CC Capsule: 1961 Ford Starliner – Evens, Odds, And “The Classic Ford Look”

Fans of early-1960s full-size Fords are often divided by evens and odds, with those being in favor of the 1961 and 1963 models being in the completely unscientific majority.  As I ritually cruised my favorite car forums this morning, I saw a picture of some lucky guy’s new project: a 1961 Ford Starliner.  This isn’t it (this is a picture of a Starliner that I took over 10 years ago), but the gentle reminder nevertheless gave me a shove to appraise this nice-looking but underrepresented breed of Ford.

In their 1961 ads, Ford bragged of the “Classic Ford Look,” apparently in an attempt to put those “wild” 1960 models into the proper perspective.  After all, the 1960 Ford had proved to be less well-received than the ’59 models, causing Ford to bring back those styling touches that were considered hallmarks of the brand, such as the round taillights (which had also, by the way, disappeared in 1958).  They say you can’t go home again…

There were some not-so-conservative touches carried over from the 1960 Ford, however, such as this sweeping fastback on the short-lived Starliner models.

Cancelled for 1962 (much to the chagrin of the Ford boosters in NASCAR), the Starliner was easily outsold in 1961 by the more conservative “Victoria” hardtop that wore the Thunderbird roofline (a similarly styled sedan is shown here).

With that being said, Ford did sell about 25,000 Starliners in 1961, making them uncommon but extant at car events today.  The Starliner is only conservative when compared perhaps to the 1960 models, but they are still representative of the tail end of jet-age styling and can be appreciated as such.  Although the 1963 models seem to be the rightful favorite of many Ford fans, the 1961 Galaxie is close behind; there is indeed something about it that says “Ford.”

The 1961 models were the first to use the long-lived 390 cubic inch V8, and the last to use that displacement as the high-performance option.  The brochure lists a 375-horsepower solid-lifter version of the 390, but a triple two-barrel variant was also available, offering 401 horsepower.  The 406 would supersede the 390 as the performance offering in 1962, as the 390 settled into its role powering a large number of trucks, station wagons, and Thunderbirds, in addition to the Galaxie family car.

Those 1962 models definitely have their fans, but as they lost the distinctive fastback styling of the Starliner for a year, many see them as a retrograde step.

Honestly, I kind of like them all, but I’ll cast my vote with the 1961 model.  A black Starliner is a standout at any car event, and although I’d probably take a Club Victoria in my garage, it’s hard to argue with the “Classic Ford Look.”


Related CC reading:
Auto-Biography: 1961 Ford Starliner 390-375 – Yes Pop, You Can Get A V8 Four-Speed 1961 Ford If You Really Must Have One