Curbside Classic: 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 – Say Goodbye To Those Jet Tube Taillights

(first posted 7/20/2012)     Today’s Fords, while competent and popular, just don’t have that “certain something” that their forebears had in spades. Witness: The classic round Ford taillights. Were they sharp? You bet they were. Ford was pretty smart to make a taillight so distinctive; even at night, when the rest of the car was hidden from view, you could definitely tell that the car in front of you was a Dearborn dreamboat. Sadly, this most excellent tail lamp would appear on full-size Fords for the last time in 1964.

Nineteen sixty-four was a big year for Ford. All their car lines, from Falcon to Fairlane to T-Bird, were completely redesigned. The full-size Ford was particularly attractive, although the family resemblance shared by the 1961-63 Fords was gone with the ’64– except for those trademark taillights. All two-door hardtops featured the semi-fastback styling that had been introduced on the “1963 1/2” Galaxie hardtop with an eye toward NASCAR competition. Aerodynamics aside, it was a sharp roofline. With the vinyl roof covering and chrome “top seam” as shown above, it could pass as a top-up convertible with ease.

There was a full lineup of full-size Fords. The Custom was a fleet/cheapskate special that came equipped with hubcaps, no chrome trim, rubber floor mats and a 223 cu in, 138-hp six-cylinder engine with a single-barrel Holley carb. The Custom 500 was only marginally fancier, with carpeting, chrome windshield and backlight trim, and  abbreviated chrome side spears.

One step up from the Custom 500 was the far more appealing Galaxie 500 which, in the upwardly mobile mid-’60s, was the most popular series. Galaxies had lots of chrome trim, including chromed fender-top ornaments, window frames and a full length chrome strip whose aluminum front section contained Galaxie 500 badging. A second aluminum molding, which also featured a Galaxie 500 script, decorated the space between the taillights.

Naturally, interiors were much dressier, with most of them featuring two-toning. A wide variety of colors, including aqua, red, blue and white, were available–bright (in more ways than one) alternatives to today’s drab graphite, black and putty color selections.

As the volume line, Galaxies came in more body styles than the Customs, including two- and four-door hardtops and a convertible. The four-door hardtop, dubbed Town Victoria by Ford, sported a totally different roofline than the pillared Town Sedan.

The most glamorous ’64 full-sizers were the Galaxie convertibles, which were available in Galaxie 500 (bench seat) and Galaxie XL (buckets-and-console) versions. Not a stand-alone option package, the 500XL was instead a separate series of vehicles at the top of the line. They had all the Galaxie 500 features and also included, in addition to the aforementioned bucket seats and console, special door panels, door courtesy lights and a standard 195-hp, 289 cu in V8. Ford built 37,311 Galaxie 500 and 15,169 XL convertibles  during the 1964 model year.

All in all, the Galaxie 500 attracted plenty of buyers, with over 326,000 finding happy new owners. While the admittedly nice 1964 full-size Chevrolet might be more frequently seen at car shows and cruise-ins these days, I prefer the Ford. If we’re talking 1962-63 Fords and Chevys, however, I would have to sit down and think about it.

Popular options included power steering ($86), power brakes ($43), AM radio ($58) and that ubiquitous dress up item, white sidewall tires ($33). As had been the case with Detroit iron for years, most power and comfort items (most of which we now take for granted as standard) were optional. If you bought a Custom or Custom 500 with no options, what you got was more or less a four-door F-100 with a trunk and rear seat. But at the same time, you could load options onto any model, whether a basic Custom or top-drawer XL.

The 1964 Fords were quite different from today’s models. The biggest difference is more choice – the ’64s offered a wide choice of body styles, colors and, especially, powerplants. And how wide a choice? How about no less than a total of eight different permutations of the 223 six and 289, 352, 390 and 427 V8s? Thus could the cheapskate who still wanted a well-equipped car  get a 138-hp six in his otherwise loaded Galaxie 500, while the hot rodder with cash in his wallet could get a Custom 500 two-door sedan with the fire-breathing Thunderbird Super High-Performance “R code” 427-CID, four-barrel V8 that produced 425 hp at 6000 rpm. Oh, the possibilities…

Which brings us to our featured Galaxie 500 convertible, a dark green beauty that was until recently owned by K.V. Dahl. This one has lots of options, including whitewalls, wire wheel covers, fender skirts, Cruise-O-Matic transmission, and a 352-cu in, 250-hp Interceptor four-barrel V8. With other cars to tend to (including such former CCs as the ’60 Lincoln and ’54 Kaiser), Dahl decided to let this one go. It’s fully loaded, needs nothing, and is ready to rock  and roll! And how can you not love those rocket-ship taillights?

This car has only one demerit in my opinion – that black interior. Sure, it looks nice, but cruising around in it with the top down would make things, um, a little unpleasant in the summertime. Love the green paint, love the white top, but I’d rather have a white or saddle tan interior. No matter the interior color, there’s tons of room there. The bench seats look ample enough to seat four across both in front and in back. We don’t need no minivan!

Not surprisingly, it sold at right around the start of convertible weather. I have yet to see it at the car shows with its new owner, so I don’t know if it is still in the area. Wherever it is, it will stand out among the 500 Camaros, GTOs, Corvettes and Mustangs you’ll see at just about any car show. Full-size ’60s iron is just not as popular as muscle cars these days. Shame, because these biggies ride a lot better, and with the right engine can more than stand their ground.

But that’s not all! At the Sycamore Mall cruise-in back in May, I ran across an XL four-door hardtop. A four- door ANYTHING with bucket seats and a console was very rare for a domestic car in the Sixties. Sales reflected the lack of demand; only 14,661 XL sedans were built. Even the XL convertible outsold it by around 500 units.

This survivor is really sharp, and the colors really complemented the car, but I could have done without those aftermarket spotlights. They may look alright on a ’50s car, but they’re a little out of place on a mid-60s Ford.

While the 1964 Galaxie had an all new look, it was a one-year wonder; 1965 would bring a much more more angular design with 1963 Pontiac styling cues, right down to stacked quad headlights. The ’65 clearly marked a new direction–the ’60-’64, ’65-68 and 1969 models were all quite different. They looked good though, one-year styling or not. I’m sure the new owner of K.V.’s green machine is enjoying it. Just watch out for those black seats when the top’s down!