Cohort Classic: 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 – Nice Looking Car, But Not What Buyers Wanted in 1962

Chris Cieslak shot and posted at the Cohort this very fine looking 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 hardtop coupe. It stirs up a lot of childhood emotions, as this big Ford was a bit of a challenge for me at the time when it came out. It had a lot of appealing qualities, in its large and solid appearance. Of course I could tell that it was just a ’61 with some obvious remodeling, mostly from the cowl back: A new Thunderbird formal roof and it ditched the little fins for a flatter and somewhat amply-rounded rear end. I would have been very happy had my father brought this home instead of the stripper ’62 Fairlane. And just why did the all-new Fairlane have those little finlets when the big Ford dropped them for ’62? Hmm…

But that’s all relative, as I was a devoted GM acolyte at the time. Having arrived in the US just as the all-new ’61 GM cars did, that wasn’t exactly a hard choice, given what Ford and Chrysler had on tap in ’61. And I guess I wasn’t the only one, as a look at the sales stats shows a very painful tumble for Ford starting in 1960. By 1962, full size Ford market share dropped under 10%, which had to be the lowest ever since the Model T first showed up in 1908.

Why did the full-size Ford drop so hard and fast starting in 1960, from 22.5% to 13%? (I prefer to use market share, as it doesn’t reflect the rather large jumps and drops in the overall market back then).  Was it its new styling?

Not primarily, but it probably didn’t help, as it looked a bit too much like it was chasing both the ’59 Chevy and various Chryslers of the era. But there’s nothing really to suggest that buyers were put off by it, as it was very much in the idiom of the times.

This was the real reason. The 1960 Falcon was the true Ford that old-time Ford loyalists had been waiting for ever since the Model A went away. We’ve covered this topic lots of times already, but a very substantial portion of traditional American car buyers were fed up with the whole bigger, longer, lower wider business that really took off in the mid ’50s. And the Falcon was the answer to their prayers; a neo-Model A. Henry Ford had created a whole generation or two of loyal Fordists, and now Henry’s ideas were reincarnated: no bigger than necessary, and very traditional otherwise.

And the 1960 Falcon was a big hit, selling 436k times, for a 6.2% market share. Add that to the big Ford’s 13%, and you get 19.2%, or almost the same as the 1960 Chevrolet. But what about the 1960 Corvair? Didn’t it take away sales from the big Chevy in 1960? Probably some, but certainly not nearly as much as the Falcon ate big Ford sales. Because the Corvair was so different, with its rear engine and all, it did what it was supposed to do: steal market share from the imports. Import market share plummeted from 10.9% in 1959 to 6.4% in 1960, and Corvair apparently sucked up a big share of that, with a 3.6% market share. The rest probably went to Valiant, Comet and undoubtedly some to Falcon too, but the evidence of Falcon’s cannibalization of big Ford sales is all-too obvious.

The depressing numbers for Henry Ford were that despite the new Falcon’s great sales, overall Ford Division market share dropped in 1960 to 20.5% from 23.6% in 1959. It’s absolutely no wonder Lee Iacocca hated the Falcon; all that money for nothing. And when he saw the 1961 Corvair Monza become a genuine hit, it spurred him into action: cultivate a performance image and…the Mustang. It was the only way out of the bind Ford had found itself in.

And it’s no surprise that in 1962 the big Fords took another (but smaller) dive: the new Fairlane. A Falcon with a healthy dose of steroids, the new mid-sized Fairlane had a strong start too, with 297k sold, for a 4.1% share. But all that did was barely offset a similar 3% market share drop for the big Fords in 1962. Ford had become an expert at building new cannibals. Thanks to a drop in Falcon sales, the Ford Division suffered another market share drop, to 20.6% from 23.4% in 1961, when it had gone up some, undoubtedly because of the recession favoring low-price brands that year.

Meanwhile, Chevy was making hay. Thanks to a very good start for the new Chevy II (327k, 4.6% share) along with the best year ever for the Corvair (293k, 4.1%), the two compacts augmented big Chevy sales, which increased again (to 1.4 million) and a slight drop to 20% market share. All combined, the Chevrolet Division knocked it out of the park, with a 28.7% market share, a new record for the era. It was Chevy’s golden era, only to be disrupted by the Mustang in a few years hence.

So let’s take a closer look at what buyers found somewhat less than compelling. Well, the front is not its best feature, as it’s only very slightly changed from 1961. The grille was changed a bit, but the hood, fenders and doors look to be the same pressings.

The big change was the new roof, which now graced all models and body styles, except wagons and convertibles, of course. It was a big improvement, most especially so on the lower-end sedans, which had rather unfortunate greenhouses in ’60 and ’61.

Speaking of models, Ford did something a bit odd in ’62, dropping its lowest trim Custom 300 series. It reappeared in 1963, but for ’62 it was just a low-end Galaxie, the high-trim Galaxie 500. And as can be seen, the same roof graced the sedans as well as the hardtops. Presumably Ford was economizing, anticipating the reduction in big car sales due to the Falcon and Fairlane.

The rear end of the ’62 Ford is a bit controversial, as it’s generally seen to be the weakest of the ’61-’64 era. It looks a bit blobby; certainly not dynamic, and gives the ’62 a rather stolid and dull aspect. The ’63 really perked things up back there, as well as in front.

Lee Iacocca’s new performance image (“The Lively Ones”) drive started mid-year 1962, albeit a bit less than stellar. It was the bucket-seat XL, as well as a similar bucket-seat Fairlane 500. But both of them suffered from decidedly non-lively styling, so the goods were a bit well hidden. And certainly Ford could bring the goods, with a new 406 inch version of the hi-po 390, rated at 385/405 hp, depending on how many carbs sat on its throne. These FE engines were in a different league than their more prosaic brothers, with special heads and lots of other goodies, and gave birth the 427, the last of that genetic line.

You had to be a pretty hard core big Ford performance enthusiast to buy one of these. And there weren’t many of those left, as the bulk of them had found better pickings across the street at the Chevy dealer starting back in 1955. Proof of that was the standard 170hp 292 V8, the last year for the Y block in passenger cars. The engine that threw away Ford’s performance image to Chevy.  It was heavy, slow and none too efficient. Nobody missed it. And Argentina was happy enough to take it off our hands.

Although the big Ford didn’t have a performance image to give it a boost, it did try to make the most of its halo car, the Thunderbird. And that’s the vibe the ’62 gave off, something of a Thunderbird sedan. Or at least tried to.

It’s a good thing Chris didn’t get close to the window and give us a really good shot of the interior. The seats and stuff were plenty fine enough, but the whole dashboard was still stuck heavily in 1960, and not in a good way. That was mercifully rectified in 1963, as was the highly embarrassing exposed column shifter rod. Really? Every time I saw that as a kid it reminded me why I spent my Saturdays at the Church of St. Mark of Excellence.

Still, as I said before, I’d have been happy enough if this showed up in our driveway. Everything’s relative. Even market share.