Ford's extraordinary crack at the local personal coupe market combined brute force with a big serve of luxury
Looking back, you have to admit that Ford Australia’s decision to produce the P5 Landau was courageous. While there was an identifiable local market for luxury ‘personal coupes' back in the mid-seventies, it was tiny and already heavily populated by European and (to a lesser extent) American options.
Making one here from scratch was brave.
That decision is credited to Bill Bourke, former Managing Director of Ford Australia and by time of launch heading up Ford Asia Pacific. The Landau was to sit beside the then new P5 LTD four-door, with which it shared some styling cues.
Speaking of which, the two that really stood out for local tastes were the opening headlight ‘doors’ or covers and the hubcaps. The former were a USA Mercury influence, while the latter – on the Landau – were in fact a Thunderbird part.
Of course the Landau was much more than those two features. Based on the existing Australian hardtop platform, it went all-out in the luxury stakes. Wheels magazine of January 1974 described it as the local answer to a Lincoln Continental Mark IV.
Inside you could score panels of Howe leather (though there were still vinyl panels present) standard air-conditioning controlled from the centre-console, power windows, six-dial instrumentation, tape deck…all the mid-seventies good gear. Carpeting was deep and rich and extended to the boot, while outside the roof scored a padded vinyl finish with special badging for the C-pillar. All this luxury added significantly to the weight – around 200 kilos over an equivalent GT hardtop.
Despite the size and weight, it really was a 2+2 and not a full four-seater. While there was a luxurious pair of thrones in the rear, the back row was criticised for being claustrophobic – that said, you could level the same criticism at a lot of big coupes from across the decades.
The chassis was a mixed story – disc brakes all round with ventilated units on the front, but the choice of suspension rates may have erred on the side of plush at the cost of precision.
It was the XB GT auto driveline that was truly impressive for the day: Ford’s 351 V8 with FMX three-speed auto and nine-inch diff. It claimed 290 horses, which lost a little of its performance sparkle thanks to the choice of a tall 2.75 diff ratio.
With a weight of 1720kg, it claimed 16.9sec for the standing 400m, or about a second slower than a GT hardtop auto. However, it remained a quick point-to-point car.
Wheels was largely complimentary about the big coupe’s abilities: "Handling is easy with power everything and it’s a simple car to drive. Roadholding with the big rubber is also excellent, considering the Landau’s intended role and we doubt if it will get customers into trouble. In most circumstances it’s a mild understeerer that simply goes in the direction in which it is pointed. Start trying though and the understeer increases until ultimately it will be the front end which runs off the road first.
"There is some the Falcon GT’s marvelous tail squat when the power is booted on in a corner but the Landau is far less responsive to throttle steer.
"Ford’s Landau is an interesting exercise into the realm of the personal car. It is a car with limited general appeal and should best be considered a two-plus-two. It is well finished, superbly equipped and incredibly quiet at normal speeds with a plush ride."
Pricing was hefty: $6950 standard, or $7450 with leather and cassette player. A P5 LTD four-door was a few hundred dollars more, while an XB GT 351 auto hardtop was around $5600.
The ambivalent attitude expressed by the Wheels mag road tester was reflected in the market, with sales reaching 1385 units during its 1973-76 model life. That was far from being a sales disgrace, but it did nothing to encourage the development of the next-generation proposal, said to share the ‘Rolls-Royce’ grille of the P6 LTD.
It’s been interesting to watch the progress of the big Landau in the collector market. Around 15 years ago, they could be had for very little money and even a decade ago the demand was minimal. Really, it was only a few Ford diehards who saw potential for what was a single model run and by most definitions a bit of an orphan.
In fact, for a while there, people would happily cannibalise an old Landau for its driveline to resuscitate a GT hardtop.
However a couple of factors have seen them get their own place in the sun. The first is the incredible rise in value of XA-XB-XC hardtops, to the point where six-digit values are now the rule rather than the exception. That has sucked Landau values along in their wake.
Second is people have woken up to the fact that a good Landau is now a pretty rare beast and does have its own place in local car manufacturing history. People like Stav, the owner of the example you see here, are bringing them back to life. More power to them…
Landau owner - Stav Sergiou:
I've had it about 10 years. It was sitting in the garage for a while and I decided to uncover it and start restoring. A mate of mine and I stripped it overnight and we started on the bodywork.
It was a really dry car, so the rust was minimal. There were a couple of little spots on the guards and under the back window. We knew when we bought it that this was a good car.
The fella selling it was being dicked around by people, low-balling him and making silly offers. I sent him a message, asked how much, went and had a look and bought it. He was a good bloke and was going through a divorce at the time.
I took the car back to him once it was done and let him drive it. He gave me all the service books and paperwork for it. He was very appreciative.
They’re more or less a GT under the body, with the 351, the FMX transmission and nine-inch diff. They were still low-key compared to the XA-XB coupes and they didn’t sell a lot – around 1400.
Words Guy Allen
Photos Ben Galli