The Ford Elite is a personal luxury car produced by Ford and marketed in North American from February 1974 to 1976, with the name Gran Torino Elite used in the first year. Based on the Torino, the mid-size two-door coupe was intended to be a less expensive Thunderbird alternative to compete with the increasingly popular intermediate personal luxury class of vehicles such as the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Buick Regal, Dodge Charger and Chrysler Cordoba. It was essentially the concurrent Mercury Cougar XR-7 with a mild front end restyling to resemble the Thunderbird, different taillamps with a center reflector, unique twin opera windows and large color-keyed vinyl moldings placed higher on the bodysides. The interiors were identical save for upholstery styles and minor trim.
Introduced February 18th, 1974 as the Gran Torino Elite, it was initially the top of the line model of the Torino series. Although advertised separately, it was titled and registered as a Gran Torino. For 1975 and 1976, the Gran Torino prefix was dropped and Elite became a stand-alone model nameplate. Early pre-production publicity photos for the 1974 model show the use of Gran Torino XL nameplates.
The Elite name was dropped after 1976 because the Ford mid-size range was restructured for the 1977 model year. The Thunderbird was dramatically reduced in size and price for 1977 by moving the nameplate to the Torino-based LTD II platform which replaced the Torino. In effect, the Elite continued restyled and marketed under the more-recognized Thunderbird name, and the previous full-sized Thunderbird was discontinued.