystery Motor finally debuted in ’65, the engine could not be had from GM by itself, it had to be ordered in a complete car. So he ordered a new Impala SS with the 396, swapped the 396 out of it and the 409 into it, and into the classified ads the Impala went advertised as a never-driven new car with only 3 miles on it. All true.

  13. Love that “panty cloth” interior. A neighbor had a 1966 LTD four door, and we used to joke about how the seat material felt like high quality undies.

    1. Even Ford designers made that joke, so you were in good company!

  14. I learned to drive on a ’66 Ford LTD Two-door hard top coupe with 390 V-8 and four-barrel carburetor. It had power windows and air conditioning, even. I loved that there was no pillar between the front and back windows. When they were down, it was wide open. The bench seat up front mean that 6 could fit in this car easily. It was deceptively fast off the line. It was a great car to go ‘cruising’ in. We had it up over 100mph many times. No seat belts and plenty of horsepower. I’m a bit surprised it didn’t kill us. The car was 15 years old when I turned 16 – it seemed ancient at the time. My friend sold it for $250 in 1984. I wonder where it is now…

    What a great car!

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