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The Ford Fairlane: 1955-1970

The Fairlane was a full-size (later mid-size) car built by Ford in a wide variety of body styles from two and four-door sedans and hardtops to station wagons and convertibles. Fairlane was introduced as the flagship model of the full-sized Ford range in 1955 and also marked the introduction of the Crown Victoria and 500 nameplates, which would both go on to become full-size models in their own right. It dropped in stature to a base model following the introduction of the Galaxie in 1959, after which the Fairlane and Fairlane 500 occupied a spot equivalent to the Chevrolet Bel Air and Biscayne. The name hearkens back to Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford and his wife Clara’s estate on Fair Lane near Dearborn, Michigan.

First Generation 1955-1956

The Fairlane replaced the Crestline as Ford’s premier full-sized model in 1955, offered in six different body styles including the Crown Victoria Skyliner with its tinted, transparent plastic roof, a regular Crown Victoria with lots of stainless steel trim, the convertible Sunliner, the Victoria hardtop coupe, Country Squire luxury station wagon and traditional sedans. All featured the trademark Fairlane stripe on the sides in stainless steel. Power was from either the base 120 HP 223 cu. in. straight-six engine, a 162 HP 272 cu. in V8 (182 HP with the Ford Powerpack option) or the optional 292 cu. in, 200 HP Thunderbird V8. All were offered with either a column-mounted three-speed manual transmission or an optional three-speed Fordomatic automatic. The 4-door Fairlane Town Sedan was the most popular Ford sedan of 1955.

A four-door¬†Victoria¬†hardtop and a new 312 cu. in. V8 with 225 HP were the only major changes for 1956, along with a one-year-only¬†Parklane¬†two-door station wagon with¬†Fairlane-level trim. The other new item was¬†Ford‘s new¬†Lifeguard¬†safety package, spurred on by¬†Ford¬†manager Robert McNamara (later¬†Secretary Of State¬†under the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations) based upon the Cornell University crash research program and¬†Ford‘s first-year crash testing in 1955. The package featured a steering wheel with spokes that would flex when hit by an object, double-grip door latches to prevent doors from opening and ejecting occupants in a crash and safety rearview mirror glass to reduce flying shards of glass. Front and rear lap belts and a padded dashboard and sun visors were optional parts of the package. The buying public was unresponsive to the¬†Lifeguard¬†package, safety not being a priority for car buyers in the 1950s, prompting Henry Ford II to say ‚ÄúMcNamara is selling safety, but¬†Chevrolet¬†is selling cars‚ÄĚ.

Second Generation 1957-1959

The 1957 Fairlane was longer, wider, lower and sleeker with low tailfins, echoing the styling trends of the time. The new modern styling was a hit with customers and Ford outsold Chevrolet for the first time since 1935, despite the popularity of the iconic 1957 210, Bel Air and Delray models. A shorter-wheelbase Custom was the entry-level offering, while Fairlane 500 was added as a new top trim level and Country Squire continued to be the luxury station wagon, but a new Country Sedan was added to the lineup. The big news was the introduction of the Fairlane 500 Skyliner with its power-retractable hardtop that hinged and folded into the trunk space at the touch of a button. The Ford Ranchero coupe utility vehicle with a truck-like bed was also introduced in 1957 and got the full Fairlane treatment; Chevrolet answered with its El Camino two years later. Engine choices remained the same as 1956, with the Mileage Maker six-cylinder receiving a bump to 144 HP, the 292 getting a six HP bump and the 312 gaining 20 HP. 

1958 brought a facelift in the form of quad headlights and a new grill that matched the ‚Äė58¬†Thunderbird, and two new big-block V8s of 332 and 352 cu. in. that replaced the previous 312 V8 and produced 265 and 300 HP respectively. The 352 cubic inch V8 was part of the Police Interceptor package. An improved three-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission with a column-mounted gear selector lever transmitted power from the bigger V8s to the rear wheels. A new top-level model, the¬†Galaxie, debuted mid-year and displayed both¬†Fairlane 500¬†and¬†Galaxie¬†badging.

Third Generation 1960-1961

The Fairlane was restyled yet again for the 1960 model year. The new body was less rounded and more boxy, with horizontal fins replacing the upright but outboard-canted ones of the previous generation. It was also superseded as the top full-sized Ford by the Galaxie, now a model in its own right. The Fairlane 500 was now equivalent to the Chevrolet Bel Air in the model structure, while most base-level Fairlanes were sold to fleet buyers as taxis and police cars. Both were only available as pillared 4-door sedans. The Galaxie and Fairlane 500 had tri-color Ford emblems on the hood while base Fairlanes made do with FORD in block letters.

1960 engines remained the same with the 292 actually losing 21 HP, but the big-block 300 HP 390 V8 and the 375 HP 390 Super V8 were made available in 1961 as the horsepower wars began to heat up. The tri-color¬†Ford¬†emblems were gone that year, replaced with the block lettering of the previous year’s base¬†Fairlane.¬†

Fourth Generation 1962-1965

This generation of¬†Fairlane¬†saw it downsized to an intermediate car, slotted between the still full-sized¬†Galaxie¬†and the compact¬†Falcon, and the design become even more boxy as the generation went on which was a trend that would continue for¬†Ford. It retained the four-headlight front end with a new rectangular egg-crate grill and the ‚Äė62 and ‚Äė63 models sported the last vestiges of fins on the¬†Fairlane, by ‚Äė64 a raised body line that ran from front to back just under the door handles was all that remained of the now-defunct styling cue.

Mild front-end changes differentiated the years, and the ‚Äė65 model had raised humps on the rear fenders, but you could hardly call them fins.¬†Ford¬†also dispensed with the round taillights of the previous generation in favor of rectangular ones with a round chrome accent in the center.

Fairlane¬†now had a unibody frame like the¬†Falcon, but incorporated boxed structures in the lower body called ‚Äútorque boxes‚ÄĚ that moved slightly up and down to help absorb road shock and give the car improved ride quality and handling. The model was down to four body styles, a four-door sedan, two-door sedan, a sporty two-door coupe and a four-door wagon. Two six-cylinders and four V8s, ranging from the 200 HP, 289 cubic inch ‚ÄúChallenger‚ÄĚ and 225 HP ‚ÄúChallenger Special‚ÄĚ to the 271 HP ‚ÄúChallenger High Performance,” were offered as well as three and four-speed manual transmissions and two automatics, the two-speed¬†Ford-O-Matic¬†and three-speed¬†Cruise-O-Matic.

Ford also built 100 Fairlane Thunderbolt NHRA Super Stock drag racers for the 1964 season, securing the Super Stock championship for Ford. These were powered by a lightweight 427 cubic inch V8 with dual 4-barrel Holley carbs set atop a high-rise intake manifold, fed by a teardrop hood scoop. The engine was conservatively rated at 425 HP and 480 ft. lb. of torque. Fiberglass doors, hood, front fenders and even a fiberglass front bumper assisted in reducing the weight.

Fifth Generation 1966-1967

In 1966 the¬†Fairlane¬†was re-styled to match the full-sized¬†Galaxie, which had itself been re-styled the year before, and adopted the¬†Galaxie‘s vertically stacked dual headlights. Three new packages were introduced:¬†XL,¬†GT¬†and¬†GTA. The¬†GT¬†version featured a standard 4-barrel carb equipped, higher-compression 390 cubic inch V8 producing 335 HP, while the¬†GTA¬†added the new¬†SportShift Cruise-o-Matic¬†automatic transmission.¬†

Mid-year¬†Ford¬†produced 57 special¬†Fairlane 500¬†2-door hardtops with the R-code 427 cubic inch V8 rated at 425 HP and 480 ft. lb. of torque, as used in the ‚Äė64¬†Super Stock¬†racing¬†Thunderbolts. This beast was also equipped with¬†Ford‘s ‚ÄúTop-Loader‚ÄĚ four-speed manual transmission. These were built to qualify the engine/transmission combo for¬†NHRA¬†and¬†IHRA Super Stock¬†racing and were painted white with a fiberglass hood that featured a forward-facing hood scoop ending at the edge of the hood.

The Fairlane Squire wagon was also re-introduced in 1966.

Minor trim changes and a mild facelift marked the 1967¬†Fairlanes. The 289 small-block ‚ÄúChallenger‚ÄĚ was the base V8, while the standard engine remained the 200 cubic inch six. The Thunderbird 390 was optional and produced 275HP in two-barrel carb guise but 320 HP with the four-barrel. The 427 was still available on all models, now with the option of a single four-barrel making 410 HP (W-code) or dual quad carbs making 425 HP (R-code). Very few¬†XL¬†427s were built, the majority ended up in¬†GT¬†or¬†GTA¬†models.

The Ranchero was now a Fairlane model again after spending the last six years on the Falcon platform.

Safety features finally made their way into the Fairlane line again after a government mandate and included a new energy-absorbing steering column with a a large padded steering wheel hub, soft interior trim, four-way hazard flashers, a dual-chamber braking system and shoulder-belt anchors. The convertible model had tempered safety glass in the rear window of the convertible top.

Sixth Generation 1968-1969

The 1968 redesign continued the trend of patterning¬†Fairlane‘s styling after the¬†Galaxie. Wheelbase remained the same at 116 inches, but the body was four inches longer and the car was some 200 lbs heavier than the previous generation. A new fastback¬†Sportsroof¬†model joined the¬†Fairlane 500¬†line as well as a more luxury-oriented top-of-the-line¬†Torino¬†model.

Station wagons remained the same as the previous generation with only the front end redesigned; this was a cost-saving measure by Ford. Ranch Wagon was gone with only the base and 500 trims remaining. Sales of the base hardtop more than doubled, however. The Ranchero was available in base, 500 and GT trim levels.

Engines remained largely the same, a base 120 HP, 200 cubic inch six or two-barrel carb equipped 289 ‚ÄúChallenger‚ÄĚ V8, later replaced by a 210 HP 302. The¬†Torino¬†trim gained a¬†GT¬†level with a higher-HP 302 or a 320 HP 390 V8 in either two or four barrel carb flavor, but the 390 was also replaced mid-year by a 335 HP 428¬†Cobra Jet¬†or¬†Super Cobra Jet¬†as the Detroit horsepower wars began to heat up again. The¬†Fairlane 500,¬†Ranchero¬†and¬†Torino GT/GTA¬†could be had with¬†Ford‘s 250 HP 351 Windsor, or a 290 HP Windsor in the¬†GT/GTA¬†only.

The¬†Fairlane Cobra,¬†Ford‘s answer to the¬†Plymouth Road Runner, was introduced in 1969 as a one-year-only model. This simple dressed-down ride with its 335 HP 428¬†Cobra Jet¬†engine, close-ratio 4-speed manual transmission and 3.91:1 rear end was all but impossible to beat off the line in 1969. An optional functional hood scoop provided more airflow to the 735 CFM¬†Holley¬†carb, and power disc brakes, bucket seats, a clock and tachometer and 4.30:1 rear axle were optional.

Seventh Generation 1970

Ford‘s intermediate cars, including¬†Fairlane, grew an inch in wheelbase in 1970. The¬†Fairlane 500¬†remained as a¬†Fairlane, all others in the line were now badged¬†Torino. The base engine remained the same, but the largest engine was now the 429¬†Cobra Jet¬†with 370 HP or the optional 429¬†Cobra Jet¬†with Drag Pack at 375 HP. Despite the major HP jump with the 429, the ‚Äė70 models were actually slower than the ‚Äė69s and race teams ran their older models. The old¬†Falcon¬†was discontinued as a compact and re-badged as a lower-trim intermediate until both it and the¬†Fairlane¬†nameplate were gone for good in 1971, when all¬†Ford¬†intermediates were labeled¬†Torino.

How many of you rode in a¬†Fairlane¬†station wagon as a kid? I know I did, as our neighbor with three kids had one and I would sometimes tag along for a Saturday night trip to the local¬†A&W¬†drive-in or¬†Dairy Queen. I would also sometimes spot my brother’s friend’s¬†Fairlane GT¬†in the driveway if they came over to cool off in our pool on hot summer afternoons. It was a great time to be a kid.‚ú™

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