Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ford Sportsman, Henry Ford II Takes Over

1948 Ford Super Deluxe Wagon

A renowned pacifist during World War I, Henry Ford was in his late 70's when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But he realized that the Second World War was a very different situation, and had already geared his firm to war production.

Ford Motor Company duly turned out a variety of military vehicles including Jeeps (with American Bantam and Willys-Overland), and its new mile-long plant in Willow Run, Michigan, near Detroit, produced a variety of bombers through 1945.

Henry finally surrendered control of his company -- but not to Edsel, who died a broken man in 1943 at age 49. Despite the end of the war, the doddering mogul stubbornly continued to manage an increasingly troubled Ford Motor Company until his family insisted he step down. That came in 1945, when he handed the reins to grandson Henry Ford II, who would hold them for the next 33 years, most of them successful.

The great old man himself passed on in 1947. Unlike his grandfather, "HFII" consistently sought and encouraged talented managers. However, he just as ­consistently encouraged their retirement -- or fired them -- when they reached a certain level of power. Though the Ford family no longer owns a majority of common stock, Ford is still very much a family operation.

Young Henry quickly returned Ford Motor Company to civilian production after V-J day. Ford Division was again the industry's volume leader for model-year 1946, but Chevrolet would be back to full speed the following year and would remain "USA-1" through 1948.

Like most other makes, Ford returned to peacetime with restyled '42 cars, though it bored its V-8 out to 239.4 cid for an extra 10 horsepower. Also, the low-priced Special Sixes were eliminated, leaving six- and eight-cylinder DeLuxe and Super DeLuxe. And there was now a second V-8 convertible, a novel variation on the standard item called Sportsman.

Developed from Bob Gregorie's wartime sketches, the Sportsman featured white ash and mahogany trim over its doors, rear body panels, and deck, as on the Chrysler Town & Country. This was an easy way to give an old design new appeal, and it boosted floor traffic at Ford dealers. But a $500 price premium over the all-steel convertible limited sales to just 1209 for '46, 2250 for '47, and just 28 for '48 (the last actually reserialed '47's).

Appearance alterations for 1947 involved shuffled nameplates and lower-mounted round parking lights. No changes at all occurred for '48, but the six was rerated to 95 horsepower, up five. Postwar inflation had pushed up prices, the increases averaging about $100 for 1947.

But nothing really new was needed in the car-starved early-postwar market, and Ford output exceeded 429,000 units for 1947. The total was only 248,000 the following year, but that only reflected an early end to 1948 production. The reason was the first all-new postwar Fords that went on sale with great anticipation in June 1948.

The 1949 Ford

Ford executives' creative approach to styling yielded more unique models such as this 1949 custom Ford convertible coupe.

Styling for these 1949 models was a competitive process, as Ford solicited ideas from freelancers as well as in-house designers. One outside team was headed by George Walker, who hired onetime GM and Raymond Loewy employee Richard Caleal to join designers Joe Oros and Elwood Engel.

When Caleal became disenchanted with the direction taken by the other members of the Walker team, he was given permission to pursue his own ideas at his home in Indiana. Working in his kitchen with clay modelers Joe Thompson and John Lutz, Caleal shaped his design.

Later, Henry Ford II and other Ford execs gathered at Walker's studio to view design proposals by Caleal, Ford styling head E.T. "Bob" Gregorie, and Oros and Engel. The executives selected Caleal's design, which went into production basically unchanged, except that his vertical taillights were made horizontal and bled into the rear quarter.

Though the 1949 Ford was nowhere near as radical as the 1950-51 Studebaker, it sold in numbers Ford hadn't seen since 1930: over 1.1 million for the extra-long model year. Reflecting this and later achievements, Walker was named design chief for all of Ford Motor Company in 1955.

The 1949 Ford was crucial to Dearborn's survival. Young Henry II was still scrambling to bring order to the organizational and fiscal chaos he inherited from his grandfather even as the company continued losing money by the bucketful. But the '49 was the most-changed Ford since the Model A, and was as much a hit.

Though wheelbase and engines were unchanged from the 1946-48 models, the '49 was three inches lower, fractionally shorter, and usefully lighter. Even better, it had a modern ladder-type frame with Dearborn's first fully independent front suspension (via coil springs and upper and lower A-arms), plus a modern rear end with open Hotchkiss drive (replacing torque-tube) and parallel longitudinal leaf springs supporting the live axle. It all added up to a sprightly performer that could run ­circles around rivals from Chevrolet and Plymouth. A '49 Ford couldn't quite reach 100 mph, but hopping up the flathead V-8 was still simple, cheap, and easy. Multiple carburetors, headers, dual exhausts, and other "speed parts" were as close as local auto stores.

Though Ford briefly considered retaining it, the low-selling Sportsman was dropped for '49 and other offerings regrouped into Standard and Custom series. The former offered six and V-8 Tudor and Fordor, along with business and club coupes. The better-trimmed V-8-only Custom deleted the business coupe but added a convertible and a new two-door structural-wood wagon (replacing the previous four-door style).

Prices rose again for 1949, the range now $1333-$2119. Over­drive was optional across the board at $97. Ford wouldn't have its own automatic transmission until 1951, though it tried to get one earlier. Studebaker had developed an excellent automatic for 1950 in association with Warner Gear. Ford wanted to buy it for its cars, but Studebaker refused -- much to its later regret.

The '49 Fords suffered handling and noise problems stemming from the rushed design program. Workmanship also suffered for the same reason, and a 24-day auto workers' strike in May 1948 didn't help either. Even so, these were very worthy automobiles -- the first tangible evidence that Henry II was firmly in charge. Ably assisting him was the youthful "Whiz Kids" team of executives and engineers he'd recruited, including one Robert S. McNamara.

1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 Fords

Ford's ingenuity with models like this 1956 Crown Victoria earned it the Number 2 Spot for manufacturing volume.

The stage was set for a smart comeback in the '50's. And indeed, by 1952, Ford Motor Company had passed a faltering Chrysler Corporation to regain the number-two spot in manufacturer volume. The reason? Interesting cars that sold well.

Efforts for 1950 aimed at quashing the bugs from '49. "50 Ways New, 50 Ways Better," blared the ads. And the 1950's were better: tighter and quieter in corners and rough-road driving alike. A new confection was the V-8 Crestliner, a special-edition Custom Tudor priced $100-$200 above the standard article. It was snazzy, with a padded canvas-covered top and sweeping contrast-color panel on the bodysides, but sales were only fair at 17,601 for 1950 and another 8703 for '51. Crestliner's real purpose was to counter Chevy's true "hardtop-convertible," the 1950 Bel Air.

Otherwise, the 1950 Fords were predictably much like the '49s, though a crest instead of Ford lettering above the "bullet" grille provided instant I.D. Prices held steady, running from $1333 for the DeLuxe business coupe to $2028 for the Squire. Though still without a hardtop and a fully automatic transmission like Chevrolet, Ford bested 1930's imposing model-year output, making more than 1.2 million cars. But Chevrolet managed nearly 1.5-million, and would remain "USA-1" through 1953.

Seeking greater competitiveness, Ford slightly downpriced its '51 models and applied an attractive facelift featuring a new grille with small twin bullets on a thick horizontal bar. The Custom wagon now bore Country Squire script, but would be the last true Ford woody. Ford finally offered a self-shift transmission in Ford-O-Matic Drive -- a three-speed automatic to outdo Chevy's two-speed Powerglide.

However, only second and third gears worked automatically; a shift to low had to be made manually. A redesigned dash gave the interior a more upscale look. Also new for '51 was Ford's first hardtop coupe, the Custom V-8 Victoria. Though it, too, was a bit late, the Vicky proved no less popular than Chevy's Bel Air, selling some 110,000 that debut season. Ford's model-year volume declined by about 200,000 cars, but Chevy's fell a similar amount, reflecting new government-ordered restrictions on civilian production prompted by the Korean War.

Model-year '52 introduced a clean, new, square-rigged Ford with a one-piece windshield, simple grille, small round tail-lamps, and an "air scoop" motif on the lower rear flanks. Only detail changes would occur to this basic design through 1954. Wheelbase crept up to 115 inches for a revised model slate that started with a cheap Mainline Tudor/Fordor, business coupe, and two-door Ranch Wagon, followed by Customline sedans, club coupe, and four-door Country Sedan wagon. Topping the range was the V-8 Crestline group of Victoria hardtop, newly named Sunliner convertible, and posh Country Squire four-door wagon.

These wagons, by the way, were Ford's first all-steel models (the Squire switching from real wood to wood-look decals). Assisting in their design was Gordon Buehrig, the famed designer of Classic-era Auburns, Cords, and Duesen­bergs who'd also had a hand in the '51 Victoria. Doing more with less, Ford introduced a new 215.3-cid overhead-valve six with 101 horsepower as standard for Mainline/Customline. The flathead V-8 was tweaked to 110 horsepower.

Dearborn observed its Golden Anniversary in 1953, proclaimed on Fords by special steering-wheel-hub medallions. But aside from that and a few other cosmetic details, the '53s were basically '52's with higher prices, now ranging from $1400-$2203.

With the Korean conflict ended, Ford Division built 1.2 million cars to edge Chevrolet for the model year (Chevy consoled itself with calendar-year supremacy), but only by dumping cars on dealers in a production "blitz" so they could sell for "less than cost." Ironically, Chevrolet wasn't much affected by this onslaught, but Studebaker, American Motors, and Kaiser-Willys were, because they couldn't afford to discount as much. The Ford blitz is generally considered one of the key factors in the independents' mid-'50s decline.

The venerable flathead V-8 was honorably retired for 1954 in favor of a new overhead-valve "Y-block" V-8 (so-called because of its frontal appearance in cross-section). With 130 horse­power, this was easily the year's hottest engine in the low-price field. Together with ball-joint front suspension, also new, the Y-block greatly narrowed the engineering gap between expensive and inexpensive cars. Its initial 239 cid was the same as flathead displacement, but the ohv had different "oversquare" cylinder dimensions. Compression was 7.2:1 in base trim, but could be taken as high as 12:1 if required (which it wasn't).

The rest of the '54 story was basically 1953 save a larger, 223-cid overhead-valve six with 115 bhp. There was also a novel new hardtop called Skyliner, a Crestline Victoria with a transparent, green-tint Plexiglas roof insert over the front seat. This concept, suggested by Buehrig and realized by interior styling director L. David Ash, is a forerunner of today's moonroof. But it cast a strange light on the interior, and heat buildup was a major problem. That and a price identical with the Sunliner convertible's --$2164 -- held '54 Skyliner sales to 13,344. Only the Country Squire and Mainline business coupe fared worse.

Retaining the 1952-54 shell, the 1955 Ford was completely reskinned, emerging colorful if chromey, with a rakish look of motion and a modestly wrapped windshield. Styling was handled by Franklin Q. Hershey, who also gets credit for that year's new two-seat Thunderbird (see separate entry). Club coupes were abandoned, wagons grouped in a separate series, and Crestline was renamed Fairlane (after the Ford family estate in Dearborn). With the "horsepower race" at full gallop, the 239-cid V-8 was ousted for a 272 enlargement, packing 162/182 horsepower as an option for all models. The standard six gained five bhp to deliver 120 total.

Skyliner was also ousted for '55, but Ford had another idea. This was the Fairlane Crown Victoria, a hardtop-style two-door sedan with a bright metal roof band wrapped up and over from steeply angled B-posts. The "tiara" looked like a roll bar, but added no structural strength; a Plexiglas insert rode ahead of it, as on Skyliner. A full steel-roof model was also offered for $70 less than the "bubble-topper"; predictably, it sold much better: 33,000-plus to just 1999. The totals were 9209 and just 603 for '56, after which the Crown Vic was dumped.

But Ford as a whole did splendidly in banner 1955, shattering its postwar record of 1953 by building nearly 1.5 million cars. Still, the division was done in by an all-new Chevy, which tallied better than 1.7 million. Volume for both makes declined in the industry's overall retreat for '56, but Ford dropped by fewer than 50,000 versus Chevy's loss of nearly 200,000.

1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 Fords and Ford Skyliner

Ford offered several models with V-8 power, including this 1957 Fairlane 500 Skyliner retractable convertible.

Ford's '56 line featured the expected mild facelift, plus more-potent engines and two new models: a Customline Victoria and the division's first four-door hardtop, the Fairlane Town Victoria.

Ford also began selling "Lifeguard Design" safety features, equipping all models with dished steering wheel, breakaway rearview mirror, and crashproof door locks; padded dash and sunvisors cost $16 extra, factory-installed seatbelts $9.

Buyers responded early in the model year, but the rush to seat-belts overtaxed Ford's supplier, so only 20 percent of the '56's got them. Ford continued to stress safety for a few more years, but put more emphasis on performance. Speaking of which, the 272 V-8 delivered 173 horsepower as a '56 Mainline/Customline option. A new 312-cid "Thunderbird" unit with 215/225 horsepower was ­optional across the board, and a midrange 292-cid V-8 offered 200 horsepower.

The 1957 Fords were all-new, offering a vast array of V-8s from a 190-bhp 272 up to a 245-bhp 312. The 223-cid six was standard for all but one model. There were now two wheelbases and no fewer than five series: 116 inches for Station Wagon and Custom/Custom 300 sedans (replacing Mainline/Custom­line), 118 inches for Fairlane and the new line-topping Fairlane 500.

All were available with six or V-8 power. Both Fairlane series listed two- and four-door Victorias, plus thin-pillar equivalents that looked like hardtops with windows up. The glamorous droptop Sunliner was now a Fairlane 500 and came with the base V-8. Haulers comprised plain and fancier Del Rio two-door Ranch Wagons, a pair of four-door Country Sedans, and the wood-look four-door Squire -- Ford's priciest '57 wagon at $2684.

Ford's '57 styling was particularly simple for the period: a blunt face with clean, full-width rectangular grille; tasteful side moldings; and tiny tailfins. More importantly, it was new against Chevy's second facelift in two years. Unfortunately, the Fords had some structural weaknesses (principally roof panels) and were prone to rust, one reason you don't see that many today.

But though Plymouth arguably won the styling stakes with its finned "Forward Look," 1957 was a great Ford year. In fact, the division scored a substantial win in model-year output with close to 1.7 million cars to Chevy's 1.5 million. Some statisticians also had Ford ahead in calendar-year volume for the first time since 1935, though the final score showed Chevy ahead by a mere 130 cars.

The Skyliner name returned in mid-1957, but on a very different Ford: the world's first mass-produced retractable hardtop. An addition to the Fairlane 500 series, it stemmed from engineering work done a few years before at Continental Division, which had considered, but didn't produce, the 1956 Mark II as a "retrac."

Ford sold 20,766 Skyliners for '57, but demand fast tapered to 14,713 for '58, then to 12,915. The model was duly axed after 1959, a victim of new division chief Bob McNamara's no-nonsense approach to products and profits. Skyliner "retracs" became prime collectibles, and the retractable-hardtop concept made a comeback in the new millennium.

For 1958, Ford countered all-new passenger Chevys and modestly restyled Plymouths with a glittery facelift featuring quad headlamps and taillamps, a massive bumper/grille a la '58 Thunderbird, and more anodized aluminum trim. V-8 choices expanded via two new "FE-series" big-blocks: a 332 offering 240/265 horsepower, and a 300-bhp 352. A deep national recession cut Ford volume to just under 988,000 cars. Chevrolet sold over 1.1 million, but spent much more money to do so.

Chevy then unveiled an all-new line of radical "bat-fin" cars for 1959. Ford replied with more-conservative styling that helped it close the model-year gap to less than 12,000 units. A major reskin of the basic 1957-58 bodyshells brought square lines; simple side moldings; a heavily sculptured "flying-V" back panel; and a low, rectangular grille filled with floating starlike ornaments.

All previous models continued, though now on the 118-inch wheelbase. Come midseason, a new Galaxie series of two- and four-door pillared and pillarless sedans generated high buyer interest and strong sales with their square but stylish Thunderbird-inspired wide-quarter rooflines. At the same time, the Sunliner convertible and Skyliner retractable gained Galaxie rear-fender script (but retained Fairlane 500 ID at the rear).

V-8s were down to a 200-bhp 292, 225-bhp 332, and 300-bhp 352. Also carried over from '58 was Cruise-O-Matic, Ford's smooth new three-speed automatic transmission that proved a sales plus against Chevrolet's Powerglide, if not Plymouth's responsive three-speed TorqueFlite.

For Ford Motor Company as a whole, 1959 seemed to justify the strenuous efforts of Henry Ford II and board chairman Ernest R. Breech. Assuming control of a third-rate company in 1945, they'd turned it into something approaching General Motors in less than 15 years.

Ford's path through the 1960's closely parallels that of rival Chevrolet. At decade's end, it was also selling only about 400,000 more cars per year than in 1960 -- despite expansion into important new markets: economy compacts, intermediates, and sportier standard-size models. Also like Chevy, Ford built these diverse types on relatively few wheelbases. (See separate entries for the stories on the personal-luxury T-Bird and the new-for '65 Mustang "ponycar," the two most-specialized Fords of this period.)

Lee Iacocca Takes the Drivers Seat

This 1960 Ford Falcon two-door sedan hit the market the same year Lee A. Iacocca took over as Ford Division's general manager.

Key management changes occurred early on. Lee A. Iacocca took charge as Ford Division general manager in 1960. George Walker left the following year and Eugene Bordinat became Dearborn's design chief. Iacocca soon put an end to the mundane people-movers favored by Bob McNamara, and by 1970 Ford was offering some exciting cars.

Ford also moved from "Chevy-follower" to "Chevy-leader" in the 1960's. Its compact Falcon far outsold the rival Corvair, its 1962 midsize Fairlane was two years ahead of Chevelle, and its phenomenally successful Mustang sent Chevrolet racing to the drawing board to come up with the Camaro.

The best way to summarize Fords of the '60's is by size. The smallest was Falcon, which bowed for 1960 as one of the new Big Three compacts (along with Corvair and Chrysler's Valiant). Wheelbase was a trim 109.5 inches through 1965, then 110.9 (113 for wagons). Two- and four-door sedans and four-door wagons were always offered, convertibles and hardtop coupes for 1963-65. All had unit construction.

To some, the pre-'66 Falcons were the ultimate "throwaway" cars: designed to sell at a low price -- initially just under $2000 -- and to be discarded within five years (some said one year). To others, though, Falcon was the Model A reborn: cheap but cheerful, simple but not unacceptably spartan.

A conventional suspension and cast-iron six -- mostly a 170-cid unit of 101 horsepower -- certainly looked dull next to Corvair engineering, but made for friendly, roomy little cars that rode well and delivered 20-25 mpg. Falcons were also easily serviced by "shadetree mechanics" who wouldn't go near the complicated Chevy compact. Though sales gradually declined due to competition from both inside and outside the division, Falcon was always profitable.

Falcon replied to the hot-selling Corvair Monza in the spring of 1961 with the bucket-seat Futura two-door. All Falcons were reskinned for 1964-65 with pointy front fenders and generally square, less-distinctive lines. The prime collector Falcon is the Futura Sprint, a pretty convertible and hardtop coupe offered from mid-1963 through 1965.

These were available with the lively "Challenger" small-block V-8 from the midsize Fairlane -- initially a 260 with 164 horsepower, then a 289 with about 200 horsepower for '65. It was a fine engine, which helps explain why its 302 evolution continued all the way into the 1990's. It completely transformed Falcon performance without greatly affecting mileage. Sprints offered special exterior I.D., vinyl bucket seats, console, and 6000-rpm tachometer. When equipped with optional four-speed manual transmission, they were great fun to drive.

The 1966 Falcons were basically shorter versions of that year's rebodied Fairlanes, with the same sort of curvy GM-like contours and long-hood/short-deck proportions of Mustang. Falcon continued in this form through early 1970. In 1967, its last year before emissions controls, the 289 packed 225 horsepower in "Stage 2" tune with four-barrel carburetor, and made for some very fast Falcons, the sportiest of which was the ­pillared Futura Sport Coupe.

The 289 was detuned to 195 horsepower for '68, when the aforementioned 302 arrived as a new option. This ran on regular gas with a two-barrel carb and delivered 210 bhp; with a four-barrel it made 230 horsepower on premium fuel, though emissions considerations soon put an end to that version.

Mid-1970 brought the final Falcons: a stark wagon and two sedans derived from the intermediate Torino (which had evolved from the Fairlane). These could be powered by everything from a 155-bhp 250-cid six to a big-block 429-cid V-8 with 360-370 horsepower. But the name had outlived its usefulness, and Ford had a new compact, the Maverick, so Falcon was consigned to history.

1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 Fords and the Ford Fairlane

The Ford Torinos, such as this 1968 Ford Torino GT fastback hartop coupe, had "more performance options than a salesman could memorize."

Back to 1962, Ford broke new ground with the midsize Fairlane, which was basically a bigger Falcon on a 115.5-inch wheelbase. In concept it was much like Virgil Exner's downsized '62 Plymouths and Dodges.

But unlike Chrysler, Ford retained full-size Customs and Galaxies -- a wise move even though Fairlane sold more than 297,000 units its first year and over 300,000 for '63. Helping the cause were attractive prices in the $2100-$2800 range.

The Fairlane was significant for introducing Ford's brilliant small-block V-8, the basis for some of its hottest '60s cars. Bored out to 289 cid as a '63 option, it packed up to 271 horsepower -- almost one horsepower per cubic inch. Powerful and smooth yet surprisingly economical, it was the definitive small V-8.

Tuned versions in sports-racers like the Ford GT40 and Shelby Cobra disproved the old adage about there being "no substitute for cubic inches." In fact, the GT40 nearly took the world GT Manufacturers Championship away from Ferrari in 1964, its first full season. Still, it was the big-block Ford GTs that won the LeMans 24-Hours, the world's most-prestigious sports car endurance race, two years in a row, 1966-67.

Initially, Fairlane offered two- and four-door sedans in base and sportier 500 trim, plus a bucket-seat 500 Sport Coupe. Four-door Ranch and Squire wagons and a brace of two-door hardtops were added for '63. Beginning with the '64's, Ford offered a growing assortment of handling and performance options, including stiff suspensions and four-speed gearboxes.

Fairlane was completely rebodied for '66 on a 116-inch wheelbase (113 for wagons) gaining a sleek, tailored look via curved side glass and flanks, stacked quad headlamps, and tidy vertical taillights.

Heading the line were the bucket-seat 500XL hardtop coupe and convertible in base and GT trim. Standard XLs came with a 120-bhp 200-cid six, but most were ordered with ­optional 289 V-8's. GTs carried a big-block 390 making a potent 335 horsepower. That engine could be ordered on any Fairlane, and racers were quick to put it in stripped two-door sedans, which earned respect for their competitive prowess.

With no change in wheelbases, Fairlane got another body and styling change for 1968. Joining the base and 500 lines was a new Torino series, Ford's lushest intermediates yet. A 115-bhp 200-cid six was standard for all but the Torino GT convertible, hardtop coupe, and new fastback hardtop (all duplicated in the 500 line), which came with the 210-bhp 302-cid V-8 as well as buckets-and-console interior, pinstriping, and more perfor­mance options than a salesman could memorize.

Ford's '69 midsizers were '68 repeats save for new fastback and notchback Torino hardtops called Cobra (after Carroll Shelby's muscular Ford-powered sports cars). These came with the 335-bhp 428 V-8 that had first appeared in the "19681/2" Mercury Cyclone as the "Cobra Jet." A $133 option was "Ram-Air," a fiberglass hood scoop connecting to a special air-cleaner assembly with a valve that ducted incoming air directly into the carb. Four-speed manual gearbox, stiff suspension and racing-style hood locks were all standard.

One magazine was actually disappointed when its Cobra ran 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15 seconds at 98.3 miles per hour! But most everyone admitted that of all the '69 "supercars" -- Plymouth GTX, Dodge Charger R/T, Pontiac GTO, Chevelle 396, and Buick GS 400 -- the Torino Cobra was the tightest, best-built, and quietest.

Torino Cobras could be potent racing machines. Ford discovered that the styling of the counterpart Cyclone was slightly more aerodynamic, and thus usually ran the Mercurys in stock-car contests over 250 miles long. Nevertheless, a race-prepped Torino could achieve about 190 mph, and Lee Roy Yarborough drove one to win the '69 Daytona 500.

Ford's biggest cars of the 1960's were variously offered as Custom/Custom 500, Fairlane/Fairlane 500 (pre-'62), Galaxie/ Galaxie 500, and station wagon. Their "standard" wheelbase swelled to 119 inches for 1960, then became 121 after 1968. These were heavy cars (3000-4000 pounds), and most weren't rewarding to drive except on an Interstate, but certain variations were surprisingly capable on winding roads.

Full-Size Fords

In 1963, Ford added this 300 four-door sedan to its lineup then renamed it the Custom/Custom 500 for 1964.

What we now call the full-size Fords began the decade with all-new bodyshells that would persist through 1964. The '60's were much longer, lower, wider, and sleeker than the boxy '59's, and even mimicked Chevy's batfins a little, but they looked good with their chrome-edged beltlines and bigger glass areas.

The Skyliner was gone, but there was a new fixed-roof Starliner hardtop coupe with sleek semifastback profile. Though less popular than square-roof Galaxies, the Starliner was just the thing for NASCAR racing by dint of its slipperier shape.

Starliner bowed out after 1961, when standards were face­lifted via a full-width concave grille (with '59-style insert) and a return to round taillights capped by discreet blades. That year's top engine option was the new 390-cid version of the FE-series big-block. This packed 300 standard horsepower, but was available, though on a very limited basis, as a high-compression "Interceptor" with 375 and 401 horsepower.

Chunkier, more-"important" styling marked the '62 standards, which regrouped into Galaxie/Galaxie 500/Station Wagon lines spanning roughly the same models. Reflecting the buckets-and-console craze then sweeping Detroit were the midseason 500 XL Victoria hardtop coupe and Sunliner convertible.

The "500" stood for the 500-mile NASCAR races the division was winning (Ford won every 500 in '63). "XL" purportedly stood for "Xtra Lively," though the standard powertrain was "just" a 170-bhp 292 V-8 and Cruise-O-Matic.

But options could turn this sporty hunk into a real fire-breather. Besides Borg-Warner four-speed manual gearbox and 300-, 340-, 375-, and 401-bhp 390s, there was a larger-bore 406 big-block providing 385/405 horsepower. An even bigger bore for '63 produced a 427-cid powerhouse with 410/425 horsepower. High prices -- around $400 -- made these engines relatively uncommon.

New lower-body sheetmetal gave the 1963 "Super-Torque" Galaxies a cleaner, leaner look, announced by a simple concave grille. A pair of cheap "300" sedans was added (renamed Custom/Custom 500 for '64), and there was more midyear excitement in a set of 500 and 500XL sports hardtops with thin-pillar "slantback" rooflines, a bit starchier than the old Starliner but again aimed right at the stock-car ovals.

The last, but most-substantial, restyle on the big 1960 body occurred for '64, bringing heavily sculptured lower-body sheet-metal, a complex grille, and slantback rooflines for all closed models.

The entire Ford line won Motor Trend magazine's "Car of the Year" award, partly because of the division's ever-widening "Total Performance" campaign. Performance was just what the big Fords had, with available small-block and big-block V-8s offering from 195 up to a rousing 425 horsepower. Even a relatively mild 390 XL could scale 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds; a 427 reduced that to just over 7 seconds. The one major complaint was a marked tendency to nosedive in "panic" stops, aggravated by overboosted power brakes.

Ford had its best NASCAR year ever in 1965, winning 48 of 55 events, including 32 straight at one point. Luxury, however, got most of the showroom emphasis. All-new except for engines, the '65s were distinguished by simpler, more-linear styling announced by stacked quad headlamps. Underneath was a stronger chassis with a completely new front suspension evolved from NASCAR experience.

Source: Internet

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