Vintage Review: 1969 Ford Fairlane 500 – Haven’t We Seen You Somewhere Before?

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In last week’s post on Motor Trend’s comparison of 1969 mid size sedans, Ate Up With Motor pointed out that the Fairlane 500 2-door hardtop featured in that test was likely also used by Road Test Magazine for a drive report in May 1969.  Sure enough, the car is the same!  So let’s see how different drivers responded to the familiar Fairlane.

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First off, to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the exact same Wimbledon White Fairlane 500 used by both Road Test and Motor Trend, let’s check out the California black plate.  Though very hard to see, especially on the Road Test shots, the last 3 digits (014) are unmistakeable.  So this was a popular member of the Ford Public Relations fleet in Southern California!

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Unlike Motor Trend, one detail that Road Test Magazine got right was pricing for the Fairlane: RT correctly used the retail prices for the car and the options (perhaps MT used dealer cost by mistake?).  At $3,891 as equipped ($25,555 adjusted), this Fairlane 500 2-door hardtop was nicely priced for a well-optioned, high style mid-market car.  Though today mid size 2-doors are virtually non-existent, there is still a current comparison available: the Honda Accord Coupe LX-S CVT retails for $24,875.

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Ford was keen to showcase the new 351 V8, though the 2-barrel set-up was geared more toward economy than performance.  But if economy was the goal, most buyers probably would have been better served by the smaller 302 2V V8.  As for performance, Motor Trend was off the line more quickly, taking 17.1 seconds to hit 81 mph in the 1/4 mile standing start test.  Road Test clocked 20 seconds to 82, though they estimated that on a dry track their elapsed time would have dropped to around 18 seconds.

There was a stark contrast, however, in the fuel economy observed.  Road Test measured the Fairlane as delivering 12.5 miles per gallon, not that impressive for an “economy-oriented” engine.  Motor Trend’s results were far more optimistic, with a range of 14.2 to 17 miles per gallon.

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Both magazines noted that the Fairlane offered a soft ride and benign handling in normal, straight-line driving, but felt that handling fell apart as speeds increased and curves appeared.  While steering response was universally praised, the editors differed on steering feel, however, with Road Test noting that “there’s not much road feel” while Motor Trend praised it as offering “good, solid road feel.”  Who to believe?  Given that Ford’s “marshmallow tuning” era was underway by 1969, I’d have to go with Road Test’s assessment on this one.

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The Fairlane’s brakes were criticized by both Road Test and Motor Trend for being “grabby” though their actual stopping ability was praised.  For whatever reason, Motor Trend editors were able to stop in 126.1 feet from 60 mph, versus the 138 foot stop achieved by Road Test’s drivers.

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All testers liked the interior of the Fairlane, with high marks given for comfort, while criticism centered around things like the really small glovebox and the highly styled gauge cluster that, despite looking like it would offer comprehensive instrumentation, merely housed idiot lights, speedo, minimal gauges and an optional clock.

Ultimately, this Fairlane 500 was deemed “middle-of-the-road” in most ways by both magazines.  Buyers agreed, rewarding the Fairlane 500 hardtop with decent but not spectacular sales: 28,179 found homes for 1969.  Other Ford mid-size 2-doors were more popular, like the SportsRoof hardtops, which offered more in the way of sporty style and earned higher sales, both as a Fairlane 500 (29,849 sold) and a Torino GT (61,319 sold).  At the lower-priced end of the spectrum, the plain Fairlane 2-door Hardtop was more economical and affordable than its fancier-trimmed coupe sibling, and was favored by 85,630 buyers, making it the most popular mid-size Ford body style for 1969.  Only the Torino 2-door “formal” hardtops less popular than the Fairlane 500 version: 20,789 Torinos and 17,951 Torino GTs left the factory with that roofline.

Still it fun to keep seeing this Fairlane 500 press workhorse as it made its rounds in Southern California and demonstrating the smack dab middle of Ford’s 1969 line.