Huw Evans
November 1, 2008
'71-'72 Ford Galaxie/LTD
Price Range: $500-$3,500
Pros: Surprisingly agile for such a big car, smooth and comfortable, sturdy mechanicals, often very cheap to buy
Cons: Fewer performance options than earlier big Fords, passes everything but a gas station, a lot of replacement parts very difficult to find

All-new sheetmetal marked the big Fords for 1971 but the design, although successful at the time, would prove short-lived. Probably the only cars of any real interest here would be the Galaxie 500 two-door hardtops and the LTD coupe/convertible, which would become the last big Ford ragtop when it bowed out after 1972. Although the biggest Fords seen at the time, they weren't particularly heavy for such large cars and sold in decent numbers. However, they were prone to rusting, part of the reason you don't see a great many of them today. Still, in view of current gas prices, the survivors are usually fairly cheap and that even goes for the convertibles. Available with 351 Cleveland and 385-series 429 V-8s, they're also an affordable way to get into classic V-8 Ford power, if your budget doesn't stretch to a Mustang or Torino. Good, running hardtops can still be found for well within our listed budget and for that reason we've decided to include these cars. Engine and driveline parts are relatively plentiful and mods such as updated suspension, aftermarket intake, carb, dual exhaust, electronic ignition, shift improvement kit, and dual exhaust, along with updated rims 'n' rubber, can make one of these behemoths surprisingly fun. You'll have a tough time searching for interior and exterior trim, though, so buy the most complete car you can.

'70-'77 Ford Maverick/Mercury Comet
Price Range: $2,000-$3,500
Pros: Light weight, good performance potential, surprisingly fun to drive
Cons: Rust prone, low survival rate, Grabbers and GTs getting expensive

Anew spin on an existing formula was the Maverick, introduced in 1969 as an early '70 model. Mating existing Falcon running gear and inner structure with a more modern two-door sedan body, it was designed to take on Japanese imports, then starting to arrive in North America in growing numbers. Standard power initially came via the bullet-proof 170-cid straight-six, with the bigger 200- and 250-cube units as options. A performance-oriented Grabber package with bright paint and a graphics package was announced in 1970. For the '71 model year, the car's appeal was further bolstered by the arrival of a 302 V-8 engine, a four-door sedan, and a Mercury counterpart that took the Comet name, which also spawned a sporty GT. These cars, particularly the Maverick, sold very well during their early years, with over 579,000 sold during the car's extra-long debut season. Sales still remained very strong--around the 300,000 mark through 1974, after which demand began to tail off. Although the Maverick and the Comet fell under the enthusiast radar for many years, they are starting to gain popularity, especially considering that the survival rate for a once-popular car is relatively low. Lightweight (around 2,700 pounds) for two-doors, they make excellent candidates for bigger V-8 engine swaps, since a 302/351 will drop in with relatively few issues. As a result, these cars have been popular with drag racers, but even if racing isn't your thing, a modified Maverick or Comet can make for a great cruiser and a trip down memory lane. Although the Grabbers and GTs have now became the prized examples of the breed and mostly beyond our price ceiling, the base two-doors (heck, even four-doors if you want to stand out) are still relatively affordable.

'77 Mercury Cougar
Price Range: $2,400-$3,500
Pros: Last of the true ponycar models, the cheapest way into classic Cougar ownership, decent performance available from 302 and 351 V-8s
Cons: Prices are rising, exterior and interior replacement parts often difficult to find

Admittedly, this is perhaps pushing the limits of our pricing ceiling a bit, but concentrating strictly on the base coupes and ignoring the XR7s and convertibles, it's still possible to find a solid Cougar project that slots in just under our price cutoff, especially on the West Coast and in the South, where demand for these cars appears to be less. For some reason, our findings reveal that the '77s seem to be the cheapest of this generation of Mercury Cats. Although parts are harder to find compared to contemporary Mustangs, a little creativity can result in a very nice and somewhat luxurious car. How about a modern restomod with a fuel-injected Windsor or 302, an AOD, all disc-brake conversion, and firmed up suspension with polyurethane bushings--or a period '70s-style street machine with raised rear suspension, tweaked Windsor or Cleveland Motor, a C4 with a shift improvement kit, plus some Ansen slot mags and Cherry Bombs?