1972 ended up being the final year for the postwar era of mainstream American car shoppers buying big, cheap sedans with few misgivings about fuel economy (though, if you want to get picky about it, you could say the 1973 Oil Crisis began while 1974 models were already in showrooms). Full-sized Fords sold very well in 1972, with close to a half-million Customs, Galaxies, and LTDs sold that year (plus better than 75,000 units of the Marquis and Monterey), and these cars were commonplace on American roads well into the 1990s. Today, the 1971-1972 big Fords and their distinctive snouts have all but disappeared, so I was happy to find this extremely green example in a Denver-area yard last month.
The second Dirty Harry movie, 1973’s “Magnum Force,” features some of the finest chase scenes involving a 1972 full-sized Ford ever put on celluloid. Everyone knows about the wild San Francisco chase that starts on the now-demolished Embarcadero Freeway and ends next to the about-to-be-scrapped USS Badoeng Strait at Pier 54, featuring Hal Holbrook’s ’72 Custom 500 taking more abuse than even Jake and Elwood’s ’74 Dodge Monaco.
That’s not the only 1972 full-sized Ford with an important role in this film, however; Harry’s unmarked police cruiser is a handsome ’72 Galaxie 500, and his civilian car is a snazzy ’72 LTD convertible.
The Galaxie 500 fell about in the middle of the big Ford lineup, with the MSRP starting at $3,685 (about $25,210 in 2022 dollars) for today’s Junkyard Find. At the low end, you had the Custom sedan ($3,288), while the king of 1972 full-sized Ford sedans was the $4,050 LTD Brougham.
Theoretically, you could get a 240-cubic-inch (3.9-liter) straight-six engine in a Custom or Galaxie, but it appears that you had to be a fleet buyer for that; civilian buyers got a 351-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) Cleveland V8 as the base engine and could cheap out with a 302-cubic-inch Windsor V8 for a price discount. This car has the optional Cleveland-based 400 (6.5-liter) V8, rated at 172 horsepower and priced at just $95 extra (that’s about $650 today). The 400 used in the ’71 big Fords had an official rating of 260 horses; a bit of the power difference between the two model years came from an emissions-mandated compression-ratio drop (from 9.0:1 down to 8.5:1), but most of it came from the government-mandated (the California government, that is) switch from gross to net horsepower ratings, which took full effect in the 1972 model year.
Interestingly, the air cleaner— or at least the air cleaner lid— in this car came from a Ford truck with the never-installed-in-cars 360 V8 engine (Chrysler and AMC also had 360s at this time, but the checkered-flag sticker identifies this cleaner as a late-1960s Ford product). It was easy to swap air cleaner assemblies on vehicles back then, since so many of them used the same carburetors.
This car was in very nice condition when it arrived in the junkyard, with no rust anywhere and an interior that shows all the signs of having been in a garaged car for most of its life. The bumpers and most of the trim look near-perfect, and the few body dents appear to have happened after it entered the junkyard ecosystem.
It doesn’t take much imagination to picture it around the time that G. Gordon Liddy’s operatives were breaking into DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, with a beehived young lady sporting the latest fashions behind the wheel. Yes, the 1972 Galaxie 500 was a lot of car for the money (though this one has a curb weight of only 3,826 pounds, just a couple hundred pounds more than a new Escape and quite a few less than a new Edge).
Is it possible that this car has traveled a mere 5,770 miles during its 50-year life? I suppose so, but my money is on a pampered 105,770 miles (or perhaps a speedometer cable that broke early in life). Not many US-market cars made it to the six-figure mileage mark back then, and so you’d only find six-digit odometers in Volvos and Mercedes-Benzes. Note the automatic transmission, which was standard equipment on full-sized Fords in 1972. GM put a slushbox as base equipment in (non-fleet) full-sized Chevrolets that year, too, as did Chrysler with the big Plymouth Fury and American Motors with the Ambassador.
Air conditioning didn’t become standard equipment on non-oligarch-grade American cars until decades later, though most buyers of Detroit full-sized sedans forked over the extra cash for refrigerated air by the early 1970s. The list price on A/C for this car was 409 bones, or clams (that’s about 2,800 spondulix today, so think about that next time you complain about the included-in-MSRP A/C in your new $14,645 Mitsubishi Mirage needing several minutes to cool down the interior on a hot day).
I feel something of a personal connection to this car, and not just because these things were everywhere when I was a kid. The build tag tells me that it rolled off the Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June of 1972. I graduated from kindergarten in Minneapolis that month, just on the other side of the Mississippi from now-demolished Twin Cities Assembly, and my grandparents down in Winona drove a ’68 Ford LTD coupe (the generation before the 1969-1974 big Ford but philosophically similar) at that time.
My stoic Luxembourgish grandfather had become a Ford man decades earlier, when the Great Car Shortage of 1945-1946 put him into the only new car he could find: a genuinely wretched Crosley. He bought a new Ford as soon as he could and never looked back. Meanwhile, one of his teenaged cousins back in the old country had fought the Nazis in the Belgian Resistance, transporting ammunition in a Ford Model T during the Battle of the Bulge, and he went on to open a Ford repair shop in Arlon a few years later. Naturally, when my father got his first new car (technically a company car, but he was allowed to choose it), family tradition dictated that it be a 1967 Ford Custom two-door sedan with 289 and three-on-the-floor manual transmission.
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Those demanding Galaxie 500 customers literally pounded their fists on the desks of the suits in Dearborn, insisting on power steering at no extra cost, if we are to treat this TV commercial as a documentary.