One Prior Owner: 1981 Ford Fairmont

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The Fairmont was the successor to the popular Ford Maverick and would be built for six model years (1978-83). Unlike the Maverick which had been Falcon-based, the Fairmont (and the similar Mercury Zephyr) was built on the new Fox body platform, which also supported the Mustang of the 1980s. This ’81 edition has only had one prior owner and will need some further tinkering to get it running again. It’s waiting in Springfield, Illinois for the right person to meet the $4,500 OBO asking price here on craigslist. Thanks, Rocco B., for another FOMOCO tip.

Unlike the Falcon that came before it by several years) the Fairmont doesn’t seem to have a big fan following or even an owner’s club. It was just another of the frugally built cars that came out of Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s. It was Ford’s third go-round of pushing compact sedans in North America and sold nearly 1.6 million units. Its Fox platform would perhaps be the company’s most used (overused?) foundation spawning 13 model lines across Ford and Lincoln-Mercury. When they built Ford’s 100 millionth car in late 1977, it would be a Fairmont Futura coupe.

This 1981 Fairmont coupe (or 2-door sedan) would be one of 23,066 built that year and the last for that body style with this nameplate. It has traveled 72,000 miles in its 42 years on Planet Earth and has only been owned by one family before the seller. It has the 200 cubic inch inline-6 that found its way into a multitude of Ford cars from the 1960s forward. The auto isn’t currently running which may have turned out to be a carburetor issue. The seller thought he/she had fixed that, but it still doesn’t perform. A new radiator, fuel pump, and water pump haven’t helped.

The vehicle wears reddish paint with a matching interior. While there is some surface rust on the undercarriage, rust doesn’t seem to be an issue elsewhere. The interior sports some deteriorated plastic pieces, but the seller doesn’t include any photos of the passenger or engine compartments for us to judge. The pollution control apparatus has been removed and the seller is sending along a set of headers that the buyer can install (but why it’s a Fairmont?). It’s been suggested this car is a great candidate for a 302 V8 swap, but again, why? The best idea may be to get it running and use it as cheap wheels for as long as you can.

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  1. angliagt angliagtMember

    Springfield,Ill. – home of Abe Lincoln.

    It says that they’re open to offers,so could be a good deal.
    Carburetors were a problem with these.I went through some-
    thing like three of them until I bought a new one & eliminated
    that problem.The intake is part of the head,so you’d have to
    have them machined to separate them if you wanted to use a
    2 barrel carb.
    I would think that this would make a good,reliable daily
    driver.Same platform as a Mustang,so you could do some inter-
    esting modifications to it.

    Like 11
  2. HoA Howard A (retired)Member

    No, not the Simpsons Springfield, that’s Kentucky( and have the clues to prove it). Here we go again, ma passed away, and here we are. The Fairmont was as generic as you could get, yet, it filled a very important role, getting mom(s) to church functions, PTA meetings, local funerals, and such. Never meant as a road car, although, many were used as such. These cars were pretty simple, and if the problem can’t be found, it only tells me the extent of mechanical ability today. It’s not a freakin’ Lexus. This was the car for people that had absolutely no interest in cars, but needed one none the less, and was a good car for that.These roundhead car makers get their heads out of their and offer this again, be a hit, I guarantee. Well, here’s your chance to beat them all to the punch, and have a great car to boot. No, there probably won’t be any FaceBook “Fairmont” groups, but I wouldn’t waste any time here.

    Like 13
  3. angliagt angliagtMember

    I disagree – there’s a strong following on these.
    I bought a ’78 wagon in ’81,as we were starting a
    family,& needed a vehicle that would haul us & our
    A big part of my decision to buy it was that I
    read an article on the new K cars,& it was mentioned
    that fleet buyers bought Fairmonts instead,because
    they required a lot less maintanence due to being
    rear wheel drive.

    Like 14
  4. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

    Yes, this was a car for the masses, for people who needed a car just to do normal car things. Straightforward drivetrain, basic boxy styling, nothing at all fancy about its presentation. But to me, in the context of today’s gray, swoopily-styled SUV’s, it doesn’t look bad at all. Especially with the dark red paint and the wire-look wheel covers.

    Like 31
  5. Daniel wright

    We had one in the late 90z that the kids called death mobile. It was a mess of dents, bondo and primer. Smoked like a chimney Two owners after us it was still running.

    Like 6
  6. PRA4SNW


    Like 17
  7. Chris

    It comes with a “set” of headers? For an inline engine?

    Like 1
    • TehAgent

      Sometimes on an i6s it’s two flanges; 3 and 3

      Like 1
    • Todd Zuercher

      Sure! And they’re probably from Clifford Performance. A straight six sounds good with a set of headers!

      Like 7
  8. BoatmanMember

    Wow, I’m impressed! Where is all the Fairmont (Zephyr) bashing?

    Like 1
    • Mike B

      Here: Worst car I’ve ever driven. A week’s rental was too long to live with this car. Lousy power. Lousy handling. Lousy mileage (given the performance). It took my back a week or more to recover from the Lousy seats. And it’s not like it’s beautiful. Looks like a great entry for the Demo Derby since rust hasn’t compromised structural integrity. There are tons of better, more interesting cars out there to choose from/talk about. (Too Joan Rivers?)

      Like 3
      • BoatmanMember

        Aaand there it is!

        Like 8
  9. Harry Allen

    Wow I really have mostly praise for the Fairmont nothing negative jumps out. I drove one for 200,000 Miles as a work vehicle. I was a travelling Printing technician. My Fairmont had a 255 CI V 8 that performed nicely, (I believe it to be 255). Grey with Red interior and just enough creature comforts outside of the Vinyl seats (ouch). I will say that the car looks to have been cared for enough to make the purchase price acceptable. You could put a 302 in with no great effort and drive the wheels off of it, If you don’t abuse it it will give you good service.

    Like 10
    • Motorcityman

      250 6 cylinder, No 255 V8. If it was a V8 It was the 302

      Like 3
      • Michael

        Wrong , the 255 was also an option in the fairmont and granada. It was anemic and would be better off with the 200. I bought a 78 with a 255 that had pollution control issues and swapped a 302 with boss heads.

        Like 1
      • Todd Zuercher

        If it was an 80-81 Fairmont (and maybe 82?), it had the 255 V8. Not one of Ford’a better ideas.

        Like 3
  10. Stan

    Beautiful Fairmont post 🙌

    Like 7
    • Healeymonster

      I remember walking our lincoln Mercury lot in the early eighties with our Zephers all in a line thinking “what a boring car!” It should come standard with a disability plate for the gray haired seniors willing to buy it!

      Like 1
  11. Claudio

    The designers of these heaps should have been tarred and feathered
    Really ugly car then and now
    I ´ll take a jelly bean car anyday to not sit in this …

    Like 0
    • Dave Brown

      I order a brand new one the year they came out. These were considered very modern at the time. The one I ordered was in a bright tan color and matching vinyl interior, two door. It seems that Ford couldn’t keep up with demand and mine was always another two weeks away. So, I went to Kansas City and bought a new 1977 1/2 Chrysler LeBaron coupe in dark grey. I put wide whites on it. It was my disco mobile. The Ford would have been much more reliable.

      Like 3
      • Larry

        “Bright tan”? Thanks for the chuckle, DB.

        Like 0
      • Larry

        Meant to add this: the shade of “meh” you’re referring to was commonly known as Ford Racing Beige.

        Like 1
    • Larry

      When compared to K-Cars and Chevy Citations, the Fairmont held its own in the styling department. There was very little to choose from in the late 70’s and early 80’s if you wanted something stylish form the North American manufacturers.

      Like 4
      • PRA4SNW

        I was going to mention the same thing as Larry.

        You really have to take this car’s competitor’s into context (K Car, Citation) before commenting on the blandness of the Fairmont. You didn’t buy this for excitement, you bought it to get back and forth to work, school, etc. without breaking the bank.

        Like 3
      • Car Nut Tacoma

        Compared to the K-Car, I’ve always found the Fairmont/Zephyr the best looking cars of the time.

        Like 3
  12. wjtinfwb

    I logged thousands of miles in Fairmonts and Zephyrs working for a couple rental companies. The best was the Zephyr Z-7 coupe with a 302. It had buckets and a column shift automatic and was a really nice little coupe. Most of the fleet were sedans and wagons with the 250 six and automatic, not exciting but damn near unbreakable. I used them daily to perfect my Rockford reverse J-turns. I got to the point where I could hit about 30 in reverse, spin the wheel, drop it into drive and have the accelerator pinned. Tons of fun and the cars never complained nor broke. I’d love to find a clean Squire wagon with buckets and a V-8, pump up the 302, swap in an AOD and 3.73 gear for a surprisingly quick daily. Considering how far Ford took the Fox platform under Mustangs and Lincoln’s, it’s a pretty great starting point for a budget sleeper.

    Like 10
    • BoatmanMember

      If I’m not mistaken, Joie Chitwood owned that stunt.

      Like 0
      • Jeff DeWitt

        Maybe, but Jim Rockford (James Garner) popularized it, which is why it’s often called a “Rockford”.

        Like 5
    • angliagt angliagtMember

      They had 200 sixes in them.

      Like 1
      • DON

        Some had 2300 4 bangers as well

        Like 0
    • Sean Whelan

      Why a buzz kill automatic? Thow a 5 or 6 speed manual in it. Every SUV, pickup, and EV on the market is an automatic, nothing special about them.

      Like 0
  13. Grant

    Had one equipped like this once as a rental. I liked it a lot. Not every car has to be a performance machine. Smooth comfortable transportation is what most people want. I did like the four doors better in these, though.

    Like 8
  14. 64 Bonneville

    The Model T of the 1980s’. good car, cheap to operate, insure, minimal maintenance, tough like a tank. Like a Chrysler slant 6, you cannot make it die. It will rust apart before it gives up the ghost. We had an 81 Zephyr wagon, enjoyable little car, 4 kids outgrew it before the payment book was used up.

    Like 11
  15. Kenneth Carney

    Sounds like they’re flooding it when
    they try to start it. These things have
    an electric fuel pump that’ll flood the
    carb if you pump the accelerator. My
    wife’s uncle and aunt bought one new
    in ’81. Whenever Aunt Norma would
    come by to see us, she always had
    trouble starting it before she left. This problem had me scratching my
    head til I called Dad and told him
    what the car was doing. He told me
    that Ford had installed electric fuel
    pumps in their ’81 models and didn’t
    tell the public. Seems that when Mr.
    and Mrs. John Q Public went out to
    start these cars, their first instinct
    was to pump the gas before turning
    the key to start the car. We all know
    that an electric fuel pump starts pumping once you turn the key, but it
    seems that Ford didn’t know that you
    can’t pump the gas with the electric fuel going. And that was the start of
    the reputation these cars earned for
    being hard starters. As for the Ford 6,
    check out the episode of Power Nation where the guys extracted 300
    HP from one with some everyday mods from your local speed shop and
    some machine work. If I hadn’t
    watched the program, I never would’ve believed it. Hope that helped.

    Like 3
  16. Big C

    For all the Fairmont haters. Bob Glidden set NHRA records with his 1978 V-8 Fairmont. The Chevy boys couldn’t touch him.

    Like 12
  17. Jeff DeWitt

    If it was closer I’d be really interested. Simple cars, good handling, nice, clean styling. I even like the color.

    It’s a shame no one makes anything like this today.

    Like 12
  18. Car Nut Tacoma

    Lovely looking car. Although I was way too young to drive a car at the time, I remember cars like the Ford Maverick and later the Ford Fairmont. I had a neighbour who had a Fairmont station wagon. I thought it was a beautiful car. IMHO, at the time, I thought it was better looking than the Mustang of the same vintage. Today, I like both cars, but at the time, I liked the Fairmont way better.

    Like 3
  19. Ben

    Coyote swap sleeper!

    Like 2
  20. Car Nut Tacoma

    Looking at the Craigslist ad, as usual, not enough photos to show of the car. In this case, only five pics. Although hardly exciting compared to the Mustang, I would think more pics could’ve been posted of the car. I’d love to see the interior of the car, at the engine, under the bonnet (hood), in the trunk, etc.

    Like 2
  21. Motorcityman

    I have a friend in Washington state that races these.
    He has 3 with the 302s.
    He says they’re very light at 2,600lbs
    My Mom had a black one with red interior with the 6. about 1985……I think it was a 79 or so model.
    Ran well, never gave her any problems.

    Like 2
  22. Bakes

    My dad had a 1978 Fairmont wagon as his demonstrator. Took my driver’s test in the car shortly after he got it in late 77. I had practiced in the 71 custom cruiser so this thing was comparatively tiny and nimble. Dad nicknamed it the Deetroit Vibrator because of what turned out to be a drive shaft wobble that happened between 55 and 60. Change all the tires, nothing changed, swapped out the drive shaft, problem solved. Go figure.

    They were decent cars, I remember the windows were super thin to save weight and given that underneath it’s pretty much identical to a mustang you can do all kinds of fun upgrades to the performance. This one looks to be a pretty good starting point for a nice basic sleeper car.

    Like 3
  23. CarBuzzardMember

    Sigh, just another car that people love to hate and love to tell everyone. If you’d not want to sit in it, does it really matter to anyone who likes the car. Not a personal attack. I don’t take your comments personally anymore that the designers who’d be tarred and feathered if some people had their way.

    No doubt this is a polarizing car, with people who love it and those who hate it. I’m one of the former. I owned a 1980 two-door sedan with the ES (European sport) package which added a blackout grille, blacked out rear end, and black (functional) vents behind the (non-opening rear windows). Rather than list the whole package, scroll down the attached link. Alas, the turbo-four version didn’t stay on the order book very long. The dealer said “not available” when I tried to buy it.

    The car handled surprisingly well thanks to the sport suspension. Alas, wheels and tires weren’t up to the quality of the suspension. I was able to track my Fairmont (4-cyl/4-speed) and I was able to keep up with more powerful cars, thanks to the suspension, well enough that owners of bigger engined cars wanted a look under the hood and see that it was only 2.3-liters. It was lighter than it looked, thanks in part to things like a non-lined trunk.

    The red Fairmont in the sales brochure was much like mine, though it didn’t have the Tu-Tone paint and as mentioned, the turbo four.

    I lusted after a V-8 with a manual transmission (not available), and based on the Fox platform would be able to create now…if I could find an ES. Yeah, I’d love to have that, haters notwithstanding.

    Like 5
    • Slomoogee

      I was trying to remember the model my buddy bought new it was the ES with the 4 cyl 4 speed. At the time I had a 75 Volvo 740. 4 speed w overdrive. Very similar cars but the Volvo was heavier and felt more solid. The Volvo was equipped with heavy duty sway bars and Koni shocks and struts. They were evenly matched in the twisty hills of S W Ohio where we would go to practice our driving. The difference was the Ford was brand new the Volvo 5 yrs old with over 100,000 on it and it didn’t beat you up on the ride home.

      Like 2
  24. Joe Haska

    I agree with the author. If this car was closer, I would take a chance and just get it running and enjoy it as a daily driver.

    Like 1
  25. t s

    Just when you thought Jane couldn’t get any plainer…… Yawn mobile enters the picture

    Like 1
  26. John R

    I had a 78 wagon with the 200 3speed floor shift. It was a good solid car, but the engine was a bit underpowered. I had considered dropping a 302 in it, and went with a Ford Ranger instead.

    Like 1
  27. J.M

    My mom had an 80 Fairmount and dad had a granada

    Like 0
  28. Emel

    This looks like it would have been a vehicle the Feds or the Stateys would use.
    Not this particular color, but you get the point.
    Boring, nondescript…..sort of like the gov’t.
    Not one of Ford’s better ideas.
    We might have rented one of these once, but I can hardly remember since
    it was so boring of a car. Me thinks Enterprise had a fleet of these.

    Like 0
  29. Motorcityman

    TODD……Thanks for the correction.
    I never heard of a 255 V8 that Ford made, must not have made it long, I was into Fords back then too!

    Like 0
    • wjtinfwb

      If I recall correctly, the rental company I worked for had just taken delivery of some Fox-body LTD wagons, around 1983. Most had the Essex 3.8L V6 but there was at least one with a V8, pretty sure it was the 255. Basically a de-bored and de-stroked Windsor. Identical externally to a 302 but weak as warm tea.

      Like 0
  30. Chris Cornetto

    I bought a two tone silver and black 81Futura coupe with a red velour interior in 1997 for 150.00. The car had no reverse. 200 six, no ac but it had the Mustang buckets and floorshift, along with power windows and the factory sun roof. I put a used tranny in the car and it was used until I retired it in 2010. The car logged 65,000 more miles and except for faded paint still runs fine today. These were slow as we called ours the Snailmont but aside from a fuel pump, brake pads, and tires it never needed nutt’in. For me the Futura is/was one of the best looking boxes of the “it’s hip to be square”era.

    Like 2
  31. Chris

    This was the drivers ed car back when I was in high school. Odd thing was the horn was actually on the turn signal. Fun times!

    Like 1
  32. Glenn SchwassMember

    We had one of these for our drivers ed car in high school. It was an underpowered POS and the radio didn’t work, until I punched the buttons and it started working. Our Substitute driver’s ed teach was so hot, I would have pushed whatever car we had. The regular old guy had a heart attack. (Not sure if he ever returned to that part of the job).

    Like 0
  33. MoPhil
  34. Tim

    My first car was a 1981 Ford Fairmont, same color, in a 4 door sedan. I drove that car almost 100k miles through high school and college. I changed the oil occasionally, but drove it like I stole it for the better part of 5 years. It was a live hate relationship through my teens. Not the coolest car. Not even remotely cool. But in my group, I was the first one to get a car, and it was big enough to taxi around all my buddies, and it had ample room for extracurricular activities with my high school sweetheart. 😂

    The car was a fleet car for the local port authority. My dad was the comptroller for the leasing company. When I turned 16 and was ready to drive m, this is the car be brought home for me to try. I didn’t care what it was. The car had 4 wheels and an engine. I was hooked. The paint was faded and the car needed a good cleaning. I waxed and scrubbed that thing until it shined like new. Didn’t even notice the ticking from the motor until I took it out the first time. Turned out the port authority thought less of maintenance than a teenager. Almost no oil in the motor. Once that was addressed, the car never let me down until I cracked the head on that 200 engine. Replaced it and drove it for another year before it started leaking coolant. At that point I was out of college and ready for a new car.

    To this day I have nothing but fond memories of this car. The high school sweetheart and I are still friends. The car is long gone.

    Like 0
  35. Louis Q. Chen

    My niece had a ’81 also 2 dr. but blue. It was a decent car & not bad on gas either. She had a problem with it once, I managed to figure what was wrong with i…it wouldn’t start. I decided to replace the ECM box and relocated in front for better cooling. It worked fine after that. She kept it after graduation but sold it after she got a better job. It was a good cheap car & easy to repair. As I recalled Ford had lots of problems with the ECM in the early days of electronic engine management & emission control. I figured it was the ECM when I opened the defective one on her car. I looked up the part numbers on the components used it wasn’t designed for hot/severe environment. The engineer also put the control unit next to the radiator fan which didn’t help. They also did the same with the ignition coil!

    Like 0
  36. Chris

    My grandparents had one of these. One of my fondest memories of that car was when my grandma turned it off one day, the entire car shook from side to side and the engine sputtered and popped. She beat on top of the dash, as if that would get it to stop. Great fun for a five year old kid. I know grandpa got it fixed, but that memory sticks with me.

    Like 0

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