How Big Is Too Big? The Midsize Ford Fairlane and Mercury Comet

One of our biggest challenges in writing these articles is that we sometimes become fascinated by something for reasons that aren’t easy to articulate. Some of our subjects have obvious interest, like the Ford Skyliner or the Jaguar XK120, but others may be puzzling to the casual observer. That is certainly the case with this week’s subjects, which are thoroughly unexceptional in engineering and design and have styling that could charitably be described as ordinary. However, they were at the forefront of an emerging debate that is still going on: the question of exactly how big an American sedan ought to be. This week, the history of the 1960-1965 Mercury Comet and 1962-1965 Ford Fairlane.

1965 Ford Fairlane badge


The early 1960s saw a profound shift in the way U.S. automakers approached the mass market. Until 1959, the Big Three’s bread-and-butter cars were very much of a piece; there were different trim series, different body styles, different engines, and sometimes minor variations in wheelbase or length, but you could speak with authority about “the Ford” or “the Chevrolet.” Discounting specialty cars like the Ford Thunderbird or Chevrolet Corvette, each manufacturer’s different models were nearly identical in basic engineering, concept, and size.

The independent automakers, looking for niches in which they would have less direct competition, were the first to challenge this paradigm. Nash introduced its compact Rambler in 1950, followed a year later by Kaiser’s Henry J and in 1953 by the Hudson Jet. None of these small economy cars replaced the companies’ bigger models, but they provided a cheaper, more economical alternative. Most were not particularly successful (only the Rambler survived past the mid-1950s) and the Big Three went on with business as usual. It was not until the recession of late 1957 and 1958 that compact sales increased enough to make GM, Ford, and Chrysler take notice. As we have seen, they each developed compact models of their own, which emerged as the Chevrolet Corvair, Chrysler’s Valiant, and the Ford Falcon.


In the summer of 1958, a few months after Ford’s Falcon was approved for production, the management of Ford’s recently unified Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division began lobbying for their own version of the new compact. The 1958 model year had been horrendous, with the Edsel a particular disaster, and the division’s new management wanted to make sure they’d have something to sell if buyer interest in economy cars continued to grow. (Similar dialogues were taking place at GM, which is how Buick ended up selling Opels and Pontiac briefly offered English Vauxhalls.) M-E-L’s version of the Falcon was originally intended as an Edsel, known internally as the Edsel B. It was eventually named Comet.

1964 Mercury Comet 404 badge
When Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln adopted the Comet name for their version of the Ford Falcon, they were obliged to buy the rights to the name from a small coachbuilder called Comet Coach, which built hearses and ambulances.

Making an Edsel out of the Falcon posed an interesting challenge. The Falcon was engineered as a strictly no-frills package, offering maximum usable space with minimal cost and weight. The Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division was supposed to be luxurious and upscale, but for economic reasons, the Comet had to share as much of the Falcon’s hardware as possible.

1961 Mercury Comet front 3q © 2015 Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
An early Comet — not yet technically a Mercury. Although the Comet was commonly counted in Mercury production totals, it was not until 1962 that it officially became a Mercury and gained Mercury badges. (Photo: “1961 Mercury Comet” © 2015 Greg Gjerdingen; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

In a later era, the company would probably have settled for slightly different trim and styling, but at the time, newly minted M-E-L general manager Ben Mills was struggling to justify the division’s continued existence. Mills convinced Ford group vice president Robert McNamara that the Comet needed greater distinction from its Falcon sibling, so while the Comet would share the Falcon’s basic body shell, suspension, and powertrain, both wheelbase and overall length were stretched to create different proportions. The first Comet would be 13.8 inches (351 mm) longer than the Falcon on a 5-inch (127mm) longer wheelbase, weighing about 160 lb (73 kg) more. Cabin volume was nearly identical, although a longer tail gave the Comet a slight edge in trunk space.

1961 Mercury Comet rear 3q © 2015 Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
The early Comet had a stylish formal roof with slightly recessed backlight. This roof design was introduced on the 1957 Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop and later popularized by the 1958 Ford Thunderbird and Galaxie; using it on the Comet was intended to give the compact an upscale feel. Note the modest tail fins, which help to make the Comet look less stubby than the contemporary Ford Falcon whose body shell it shares. (Photo: “1961 Mercury Comet” © 2015 Greg Gjerdingen; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

In November 1959, not long before the Comet entered production, Ford announced that it was shuttering the Edsel brand after the 1960 model year. The Comet actually survived the demise of the Edsel brand, although it no longer carried Edsel identification. When it was launched in March 1960, Comet was technically a separate marque, albeit sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers.

Despite the late introduction and lukewarm reviews, the Comet sold well: more than 116,000 units in its shortened debut season. Its first full year was even better, tallying almost 200,000 sales — more than 60% of Lincoln-Mercury’s total business. For 1962, the Comet was finally badged as a Mercury, which did nothing to dampen its success.


The development history of the midsize Ford Fairlane is somewhat obscure — in most accounts it is overshadowed completely by the compact Ford Falcon and sporty Ford Mustang — but we speculate that it was inspired by the development and perhaps the early success of the Comet. Ford’s market research had already indicated that there were buyers who liked the idea of a no-nonsense, smaller car that wasn’t quite as small or as Spartan as the Falcon. The Comet confirmed that assessment. The natural follow-on was a bigger compact Ford — that is, an intermediate.

The new midsize Ford took its name from what had previously been the popular mid-level trim series of Ford’s full-size line: Fairlane. (As we mentioned in our history of the Ford Skyliner, the name was derived from Fair Lane, the Ford family’s Dearborn estate.) Unlike the Comet, the Fairlane didn’t share the Falcon’s body shell, but it had a similar unitized structure and suspension. It was 2.2 inches (56 mm) longer than the Comet on a 115.5-inch (2,934mm) wheelbase and weighed about 200 pounds (91 kg) more. The Fairlane was quite a bit bigger than a Falcon, but more than a foot (312 mm) shorter than a 1962 Ford Galaxie. Despite its smaller size, the Fairlane actually had slightly more rear legroom, headroom, and trunk space than the Galaxie, although its narrower width cost the smaller car a modicum of shoulder and hip room.

1962 Ford Fairlane 500 front 3q © 2011 Sicnag (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
The initial 1962-1963 Ford Fairlanes had small fins, which were dropped for 1964. Styling is otherwise much like a scaled-down full-size Ford of the same year. Some intermediate Fairlanes were also assembled in Australia (from CKD kits built in the U.S.), like this 1962 Fairlane 500. Its wheels are not stock. (Photo: “1962 Ford Fairlane 500 Sedan” © 2011 Sicnag; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

For critics who felt standard-size cars had become too big, the Ford Fairlane represented a welcome dose of moderation. The Fairlane was actually very similar in size to the enormously popular 1949 Ford and Ford’s press materials called the new car “a return to the traditional size” of the low-priced market.


The Ford Fairlane broke no new ground in styling or engineering, but it did introduce what would become the company’s most important new engine since the 1932 flathead V8. Developed by engineer George Stirrat, the new small-block V8 used the latest “thinwall” casting techniques to make it as small and light as possible. Unlike Buick’s small V8, the Ford engine was all cast iron, which was both cheaper and more reliable than aluminum, but was actually more compact than the Buick. The Ford V8’s dry weight was only 470 pounds (213 kg), heavier than the aluminum Buick engine, but around 65 lb (30 kg) lighter than a small-block Chevrolet V8.

The new V8 was initially a Ford Fairlane exclusive, although it eventually replaced the last of the 1954-vintage Y-block engines in all of Ford’s cars and trucks. In its initial form, the V8 displaced 221 cubic inches (3,620 cc) and produced a respectable 145 gross horsepower (108 kW). It very quickly increased to 260 cu. in. (4,267 cc) and then to 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) and finally 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc). Most of these versions were quite mildly tuned, but knowledgeable hot rod artists could easily extract 300 or more horsepower (224 kW) with a little massaging. Ford would use this basic engine through the year 2000 and it is still produced as a crate motor for restoration or racing use.

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe front © Aaron Severson
The 221 and 260 cu. in. (3,620 cc and 4,267 cc) versions of the new small Ford V8 were gone by 1965, replaced by the 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) version with either 200 or 225 horsepower (149 or 168 kW). Some Fairlanes and Comets of this vintage had the 271 hp (202 kW) “K-code” 289, although it was dropped from the Fairlane option list in 1965. This 1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe has the base engine with the three-speed Cruise-O-Matic.

The V8 gave the Fairlane notably better performance than the standard 170 cu. in. (2,780 cc) six and could run rings around its Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet cousins. Still, the Fairlane was no drag racer, particularly with the two-speed Fordomatic that most buyers ordered. Motor Trend‘s early Ford Fairlane 500 with the 221 cu. in. (3,620 cc) V8 and automatic needed more than 13 seconds for the 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) run and couldn’t quite reach 95 mph (153 km/h). Car Life found another Fairlane with the optional 260 cu. in. (4,267 cc) engine and automatic about a second quicker to 60 mph (97 km/h), with a top speed over 100 mph (161 km/h). Fuel economy was reasonable for an American car of this size and era, usually ranging from 16 to 19 mpg (12.4 to 14.7 L/100 km).


When the midsize Ford Fairlane debuted for the 1962 model year, it found itself in that most enviable of arenas: an untapped market niche. Unlike the Falcon, the Fairlane neither looked nor felt small and it was as roomy as the Buick Special, and Oldsmobile F-85, which had debuted the year before. The Fairlane was bigger and roomier than the senior compacts and was cheaper than any of them except the Tempest. As a result, the Fairlane outsold all of its competitors by a significant margin, racking up nearly 300,000 sales. Sales were even better for 1963, totaling more than 340,000.

1962 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe front 3q
Both the 1965 Ford Fairlane and the 1965 big Fords were boxy and slab-sided. You might think it was a styling trend, but Ford stylists of this era say it was done at the orders of Engineering; boxy, square designs are easier and cheaper to build than curvaceous ones and Ford styling did not usually have the power to overrule such decisions. Still, it makes the 1965 Fairlane look dowdy compared to its GM contemporaries.

The Ford Fairlane’s success caused a great deal of soul searching at GM. The general managers of Oldsmobile and Buick had
been uneasy about being in the compact market in the first place, believing their customers had come to expect bigger cars. The Fairlane was closer to where they felt they should be. Chevrolet, meanwhile, had no intermediate at all and the appearance of the Fairlane pointed out the big gap in size and price between its compact Corvair and Chevy II and the cheapest full-size Chevy. Chevrolet was in no immediate danger — it outsold Ford by around 50% in both 1962 and 1963 — but it was a chink in the division’s armor that could not be ignored. GM’s response was to shift the Tempest, F-85, and Special to a new intermediate-size A-body platform for 1964, which was shared by the new Chevrolet Chevelle.

Before, the Ford Fairlane had had little direct competition, but now it faced a host of formidable rivals. Its 1964 sales fell to fewer than 280,000 units.


Both GM and Ford assumed that the major reason the Ford Fairlane had outsold the GM senior compacts was that it was bigger than any of them. (The failure of the Mercury Meteor suggested otherwise; see sidebar.) The initial 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle was actually a bit smaller than the Fairlane, but the other A-bodies were noticeably larger: the Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest were each 5.4 inches (137 mm) longer than a 1964 Fairlane. For 1965, Ford stretched the Fairlane another 1.2 inches (30 mm), giving the intermediate bulky, slab-sided styling that contrived to make it look even bigger than it was.

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe rear 3q © Aaron Severson
The 1965 Ford Fairlane was actually bigger than the 1966-1967 Fairlane in most dimensions other than overall width; the ’65 Fairlane was 198.8 inches (5,050 mm) long, 1.8 inches (46 mm) longer than the ’66. Although it still used the same basic body shell as the ’62-’63 models, the 1965 Fairlane was about 140 pounds (64 kg) heavier and had a softer suspension that improved ride at the expense of handling.

The idea of jockeying to offer the biggest smaller car seems more than a little absurd, but the equation of size and value was (and remains) deeply ingrained in the American psyche. That went for engines, as well as the cars themselves. Pontiac had upped the ante in 1964 with the big-engine Tempest GTO, which included a 389 cu. in. (6,372 cc) V8 with 325 gross hp (242 kW). Its GM siblings quickly followed suit and in 1966, Ford began offering its own 390 cu. in. (6,391 cc) FE-series V8 in the Fairlane.

The big engines added power, but they also added weight: installing the 390 (and the chassis reinforcement that it required) made the big-engine Fairlane about 430 pounds (195 kg) heavier than the basic six-cylinder car. A 1962 Fairlane with V8 and automatic had weighed 3,150 lb (1,429 kg); a 1966 Ford Fairlane GTA with the 390 and automatic weighed over 3,500 lb (1,588 kg).

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe hardtop © Aaron Severson
The first 1962 Ford Fairlanes were offered only as two- and four-door sedans, but a wagon was quickly added and the two-door pillarless “Sports Coupe” was introduced mid-year. Bucket seats (which this car has) were optional.

The added bulk didn’t dissuade customers. The U.S. economy was in good shape in the mid-sixties, gasoline was cheap, and the promise of big-engine power was alluring to young Baby Boomers just reaching driving age. By 1966, buyers were losing interest in compacts like the Falcon and Corvair, while intermediate sales continued to rise. The Ford Fairlane sold almost 320,000 units in 1966 and, after an abysmal 1967 run, around 380,000 for 1968.

The Fairlane accomplished this without ever being particularly exciting. Other than a handful of cars offered with the rare and expensive 427 cu. in. (6,986 cc) “side-oiler,” even Fairlanes with big-block engines had lukewarm performance compared to the hottest GTOs or Dodge Chargers. Car Life, testing the raciest big-block 1966 Ford Fairlane, concluded that it was still basically a family sedan. As for its styling, the most generous critics called it pleasant and bland. It was hardly an eyesore, but it was not a car dripping with sex appeal.


The Ford Fairlane nameplate survived until 1970 in the U.S., although starting in 1968 the top intermediate models were renamed Torino, possibly at the behest of Ford’s Italian-American vice president, Lee Iacocca. In 1971, the Fairlane name was dropped entirely (except in Australia; see the sidebar) and all midsize Fords became Torinos.

By then, Ford’s midsize cars had become gargantuan. A 1972 Ford Torino four-door was 211.3 inches (5,359 mm) long on a 118-inch (2,997mm) wheelbase, tipping the scales at 4,250 lb (1,928 kg) — actually larger than a full-size car of a decade earlier. In the interim, the big Fords had also grown larger; a 1972 Ford LTD was 218.4 inches (5,547 mm) long on a 121-inch (3,073 mm) wheelbase, weighing close to 4,800 pounds (2,175 kg). The industry’s former compacts, meanwhile, were beginning to approach the size of the 1962 Ford Fairlane.

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe rear
The 1965 Ford Fairlane’s increase in length over the 1964 model was largely in the tail, which was stretched to improve trunk space. “Gunsight” tail lamps are the same basic shape as the contemporary big Fords, but the full-size cars have the tail lamps oriented vertically, rather than horizontally, like the Fairlane.

This growth came to an abrupt halt in the late 1970s, when new federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules forced Detroit to downsize its bread-and-butter cars. The new full-size models shrank to what had previously been intermediate dimensions. The 1979 Ford LTD sedan, for example, was 209 inches (5,309 mm) long on a 114-inch (2,896mm) wheelbase, roughly the size of a pre-downsizing Torino. The new midsize Ford Fairmont, meanwhile, was about the size of an early Mercury Comet.


The effects of downsizing proved to be temporary, and by the late 1980s cars were again getting larger. The growth is no longer simply an American phenomenon; the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, which began as superminis, are now as big as the mid-size Honda Accord and Toyota Camry of 20 years ago. The Camry and Accord, meanwhile, are now classed as “large cars.” As those models have grown, the manufacturers have introduced new, smaller products to fill the gap. Clearly, the pattern established by the intermediates of the sixties and seventies continues apace.

Looking at all of this suggests several interesting conclusions:

  1. Customers like having choices, but more choices don’t necessarily mean higher sales. Both the Falcon and the Ford Fairlane were commercially successful when they were first introduced, but Ford’s total sales during that period remained almost flat. Rather than attracting new buyers, the new models seemed to simply divide existing customers into smaller subcategories. (The only new Ford product of the period that actually seemed to increase total sales was the Mustang.)
  2. Consumers are motivated by perceived value, which is not necessarily the same thing as size. Automakers tend to assume American consumers always like bigger cars, but the evidence suggests that that is only partly true. Within the intermediate class, buyers did seem to prefer the bigger models, particularly when the prices were similar. On the other hand, if we compare the sales of Ford’s intermediate and full-size cars in the sixties, it appears that the growth in intermediate sales was largely at the expense of the low-line big cars. The price difference between a deluxe Ford Fairlane 500 and a basic full-size Ford was not huge, perhaps $150, but buyers preferred the former, trading sheer size for plusher trim and more equipment. Mercury buyers, meanwhile, clearly felt that the midsize Meteor wasn’t worth the modest price premium over the Mercury Comet, larger dimensions or no.
  3. There seem to be certain sizes that American consumers particularly like, which manufacturers are continually reinventing under different names. Buyers loved the 1949 Ford and the 1955 Chevrolet, for example, and when those models grew beyond recognition, their dimensions were reinvented as the early-sixties intermediates, which buyers loved again. When fuel economy standards forced downsizing in the late seventies, that size was reinvented a third time. Not coincidentally, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the best-selling sedans in America in recent years, are again approaching those dimensions.

Interesting as all that may be from a marketing standpoint, none of this helps to make the early Fairlane any more exciting in its own right. There was nothing wrong with it, but after practically creating its market segment, it consistently failed to stand out from the crowd. There’s little honor, it seems, in defining the middle ground.



From 2012–2014, the author worked with former Ford executive Chase Morsey Jr., who was involved with the marketing of the original Comet, on the writing of Mr. Morsey’s memoir, The Man Who Saved the V-8, which also discusses the Comet. This article was published prior to (and separate from) that project.


Our account of the origins of the Comet comes from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1960-1963 Mercury Comet,”, 21 August 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1960-1963-mercury-comet.htm, accessed 30 April 2009, sand Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Thomas R. Bonsall, Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel (Automotive History and Personalities) (Stanford, CA: Stanford General Books, 2002); Douglas Brinkley, Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress (New York: Viking Press, 2003); James Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, rev. 4th ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); and David Halberstam, The Reckoning (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986). Additional history of the small-block Ford came from Isaac Martin, Ford Windsor Small-Block Performance (New York: HP Trade, 1999). We also consulted the following period road tests: Jim Wright, “Ford Fairlane 500,” Motor Trend April 1962; “Ford Fairlane 260 Sports Coupe,” Car Life August 1962; “Ford Fairlane 500: Pity the Belabored Fairlane, Starter of Trends and Standard for the Industry,” Car Life March 1965; and “Ford Fairlane GTA: Genuine Imitation Joins Supercar Spectrum,” Car Life March 1966, all of which are reprinted in Ford Fairlane 1955-1970 Performance Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998); “Car and Driver Road Test: Torino Cobra: A redesign of the Torino chassis results in a Forrestal-class Super Car,” Car and Driver December 1969, and Jim Brokaw, “The Long and the Short of It,” Motor Trend March 1972, both of which are reprinted in Ford Torino 1968-1974 Performance Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2004); “The Comet: A penetrating analysis of Fo-Mo-Co’s new ‘not-big-not-small’ car,” Road & Track April 1960; “Comet: Mercury’s small car adds pounds but loses power,” Motor Life April 1960; “Comet 170: A minor facelift and a larger engine for 1961,” Road & Track January 1961; Jim Wright, “3 from Mercury: Comet, Meteor, Monterey,” Motor Trend May 1962; “Mercury Comet Stresses Low Upkeep,” Automobile Topics November 1962; “Comet Caliente: A Finer Filly for Track or Touring Is Posted For Mid-Range Sweepstakes,” Car Life January 1964; John Ethridge, “2 Comets: Hot & Cool,” Motor Trend May 1965; and “Mercury Comet,” Road Test November 1965, all of which are reprinted in Mercury Comet & Cyclone 1960-1970 (A Brooklands Road Test Limited Edition), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1999).


Add a Comment
  1. This article is interesting. Too bad for Edsel. If it had the Comet, it would have been successful. Then again, the tarnished brand of Edsel would make Comet sales slow.

    I never knew this would be confusing… The Fairlane was actually bigger than the F-85 and other derivatives… It seems that you’re right about Americans wanting to have that right size ( and right price ) of the car. I’ve read a Motor Trend article that the editors loved the Chevelle because it reminded them of “their old friend, the 55-57 Chevy.”

    Anyway,the Fairlane is a good – looking car

    1. The first-generation Chevelle was very similar in size to the ’55 Chevy, as well as to the Fairlane. A ’64 Chevelle was 193.9 inches long on a 115-inch wheelbase (for ’65, it was stretched to 196.6 inches). By comparison, a ’55 Chevy was 195.6 inches long on a 115-inch wheelbase. So, the similarity in size was really pronounced.

      1. I remember seeing a diagram with the outline of the’64 Chevelle overlayed on the silhouette of a ’55 Bel Air. Except for height, the sizes were remarkably similar. I can’t remember if this was a Chevy promo item or if it was done by one of the car magazines.

        1. That does sound very familiar — I’m not sure where it was from, though, and a quick search through my files didn’t turn it up.

          I do know that a lot of the contemporary press coverage of the ’64 Chevelle made a big deal out of the similarity in size to the ’55 Chevy, just as coverage of the ’62 Fairlane compared it to the Model A.

      2. Interestingly the Tesla Model S, the first successful modern EV in the US is 196 inches long on a 116-inch wheelbase. Coincidence?

        1. In that case, yes. The Tesla Model S is an E-segment luxury car, not a family sedan. Its dimensions appear tailored to match European rivals in the same price class, which are in turn dictated by practical and fiscal limitations on large cars in some European markets. (I don’t know offhand if any EU member states still levy tax penalties on cars over 5 meters — 196.85 inches — but some used to, rules that dictated European luxury car size for a long time.)

  2. The “Torino” name actually came from the hometown of Hank the Deuce’s second wife.

  3. I can’t think of a single attempt at insight or wit when it comes to the Fairlane. No complaints, either.

    I guess that was the problem.

    Actually, it still confuses me that the 427 Fairlanes weren’t more fearsome. The uber-Ford Thunderbolt was generally only considered adequate compared to the other muscle of the day.

    1. I was wondering if anyone was going to point out that I’d skipped over the Thunderbolt. (I didn’t have any pictures, and it was so far removed from the stock car that it seemed off topic.)

      My understanding is that the Thunderbolt was really quite formidable in Super Stock drag racing — the quarter mile in the mid-11s was pretty serious stuff in 1964. That was quicker than a Max Wedge 426, and a good race for the early Hemi. It was much, much faster than any street Supercar (if we accept the likelihood that [i]C/D[/i]’s test GTO had a Bobcatted 421, not a stock 389 Tri Power), but it was a pure drag strip special, not a street car.

      The Ford 427 side-oiler wasn’t necessarily the most formidable of the super-stock engines in terms of output — it wasn’t as powerful as a Hemi, certainly, or a Chevy L88, both of which were newer designs. By the mid-sixties, its primary strength was reliability. Ford had been using the FE-series engines since ’58, and every time something would break, they’d tear it down and beef it up. That was part of how they won Le Mans with the 427 GT40 — by then, it was very dependable (although they kept breaking gearboxes).

      1. The rule change from 50 to 500 cars is what put the end to the Thunderbolt! Remember Ford built 13 AFX 1965 Mustangs with a 427 SOHC that more than handled any car engine
        body combination ever built, they couldn’t run in super stock because 500 were never built! Even the 1968 Super Stock Hemi Cuda Was no match for the 427 SOHC Mustangs built for AFX class! The 427 thunderbolts were good for 1964 but competition was stiff and newer mods made the production Thunder bolt obsolete remember this was when the altered wheel base car appeared!

  4. A major reason the size of cars (and houses, TV screens, etc.) keeps increasing is due to focus groups and other marketing research. When asked to suggest changes to a current model, respondents will almost always say they would like “a little more space”.

  5. Yes its a common misnomer…and unnecessary if referring to the early engines. There was only one Ford 221-260-289-302 engine line, so using the displacement as identification would suffice. When referring to the 351 the “C” or “W” becomes necessary.
    Great article.
    Its good to read about the vague models that (although significant and sometimes beautiful) werent truly successful. Unfortunately for Comet, Fairlane and Falcon they had to compete with the Mustang juggernaut of 65-66.
    Great work!

    1. I know the distinction between the 351s, but at the time I wrote this, I had been under the misapprehension that all the early 221-260-289 small blocks were built in Ontario, rather than Cleveland (i.e., the opposite of the actual situation). I’m always glad to catch that kind of glitch, for obvious reasons!

  6. “The new V8 was initially a Fairlane exclusive, although it eventually replaced the smaller of Ford’s 1954-vintage Y-block engines in all of Ford’s cars and trucks.”

    I’m having trouble figuring out the gist of that sentence. Use of the comparative “smaller” indicates there were exactly two sizes of Y-block engines in context. Which two sizes are you referring to?

    1. What we have here is a sentence that’s too ambitious for its own good. What it was trying to express was that the small V8 eventually replaced the 292, which was the last of the Y-blocks. The “smaller” Y-block aspect was supposed to reflect that there had been several Y-block sizes, the largest of which had already been superseded by the FE-series engines. Obviously, that was none too clear, and not particularly relevant. I reworded it to say it replaced the [i]last[/i] of the Y-blocks, which is hopefully a little clearer.

  7. Perfect. Now I understand.

  8. Aaron,
    The initial ads in 1962 for the 221 C.I.D V8 historically linked the new V8 to the old flat head V8 which also displaced 221 C.I.D. Those ads indicated that the new V8 was a modern, improved succesor to the original V8 Ford. These were very cool ads done in Black and White with the engine displayed in center with views rotated about the engine, and I remember them well. Hopefully these ads can be resurrected for review.
    Thanks again.
    Vic C.

  9. Writer states: “The 221 and 260 cu. in. versions of the Windsor V8 were gone by 1965, replaced by the 289, which had either 200 or 225 horsepower.”
    All the early Ford small block engines were manufactured at the Cleveland plant, up to around 67 or 68 I believe to augment the supply to meet demand. When the 351 was introduced, the two different engine types were differentiated by Ford by the C (Cleveland) or W designation. The W (Windsor) being the descendant of the 221-260-289-302 engine line. So identifying the early small blocks by the “Windsor” name isnt exactly right. I believe Ford called it the “Fairlane” V8 or the “Challenger” V8. Fairlane enthusiast Bob Mannel has written an exhaustive history and analysis on the 221-302 Ford small block at www [dot] fordsmallblock [dot] com.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. A lot of people retroactively call all the small-block engines Windsors (even some of the reviews of Bob Mannel’s book at that link, ironically!), but I agree that it’s misleading. I’ve amended the text accordingly.

  10. Just purchased a 1967 Fairlane 500 convertable,nightmist blue, stock with the purchase order from Ford. Sweet car, restorded in 2004 with 9700 miles on it since then. 390 4 barrel 320 hp. power steering, front power disc brakes. An old car, but with some modern features, very drivable. In my humble optinion, the 66 & 67 Fairlanes along with the full size Galaxies are the best looking cars Ford produced during the 60’s and the early 70’s. Personally, the styling of the Fairlane for 67 with it’s boxy body compared to the styling of the 67 Chevelle is somewhat more appealing to me. At this stage I think it just looks older. The 67 Chevelle is one awesome looking car, but the styling of it, to me is ahead of it’s time. It looks more like a modern car with it’s curved more aerodynamic lines. Bottom line is the 67 Ford Fairlane convertable are quite rare, so I have a gem.
    Fairlanes Forever.

  11. And the Ford 260 and 289 V8s with four speed gearboxes were sold to the Rootes Group produced Sunbeam Tiger until Rootes was purchased by Chrysler and they ultimately decided not to continue buying engines from a competitor. The Tiger was a great British sports car with American power and now much sought after by enthusiasts.

  12. Regarding the Windsor V8, did Ford ever investigate a smaller V8 project or any Slant-based engines?

    Additionally why did Ford opt for copying the Buick V6 to create the Canadian Ford Essex V6 instead of simply developing a 90-degree V6 (of similar displacement at around 2715-3706/4314cc) from the Windsor V8?

    1. I’m reasonably sure the original Windsor V-8 in the ’62 Fairlane was probably about as small as Ford seriously contemplated: 221 cubic inches, 3,620 cc. My speculation would be that since the Fairlane/Meteor was functionally competing with the GM Y-bodies, Ford wanted to have a nominal edge in displacement while still offering comparable fuel economy. (Also, the 221 was about the same displacement as the old flathead Ford V-8, which the contemporary press noted.)

      Later, when Ford came up with the short-lived 255 for CAFE compliance purposes, I would assume they at least considered going smaller, closer to the original displacement. I presume they wanted to keep the 3-inch stroke of the 302 for parts commonality, but they could have gone back to the 3.5-inch bore of the early 221, giving 231 cu. in. (3,784 cc). Maybe they assumed it’d be awkward to have a V-8 smaller than the six.

      I don’t know of any Windsor slant-four or V-6 derivatives that got past the “Hey, what if we …” stage. My guess is that it would have been troublesome from a production standpoint, since the Windsor V-8 was their bread-and-butter engine and was needed in substantial numbers.

    2. Hmmm… I only know of the the Essex V6 as a Ford (UK) product. Built in 2.5 and 3 liter displacements mostly for their big (by European standards!) Zephyr and Zodiac cars and their replacement Consul/Granada models, although it had a longer life in British Capri models. I understood it got it’s name from being built in the county of Essex at Fords Dagenham plant. Two V4 derivatives were also built mostly found in the Corsair car and very successful Transit vans.
      Was there a separate Essex engine built in North America, maybe in V8 form?. If so is there any connection between the two?.

      1. The 3-liter Essex V-6 engine was also used by Ford in South Africa, where it had a surprisingly long life — at least through 1987, well after Ford of Europe had rationalized around the Cologne V-6. I’m not terribly familiar with Ford SA, so while I assume they made the engine locally rather than importing it from the UK, I’m not certain. (Part of the reason for the European switch to the Cologne engine is that they found it more amenable to emissions controls.)

        There was a separate Essex V-6 in North America, a 3.8-liter, 90-degree engine derived, I think fairly loosely, from the 4.9-liter Windsor V-8, although I’ve often heard it described as a straightforward knockoff of the 90-degree Buick 3.8. It was widely used in bigger U.S. and Canadian Fords of the eighties and early nineties, serving as base power in the Thunderbird and Cougar and as the optional choice in the Taurus et al. The 3.8-liter Essex has a fairly dreary reputation, with a lot of former owners insisting the 60-degree Vulcan 3-liter was considerably more reliable, if less torquey.

        1. Regarding Ford South Africa: In the 1960s, local-content requirements were enacted and by 1966 most manufacturers had begun producing engines locally. Ford produced two engines at its Struandale plant from 1966: the smaller “Kent” ohv unit, primarily for the popular Cortina, and V4 and V6 versions of the British “Essex” engine. The latter was likely chosen over the German V6 because it was a heavier unit, and South African local-content rules were based on weight. The V4 versions were miserable units and were gone by 1977. But the V6 was quite popular and from 1973 was available in the Cortina. Ford merged with the local Mazda-Mitsubishi operations in 1985 and a year later the 3-litre Essex engine became optional in the new Mazda-based Courier pickup. Fuel injection became available around 1992 in the Sierra RS and Sapphire Ghia sedan. When the Sierra models were replaced by the Mazda-clone Ford Telstar in 1993, the Essex motors continued in the pickups and were later enlarged to 3.4 litres. They continued until the introduction of the new Ranger and Mazda pickups around 1999.

          Regarding the Fairlane in South Africa: it was quite popular upon its release in 1962. South Africans liked American cars but the standard US yank tank had become quite expensive by that time and weren’t affordable as family cars. The Fairlane, much like the immensely successful Valiant (the country’s top-selling car for much of the 1960s), offered American style at an affordable price. But, South Africa was a division of Ford Canada, not Ford USA, so when Canada stopped making the Fairlane in 1966, the model was no longer available in South Africa, so the Fairlane name moved to the full-size Ford body, the only model being made in Canada at that time, and was in actual fact the Ford Custom 500 with Fairlane badges, offered as a cheaper alternative to the 6.5-litre Galaxie 500. An interesting note, the RHD big Fords of that period used a reversed Lincoln dashbord!

          Ford followed GM in the decision to replace American designs with Australian ones, so in late 1968, the big American Fords gave way to the Australian Fairlane. The local content requirement was raised to 66% for the 1977 and the Fairlane was dropped from the local lineup, leaving the very successful Granada as the company’s flagship model.

          1. Thanks so much for the information! I hadn’t realized the Essex V-6 had continued that long, which parallels the eventual history of the Cologne V-6. (The latter lingered on in trucks and SUVs well after it was no longer used in passenger cars.) The idea that it was selected in part because of weight-based local content rules is fascinating. I know there are a lot of different ways to calculate those, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it might make a heavier engine an advantage!

            It sounds like the Fairlane nameplate essentially reversed its earlier course in the U.S., where as noted it had gone from a full-size trim level to the smaller shell. That too is quite interesting.

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