Time Machine Dilemma: It's 1973 and You Have Enough Cash For a New LTD. What Do You Buy?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Bill mcgee Bill mcgee on Apr 28, 2012

    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 .

  • 05lgt 05lgt on Apr 29, 2012

    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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