(first posted 4/28/2014) No man is without his prejudices and biases, but I am among the most even-handed regarding automotive brands. I have almost no brand loyalty. What was once a social faux-pas is now liberating; I’m free to like what I please. With that being said, I have always preferred GM intermediates to Fairlanes, and own a Skylark to prove it. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that the intermediate itself was one of Ford’s “better ideas,” leaving the General scrambling for their own entries into this popular new field.
It’s been said that GM often took Ford’s ideas and made them better, and even if they didn’t necessarily actually improve upon these ideas, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t sometimes “steal them.” There are several examples of this assertion: the Fairlane begat the Chevelle/BOPettes, the Mustang the Camaro (although it arguably copied the Corvair Monza), the LTD the Caprice, and the Thunderbird the Riviera/Toronado. In reality, however, the Fairlane and its intermediate architecture wasn’t a new idea at all; in fact, it was really a mere seven or so years old.
The newly intermediate ’62 Fairlane cast roughly the same size shadow as a “full-size” Ford from 1955. The big Fords (including the Fairlane through ’61) had simply grown in stature so quickly that somebody at Ford realized that there must be a market for something along the lines of that ’55. Dodge and Plymouth obviously tried another tactic–they downsized their biggest models to mediocre sales results, leaving them scrambling for a traditionally sized alternative (I’m looking at you, 880 Custom). Ford correctly assessed that there was a big market for both sizes, and for two model years, they reaped the reward of their prescience, to the tune of well over 500,000 unit sales over those two years.
It’s impossible to say how many of those sales came at the expense of the big Fords or Falcons, but it seems that someone correctly assessed a market need and drove a Fairlane into the gap.
Today’s feature car is a top-of-the-line 1963 Fairlane Sport Coupe, from the second model year of the downsized Fairlane. Fairlane convertibles weren’t available until 1966, leaving the sporty hardtop as the only option for those who wanted racy styling. The brochure printed above lists two V8 options for the ’63 Fairlane, a 221 and a 260.
The 221 would disappear after 1963, as its 145-horsepower struggled to keep up with the increasingly fast-paced world of the 1960s. Mid-year, however, Ford introduced an engine that would race around the world and fill the engine compartments of hundreds of thousands of Mustangs in the future.
The 289 shared its architecture with the 221 and 260, adding a larger 4-inch bore to the existing 2.87-inch stroke. It lasted only six model years, from 1963 to 1968, but it’s still well-known as a high-revving and durable powerplant, especially in K-Code “High-Performance” trim. This ’63 carries the little-seen and seldom-ordered 289 “Hi-Po,” and wears the requisite badges. The solid-lifter 289 lasted until 1967, when big-blocks made the expensive option somewhat obsolete. If you wanted a reasonably competitive small-block Ford at this time, this was your option. Ford arguably didn’t have another really hard-charging small-block until 1969’s Boss 302.
The engine compartment of this example is magnificently clean, and shows the differences between the early “Hi-Po” and later models. This example has vacuum advance, which later models eschewed for a centrifugal-advance-only distributor with a more advantageous timing curve. It also has the generator that Ford would hang onto until the 1965 models were introduced.
The huge shock towers that intrude upon this 289 explain why Ford didn’t offer a big-block option until 1966. Right next to those shock towers, however, were some header-like cast iron exhaust manifolds that flowed more freely than the standard 289’s. The big difference in the K-Code, compared to other 289s, was the solid lifter camshaft that allowed a redline of well over 6000 RPM, which was indeed the horsepower peak. K-Code cars usually came standard with a 3.50 axle ratio, and were only available with a 4-speed until late-1964.
Ford advertised the 289 (the 271-horsepower version was the only 289 one could order in 1963) as a potential winner at the drags, as evidenced by the driving gloved hand and smoky-tired launch in the advertisement above. Ford had recently renounced the AMA ban on racing (that other manufacturers had been covertly ignoring for years), and felt free to advertise speed and power again, eventually tagging the lineup as the “Total Performance” family and the “Lively Ones.”
Unfortunately, 289 Fairlanes weren’t often real winners at the drag strip. Whether they were classed disadvantageously or just didn’t have the guts that small-block GMs did, few of these made dents in the stock classes. In fact, by many standards, the K-Code wasn’t all that quick. 16-second quarter-mile times were fairly normal for showroom-stock 289s. Not bad, but not enough to scare later Chevy 327s, or even old 283-powered shoeboxes, at least from what I’ve been able to gather.
It’s unlikely, however, that the original owner of this fully-decked Sport Coupe was interested in flogging it down the quarter-mile on a weekly basis, and it’s probable that it acquitted itself just fine on the streets of America. This is a beautiful example of 1960s nostalgia, with a welcoming red interior. This version has sporty buckets, a console, the mandatory 4-speed shifter, and a cool “Rotunda” tachometer that looks just right at the driver’s right knee. Its trifecta of round gauge pods look the part, making this car a suitable home for a raucous engine option.
I think I’d go so far as to say that this was an early muscle car. It didn’t have the image or raw torque of a later GTO, but it did place a powerful engine under the hood of an intermediate-sized car, something that no other automaker really did in 1963, especially if you consider the ’63 Mopars to be “full-size.” A better idea? I’ll leave that up to you.