I finally did it. After sitting in an AU Series II LTD at a used car yard as an 18-year-old in 2004, priced about $39,900 above my budget (at $40,000), I resolved that one day I would own one. I had two rules: it must be a Series II, and must be completely factory.
So, when I saw an ‘Organza’ (think of a champagne-type colour) AUII LTD come up on my Facebook feed for sale in Queensland, I snapped it up, sight unseen. By this stage, about four Facebook friends had tagged me in a sale ad for it and I had to have a short conversation with my long-suffering wife.
“It’s the Series II” I said.
“You have enough cars” she said.
“I don’t care, I need this car” I said.
“Fine, but you owe me an expensive gift” she said. It was deal done.
I quickly learned that there was a lot of interest and love for this car. After being stuffed around with a courier, two weeks later I got that fantastic phone call. The truck driver wanted to know where I was so he could deliver the beast. I met him outside, and it turned out he was a Ford fan who owned an AU Fairlane Ghia. He had a $200,000 Mercedes and an FG XR6 Turbo ute on his truck but commented that my LTD was his favourite car that he delivered that day.
This thing was in great condition. It needed a little bit of minor repairs on the outside, with some very small issues inside, and it also needed a decent service (and water pump) but otherwise, I was extremely pleased.
Then came the task of getting it registered. The mechanic I cold-called on the recommendation of a friend turned out to be a Ford fan too, so again, I ended up in a long chat about the car. Luckily he wasn’t charging me for the time!
So why the hysteria? Why is the Ford community so in love with my humble AU? Why did I talk this car up so much in my introduction after sitting in one 15 years ago? There is a good reason for this, and to understand this reason you need to consider what happened to the LTD in the past and after this car was superseded by the BA/BF variants.
The Fairlane/LTD started life as a locally-assembled US version. Over the years, multiple iterations were released until the first Australian-designed variant was released in 1967. From here, Ford Australia kept the philosophy that while the underpinnings were shared with the every-day Falcon of the era, it was still a distinctly different car in function and styling.
This ethos carried through until 1979 with the ZJ/FC Fairlane LTD, which while still longer and more luxurious, was far too similar in styling to the XD Falcon, making it hard to justify as a unique car. This element took the polish off the label, as the lack of distinction made it difficult for anyone to recognize this as a special variant over its short wheelbase brethren.
Subsequently the N-Series also looked very similar to the E-Series on which they were based. Strangely enough, Ford had spent a significant amount of time and money on developing the NA/DA to NC/DC range to be physically unique, with all different panels (excluding the doors of course) and completely unique exterior lights. But the final effect was still that of a slightly longer EA. It smacked buyers in the face despite the effort. The NF/DF NL/DL in 1994 went one step further (backwards) of sharing lights, guards and bonnet with the short wheelbase Fairmont, differentiating the front with only the grille and bumper.
Now, before the lovers of these models jump down my throat and call me all sorts of nasty things, I have to say that despite those complaints, I love those vehicles. I currently have a 1992 NCII Fairlane Ghia waiting for my sons to get old enough to start a restoration project. I also have my dear Mum's old 1995 DF LTD which is set for its club plates next year. I have fond memories in both those cars!
So that is behind the AU, what about after it? We have the BA/BF. This is where I believe Ford put in the least effort. They could see the market shrinking and didn’t want to invest in what they considered a dead duck. We ended up with the first long wheelbase Australian Ford to share both headlamps and taillights with the base model. The interior was also disappointing, as it didn’t elevate the car ahead of the Fairmont Ghia in any meaningful way. Some cheap-looking plastic wood here or there and brushed chrome just wasn’t enough. At least the D-Series put in an effort inside the car.
So, with the recent demise of the essence of the LTD, what about the AU? Strangely enough, it wasn’t given the same treatment. Visually, the car was completely different from the short wheelbase AU. Don’t get me wrong, while the AU has its haters, I personally like the styling. In the shed is my prize possession, the AUIII XR8 in Blueprint (remember when my wife complained I had too many cars? Yeah…).
But what was impressive about the AU LTD, was that it was like the era of old; the car looked and felt like a completely different car. Not a panel the same, aside from the doors, of course. It received unique exterior lighting (aside from the repeaters) and sheet metal work. Happily, unlike the early D-Series, all this effort resulted in a car that was visually completely different from its donor!
Inside was a treat too. While the AU was the only modern Falcon to have a distinctly different dashboard between the base and high series, the LTD was again differentiated with an egg-shell white colour scheme and lush, plush, oh-so comfortable leather seats. Embroidered in the four main seat backs was the LTD logo, in the front armrests were little storage pockets, perfect for storing your monocle. In addition to the exceptional sound system and climate control (this is 2001 remember), it also had a satellite navigation system screen. In 2001!
In that, lies the answer to what makes the AU Fairlane and LTD so special. This model went back to what an LTD should be, or at least, it appeared so on paper. So how is it to drive? Is it a case of "never meet your idol" or is was it worth having to buy my wife a very expensive gift?
The first hint to the answer to this question is where you will note I have given the car positive ratings in all areas except for fuel economy. I stand by those ratings.
Performance and Economy:
It is utterly woeful. The only reason it didn’t get a zero is because ‘Performance’ is bundled in there as well. This model came with the 185kW 4.9-litre Windsor V8 (borrowed from the Series 1 XR8) which has loads of character, is very reliable and, despite the cars heftiness, pulls quite nicely. It isn’t going to set any land speed records, but for the purpose of getting somewhere in a hurry, or overtaking, it is more than enough.
It's not enough to make up for the 15 litres per 100 kilometre average fuel consumption though. This car will only be driven on weekends and on special occasions, that’s for sure!
Cabin Space and Comfort:
Easily a 10 out of 10. Nicknamed the ‘lounge room’ at home, there is more than enough space for five adults, but ideally it is designed for four. And what a ride those four would get! The seats appear to have a two-stage pressure map that provides initial softness on your aristocratic rear, but this settles into a firm, supportive base. The rear seats are recessed to provide a lounge-like experience with privacy glass and individual lighting provided.
When the car is 5.2 metres long, it means there is plenty of leg room and a massive boot to go with it! The trim leaves very little plastic exposed with everything either wrapped in leather or flocked. The car comes with creature comforts such as climate control, sunroof, electric seats with 3 memory positions (which also remember your wing mirror positions) and an instrument panel that gives you additional information such as battery voltage and oil levels - because your chauffeur needs to know this.
Technology and Connectivity:
Okay, it doesn’t have any modern connectivity such as Bluetooth, so why did I give it an 9.5? Well, I had to period date it. You can’t hold it against the car that it doesn’t have technology that barely existed when it was built! So, for its day, the car had a premium-sounding premium sound system with six cabin speakers and a parcel-shelf-mounted free-air sub-woofer. The radio unit was a 6-Stack in-dash unit and the sound produced was incredible for a factory system.
The car also came with a phone holder that folded into the centre console, even though you cannot legally use your phone while driving any more.
Most impressive is the satellite navigation system. It is old, out of date (latest maps are from 2014) and is operated from a separate remote control - not any controls fitted to the car. But come on. It was 2001! How cool is that!
Price and features:
Rated a 9 out of 10, because while it was exceptionally well-equipped, it was also expensive at $71,165 when new, which in today's money is over $100,000. However, this doesn’t drag the rating down too much when you compare it to the price of other, similarly-sized luxury land yachts from our friends in Germany back in the day. The only viable option in this price range for this style of car was a Holden Caprice, which let’s face it, while popular in its day, hasn’t stood the test of time all that well. This makes the LTD relatively good value, but still insanely expensive.
Ride and Handling:
Well, it isn’t a sports car. Not even close. As such, it can’t be compared to one. Does it have body roll? Yes. Lots. Does the front pitch like a yacht? Yes. A lot. But is it supremely comfortable on the road and does it absorb bumps like they are not even there? Oh yes! It has accomplished its number one (and seemingly only) design goal: Be luxurious. As such, a solid rating of 10 is suitable.
So, was I disappointed? Not one bit. The car was everything I was hoping it would be and then some. Even my frustrated and defeated wife couldn’t hide the fact that she likes it, despite expecting another full barge experience that we got from the DF.