(first posted 6/14/2016) Some time back, Paul Niedermeyer went on a two-door sedan jag here, bringing to us a renewed appreciation for that most lowly of body styles. I have found myself fixated a bit lately on the two door sedan’s polar opposite – the four door hardtop. My jag may bit a bit more of a slow motion affair than was Paul’s, but in follow-up to the 1956 Oldsmobile that I wrote up last time, I bring you another noteworthy early effort.
I am not sure that a single body style has gone from zero to sixty as quickly as the four door hardtop did. Following its debut on the 1955 Buick and Oldsmobile B body, it went almost industry-wide the following year, appearing in pretty much every showroom under a Big Three banner, and even at Rambler dealers.
By 1956, the basic structure of this Ford was in its fifth and final year of production, and its second and final year after the heavy facelift for 1955. An all-new Ford was in the works for 1957, and was in its final pre-production phases. There were actually two ’57 Fords underway (which is another story for another time), and a four door hardtop would be part of the line from the beginning. However, we can get a taste of how big of a wave this new body style was in the way that Ford went to the effort to engineer this offering in a vehicle that would be out of production perhaps six months from its introduction.
The Fordor Victoria was not even in the first printing of the ’56 Ford full line brochure, but in a revised version that was dated January, 1956. That brochures were revised in January makes it likely that cars began appearing at dealers somewhat later, perhaps one third of the way into the sales year and probably closer to half way through the production year. Chevrolet had a four door hardtop in 1956 as well, but those folks would be able to amortize the engineering over the slightly revised ’57 model too. But the Chevy-Ford rivalry was as strong as it ever was in the mid 1950s, and the idea of letting the Bow Tie Boys get the drop on the Ford team must have been completely unthinkable.
The Victoria name had a strong history at Ford. During the Model A era, one of the most expensive and desirable models was the Victoria coupe, a four place coupe with a little bustle butt that split the difference between a typical coupe’s long tail and a typical sedan’s complete lack of one. Ford was not the only place to find a Victoria, a body style that could be found on such rarefied cars as the Marmon Sixteen.
Perhaps this kind of nostalgia was behind Ford pulling the Victoria name out of retirement when the two door hardtop was introduced for 1951. Which was also in the last year of a body’s life, now that I think about it. Ford would not ditch the Victoria name for its hardtops (no matter how many doors) until 1963, when the Total Performance era finally brought Ford’s image all the way into the 1960s.
I saw this car on a recent weekend getaway with Mrs. JPC. Because we were celebrating our wedding anniversary, stopping to photograph old cars would be an activity that was to be strictly curtailed. However, as I drove past the gas station where this was parked, it became plain to me that a fuel and restroom stop would be absolutely necessary, even if it required turning around. And so, while the Mrs. was attending to other matters, I swiftly captured this car with the JPC DroidCam while fueling the trusty Sedona.
I am not sure I can remember ever seeing a Fordor Victoria in the metal before. In looking up the production figures, it is easy to see why. Ford managed to get about 32,000 of these out the door before the end of 1956 model production. To put this into perspective, Ford built about 225,000 Fairlane four door sedans. Actually, Ford built nearly twice as many Sunliner convertibles as they did Fordor Victorias. So, where arch-rival Chevrolet managed nearly 110,000 of its Bel Air Sport Sedans out to customers (about 16% of roughly 690,000 Bel Airs built), Ford managed to get it’s own four door hardtop up to only about 5% of total Fairlane production of about 645,000 cars.
There is something else unique about this car. When I first saw it, I first thought that someone had somehow removed the famous chrome triangle that graced the trailing edge of the rear window in every Ford four door hardtop before 1965. OK, if we are being sticklers, it was incorporated into the door design itself for the ’64 model. We can think of it as a sort of a bolt-on Hoffmeister Kink. But no, Ford managed to do without that feature for this short run of ’56 models while Mercury employed it from the beginning.
The purpose of that unique appendage was purely functional. In a sedan, whether the rear window rolls all the way down into the door is not critical. Thicker door uppers and sometimes ventpanes were used to keep the window glass within the dimensions that would allow it to nestle down into the door. But a four door hardtop makes this issue critical. The most successful way of minimizing the size of the rear door glass has been to bring the roofline forward enough of the door’s following edge. This was the GM method from the beginning (as shown on the 1956 Oldsmobile), and the method for Ford’s initial effort as well..
Actually, I just need to find one of Mopar’s 1956 senior four door hardops, which was the most ambitious and complicated solution to the problem, as might be expected from the engineers who dominated Highland Park in the ’50s. That conception for a two-piece rear window mechanism is worth an entire CC piece all initself.
Until researching this car, I had no idea that Ford used completely separate rooflines on the inaugural four door hardtops of Fords and Mercuries. The Mercury used what was essentially the roofline for the 1956 two door hardtops, which employed a much “faster” slope and featured a rear window with very little curvature. And, of course, that famous Ford kickup on the back doors. The Ford’s roofline was more akin to the Fairlane sedans or the 1955 hardtop, with a more deeply curved back window which allowed the C pillar move far enough forward to eliminate the door trim plate. Perhaps I am the only one who never noticed this. But I’ll wager not, as infrequently as these are seen.
As to the general styling of this car, I have said it before and I will say it again: The ’56 Ford is a beautifully styled car that has not received its due as time has marched on to a place where the ’57 Chevy and the ’59 Cadillac have come to define their decade in automotive terms. This car’s Peacock Blue and Colonial White color combo may be one of my very favorites offered that year, which only makes me like this car more.
All of this talk about the body of the car has caused me to gloss over the power. I love the callout for the “Thunderbird V8”, which sounded a lot more impressive than “292 Y Block” as we tend to call it today. Or, could this one have sported the “Thunderbird Special V8” that was the big 4 barrel 312? Ford had certainly figured out the secret to battling the Chevy smallblock by 1956 – just give the Y block a displacement advantage of nearly 20%. Keep away from the Borg-Warner-designed Ford-O-Matic transmission, and the 312-equipped Ford could give the Chevy with its 265 a run for its money. At least until the rust started and trade-in time came around. Which is just too bad, because this was such an appealing car on so many levels.
Not least of which was the inside. The ’56 Ford finally ditched the gimmicky “see through” instrument cluster which allowed natural light in through the top of the dash, in favor of an instrument-rich panel that looked more Chrysler than Ford.
In looking at some fuzzy small print in one of the brochures, I wondered “does that really call the upholstery fabric ‘tree nylon’?” A good look at the fabric itself answers the question. And I still can’t decide if this is a restored car or an exceptionally clean original. It looks too nice to be as old as it is, but then how often are 4 door cars treated to this kind of restoration, particularly those that probably have several parts that are close to unobtainable.
In my mind, rush jobs that come from intense competition to Hoover-up the customer’s money make for some of the most interesting stories behind the cars we feature here at CC. And this probably explains why so many of those stories are told and retold to (and by) those of us who are into this sort of thing. Rarely, a story presents itself that has not become familiar because of its numerous retellings, and this is one of them. So, until the next four door hardtop catches my fancy, let’s savor this one.