Curbside Classic: 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 – Movin’ On Up

Take a moment to reflect where the market was for our friends at Ford in 1958. Starting with the autumn 1957 release of the Edsel, the blue oval was sorting out a lot of…issues. Like the worrying lack of enthusiasm for a new marque that had promised power, styling and a new found social status for its owners and failed so spectacularly. Mercury was losing ground against the mid priced offerings from GM, and Lincoln had taken on the challenge of building the biggest unit body cars ever conceived for the 1958 Continental and Premiere to replace the elegant and well received 1956-57 lines. 1958 also saw the arrival of the all new 4 seat Thunderbird after the three year run of the classic Little Birds. The all new Falcon was in advanced development for its release in late ’59. There was more on Ford’s plate than it could say grace over.

While there was a lot of activity on the periphery, the meal ticket was still the bread and butter Ford. The price leader Custom/ Custom 300 series got buyers in the door. But the metal that the sales staff really wanted to move was the fancier Fairlane/Fairlane 500. It may not sound like much today, but the $300-400 tariff for the Fairlane series was a deal maker/breaker in those days. For the extra skins, you got two more inches of wheelbase, standard features like two (!) sunvisors, real wheel covers, a horn and other assorted bangles that made the car look like a (highly) mobile jukebox, especially in Bangkok (!?).

Longer, lower, wider was the coin of the realm in those days, and the Fairlane 500 had that in spades (although this ad takes that a bit too far). The basic body shell was really a carryover from the very successful 1957 models. But under the hood, the ’58s packed the brand new FE engines, for a price, of course. They came in 332 cube (240/265 hp) and the more familiar 352 cuber (300 hp). 1958 was the year all three of the low-price big boys would finally break the 300 hp barrier. The horsepower war was trying to outshout the cold war. Guess it worked.

Ford was trying to get away from the image as a low-buck, low suds everyman’s car and carve out a more profitable niche upmarket before the wave of compacts and imports could make profit margins non existent. With the Fairlane/500 series, that migration began in earnest. It would reach its ultimate expression just a few years later with the LTD/7 Litre cars in 1965-1966.

The most obvious change in the ’58 was the move to quad headlamps and a stamped-mesh full width grille that sorta kinda reminded you of the T-Bird sitting in the other end of the showroom. Other than a new face and a squared-off butt, the car was basically unchanged in most respects from the very well received ’57,which (depending on who’s counting) outsold the iconic ’57 Chevy.

Well, one thing did change, and not for the better. Lee Iacocca called the ’58 the worst Ford ever screwed together, with multiple quality problems that made ex-Ford owners out of a lot of buyers. Poor rustproofing and “dynamic obsolescence” took care of the rest, so finding a ’58 in good condition is not that common today.

We spotted this gussied up ’58 in repose just outside Dayton ,Tennessee on a warm summers evening. It wears cheesy aftermarket wheel covers and has the odd patch of rust here and there. It is for sale, but the owner wasn’t around to provide any details. But like a colorful parrot with big tail feathers, it squawks its story pretty clearly.