What Is It?

(Paraphrased from various sources.) In the mid 1970’s, Ford saw market demand increasing for more luxurious rides. Ford wanted to get into a more “accessible” pricing tier for luxury cars. This led to a series of events which, in retrospect, were probably bad business decisions and ultimately resulted in the fairly unique car I have for sale today.

In 1974, Ford added an “Elite” trim package to their long-standing Gran Torino line. Various sources say this was an effort to reach the increasing luxury market at a lower price point, hence creating a price-conscious luxury option for “the average Joe”. Options like power windows and locks weren’t a focus, keeping costs lower. Instead, styling and comfort were the marketing push.

For reasons which are a matter of historic debate, in 1975, they dropped the Gran Torino name and just called it the Ford Elite, apparently hoping to build branding for their new middle tier of “everyday luxury”. The Ford Elite was produced in 1975 and 1976, then the name was dropped altogether in favor of a full restructuring of Ford’s branding across most product lines.

Some sources say the Elite was produced from 1974 through 1976, but this isn’t really the case because the 1974 version was titled as a Gran Torino and the Gran Torino continued production in 1975 and 1976 as a separate line. The 1977 update to what had been the Elite was rebranded as a Thunderbird. The epic days of Gran Torino were forever over, leaving the Elite as a weird one-off in the final days of a great line of cars. I include this bit of history here because anyone who owns this car should be ready to set the record straight about its interesting identity and lineage.

Meet Felicia

My particular example of the Ford Elite is a 1975 with a 351 Windsor/C6 Cruise-O-Matic power train. I purchased her in 2018. She is equipped with air conditioning, standard gauge cluster, front bench seat, and Truespoke wheels. I was told it was originally a special order and the green vinyl top, green interior, and light green paint never having been a standard option. I’ve never seen one with this exact scheme, but I don’t have any way to verify it. The top, interior, and paint are all original and completely “unmolested”. It was also ordered with an AM/FM/8 Track/**CB** radio which was not in stock and shipped later, but never installed. It is still in the original box in the trunk. 

I will say, Ford’s effort to make it a luxury car turned out pretty well. The car is very quiet, smooth, and responsive at the steering wheel. I’m sure part of its responsiveness is the rather high weight coupled with the old-school full time power steering, which allows one finger on the steering wheel to wind the tight backroads of East Tennessee easier and as sure-footed as a Japanese sports car.

See lots of full resolution pictures here.


The story I was told, which is in line with the condition of the vehicle when I acquired it, was that the original owner special ordered the car and lived for only 3 years after it was purchased. Her husband put the car in a storage building full of other old cars he owned after her passing, where it sat for about 35 years. It was acquired from an estate by the man I bought it from as a restoration project. Shortly after he bought it, he had a stroke and decided to sell it. The odometer is frozen at just under 63,000 miles. The man I bought it from claimed the odometer worked when he took possession, and the mileage was correct. There is no way to verify any of this, but it is “the oral history” of the car, so I am passing it along.

I bought it because I wanted a unique car to use as my daily driver. I really loved the Gran Torino look. The era of a hood large enough to serve as a landing pad for a helicopter was always my favorite and the recent crash bumper requirements that were incorporated into the model made the elongated hood even more pronounced. I was also impressed by the condition of the (at the time) 43 year old machine. It needed a few things, but I was pretty sure it could be a reliable ride. The most stunning thing was the condition of the seat fabric, which I would describe as “not a thread out of place”.


My first priority was to make the car safe to drive and trustworthy. I actually drove it away from the point of purchase, but the rear brakes seized while I was turning around in the gas station parking lot, so it got towed into the shop. 

We started with the undercarriage: “rust eater”, new shocks, new tires, new fuel tank, new fuel lines, new brake lines, and all new brake components. Then we got under the hood: new coolant temperature sensor, new thermostat, new plugs/wires, new alternator, new power steering pump, new master cylinder, new steering box, and all new hoses. 

I can’t remember everything we replaced, but it’s pretty easy to see what is 50 years old and what is not when looking under the hood and at the undercarriage. There’s not much there that’s old. In total, I spent a little over $10,000 getting to the point I could hop in the car, fire it up with the turn of a key, and drive it without worry from Tennessee to California if I felt like it. 

Things that didn’t change include the engine, transmission, paint, top, interior, and any OEM system, making this car a truly “unmolested” example of the model. 1975 was a very early year for emissions standards and all those components are present, connected, and apparently in good working order as the car starts and runs well. There is no sign of any smoke at start up or after warm up. The dipstick shows oil and nothing else. 

Since Then

We unexpectedly left town for a 3 month business engagement shortly after the car was ready to drive. Felicia stayed under a car cover while we were gone with a friend tending to weekly exercise. After months had passed with little hope of returning from our business trip anytime soon, we bought a car trailer to provide more protection. It was driven about 200 miles from the time I bought it to being put in the car trailer for longer term storage. Most of those miles were around the back roads of the foothills of the Smoky Mountains with one longer trip to Georgia to be put in the trailer.

Although we imagined we would return home eventually and I would resume using Felicia as my regular ride/conversation piece, time has proven that it won’t be any time in the foreseeable future. We have made the decision to let Felicia move on to someone who can treat her like the Survivor she is. Next year, she’ll be 50 and she’s still pretty much the car that rolled off the assembly line. That’s rare and it should be preserved and enjoyed, not lost to time inside a car trailer. 

As of this writing, the fuel tank is about half full (10 gallons) of non-ethanol 90 octane mixed with 3oz per gallon Seafoam as stabilizer and cleaner. The old fuel had been there for 4 years and was siphoned and replaced mid-Apri 2024 which should be stable for two more years. The keys have been left with family and you are welcome to make an appointment to see her. There’s a new battery there to demonstrate the ease of start and clean tail pipe output. She has the standard startup procedure of just about every car of the period: pump, pump, pump, accelerator to the floor, slowly release the accelerator fully, turn the key to start, and the purring begins. Most people who hear her start the first time are surprised by how quite she runs.

At some point, while parked in the trailer, the pinion seal on the differential apparently developed a leak and moving the car inside the trailer felt like the brake drums needed adjusted from sitting. We didn’t have time to address these things, so there will be no test drives and the purchaser must either provide their own transportation away from the site of sale or, optionally, may purchase the 35-foot car trailer for $3500 and be ready to tow it away. Both Felicia and the car trailer have clean titles in my name.

Things I Had Planned to Improve

  • When I first bought the car, I had planned to paint it, probably some outlandish purple color, until I spoke to my friends at the custom shop who said, “It would be a crying shame to touch that paint.” They believed the best look for the car was to keep the original paint and even place the car in “Survivor” car shows. In the years since, ceramic coatings, including fairly permanent coatings like the ones used on RV’s, have become mainstream. That is most likely the best preservation option. (This revelation about “Survivor” cars and the fully intact condition of the powertrain also canceled my plans to build out or replace the engine and exhaust.)
  • The air conditioner compressor will kick on if the dash controls are set to A/C, but I seriously doubt there’s any refrigerant in there. I never got the chance to take it to an AC shop to get converted to R134a and have any O rings or hoses replaced. Also for the AC shop, the impeller for the vent blower needs to be replaced. It blows enough to know the motor is fine, but its clearly diminished airflow suggest the fins are probably broken from age. 
  • One of the Truespoke wheels has a very slow leak at the spokes. The leak wasn’t obvious until we’d driven it around for a while. About every two weeks, I’d air it up from 30 PSI to 38 PSI. 
  • The radiator has a hole in it somewhere near the top because topping it off leaks down some coolant. It doesn’t continue to leak as the car warms up or drives, including the drive from GA to TN. I just never had time to find a radiator for it.
  • There is a 2-wire temperature switch on the air cleaner that changes the distributor timing when below 65F. One of the wires is broken off at the sensor and we couldn’t find a 1 to 1 replacement. If you’d like to stay all original, it’s a bimetal switch and they were pretty indestructible, so you might find one in a pull-a-part yard on a 1975 Ranchero. Otherwise, you could wire in a discreet cold start switch to replace the function and glue on a dummy wire for appearance.