By on April 26, 2012

The discussion of yesterday’s Junkyard Find, a 1973 Ford LTD, got a bit heated at times. Some felt that the ’73 LTD was an abomination too horrific to contemplate, while others (including most who had actually driven one back in the day) opined that it was a pretty comfy pseudo-luxo-chariot and no worse than its contemporary rivals. Both sides have valid points, which got me to thinking about what I would do if a time machine were to drop me off at Auto Row in 1973 with the money to buy a new LTD (assuming I was required to spend the money on a new car, instead of giving it to my 7-year-old 1973 self with instructions to buy Microsoft stock a few years hence). Would I get the LTD… or something else? If something else, what?
So, the list price of a 1973 Ford LTD four-door hardtop sedan was $3,833, equivalent to about $19,800 in 2012 dollars. Consulting my stack of Standard Catalogs, I’ve come up with a few choices in the same price range; those of you with your own sources for 1973 car prices should refer to them now.
After a lot of agonizing, I’ve narrowed my choices down to two. One would be a ’73 Plymouth Scamp, equipped with the optional 240-horse 340-cubic-inch V8, four-speed transmission, and limited-slip rear axle with the craziest gear ratio available at my friendly Plymouth dealership. The base V8 Scamp was $3,000, and the drivetrain options would have pushed that price up to around $3,400. With the remaining 433 bucks, I would be torn between blowing it all on a loud aftermarket 8-track stereo and a bunch of Black Sabbath tapes and blowing it all on the usual street-racer-style intake/cam/carb/headers engine upgrades.
My other choice would involve a trip down the street to the Datsun dealership, where I’d be tempted by the incredible $2,306 price tag on the ’73 Datsun 510. With $1,533 left in my pocket, I’d be able to take the 96-horsepower L18 engine and add Webers, a big cam, etc., then throw some fat sway bars and stiffer spring at the suspension … and still have enough left over for the aforementioned 8-track and Sabbath tapes.
So, here are some more 1973 cars with list prices below (or not much above) the LTD’s $3,833. Sorry, the cheapest BMW 2002 was $4,498 and the Alfa Berlina was $4,437.
AMC Javelin AMX: $3,191
Audi 100 Coupe: $3,695
Buick Luxus Hardtop Coupe: $3,718
Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: $3,470
Chevrolet Impala Custom Coupe: $3,836
Chevrolet Monte Carlo Landau: $3,806
Dodge Challenger with 340: $3,192
Dodge Charger Special Edition: $3,375
Dodge Polara Hardtop Coupe: $3,752
Fiat 124 Sport Coupe: $3,674
Ford Maverick Grabber: $2,541
Ford Mustang Mach 1: $3,088
Honda Civic Hatchback: $2,250
Mazda RX-2 Coupe: $3,495
Mercury (Ford) Capri V6: $3,261
Mercury Cougar XR-7: $3,679
Mercury Montego MX Wagon: $3,417
MGB: $3,925
Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Coupe: $3,323
Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Wagon: $3,788
Opel Manta: $2,850
Plymouth ‘Cuda: $3,120
Plymouth Duster 340: $2,822
Plymouth Fury III Hardtop Coupe: $3,883
Plymouth Satellite Sebring: $3,109
Pontiac Catalina Hardtop Coupe: $3,869
Pontiac Firebird Formula: $3,276
Pontiac LeMans GTO: $3,494
Triumph TR6: $3,275
Saab 99L: $3,845

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132 Comments on “Time Machine Dilemma: It’s 1973 and You Have Enough Cash For a New LTD. What Do You Buy?...”


  • avatar
    tonyola

    By 1973, some of the more deluxe Japanese cars were finding their way into the US like the second-generation Toyota Mark II and Datsun 610. They would have been creditable alternatives, especially when Fuel Crisis I hit in late 1973.

  • avatar
    993cc

    1973 was the last year you could buy a new Citroen in the U.S. Does anyone know what they listed for?

    • 0 avatar
      turbosaab

      Great question… per Wikipedia:
      The DS’s price in 1970 ranged from US$4,066 to US$4,329.[14]
      SM was much more expensive: this article claims $13,500 in early ’70s
      http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/jay-leno/4227132

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      My dad had a ’73 SM. I’d say that the “SM” monicker was apt for anyone masochistic enough to buy one of these money pits, but I digress.

      He threatened to burn his SM in front of the Citroen dealership (which also sold Peugeots – talk about a pair to draw to). What drove him to that?

      It wasn’t that the car steadfastly refused to start at any temperature under 40. It wasn’t the incredible list of nickle-and-dime stuff that went wrong with it. It wasn’t blowing the engine while doing 35 in second gear. It wasn’t being told that said engine was going to cost $5,000. And it wasn’t being told that this $5,000, prone-to-hari-kiri engine was going to take SIX MONTHS to get to the dealership from Italy. that drove him over the edge.

      I think the original “Longest Yard” movie did it. That’s the one where Burt Reynolds ends up in the state pen for stealing his girlfriend’s car, leading the cops on a car chase, and dumping it into the water. The car was a Citroen SM. I remember watching Dad grin when that baby sank. I think the ritual fire sacrifice idea may have been Dad’s way of topping the movie.

      He ended up with a Mercedes 450SL, and once the Citroen was rehabilitated, he sold it to an attorney who lived down the road a bit.

      He often worried about being sued but never was.

      • 0 avatar
        cfclark

        I saw an SM when I was about 6 years old and have wanted one ever since. Of course, I wanted a lot of other things when I was 6 that now would seem like crazy ideas, too.

        (I also have liked the Subaru SVX (Subaru’s analog to the SM, really) since I saw one of those, and the last time I saw one it was on a flatbed being hauled to the mechanic, or the crusher.)

        (Good lord, $5000 in 1973 dollars for an engine…what’s that, $25-30K now?)

  • avatar
    Zackman

    In 1973, in school, out of the air force, no cash for an LTD – I hated all things Ford anyway – I bought a beautiful 1972 Chevy Nova coupe the day dad retired, Friday, Oct. 19, 1973.

    The second car I wish I kept much longer than I did…

    What young man in their right mind wanted one of these gas hogs, anyway? Certainly not me. Economy was on the forefront.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Was pretty much in that situation (with slightly less cash) in 1972. I had moved to Houston from DC, taking my modified VW Karmann Ghia (headers, carbs, cams, oil cooler, ignition), which lacked only air conditioning. (Attempting to strap an a/c system on the air-cooled VW engine was an abomination to be avoided.

    After 8 months in Houston, I simply couldn’t stand it, even though I had grown up in DC without a/c in either the house or the car.

    I was certainly not interested in a boat like the LTD (and had a Torino to drive while at work). At the time, my choices that seemed interesting to me were the BMW 1600 (same car as the 2002, but with a smaller engine) and the rotary-powered Mazda RX-2. In retrospect, the BMW would have been the better choice . . . but I sprang for the Mazda. Although the car proved reliable and solid (and accommodated an after-market a/c unit just fine), gasoline was about 30 cents a gallon when I bought the car, so its 20 mpg highway (observed) fuel economy was not a big issue. And its firm kick at 4500 rpm when the secondaries of the 4-barrel carburetor opened up was quite entertaining . . . and the car would do a righteous 100 mph with no drama.

    Unfortunately, within a year, the price of gasoline — even in Houston — tripled and our nannies in Washington gave us the double-nickel speed limit which, in its early years, was enforced pretty stringently by the highway patrols.

    In my five years of ownership, the only repair required was replacement of a water pump when its bearing began to be very noisy and threatened to fail.

  • avatar
    loguesmith

    In 1973, my parents bought a new Toyota Corona. 4-door, s**t brown (weren’t they all?) and a 3-speed auto on the column. I think they paid all of $2900 for it. It was the car I took my drivers test in when I turned 16.

    It was also the car I totaled one morning a year or two later on my way to HS. T-boned a lady who made a U-turn from the shoulder right in front of me.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Those big barges were really, really, cheap relatively speaking!

    Of the cars in the list, either the TR6 or the Saab. But in reality, I would probably have bought a new Volvo 145 – I am pretty sure they were cheaper than a Saab 99.

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    I admit, my first car was a 1974 Manta, so I would go with the 1973 Manta, and save the extra funds to be ready to replace the wiring harness in it when the time came. Aside for the electrical systems, those cars were pretty bullet-proof.

    Cool story time:
    My Dad was a big Opel fan, and in the mid-80, he decided to replace the points and condenser with an electronic ignition system. No one sold one that would drop into the Opels, but he figurd out that the distributor used in the 1.9L Opel engines was the same one that was used in the Pinto 2000s. So his small Opel fleet (his silver ’74, My Blue ’72 Manta Ralley, and my Sisters black and orange ’74) soon all sported nice Mallory ignition systems. It made them much easier to start, but it didn’t address the fact that the starter relays would fail, and all of them ended up with ‘starter buttons’ under the dash hooked up to an aftermarket relay.

  • avatar
    texan01

    Seeing as how I was 3 years from being of this earth….

    I’d buy a 1973 Chevelle SS wagon, with the 400 and the HD suspension. I think it’d still come in under the price limit, be more fuel efficient, still hauls 14 of your closest friends and with the small block 400 under the hood, still handle well. I’d add A/C, power windows, locks and the groovy 8-track,

    Or go for the Laguna sedan, or the wagon version. the cleaner nose always appealed to me, and they were quite good for the day. the powertrains were well proven, and with John Z. Delorian’s insistence, GM designed the 73-77 cars to handle well. (relative to the previous generations)

    I’d pass on the full size line up on the big 4,

    The Dart would be interesting, never cared for the Camaro, 73 Tornio was ugly, the early ’70s imports hold no real interest with me unless I was really going for economical.

    • 0 avatar
      namesakeone

      I don’t think they made a 1973 Chevelle SS sedan, much less a wagon. You could probably have had one custom built, though.

      I had a teacher (in grade school) who did have the money for a new Ford LTD in 1873. I know because she bought…a new 1973 Ford LTD. Then the next year, Energy Crisis I arrived, and she traded it for a new Mustang II. Three years after that, she couldn’t drive the Mustang (without power steering), and traded for another LTD. Go figure.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        The SS was an option package for 1973 and it was available in the wagon. However, the 400 wasn’t available in the Chevelle in 1973 – you went from a 350 to a 454.

      • 0 avatar
        texan01

        I forgot about the 400 availability, I’d go for the 4 barrel 350. big blocks in these cars just make an already nose-heavy car, even heavier up front, though the 454 would be nice to push it with some serious authority.

        SS wagons are rare, but real. If you wanted to go wild with the SS wagon, you could order it with the 454 and a 4 speed manual. Absolute last year for the SS option in the Chevelle line. 73 you could get the Laguna in any body style, after that they went to two door only.

  • avatar
    Hank

    I would do exactly what my grandfather did in 1973. I’d pass the GrandVille over to grandma and buy a red Mazda RX-3. His was identical to this one, and he loved that car.

    http://bit.ly/17Q9ZV

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    A JEEP J10 Pick up, fully loaded. Two tone. I would put a camper on the back. Slather it in the deepest richest waxes, and park it in a temperature controlled garage. I’d take it out whenever I wanted to head for the mountains, drink Schlitz, smoke some Drew Estate cigars, wear flannel, big hiking boots, not shave, not bathe, and climb some mountains on sunny days. I’d eat a lot of jerky.

    I’d bring the wife so we could play “Adam and Eve”, then pick off the ticks later. NO KIDS.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Vdude – my Great Uncle did something very similar in 1970. Bought a new shortbed 4×4 Chevy pickup in metallic mint green with an aluminum cap. V8, automatic, A/C, gauge package and limited-slip diffs, but rubber-mat vinyl seat plain inside. Only used it to go to hunting camp once a year for the next 20 years or so, and to the dump on Sundays (as long as the roads were dry). That thing had <20K miles on it when he died last year (at 91), and is in absolutely perfect time-warp shape right down to the original rubber mats inside. One of my cousins inherited it, he is a car guy so it is in good hands.

      Others of the B&B will be happy to know that he also bought nothing but Panthers since they debuted way back when. A new one every 4-5 years, also immaculately kept. Crown Bricks until the last one, which is a Marquis. Sadly without the de Sade option package.

  • avatar

    If I was in that position back then, and assuming my thought processes and tastes were similar to today (a bit of a stretch I know), I’d either get the Fiat or the Dodge.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    The Honda CB750 was selling for about $1500 at that time, right? Or, for a more horsepower and a bit less proficiency in handling, reliability, maintenance, etc., a Kawasaki H2 MachIV two-stroke, for around the same price. You’d probably have just enough money left over for that Datsun for when it’s raining. If not, you’ll certainly have enough left over for a sturdy raincoat and the finest helmet, uh, 1973′s technology can produce — hm, perhaps that’s a flaw in this plan.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      How about the Suzuki GT750 Water Buffalo?

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        For some reason Suzuki never quite managed to top Kawasaki for horsepower, and the thing was heavier, too. But I hear it handled better than the Kawi triple, despite the weight disadvantage, so there’s that.

        Regardless of choice, I think I’d really want to bring back a pair of 2012 tires in that time machine.

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        The GT 750 was for people that wanted comfort, and to be alive when they got off the bike. Kawasakis off the time H1, H2, Z900′s, ect, were for speed freaks. They didn’t have a frame capable of handling the power until the end of the decade.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Since the real AMX was already long gone, I’d go with the LTD. I have to admit it is my favorite car of the time, and yes I drove one, underage of course, and rode in many. With the big V8s they could do smokey burnouts to your heart’s content, the 70 or 78 series tires not being a small part of that.

    We also had the bigger sister, the Merc Marquis. (They weren’t “Grand” then, although I’d argue that they were actually grander then than they were later on). These big Fords were the epitome of affordable comfort and luxury for the day. Your interior shot supports that very well. I suspect many people dissing them do so out of ignorance, not experience.

    I only wish such values were available now.

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Not a mopar guy, but I’d take any one of those 340′s. If it came down to it, probably the Challenger.

    I can understand the F-body hate, but it’s misguided. Either F-body would’ve been a much better alternative to the T-bird, especially if you want to drive, instead of wallow.

    • 0 avatar
      GoesLikeStink

      So Suprised this is the first post saying 73 340 Challenger. My best friend in high school had a yellow/black Raleye one. Would be worth 30-40k now I think if we had not hit that tree.

      My parents had a 73 Satellite with the 318. First car I ever drove (14 years old, in a parking lot)

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        If the tree didn’t do it, it wold have found another way. the wiring, metals and plastics are all either restored or junk on these. Not even Arizona can keep a Mopar alive for 40 years.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        That’s funny, my oldest mopar happens to be 49 years old, a 63 Imperial. The wiring harness and everything else electrical in it is the stuff that it left the factory with, except for the voltage regulator and front passenger side window motor.
        My next oldest mopar happens to be 40 years old, a 72 Imperial. Original wiring harness, the whole shot, the only thing that needs replaced is the antenna motor.
        My next oldest mope is a 78 New Yorker Brougham 2 door, everything works and is original except the voltage regulator on that one. My son has a 60 desoto, I don’t know the history on the car but I would bet a week’s paycheck that it also has the original wiring. There are alot of old mopars out there in the mopar world with the original wiring.

  • avatar
    TR4

    No way was the MGB $650 more than the TR6! With six cylinders, wood dash, and IRS the TR6 was upmarket.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    I wasn’t alive yet so I’ll have to use my imagination, but my top five would be:

    1) Saab 99L
    2) Mazda RX-2 Coupe
    3) Dodge Challenger
    4) AMC Javelin AMX
    5) Ford Mustang Mach 1

  • avatar
    geeber

    I’d take an Oldsmobile Cutlass S (not the Supreme) two-door and order it with air conditioning, power windows, power steering, power brakes, rear-window defogger, four-speed transmission, dual exhaust, sport mirrors, rallye wheels, handling package, swivel bucket seats and console.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Dautsan 240Z

  • avatar
    sansui

    you could buy a Audi for a cheaper price then an LTD? I would still go for the LTD

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    In 1973 I waS back from Nam with my “soldiers savings account” flush with cash. I was driving a 1965 Chevell that had been rear ended years before (trunk held down with a coat hanger). I needed a new car, so what did I do? I bought a Renault 16. Maybe it was PTSD or the pot I was smoking. Epic fail.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I got my first taste of power to weight back in the early 70′s I had a 71 Scamp with the 318 and my parents had the Fury 3 with the same engine, well needless to say the Fury was a slug of a car, only good once it picked up speed and then was a freeway cruiser while the Scamp, being much lighter was a bit of a speedster.

  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    I love how an Audi goes for $3695 but a Jag is 9 grand. Put me down for Firebird. I also like:

    Buick Luxus Hardtop Coupe: $3,718

    So Buick had a model called Luxus? Rofl.

    So did Eiji Toyoda buy one and think “I love this car and I love this name, one day I want to have a brand just like it”

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I’ll take the Datsun and spend the rest on IBM stock.

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    I probably would’ve bought a clean, used 68-70 Dodge Charger or Coronet two-door and called it a day.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Wagon: $3,788
    with that red head from the 70′s show in it – wearing nothing but a smile!

    Or – the Z28, I had a 72 and to me, the 73, although less powerfull, was a better car to drive, let’s see, power steering, AC …

  • avatar

    If we’re including used cars (and why shouldn’t we?), I think I’d go for a Lancia Fulvia Berlina or a Chrysler 300 Hurst Edition.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    How about a one-year-old Camaro SS396?

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Hello RX3!

    I think they got better gas mileage once you took the thermal reactors off.

  • avatar

    Toss-up between a 340 powered Mopar and the Capri V6.

    Love this concept, Murilee.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    As someone who was old enough to buy one of these as a late-model used car, either a Duster or a Nova–with a 6 cylinder. Even at 17, I realized that V8 power was pointless on NY City streets.

    Could have easily afforded the car, my finances would have choked on the insurance and parking.

  • avatar

    1) Camaro Z/28. Hands down.
    2) If I needed more room, a Monte Carlo.

  • avatar
    nikita

    I was 19 at the time. Of the cars listed, Ive worked on the Fiat. Great driving car, but there is no way I would have bought one. I’d probably have taken the Firebird, if I didnt have to insure it.

    Not on the list, but within the price range would be the then newly styled GM pickup trucks. Make mine a short bed 4×4.

    Quirky choice: VW Thing ($2795) and a Yamaha RD350 ($1100).

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    As a low income Specialist 4, in 1973 I really, really wanted a new Volvo 145, which was about $4,000.00 USD. – I bought a used VW Beetle instead.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I would likely test drive the LTD, the Caprice, and say a Plymouth Fury III and see which one felt tightest and best put together. Then I would buy that one, although if the Chevy still had the PowerGlide then I would say… “no way.” and pick one of the other two.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      @Educator-Dan:

      I asked my friend about his 1995 Caddy Seville Northstar; He takes very good care of it and he has not had any problems – he services it regularly, changed out the original coolant years ago and changes it on a regular basis, too, along with all other servicing.

      Being able to ride in that road rocket on occasion is a thrill!

      So he must have a good one.

      ON TOPIC:

      I suppose if I had to buy something NEW at that time, and IF I had the finacial means, it would be a pillarless hardtop of some sort, probaby a Dart Swinger or similar.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Thanks for the info… I have a good relationship with the local Buick & GMC data so I know if I told him I wanted him to look for a V8 Lucerne or DTS with a certain number of miles and certain colors with various must have options for a given price he would work with me. Even with used car prices being crazy 2005 and up DTS and V8 Lucernes with 50,000 miles or less are going for mid teens.

        What I see Zachman happiest in IF he got one built on a good day would be the Dodge Polara Hardtop Coupe: $3,752. It’s a hard top and then name invokes images of air/space travel.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Dan, I like the way you think!

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      The big Chevy had turbo hydramatics for 1973 with v8′s.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      @Dan, with the fury you would get chrysler’s hit or miss quality control of the 70′s. But it’s unibody was much tighter than the flexible ford and chevy. It was also better on the highway with it’s torsion bar suspension, it wasn’t floaty and didn’t pitch and wallow like the other two. It didn’t give quite as much isolation from the road, which was what most buyers of this type of car wanted in those days over handling.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Knowing what I know now:

    AMC Javelin AMX: $3,191
    Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: $3,470
    Dodge Challenger with 340: $3,192
    Dodge Charger Special Edition: $3,375
    Ford Mustang Mach 1: $3,088
    Plymouth ‘Cuda: $3,120

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    I out of that list I’d be shopping the Mopars. Which one, is harder to say. All of them had solid state ignition and disc brakes by then.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I was only 2 years old back then and brother hadn’t been born yet! I’d grab the ‘Cuda or the GTO and mothball them for a later Barrett Jackson cash-in. However I’d honestly want to own (and drive!) the MGB or Triumph.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Sorry, ….and the Alfa Berlina was $4,437.

    I think I could negotiate this down some but would prefer a GTV 2000. How much did they go for? Yeah, I think I can make that happen …… Alfisti dreaming……zzzzzzzzz

  • avatar
    George B

    If I’m forced to buy new, I’d get a 1973 Chevrolet Nova Hatchback with 350 V8. Used I’d get a late 60s Mercury Cougar.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I was 23 back then, just graduating from college, and dad was buying me my first (not running antique plates) car. The catch was, it had to be a Chevrolet, and Camaro’s and Corvette’s were right out. Given my love for racing bicycles and sports cars at the time, the best I could put together was a $2300.00 Vega GT that served me well for three seasons of autocross.

    Take away dad’s interference and add $1500.00 to the money available? If we’re talking an honest admission to my tastes back then, definitely the Saab or the TR-6. Factor in what I know now, it’d be the Javelin, Z/28, or ‘Cuda. None of them really turned me on back then, but considering the stupid money they go for now . . . .

    Of course, that also assumes I keep the car for 39 years and it stays together. Good luck.

  • avatar

    No-brainer: A used Ferrari. $4k would have bought all sorts of interesting old V12 cars in 1973 that have seven- or eight-figure price tags now. Sure, they were and are a pain to maintain, but… dude, vintage Ferraris.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    It’d be a tossup between:

    - Loaded Datsun 510 sedan with a manual gearbox
    - Audi Fox with a manual gearbox
    - Saab 99

    That’s pretty much it. The import selection of 1973 isn’t too hot under $4k MSRP, and the domestics of that era do little for me. The VW lineup was really dated at that time, and Fiat issues would cause me to avoid the Italians. All Volvos of the era were over $4k, as was the 240Z.

  • avatar
    roger628

    It’s impossible to separate the cumulative, internalized knowledge gained through time. The choices my 12 year old self was capable of making based on the absorbed knowledge up to the time, or that of the present, many Monday Mornings later. In retrospect, I’d have taken a 1973 Cutlass Supreme, based upon a combination of perceived prestige,resale,handling & quality.
    Sure I would have gotten zonked by gas prices post OPEC. Then, who knows what I might have bought.
    Only problem with this scenario is the $3,833 cap.
    A $3,833 LTD contained neither AC nor any kind of radio, let alone power assists (other than the standard PS & PB). In reality, most examples were easily north of $5000.
    That’s why the comparison is a little unfair unless a percentage is allotted for option choices. The aforementioned amount would barely pay for a Cutlass Supreme with a base 350, auto PS PB and AC. And i’d not have gone smaller, and certainly not import.On the prairies, imports were still a curiosity to many.
    But in a nutshell for me, small equipped car beats big stripped one for the same price.
    Now. change the conditions from choosing a nice car to drive at the time, to spending that money on a future collectible, and accepting opportunity costs
    of tying up that much capital in a piece of metal that rarely could be driven. The only choice here is ’73 Firebird Trans-Am or Formula 455-SD. This is pretty much THE king collectible of D3 1973. However,at $3,833 it’s going to be light on options.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I’m pretty sure that by late 1972 when the ’73 LTD’s came out I had traded my POS 1971 Opel 1900 for my 1972 4-speed Celica. I also had the 1958 Plymouth Belvedere convertible I’d bought in 1966. Iirc I hadn’t yet gotten my 1964 230SL, so I probably had the 1960 Chevy long-box pickup that I traded on it.

    Now if I were to do it again, I’d definitely go for a V8 4-speed A-body car. I think…unless the right Camaro or Firebird showed itself.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    AMC Gremlin 5.0
    Mazda RX-3
    Mercury Capri 2.6 Cologne
    Mercury Colony Park in GingerGlow

  • avatar
    geozinger

    This is a blue sky MM (mental masturbation) exercise, correct? And we can buy anything for sale up until October 1973, when A.) 1974 models were largely done being released and B.) the Oil Embargo started? C.) No future worries, like spouses, children and the need to keep the car for 10 years or more? Can I have as many as I want?

    So many choices.

    AMC Javelin AMX with 401/4 speed, Pierre Cardin package.
    Pontiac Trans Am with SD 455/4 speed, etc…
    Chevrolet Camaro Z28 with 350/4 speed, etc…
    Ford Mustang Mach I with 351/4 speed…
    Opel Manta, Rallye version…
    Mercury Capri with 2.6 V6/4 speed, etc…
    Buick Century Gran Sport with 455/THM 400 auto, etc…
    Mercury Montego GT (fastback) with 429/C6 auto, etc…
    Mercury Cougar XR7 Convertible with 429/C6 auto, etc…
    Olds Cutlass Supreme with 455/THM 400 auto, etc…
    Pontiac GTO with 455/THM 400 auto, etc…
    Plymouth Satellite Road Runner with 440/747 TQ auto, etc…

    and that’s just off the top of my head…

    If I had to live with one of those for the upcoming 10 years, (1973-1983) not knowing what was about to hit us, I’d say one of the big block GM mid-sizers.

    If I had been a petrochemical Nostrodamus, I’d be looking at a six cylinder Nova, Maverick, Duster or FTW, a Hornet Sportabout wagon for maximum future compatibility, vis-a-vis spouses, children, home improvement necessities…

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Formula would probably be the one I would pick back then, or the GTO if I needed something a bit bigger.

    Knowing what I know now? Cuda, for sure. One thing I know, I would have NEVER chosen an LTD.

  • avatar
    Slocum

    Would it be cheating to go back and hunt down a dealer that still had a ’72 Cutlass Convertible in stock?

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    No Pinto?!?! Shame on you, Murilee!

    I’d take a loaded 1973 Runabout, with the optional 2.0L Cologne engine and the 4-speed manual, with A/C and the Sport Accent Group, in Avocado upholstery and woodgrain interior, with Avocado vinyl roof over Bright Green Gold Metallic paint and forged alloys.

    • 0 avatar
      GoesLikeStink

      You are a sick man. Bless you!

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I can’t resist pointing out that Cologne refers to a family of V6s when discussing Ford engines and the 2.0 liter version of it was not available in the Pinto. The 1973 2 liter Pinto engine was a 4 cylinder engine which was variously called Pinto, Metric, EAO, or T88. The Cologne engines were available in Pintos starting in 1975, but the ones used displaced 2.8 liters.

  • avatar
    loj

    This is a really eye-opening exercise. Sure, if I could buy ANY car with LTD money in 1973 I’d be tempted to buy a 510, the Formula Firebird, or even a Celica coupe. But if I’m limited to cars with the same basic mission as the LTD, which I assume to be a slightly upscale basic family hauler, the choices are horrific.

    There’s simply not an attractive choice in a bread-and-butter 1973 family sedan. Contrast this to what is available today:

    - Accord
    - Camry
    - Fusion
    - Focus
    - Mazda6
    - Altima
    - Sonata
    - Optima
    - Jetta/Passat
    - Whatever the midsize GM is. Malibu maybe?

    Some are better than others, but there’s not a car as heinous as a ’73 GM G-body in the lot. These run a little higher than the $19k cutoff but are certainly closer when you add options to the LTD to approach the standard equipment of the new ones. Tires were basically optional on cars back then.

    This list doesn’t even include crossovers, which serve the same purpose.

    The Jalopnik kids may b**** and moan about the “beigeness” of the cars available now, but for people who are actually buy in the position to buy cars, choices have never been better.

    • 0 avatar
      loj

      Correction: the GM A body, not the G body.

    • 0 avatar
      AKADriver

      From the American makes in ’73, the Dodge/Plymouth intermediates – the Satellite and Coronet – were probably your best choice for a family sedan. They hadn’t gone full-Brougham like the GM and Fords.

      But, armed with 39 years of hindsight, there’s no way I’d buy an American car back then. 1973 was a year too late to get the absolutely fabulous MS60 “kujira” Toyota Crown, but an MX20 Toyota Corona Mark II should be available.

  • avatar
    bucksnort

    1973 Mazda RX2…which is exactly what I did. It would run 55 in 2nd, 100 in 3rd. I should have put in a lower final drive gear for acceleration. It was geared for speed which wasn’t a good idea as the front end would start to lift around 110. It could have also used some suspension work. I traded it for a 13B Rotary Pickup.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    If you bought and kept the Mach 1 Mustang it would be a pretty good investment. But in 1973 I was driving a $400 Sprite, not likely I could afford a new car well until 1985 when I bought a Mustang SVO

    Wait I just checked out the 1973 Mustang http://www.mustangreview.com/1973mach1.htm I change my mind.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      LOL… yea the 73 Mach wasnt like the 70 Mach. You can buy them pretty cheap today. Problem is, 73 wasnt a great year for muscle cars. The Mopar products are the only ones that really went way up in value. I want to try to like the 71+ Mach 1 because I can get such a great deal on them, but I cant seem to like them much.

  • avatar
    ArBee

    I was 21 years old in 1973, so I probably would have looked for the nicest 1970 Mustang convertible I could find, preferably with the 302 and C4 automatic. And PintoFan’s suggestion of a well equipped Pinto Runabout strikes my fancy, too. Of course, the ArBee of 2012 looks at that first photo, the one of the gorgeous LTD interior, and thinks, “Yeah, I could be very happy with that”.

  • avatar

    Since this exercise doesn’t presuppose a loss of the memory of the following four decades, this is an easy one. While my memory isn’t firing on all eight cylinders, the ones dealing with cars still spark just fine. With that in mind, I’m going to recall how some of the 1973 choices fared just a few years down the road. Spoiler alert: The LTD all but wears a halo of goodness compared to many of the others.

    In 1977 my best friend inherited a ’73 Custom 500 that, for some reason, was ordered with every possible option. It was a pale yellow pillared hardtop (i.e., no window frames) and had about 50,000 Brooklyn miles on the clock. In other words, its path through life hadn’t been paved with roses. It was barely paved at all. Hand on heart, that car was dead silent inside regardless of road surface or speed. Not a squeak, not a rattle, not a whisper of wind noise. The A/C blew ice cold, the power accessories worked fine, and the ride was smoother than that of my mother-in-law’s ’76 Eldorado.

    That Eldorado was, after less than a year, well on the trail to jalopyhood, that trail having been blazed by her brother-in-law’s ’73 which, itself, was just about ready for the scrapyard. The ’73 Dodge Dart that was bought new by another acquaintance was, by ’77, a symphony of rattles, and none of its non-power items worked with any semblance of smoothness. The crank-up windows were sticky, and the spring-loaded bench seat needed two people’s leg power to move backwards.

    I could go on and on, citing several more examples, but you get the point.

    Viewed from the vantage point of what’s available today for similar dough the big Ford might not fare all that well. But in its day, and for the money, I’d place it at the top of the heap.

    Of course, your mileage may vary.

  • avatar
    Monty

    I would’ve factory ordered a Dodge D150 1/2 ton, slant 6, 4 speed, strippo interior, two tone blue and white with a blue and white interior, and then treated it like a garage queen.

    • 0 avatar
      loj

      OK, forget my answer. I want one of these too.

      Mine would have been a short/wide with the mil-spec heavy duty suspension and locking rear diff. Zero comfort options except for A/C. Texas was hot in 1973, too.

      The drilled cop hub caps, SuperTuner, and 8 track would be my own additions, thanks.

      Gimme some Cibie Super Oscars, too.

      Painted Caltrans orange, that truck would be washed with dish soap and beat upon with respect for the next 40 years.

  • avatar
    raph

    Maverick Grabber or the Mach, that’d be a tough choice? The top engine for the Mach was a 351 cleveland or you could get the grabber with. 302. Probably would have went with the mach, then as now, fuel mileage isn’t a huge factor in my car buying descions.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      You would actually have to think about choosing between a Mustang Mach and a Maverick Grabber? Well, the Mav would be cheaper, but that’s its only virtue compared to the Mustang.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    Was the Volvo 144/145 more than 4K in 1973? Well who cares anyway…I still would have bought one..

  • avatar
    DeadFlorist

    By how much does the Volvo P1800ES put us over? I’ll be damned if I’m not going to find every way I can to buy the most beautiful shooting brake ever made new.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    What a cool list of cars, many of which I remember:

    Grandparents (father’s side): LTD
    Grandparents (mother’s side): Caprice
    Father: Cutlas Supreme
    Uncle: Mustang Mach 1

    All may have been relatively awful compared to cars today, but I remember them as so cool!!!

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’d go with the Firebird.

    But, a Ranchero would be VERY tempting.

  • avatar
    Ben T Spanner

    I bought the Fiat 124 Coupe. I knew both of the local dealers. I picked up my new Fiat and helped them lock up, as they were going to Mid Ohio. I had no problem until the ride home. The volt gauge fell to zero. I made it home and called the owner of the other dealership. He said the big orange wire had fallen off the fuse box. He was right.

    The Fiat ran fine once I installed the distributor and cams from an earlier model. I had it about 2 years with only minor problems. I sold it to a kid who blew it up within a week.

    I was so umimpressed with new cars in 1975 and 1976, that I drove used cars until a new 1977 Honda.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    The Buick “Luxus Coupe” should be listed as ‘Century Luxus’ coupe. This was a cheaper version of the formal roof Century Regal, using the G [GP/MC/C Supreme] body. CL became Century Custom in ’75 and Regal name stood alone from ’74 on.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I had a 1971 Scamp. The only V8 offered in any model year Scamp was the 318 with a 2 barrel carburetor. The similar Dodge Dart Swinger was usually available with at least one performance engine and I believe you could still get a 340 V8 in 1973 with 240 net hp.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Nope. The last year for the Swinger 340 was 1970. The next year, Dodge got the Duster-based Demon and it took over A-body performance duty at Dodge. That was also the year that the Swinger-body Scamp began at Plymouth. As previously stated, the Scamp never got the 340/360 from the factory.

      From 1971 to the A-body’s end in 1976, the only Valiants or Darts that got a 340/360 were the Duster/Demon/Dart Sport.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I guess I would go with a Duster 340 with a 4 speed, Rallye gauges, front disc brakes, 3.91 Sure Grip back axle, Spacemaker fold-down rear seat, hand-crank sliding steel sunroof, and A/C.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Having owned a ’75 Duster 360 for several years, with the benefit of hindsight I think I’d pass on the ’73 340. While the Duster had fine straight-line performance, good low-speed handling, and sturdy mechanicals, there were a lot of downsides, too. The car felt crude in many ways, was noisy, had a rough ride, didn’t feel settled at high speeds (85 mph+), and had very slapdash assembly quality. Then there was the rust. While I’m glad I owned my Duster, I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience.

        I’m not a big fan of the GM Colonnades, but they felt much more together as a car and could handle quite well when properly optioned. I think my choice for a ’73 LTD-priced car would have been a nicely-optioned Pontiac Grand Prix SJ with 400, four-speed, and handling package.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        My driver’s ed range car was a 1976 Pontiac LeMans Enforcer with a laundry list of mechanical options and a 400 4 barrel engine. It was far more powerful than my 1971 Scamp, but not really nicer to drive. The steering was definitely less communicative. I’d say both cars were similarly used at the time and had about 90,000 miles. I’d been ‘borrowing’ the Plymouth since I became a latchkey kid when I was 9 year old, so it was probably as thrashed as a used Sheriffs department car. Besides, in Virginia they’re just court officers.

        As nostalgic as I may get for cars of the early ’70s, and as much as I’d like a V8 with no emissions controls, I would probably get bored with the reality of any of these cars in a matter of hours. I wonder if that’s what happens to all the guys that restore ‘classic’ cars only to sell them a few years and a few hundred miles later.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      CJ,

      Per your Demon 340 below, a former HS classmate of mine had a pedestrian Duster, a bright red one with black interior and partial black vinyl roof and it had the sliding steel sunroof, of which I’d have loved to have had in a Duster myself.

      It had aftermarket rims, but was stock otherwise. Not sure what motor it had though I ‘spect it had the slant six.

      And this was in the early 80′s.

  • avatar
    Joss

    73 Citroen only a four banger and no proper auto. Pricey cause expensive to produce. My vote from 73 – Riviera/Toronado but not in LTD price range. FWD, front discs, available airbags & rear abs. Snowbelt folks must of noticed some serious advantages… LTD was plenty car for the money.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    If you could get one within the stipulated price limit, the best of GM’s colonnades, the Buick Century 2-door with the biggest engine, i.e., a Gran Sport with the 455.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    Cougar XR-7 with: Blue paint. White leather interior with blue dash and carpet. White “canopy” vinyl top. Power front disc / rear drum brakes. 3.5:1 rear axle. AM/8-track stereo radio. Air conditioning. 351C-4V engine. 4-speed manual transmission.

    …other than the last 2, this is my first car. (Mine was a 351C-2V with FMX)

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    I’d look at a mildly used 1970 Ford Thunderbird or Cadillac whatever for my luxo-barge fix.

    I’d also look at a Pontiac Superduty.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I was probably about 8 in ’73 and at that time, I had, had a fascination with Fiat as our priest at the time had bought a ’72 Fiat 128 Familiar wagon, in bright red with black vinyl interior.

    So I’d get that if it’s price was at or less than the LTD.

    I’d also consider the very early Civics, if available, again, the hatchback, not the nearly identical sedan.

    as for the Darts, I’d rather had the Plymouth Duster (or the Dodge Demon), they tend to look less frumpy than the notchback 2 doors, though if my tastes then are what they are now, it’d have a flour mounted manual in it, either with the slant six or small V8.

    Even though I once had a ’74 Nova, I’d probably pass on it, even with the hatchback body, though I might’ve at least looked at the Vega, or Pinto wagon though.

    Or maybe perhaps the Opal Manta wagon too.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I had just started to drive and my very first loaner “experience” was with an LTD. It was turd brown over almost turd brown, and shook very badly at highway speed.

    In 1973, I was 17, and getting ready to buy a car. I had over $5000 saved up (I had been selling hi-fi stuff since I was 13, I had a wholesale “connection” and could beat any store’s prices) and about the time my dad and I were going to start looking/test driving them, he died, and so I had to wait until about a year later to finally buy a car. If I would have bought in 1973, it would have been a 340 Cuda or Challenger, maybe a Trans Am or Z28, but in 1974, the good E-Bodies were gone or used, and so I ordered a ’74 Road Runner, silver frost metallic with red stripes, 360 245 HP with 727 TF trans. It would take me 36 years to finally buy a new Challenger. I’m happy to say my old Road Runner is alive and well, restored to better than new, with a modded 440 in it now. A friend of mine sees it out driving in Vegas almost every weekend. Now if I can just get him to send me a really decent pic of it for my work PC wallpaper, I would be thrilled. Even more thrilling would be to drive or ride in it again.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    I’m late to this party, but here is MHO. To be totally fair, you need to totally go back in time and not take any of your modern knowledge/opinions with you.

    So, it’s 1973 and you’re looking at the LTD and wondering what else you might buy. In 1973, big cars were still at the top of the pecking order (that is until the oil stopped flowing in late 1973) and people were still pretty brand loyal. About the only time most people considered changing brands (and even then, usually not companies) was when they changed vehicle size or their lot in life improved or worsened. It may sound stupid today, but if you showed up to Sunday service in a Malibu (no matter how nice) when you had previously driven an Impala or Caprice prior, the Rabbi is going to think maybe things aren’t so good for your business.

    Taking brand loyalty away, if you’re looking at the LTD, the Caprice or Fury Gran Sedan are your other choices in the “low-priced field”. According to road tests of the day, the Plymouth had the best handling (that is relative by today’s standards), the Ford was the most comfortable/quietest and the Caprice was middle ground. Ford generally got the nod for quality but, Ford test cars were detailed and prepped to the max in those days. Really, it’s a toss up to me. It might sway people that Ford did have the most extensive restyle/refreshening (with the worst 5mph bumpers in my eyes) so, if you wanted the newest full-size look, the Ford would win.

    The alternative then? The Oldsmobile Cutlass. GM mid-size cars were new for 1973 and, to me, the Cutlass had the best styling. You were moving down a notch in size, but Oldsmobile was a notch up in class. You got a more sensible size, better handling, a little better gas mileage and the Rabbi didn’t lose any sleep worrying about your business. MHO/YMMV.

  • avatar
    zenith

    Not a thing wrong with the LTD, so long as you ordered H-D suspension. The regular front springs had you bottoming-out in 60-80K miles.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Murilee, this is a great idea. I’d go for a Buick Century GS 455, courtesy of Bud Lindeman liking its “mill”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGYg5GuLqXY

    “This is as close to a super car as we’ve seen since breathing clean air became popular.”

    I love the backwards Rockford maneuver.

  • avatar
    theonewhogotaway

    The Mach1/’cuda/GTO would have been the best choice. Then store it for 40 years and then use it as your retirement fund :)

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I was 12 going on 13 in 1973 and a car geek. My folks had a fairly pedestrian 63 Valiant 4 dr 170 slant 6-3 on tree, and a 62 Impala 4 dr htp 327 powerglide. (Working class suburbia and my dad fixed the 10 yr old family cars. Screw keeping up with the Jones “Luxury Fever”) But for less cash than the Full-size 73 LTD(Which I liked but not loved. An uncle of mine had a loaded 2 dr w/351 and he seemed to enjoy the ride) and for a few dollars more than other mid-sizers there was the Pontiac Grand Am. Probably the best of the 73-77 GM Colonnade’s. Basically an up-market LeMans with the revolutionary for its time Endura plastic bumper and facade. Standard Euro suspension similar to a comparable Chevelle Laguna. It came in 2dr or 4 dr w/standard 400 or optional 455 power. 4 speed or TH 400 auto. Rally wheels or Honeycombs. Buckets/console and full gauges were standard. They built these only up to 1975. While many my age through the 70′s were lusting for mediocre F-Body’s especially post-Smokey/Bandit I still had a hankering for one of these or the rare 76-77 Can-Am.

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      The Grand Am is a good choice too. Looking back, any of the GM Colonnade performance variants of that year were the best deals. The only thing is, none of these cars with all the go-fast goodies were $3,800 — $5,000 was probably a more realistic selling price.

      On the other hand, the actual “muscle” was largely gone and the intermediates became kind of “sleepers.” Maybe their insurance premiums weren’t as outrageous as those of the pony cars.

      • 0 avatar
        texan01

        True, in ’76 my parents bought a ’76 Malibu Classic sedan brand new and the total came to around 4800 for the top line trim, with a 305 V8, automatic, A/C, cloth seats and color keyed seatbelts, and AM radio.

        I still have the dealer invoices for that car, I’m going to try and recreate them for my ’77 version of that same car.

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    Econoline! Just in time for the shaggin’ wagon craze :P

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    At the time I was a 19 year old college boy and I (had I had the cash ) would have done what I did the following year , like everyone else in college in Austin, bought foreign . In my case I was undecided between a Volkswagen Squareback and a Datsun 510 wagon . In real life I bought the VW – bit of a mistake in retrospect , so had I bought new it would have been that or the 510 new and pocketed the extra cash . A wealthier aquaintance had the Saab and I was quite impressed with it. Wouldn’t have gotten the Mazda RX-2 though as I was working the summer before at a Mazda /Volvo/ Mercedes dealership and already heard about the problems customers were having with them . The old man though did buy a new car in this price range in the September of 1972 . He always bought Pontiacs as an uncle had a dealership and I encouraged him to get a Grand Am . However he traded in his 1969 Custom S hardtop coupe on a new end of the model year clearance 1972 Le Mans 4door sedan . He had bought cars of the Tempest /Le Mans / GTO group as had the other relatives since the first rope-drive Tempest but this one , despite this year being the fifth year of this generation was a horrible car . The cheesy cloth interior split almost immediately , it started rusting within a year (and we lived in Texas , not the snowbelt) , a rattle in the door panel turned out to be a coffee cup , rain poured thru the right side vent window from day one , and the rear axle broke when I hit a small pothole at low speed, and I cut myself and had to get stitches on a jagged unfinished metal door edge . A total POS , much less cool than the Custom S with its morrokide interior and four-barrel and it got lousy gas mileage too and ran badly .I wondered if there was lingering UAW anger over the earlier GM strike resulting in deliberate sabotage/uncaring assembly .

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I wasn’t licensed in ’73, but the cars I lusted after were the Challenger and the 240Z. I owned both by the time I was 23, but if I had the decision over, it would be a 510 and mods.


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