Wicked Wagon: A Ford Fairmont on Steroids

By Scott Lear
Feb 22, 2018 | Ford | Posted in Features | From the June 2008 issue | Never miss an article

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If Clark Griswold had heeded the call of the checkered flag, he might have sold the Family Truckster and ended up with something like Dave Blum’s Ford Fairmont. It started life as a Fox-chassis 1985 Ford LTD wagon and was transformed over a period of eight years into a 1978 Ford Fairmont track toy.

“I just always liked wagons, anything that looks kind of utilitarian,” Dave explains. “I never went in for anything that’s swoopy-looking—you expect that to be fast.”

Before he started work on his Fairmont project, Dave’s track toy was a Fox-chassis 1989 Ford Mustang LX that had spent its earlier years as an IMSA Firehawk car. Unfortunately, he and the ’Stang never quite came to terms.

“I had a bunch of parts for it, and it broke in just about every place you can break one of those cars,” he reports. Victims included torque boxes, control arms, upper strut towers, and even the crossmember to which the seats are bolted. “It was crap on a subatomic level,” Dave quips.

Fed up with his Mustang, Dave decided that his go-fast parts deserved a better home. “I knew all the pieces would bolt on to a Fairmont, and I always wanted a wagon anyway.”

Unfortunately, finding a genuine Fairmont wagon in anything close to good shape proved to be very difficult. Rather than give up, Dave decided to make his own.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Ford sold the Fox-chassis Fairmont from 1978 until 1983. For a couple of years before it went away, the Fairmont was sold alongside the very similar Granada. Then, in 1983, Ford huffled things around again by dropping the Fairmont name, reskinning the Granada lineup and rebadging the lot under the Ford LTD name. Earlier, LTD had applied to the big-boy Ford sedans and wagons, but those full-sized cars had taken on the Crown Victoria name by this time.

Despite the name shuffling and sheet metal changes, Ford LTD wagons of the mid-’80s were all but identical under the skin to the original 1978 Ford Fairmont wagon. Knowing this, Dave found a suitable six-cylinder 1985 LTD wagon for $200 and then located the Ford Fairmont sheet metal at a local scrapyard.

Dave spends his days working at Apex Vintage, a specialty sports car service and repair shop in Raleigh, N.C. At Apex, Dave helps make other people’s automotive dreams come true. The Fairmont was a side project that he worked on after hours.

“Other than the paint and some friends who helped do some final trim the night before the event, nobody but me has ever turned a bolt on the car,” Dave says. “Since I work [at a professional shop] and do this stuff for a living, though, I felt I should enter it in the Shop class. The car was built with cheap and simple in mind, for no other reason than to annoy the crap out of drivers with far more expensive cars.”

Forging the War Wagon

Most of the major go-fast parts for Dave’s Fairmont came directly from his Mustang, including a balanced and blueprinted 347-cubic-inch V8 fitted with a Ford Motorsport intake, injectors and B303 cam. A shortened aluminum driveshaft from a Crown Vic connects the high-mileage BorgWarner T5 transmission to an 8.8-inch rear end.

Dave went outside the Ford parts bin on several occasions, too. To slow down this beast, he installed Corvette discs matched with massive Baer Brakes calipers front and rear. Griggs GR-40 suspension components mated to Koni dampers were a direct fit on the wagon and dramatically improved its handling characteristics.

To reduce the weight, Dave cut the side impact beams out of the doors—after all, the eight-point cage made them redundant. The hood and bumper were fabricated out of fiberglass, and he replaced the glass with Lexan.

In an effort to improve the wagon’s aerodynamics, Dave got creative with the nose. The front lower valence is a modified section of the bumper cover from a Honda Odyssey minivan, and the splitter is formed from the top half of a Volvo 850’s front bumper. The entire bumper and splitter assembly is attached to the car with four nuts and some Dzus fasteners to allow for quick and easy trailer loading.

Finally, Dave fabricated an adjustable wicker to improve airflow at the tail end. The distinctive paint—Prowler Orange—comes from the Chrysler palette. The end result is legal for NASA’s American Iron series, and Dave has also been able to run it with BMW CCA, PCA and even the SVRA. What’s more, Dave has kept his Fairmont legal for street use, so when his daily driver isn’t cooperating he fires up the wagon and takes it to work.

Trial by Stopwatch

Heading into the 2007 Hankook Ultimate Track Car Challenge, the Fairmont was still a raw recruit. Although Dave has lapped VIR countless times, it was only his second trip with the freshly transformed Fairmont. The wagon was also on street-compound brake pads at the time, giving Dave a window of only a few laps before fade became an issue.

He said he was not really happy with his 1:44.953 fastest lap in the competition, “but that’s what keeps you pushing to find a way to go faster,” he added. “After thinking about the way the car handled on Friday, I made some changes to the front shocks and went 1:43.563 in traffic during the NASA race [on Saturday] afternoon. There is clearly room for improvement.”

Still, Dave was a jovial competitor, and the rest of the UTCC field really enjoyed seeing his big Fairmont wagon cranking out the hot laps on track. The GRM staff awarded Dave with the Most Unlikely Car on Track award. Asked if in hindsight he would have done anything differently, Dave joked, “I would have found a way to run with a canoe and a bicycle on the roof rack.”

The Wind and the Fairmont

The Ford Fairmont is many things, but few people would conclude that its boxy shape is aerodynamic. However, thanks to the work of Louis Duncan and the small team of aerospace engineers working for Ford at the time, the Fairmont was one of the earliest Ford family haulers to benefit from comprehensive aerodynamic tweaking.

Duncan, now 61, continues to work in the field of automotive aerodynamics. His resume includes time spent developing the aero packages for several top NASCAR teams.

Aerodynamic work at the time of the Fairmont’s 1978 release was limited to smaller details on the car, since the basic design of the body was not up for discussion. At the time, Ford’s primary goal was to reduce drag in an effort to improve fuel economy. However, Duncan assures us that major improvements could be made by tweaking seemingly minor details.

“The original hood design had a fairly sharp corner and then what I’d call a chamfer, about three inches from top to bottom,” he says, discussing one particular area of the car that needed some aero help. “What we did in the wind tunnel was to modify the angle of the chamfer to reduce drag.”

One of their tools was effective yet far from high-tech: “We placed small yarn tufts across the hood and we observed the turbulence across the front of the hood. Then, as we kept changing the little angle across the front we observed that the yarn tufts were laying down better and better until we could completely attach airflow across the front of the hood.”

This work was done on a 3/8-scale clay model. “We could look at the actual wind tunnel data,” he explains, “and we knew the effects of what we did whether we could see it or not.” Where the Fairmont’s predecessor, the Maverick, was smaller and looked swoopy, the new car had to actually be aerodynamic. Those tuning details allowed the Fairmont to have a lower drag coefficient than the sleeker Maverick.

Aerodynamic work has a bigger impact on your daily drive than you might think. “A small group of us at Ford were challenged to find out at what speed aerodynamics became important—there was a common public opinion that aero was important for race cars but not production cars,” Duncan remembers.

“We took a production car and reduced the drag by 30 percent with add-on pieces. We gave it to the team that did track testing,” he continues. “They found that a 30 percent reduction in drag provided a 15 percent improvement in fuel economy all the way down to 30 mph.”

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View comments on the GRM forums
2/23/18 4:20 p.m.

1.43 on the full course? thats IMSA territory. and only recently. that must be a north course time.

snailmont5oh HalfDork
2/23/18 7:02 p.m.

I commented on the Facebook post, thanking the author for not saying "Foxbody" even once. :)

RMVR53 New Reader
2/24/18 7:52 a.m.

gotta remember - TWR blazed this trail in the 90's with a pair of Volvo 850 wagons...and tore up the BRCC!

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