Curbside Classic: 1960 Ford Fairlane – Upstaged By The Rest Of The Cast

(first posted 1/13/2017)     Few people, if any, have a life goal of being upstaged.  While the term is most associated with the mechanics of theatre, it is an exhibition of behavior that is easily found in many places – particularly the workplace.

This isn’t to say the person (or performer) being upstaged is deficient or devoid of talent.  Rather, it’s simply an indicator of someone having a little more verve and zest about themselves, displaying a genuine yet hard to quantify something extra that sets them apart from everyone else.

The act of being upstaged can also apply to automobiles; this base model Fairlane two-door sedan could likely be the automotive poster child for being upstaged.

The same year our featured base model Fairlane two-door sedan first hit the road, a new sized Ford also entered the market.  With the exception of being branded as a Ford, there was nothing particularly unique about this diminutive sized automobile; Studebaker and Rambler both had similarly sized cars on the market that predated this new Ford.

Nor was Ford unique in introducing a small car at that time.  Compact competition sprang forth from both Chevrolet and Plymouth for 1960 but neither the Corvair nor the Valiant hit the sweet spot of the market as thoroughly as this little Ford.  A distinct factor in its success was the Chevrolet possessing a constitution too far outside the norm while the Plymouth had an appearance that wasn’t universally enticing.

This new car simply upstaged its competition.  Its name, of course, was Falcon.

It’s never been argued the Falcon was a very successful car in its freshman year.  With over 435,000 produced in the U.S., Falcon production was fairly comparable to that of Rambler; it was fourfold that of Studebaker and exceeded production of both Corvair and Valiant by very healthy margins.

However, this statement of 435,000 is just a raw number, failing to put any context to the magnitude of Falcon’s success – and how it helped upstage the full-sized line.

When seeing it compared to production of the standard Ford (a long used term that was starting down the path of archaic, a path that generally ends at woeful obsolescence) the Falcon had a production volume of almost half that of the “standard Ford”.

If looking at Ford production for the three years on either side of 1960, the influence of the Falcon’s upstaging is even more apparent.  It has been argued Falcon took sales away from the full-sizers; another thought might be sales were down due to a combination of the lackluster economy and 1960 being an off-year for styling, somewhat like 1958.  Regardless of reasons, Ford production didn’t waiver heavily after the introduction of the Falcon.  Granted, Ford’s market share fluctuated during this period, but output remained fairly consistent.

When looking at our 1960 Fairlane two-door sedan, the third most popular body and trim of “standard Ford” available that year, there was another car that upstaged it in the collective memory that year.  And, no, it wasn’t the Thunderbird.

Let’s be honest; this Starliner is easier on the eyes than is our featured Fairlane.  Despite both bodies having been plopped on the same 119″ wheelbase, the difference all boils down to the roof – and, oh what a difference that makes.

We’ve discussed the 1960 Starliner here, but suffice it to say the Starliner’s roof was heavily inspired by the 1957 Plymouth; maybe Ford wanted to prove it really was 1960.  Regardless of its origins, the Starliner looks a lot more fluid and svelte than does our Fairlane despite having the same length.

This roofline also provided some tactical advantages on the ever blossoming stock car circuit.  Ford would have had a better year in NASCAR had someone not goofed in some paperwork.  The potency of their one year wonder of a 360 horsepower 352 cubic inch (5.8 liter) V8 was emasculated as Ford failed to disclose the availability of 15″ wheels and a 3.22:1 rear axle ratio when telling various racing associations what was on their options sheet.  This error eclipsed their success that year, especially at the Daytona 500.

Despite such a mistake, the Starliner roof was so conducive to racing Ford toyed around with continuation of it into 1962.  They proposed this ‘Starlift’ removable hardtop for the Sunliner convertible. Bill France of NASCAR wasn’t buying it, although it was allowed to run the first race of the season. A semi-fastback Galaxie reappeared midway through 1963.

Like the Falcon, the Starliner helped upstage the pedestrian two-door Fairlane in spite of the Fairlane having more sales.

Fleet sales counted toward the 93,000 Fairlane two-door sedans that were sold.  All it would take to turn our featured car into the twin to the car in the ad would be a few red lights and a snazzy spotlight on the A-pillar.

So maybe our white two-door Fairlane wasn’t totally upstaged if she got to be the covergirl on brochures hawking cars to the po-po.  Most awesomely, someone at Ford made an exquisite choice by placing a salute to Kansas City on the cover.

Perhaps this gracing the cover was a consolation prize for the biggest upstager the Ford Fairlane faced for 1960.  Remember how Ford made 911,000 full-sizers?  Chevrolet made 1.3 million full-size cars of all varieties for 1960, effectively spanking Ford in the annual sales race.  In other words, Chevrolet produced roughly as many of their biggies as Ford and Plymouth did combined.

In a real contrast to Ford, Chevrolet put the swanky roof on their el-cheapo models with a flat roof on their better trimmed cars; could they have been any more opposite to each other?

Some things are upstaged so easily; this far into an article and so little talk about our featured car.  Despite it being upstaged by just about everything available that year, and a roof that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, there is a lot of goodness to behold.

A lot of people around here enjoy base model cars and this one makes it easy to understand why.  While this interior is proof positive gray interiors have existed for many, many years, there remains an elegant simplicity with this interior and dashboard.  All controls are close at hand, with each likely providing a satisfying tactile feel that simply cannot be duplicated (or found) in many contemporary rotary dials and push buttons.

Even the radio delete plate has a nice form-fitting shape, helping cloak the miserliness of the original owner.  While visible options are sparse, they did spring for an automatic transmission – even it is the two-speed Fordomatic instead of the three-speed Cruisomatic.

The Fordomatic may or may not be a clue into what propels our bat-winged Fairlane; while it could be obtained with any available engine, it was the only automatic that could be teamed with a six-cylinder.  Model year 1960 didn’t see the best economic circumstances in the history of the world, leading to nearly one-third (32.5% to be exact) of the standard Fords to be propelled by the lowly 223 cubic inch (3.7 liter) straight six.  One hundred forty-five gross horsepower funneled through a two-speed transmission to propel a 3,600 pound car does not a rocket sled make.

The only demerit this Ford earns is easily corrected – those fender skirts are hideous on any car but doubly so on a base model such as this Fairlane.  They would make terrific e-Bay fodder.

The skirts also detract from those delectably unique tail fins.  They work well to enhance the width of this Ford, the widest Ford passenger car built.  It exceeded the maximum width restrictions in several states but, knowing it was a one year anomaly, these states looked the other way.

There is some enjoyment to having found a car from the ever-dwindling bucket list, a model year of Ford that has been a perpetual personal favorite.  This is a car that didn’t deserve to be upstaged any longer.

Found May 2016, Hannibal, Missouri


Related Reading:

The Ford FE Series V8 – JS

CC:  1960 Ford Starliner – Greg Beckenbaugh