Curbside Classic: 1965 Ford Galaxie 500–A New Ford Fit for Goldilocks

(first posted 12/14/2012)     The 1965 Ford, once common as dirt, has become a rare item of interest. Oddly, it has also been one of the most-chronicled cars here at CC: We’ve already discussed the groundbreaking 1965 Galaxie 500 LTD (here) and its polar opposite, the Custom two-door sedan (here).  While those extreme ends of the ’65 Ford spectrum are interesting, they hardly represent the models that paid the bills–the broad middle of Ford’s lineup that served the broad middle of America.  At the very least, one model within that great middle provided most of the sales volume that allowed other Fords to be priced so attractively. Like Goldilocks in the old tale of the Three Bears, most buyers of new 1965 Fords found the Galaxie 500 just right.

The 1965 standard-size Ford was a much greater breakthrough than most people realize. The Ford Motor Company generally had been a predictably conservative organization: Throughout its long history (going back to the Old Man himself), the usual pattern had been radical change followed by years and years of stagnation, during which most of Ford’s competition would cruise past them. In fact, it could be argued that the 1965 model was only the second really new Ford (the other being the 1949) since the Model T.

Instead of listing everything new about the ’65 Ford, it might be easier to note what wasn’t–and that would be most of the available engines and transmissions.  The sole new power plant was a 240 cu in (3.9-liter) big six that was seldom seen outside of the Custom and Custom 500 lines.  The V8 lineup  for ’65 was familiar: The sprightly Challenger 289 (4.7 -liter); the sluggish Thunderbird  352 (5.8-liter); the torque-making Thunderbird Special 390 (6.4-liter); and, finally, the NASCAR-duty Thunderbird Special High Performance 427 (7.0-liter).  Any of these engines could be mated to a mix-and-match of three- or four-speed manuals or the trusty Cruise-O-Matic.

Except for those carryover powertrains, the car was virtually new from the ground up, with new fifteen-inch wheels, a new perimeter frame, new front and rear suspensions (Ford’s first use of an all-coil design) and, of course, completely new bodies and interiors.

Even the keys were new.  See that car key you take for granted today – the one for which there is no such thing as upside-down?  It appeared first with the ’65 Fords.

The LTD model was made famous by being heralded as “quieter than a Rolls Royce.” Nevertheless, accomplishing that trick merely by adding a little extra sound insulation required the basic Ford body and chassis to form an already smooth and quiet car, and they did. Before 1965, full-size Fords were  known for durability and relatively good handling.  However, when it came to ride quality they were no match for a Jet-Smooth Chevrolet. All that changed in 1965, when Ford became (and remained) the company to beat in terms of taming Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH).  Key to accomplishing that was the combination of a stiff, torque-box perimeter frame mated to a compliant suspension on one side and high-isolation body mounts on the other.

Unfortunately, that strong box-section frame would prove to be the car’s undoing in many parts of the country where road salt was used liberally. The corrosive brine that found its way into the frame structure could not find a way back out, and eventually something unheard-of would happen: The rust-weakened frame would break in two, usually just ahead of a rear wheel.  In most cases, an otherwise completely serviceable car would have to be consigned to the scrapyard.  Oddly enough, the exterior of the 1965 Ford gave the appearance of one of the least rust-prone cars on the road.  Either coincidentally or due to cost-cutting, each successive year of this generation of Ford brought ever-higher susceptibility to sheet metal tinworm.

The car’s styling was a complete break from the 1960-64 period.  Never had there been a more angular Ford (if not a more angular car of any kind.)  If the Studebaker Avanti (here) was reputed to have not a single straight line, the ’65 Ford had hardly anything else. Although the look was modern and attractive, GM was still the industry trendsetter back then, and their curvaceous new cars took the industry in a different direction.  For better or worse, Ford’s almost immediate response was a hard course-correction; over the next three years, the company would spend lots of money to gradually soften the lines of this car. By 1968, virtually none of the ’65’s angularity remained.

These cars do have one styling feature I never understood: The wheel covers.  Why was most of their surface finished in dull argent?  I suspect the stylists were going for some kind of mag-wheel look, but in that case, why choose a design reminiscent of a four-spoke wheel?  Everyone in 1965 America knew that a proper mag wheel had five spokes.  Besides being a big fail in terms of aesthetics, these covers would be thrown off regularly to grace roadsides and ditches all over America.  In the early 1970s, my best friend and I rode our bikes all over Fort Wayne, Indiana, picking up stray hubcaps and wheel covers.  The ’65 Ford piece was always well-represented in our collection.

Lest some of our younger readers consider it strange that both of these random finds were two-door models, I should note that out of over 420,000 Galaxie 500s produced for 1965, nearly 47% were the two-door models featured here.  Although the four-door sedan was the most popular body style, the two-door hardtop was not far behind.  The four-door hardtop’s 50,000 sales topped the convertible’s by only about 18,000 units near the end of the era when the vehicular needs of the style-conscious and those with young children would converge in one automobile showroom.

For a long, long time, no one gave a ’65 Galaxie 500 much of a glance.  In many ways, it was the Wonder Bread of cars–not the most beautiful, best handling, or highest performance cars (excepting the 427s)–but for an awful lot of people, and for quite a few years, it was just right.