Curbside Classic: 1963 1/2 Ford Galaxie 500 XL – Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Nothing Blue

(first posted 7/21/2017)     This is such a familiar face.  During my time at CC I have plowed the 1963 full-sized Ford field quite often.  In my defense it’s always been the same relatively small forty acre plot of what is arguably a several thousand acre ranch.  When this Galaxie was built, cars carrying the same name were much less homogeneous than what we have currently.

So perhaps that is why I am writing this.  We have seen very little about any two-door Galaxie, especially one as relevant as this example.  So let’s jump in and take the old girl for a spin.

The 1963 Ford full-sized cars were another evolution of the 1960 models, a model often described as not hitting the sweet spot of the market.  In one of those instances when surprises happen upon connecting the dots, the 1960 full-sized Ford handily outsold the 1963 full-sized Ford.  The full-sized 1963 Ford sold just under 750,000 units, some 160,000 less than the 1960 models.

Overall Ford production, not counting the Thunderbird, was on a mild increase for 1963 to nearly 1.5 million, the best it had been since 1957.  Thanks for the reduction in full-sized production can be attributed to the Falcon that came along in 1960 as it helped cannibalize sales of the “regular” Ford.

Credit for the rebound that started in 1963 can be partly attributed to the Fairlane that appeared in 1962.  Just don’t give all the credit to the Fairlane as credit can also be given to the red Galaxie you see here.  The Galaxie 500 and Galaxie 500 XL fastback body style would become the third best selling Ford in the entire Ford camp that year – and it wasn’t even available for the entire model year.

Model year 1963 started off like most others during that time.  The chassis was the same, the body wore new clothes, and drivetrains, other than the brief appearance of the 260 cubic inch V8 (quickly succeeded by the 289) to replace the old 292, were mostly carryover.

The sales pitch of the new models was the standard fare although having a cat roam the interior is a different form of presentation.

The 1963 models did present a refreshing change from the year before.  While not unattractive by any means, the 1962 Ford simply comes across as being a bit on the droopy side, a milder form of the aging body builder whose physique is just starting to succumb to gravity.

One item of note about the 1963 models is Ford finally covered the gear selector linkage on the steering columns.  This was a definite new that was greatly welcomed.

Out of the box Ford had their traditional Galaxie 500 (and XL, the top level trim) two-door hardtop, also seen in the video advertisement above.  To the typical buyer it presented no problem.  To Ford, entering its era of “Total Performance”, this two-door hardtop was presenting a major problem in one of their costlier and higher profile efforts to attract potential buyers.

While racing is not everyone’s cup of tea, various types of auto racing have certainly been influential with the auto industry.

Does the old adage of “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” sound familiar?  Throughout the 1962 NASCAR season Ford was getting stomped.  At the end of the season only six races had been won by a Ford; Plymouth had won eleven, fourteen were won by Chevrolet, and Pontiac had twenty-two victories.

The reason?  Aerodynamics.  These loses due to poor aerodynamics, particularly of the roof, were not working in the direction Ford wanted to go.

The Starliner roof used in 1960 and 1961 had posed far fewer aerodynamic problems in racing activities.  While Ford had inadvertently hamstrung themselves with equipment flexibility due to a reporting error in 1960, the 1961 season didn’t go as poorly as it would in 1962.  At the end of the 1962 NASCAR season the highest ranking Ford had placed twenty-first out of fifty-three entrants.  That’s not good.

The 1962 season was so bad Ford attempted to place the roof from a ’61 Starliner on a ’62 Galaxie convertible.  It ran a single race before Bill France of NASCAR called foul and it disappeared.

Part way into the 1963 model year Ford introduced the Sports Roof on the Galaxie 500 and Galaxie 500 XL.  The concept was definitely borrowed from the Starliner and Ford made a big to-do about its introduction.  How so?

They sent a Galaxie 500 Sports Roof to Monte Carlo for testing and advertisement production.  It was about as subtle as a ball-peen hammer applied to the forehead.

In talking about the Galaxie Sports Roof, Ford would meekly state in one of its advertisements:

To top this you have to spend 5,750,000 lire…or shed 4 passengers…In road performance the all-out version of Ford’s Sports Hardtop with the 425 horsepower engine, four-speed gearbox and the standard heavy duty suspension and brakes, has no full-sized rivals in all the world…in fact, only the top echelon of the two-seaters can generate anymore go!

There is also a special allure about seeing a car with such presence blasting through these streets with the white sidewalls scrubbing the pavement around turns.  It’s been said here that few things are more fun than driving a slow car fast; perhaps something even more fun is making a poor to mediocre handling car dance like a ballerina.

The mid-year addition of the Sports Roof, thus the 1963 1/2 nomenclature, proved to be as successful on racetrack as in the showroom.  Ford claimed the superior aerodynamics required one hundred less horsepower to maintain 160 mph than it did with the brick-ish 1962 models.

This racing ability of the Galaxie would gain attention from racing on multiple continents, not just North America.

One of the more memorable NASCAR related stories is that of DeWayne “Tiny” Lund.  In a true Cinderella story, the 6’5″, 270 pound Lund had traveled to Daytona looking for a car to race.  He had been watching Marvin Panch test a Ford powered Maserati when it crashed and burst into flames.  Lund helped pull Panch from the wreckage; a hospitalized Panch soon asked Lund to take over wheel duty in his Ford.

Lund (top) shown with Fred Lorenzen

Working with Wood Brothers Racing, the owner of the car, Lund exercised a nervy yet successful strategy formulated by Wood Brothers.  With three laps to go Lund was passed by Ned Jarrett; Jarrett immediately ran out of fuel.  Continuing on, Lund ran out of fuel in the final lap and coasted across the finish line to win the race.

Lund had intentionally ran the entire race without a single stop for fuel.

A more memorable story, well known in England and likely a good portion of Europe, is that of Sir Jack Sears.

Ford had been growing their racing activities and approached English Ford dealer John Willment about racing a Galaxie.  Willment, also known for having modified Ford’s 100E side valve engine to produce phenomenal power for its displacement, added this Galaxie to the Cortinas in his racing fleet.  It should be noted some sources claim Willment approached Ford; either way, the Galaxie driven by Sears was prepared by Holman and Moody.  HM was famous for preparing cars for NASCAR use.

The Galaxie’s first race was at Silverstone.  As recalled by Sears, part of the Willment racing team, the Galaxie was delivered with street tires and no racing tires for it were to be found.  Taking this yank tank for a few laps simply to get a feel for it, one of the street tires blew out.  Sears simply parked in the grass and waited until the practice session was over.  His being parked for not obvious reasons led to much speculation about the “brickish, overpowered” Galaxie having been greatly overhyped.

The Silverstone Course

When the race started, Sears said he took off gently since the clutch in the Galaxie as it had been prepared to NASCAR standards where rolling starts are the norm.  In Hanger Straight Sears realized he could likely pass every car in front of him – which he easily did.  He said he had been downshifting to third gear at Becketts Curve, but after the third lap, he saw no need and he kept the Galaxie in fourth gear for the duration of the race.

Sears’ victory against the abundance of Jaguars and other European cars was described as being accomplished with “contemptuous ease”.

Nearly all of this can be seen here.  Somewhat surprisingly a number of other American Fords can be found in the background of this video, particularly a 1960 Galaxie convertible.

As an aside, the Galaxie Sears drove would later see racing duty in Australia and South Africa before going back to England for placement in Sears’ car collection.

But this Sports Roof deserves more than just discussing ancient racing accolades, no matter how entertaining.  Its sales success deserves some context.

Not surprisingly, the Galaxie 500 four-door sedan, or Town Sedan in Ford speak, was the best selling Ford that year with 205,722 being built.

The second most popular Ford was the Fairlane 500 four-door sedan at 103,175.  With people moving being Ford’s bread-and-butter these were fairly predictable sales champions.

Perhaps surprisingly for a mid-year introduction is the Galaxie 500 Sports Roof selling 100,500 units.  Factoring in the XL model like our featured car, at an additional 33,870, this is quite the sales powerhouse Ford introduced.  One can only speculate on how many would have been produced had it been available for the entire model year.

Some insight into this question came about in 1964 when the Sports Roof would sell almost 207,000 copies in the Galaxie 500 trim alone, 10,000 more than the Galaxie 500 four-door sedan; the XL, as seen here, added another 58,300 examples.

Perhaps these were early signs of the personal luxury coupe juggernaut that occurred during the 1970s.

Finding this 1963 Galaxie 500 XL for sale alongside the road (where else?) was a quite delightful experience as it’s a fabulous example to showcase.  Not only is it in a highly desirable body style…

…it is in the upscale XL trim with a console, gear shift (or selector) on the floor, and no less than 289 cubic inches of V8.

Our featured car is powered by a wonderful example of the smooth and torquey FE series V8.

This 390 wasn’t the biggest engine available that year as the initial 406 was quickly supplanted by the 427.  While the 427 might have done okay in everyday duty (some sedans were built with the 427), the everyday grunt and oomph was the domain of the 390.

Best of all this 390 is bolted to a four-speed manual.

Of note is the interior – Ford was keen on uniform colored interiors during this time.  I’m speculating all the black comes about from use of reproduction upholstery and door panels.  Having had need to investigate such things for myself, one can currently obtain these items in factory colors other than black.

This would be a truly sweet driver.  It’s not perfect, but that’s fine; if my name were on the title, it would be driven often.  I suspect I’m not alone in that assessment.

Found on US 63 between Rolla and Vienna, Missouri

June 2017

More bountiful reading about 1963 Ford Galaxies:

1963 Ford Galaxie sedan by Tom Klockau

1963 Galaxie 500 Drive Report by JP Cavanaugh

1963 Ford Galaxie Road Trip Report