Constructed during the 75th anniversary of the Ford Motor Co.’s founding in 1903, this 22,080-mile 1978 LTD was the last true full-sized Ford passenger car available before the “downsized” 1979 versions debuted. While it measures 224.1 inches long and 79.5 inches wide, its 4,215-pound curb weight is still at least a half-ton less than a modern Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Suburban. This body style, designated 53H, is officially known as a four-door pillared hardtop for combining frameless door glass with a sedan-style center post.
This particular LTD was registered on March 30, 1978, to Palmyra, Pa., resident Arlene E. Rupp and her husband, Floyd B. Rupp, Sr., who was a service technician at J.C. Hess Ford of Hershey, Pa. Its $5,410 base retail price was boosted to $7,933.10 by several unusual options, including a 400-cid V-8 engine with a two-barrel carburetor for $283. (An even bigger 460-cid four-barrel V-8 was also available for $428.) The car also carries four-wheel disc brakes ($197), a heavy-duty trailer towing package ($139) and for another $49.10, special-order 7080 Pale Jade exterior paint normally used on Ford trucks.
They purchased this car to pull a 24-foot Trotwood trailer, but a 1971 LTD finished in a similar shade of green remained their primary tow vehicle. The 1978 saw little use before Rupp stopped driving altogether around 1988.
Having become the service manager at another dealership, Rupp remained extremely diligent about maintenance and kept the car garaged. Even after his death in 2002, the car was still sent regularly to Maguire’s Ford in Palmyra, Pa., which had taken over J.C. Hess’ franchise, for a current state inspection and any needed servicing.
My opportunity to purchase this LTD arose three months after Arlene Rupp passed away in July 2006. The car was parked alongside Pennsylvania State Highway 39 to attract a buyer from the legions of old car enthusiasts attending the Antique Automobile Club of America’s gigantic fall meet in Hershey. The car drove almost like new despite its lack of exercise, and the artifacts that Sherry and John Ebersole (the original owner’s step-daughter and son-in-law) included with the sale were astounding! This comprised two copies of the original build sheet; the original window invoice; the original odometer statement and temporary registration certificate; the original paper key tag with the dealership’s stock number; a paper loop of starting and safety belt instructions that slips over the sun visor; a complete set of service manuals; and a license frame, ashtray and leather key fob from J.C. Hess Ford.
I decided to name the car Myra, in honor of the first 28 years it spent residing in Palmyra, Pa. My wife, Lisa, immediately took to calling it the “mint condition car,” on account of its unusual color as much as its remarkable state of preservation.
With Lisa following behind in her Ford Taurus wagon, we put 172 miles on this LTD during the first day we owned it, which was more usage than the car had seen over the previous 8-1/2 years! According to the service records supplied by Maguire’s when they replaced the alternator belt at 22,089 miles for our trip home, the car had accumulated just 64 miles since its last oil change in November 2003, 76 miles since the battery was replaced in January 2003, and 89 miles since new tires were fitted in February 2002. In other words, the oil and filter change that we performed once we got home took place 239 miles, or two years and 11 months, after the previous one!
Displayed, for the very first time with just a perfunctory cleaning beforehand, at the Upper Delaware River Mustang Club’s Inaugural Fall Car Show in Montgomery, N.Y., on October 15, 2006, Myra was honored with first place in the 1967-1979 Ford class.
Just one week before Old Cars contributor Gregg D. Merksamer found his low-mileage, single-family-owned 1978 Ford LTD outside the fall AACA event in Hershey, Pa., I was finalizing the deal to buy a 17,000-mile, one-owner 1981 Impala coupe from Bethlehem, Pa. And neither of us knew about the other’s find.
It’s hard to explain, but I love full-size Chevrolets from the 1980s, and I have since they first came out. My first Caprice was a 1982 Caprice coupe, and the most recent was the 1985 Caprice Classic Landau coupe I still own. Though I’ve owned the 1985 Caprice coupe for five years, its Landau vinyl top treatment never grew on me. I’ve always considered the full-size 1980s Chevrolets to be an extension of the Bel Air and Biscayne two-door sedans from the 1960s, and the vinyl top masked that look.
Not content with the Landau top and extraneous trim on my 1985 Caprice, I joked with Old Cars staffers that if a nice 1980-’81 Impala coupe without a vinyl top came up for sale, I’d consider buying it. Not two weeks later, I had to put my money where my mouth was or stop talking about it.
Upon finding the Impala listed for sale, I contacted the Bethlehem, Pa., seller from my Wisconsin home. It turns out that he is a salesman at a Volkswagen dealership. One of his customers drove a VW Jetta, but her husband owned a Chevrolet truck and 1981 Impala coupe. For 25 years, her Jetta had been parked outside next to the truck while her husband’s Impala sat in the garage, rarely gathering miles. When she bought a newer VW this summer, she told her husband she had enough ‘ her VW was going in the one-car garage.
I have to credit her husband with getting away with preserving the Impala for 25 years. Judging by the never-used snow tires and tire chains in the trunk, the car was probably intended to be daily transportation, or maybe that’s how he justified its purchase. But day after day, the Impala quietly sat in the garage while the couple used their VW and truck to commute to work. According to the seller, the Impala’s owners only drove the Impala to prevent its tires from weather cracking. Otherwise, it sat in the garage.
Why anyone would preserve a 1981 Impala since it was new is a question that even eludes a 1980s Chevrolet collector like me. Perhaps the owner decided to keep the car for special occasions when he learned that Impala coupe sales were so bad in 1981 ‘ only 6,067 were built ‘ that the model was cancelled for 1982.
Regardless, the owner couldn’t bear to allow the car to sit outside, and when he shared the Impala’s outdoor plight with the VW salesman, the salesman offered to buy the car.
It turns out the Impala’s original owner thought that the salesman would be the Impala’s next preservationist. Instead, the VW salesman did what he did best ‘ he turned the car around and offered it for sale as soon as the new title arrived.
What that salesman offered for sale to me was a 1981 Impala coupe built at the Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant and sold new through Scott Chevrolet of Emmaus, Pa., on May 23, 1981. The original owner traded a 1974 Buick Regal coupe after finding the Light Blue Metallic Impala with 10 miles on the odometer on the new car lot.
Options on the car do not include a V-8 engine, which was priced at only $50 more than the V-6 model. Oddly enough, the factory deemed i t necessary to include bumper guards at $54, however. The original window sticker states the car also sports air conditioning, tinted glass, front and rear floor mats, and an electric rear window defogger, as well as an AM/FM stereo and the value appearance group (wheel opening trim). The total, including tax and fees and the Rusty Jones treatment, was $9,443.50.
Aside from keeping the window sticker and new car sales agreement, the owner kept meticulous service records, and judging by the copious notes in the owner’s manual, he actually read it from cover to cover. He also filled out the maintenance schedule included in the new-car paperwork. When opened, it also revealed a schedule for studded tire usage with Pennsylvania and New York circled, perhaps offering a clue as to where the owner intended to use the car.
The car also included the dealership stock number tag, key knock-outs, dealership odometer statement from the time of delivery, original title and the paper seatbelt instructions over the passenger-side visor.
With the Impala is in my possession, chances are nil that the car will ever wear those NOS snow tires and still-packaged tire chains. It may also accumulate its most miles in one trip in a return adventure to Pennsylvania for the Fall Carlisle and Hershey events. Unless I find another low-mileage car to bring back. And Gregg Merksamer doesn’t beat me to it!