(first posted in 2011)
“It’s about the journey, not the destination”. Tell that to a family of six—one of them seven months pregnant—on the third day jammed into in a black ’62 Fairlane on a sweltering hot day in July, windows closed, glued to clear plastic seat covers. If it hadn’t been for the glamor of the destination (New York City), my father might well have met an early demise at the hands of mutineers somewhere in Ohio. Hey Pop! We’re in America now, where folks ride in big yank tanks; not something European sized. Time for a bit of assimilation! Ford’s decision to introduce the Mercedes-sized Fairlane in 1962 was highly ill-timed, from our perspective.
My father was recruited to the University of Iowa Hospital in 1960, and shortly after our arrival, he bought a used 1954 Ford Mainline sedan (1953 Ford CC here). Six year-old cars back then were already geriatric; but the ’54 Ford V8 baby-blue whale was roomy for a family of six, and did the job, mostly, except for not wanting to break its slumber on cold winter mornings. Who did?
But it was feeling its age, so one day in December of 1961, my father unexpectedly showed up with a black Fairlane four door sedan, bare-bones except for the brand new 221 CID V8 and the Ford-O-Matic. I had very mixed emotions.
Yes, it was a new car; not just factory fresh, but also a totally new creature from Detroit: the first intermediate-sized car from the Big Three. Sure, Ramblers of the times were essentially mid-sized cars, and perhaps the Studebaker Lark should best be considered one too. And it was the remarkable success of the Ramblers that undoubtedly inspired Ford to take the plunge with their new Fairlane.
But I hold a grudge against Ford’s decision; if they hadn’t made it in ’62, we’d have been riding in a full-size Ford for sure. Unless of course he had bought a Falcon…Nooo!
Keep in mind, this was just two years after Ford’s smash success with the Falcon. And just as the Falcon was the basis for the Mustang in 1964, so it also sired the Fairlane. In fact, it would be fair to say that the Fairlane was really just a stretched Falcon, the kind of thing done routinely nowadays.
And just to confuse matters even more, the 1960 Mercury Comet slotted in between the two in length, although it used the narrower width Falcon body, its wheelbase lengthened from 109.5″ to 114″. The Fairlane added another 1.5″ to the wheelbase, and had a bit of extra width. But the Fairlane and Comet sure did look mighty similar. That really kept me scratching my head back then; just what was the relationship of these three? Well, Ford was ahead of the times, and if you wonder where Lee Iacocca got his inspiration for endless variations and different lengths for all of those Chrysler K-cars, here it is. History inevitably repeats itself.
So why wasn’t I as excited as I could/should have been as a nine year old car fanatic when Dad shows up with the first brand new car ever? Let me count the ways, starting with the neighbors across the street. They had a matching brace of 1960 Bonnevilles snuggled up side-by-side in the driveway; a black hardtop sedan for him, and a navy blue wagon for her. I obsessed on them, and had my heart set on a set of 1962s for the Niedermeyer livery. The fact that the car-nut in the family wasn’t even consulted alone was hard enough to take, but that pattern was to repeat itself endlessly, except for two notable exceptions.
Given the fact that we weren’t exactly a touchy-feely sort of family, I definitely had my eye on a wagon with a third seat for a little elbow room. In 1962, my sister was fourteen, my older brother twelve, and my younger brother three. The painful reality is that the Fairlane is roughly about the size of today’s Civic or Corolla. Extended skin contact with siblings was not my idea of how to spend two days straight on our vacation trips to Colorado. And before I forget, nobody ever rode in the front middle. That meant four in the back, along with the fifth-soon-to be; we had to do skin contact; he didn’t.
Our Fairlane was utterly stripped of any excess ornamentation, worthy of taxi-cab service. But in my father’s eye, the cheap seat upholstery was something to be well preserved, so he ordered a set of clear plastic seat covers from Fingerhut, the perfectly smooth ones, not the more expensive ones with raised bumps on them to create channels to drain the rivulets of sweat away. No, that would have been extravagant. We literally had to peel our thighs off those seats in the summer, given the short shorts of the era.
That Christmas, my present was a new wrist watch. After a few weeks, my skin underneath it started turning greenish-blue, like the verdi gris of weathered copper. And the back of the watch was all tarnished. As was his role in my life, my older brother clued me in: the el-cheapo watch was a free spiff from Fingerhut for having bought that set of plastic seat covers. As if I needed another reminder of the old man’s thrifty ways.
that’s why he always carried three pens
It gets worse. My dear father’s quirks were about as outsized as his talents. He had a severe issue with drafts, especially around his neck. And he was always cold; rarely would you see him without a cardigan (or two), even in the summer. So only the front windows were allowed to be opened a tiny crack, even on the hottest summer days. The back windows: rolled all the way shut, least some turbulence be created. Air conditioning? What’s that? So that’s how we spent two days each way driving to Colorado every summer, and on other trips. But it gets worse yet!
try that for three days straight in July – with the windows closed
In 1964, we were all almost three years older and much bigger, and my mother was seven months pregnant, and we all crammed in for a three day torture session to the New York World’s Fair, a blistering sunburn on a Long Island beach, and then back again. If a child was forced today to endure what we did on that trip, jammed into that hot black Fairlane and the resulting expressions of emotions it engendered, particularly my father, the Child Protective Services would have cut that trip well short, somewhere in Ohio at a gas station, I’d say. Father, somehow I still found love for you , despite the miserable cramped black Fairlane you tortured us/yourself with. Didn’t you know you could buy a full-sized wagon for just a few hundred dollars more? Maybe a year-old one even, given your thrift.
He finally (almost) tumbled to that in 1965, when the Fairlane was traded in on a 1965 Dodge Coronet eight-seat wagon; technically still a mid-sized car, but a huge improvement. Since its arrival roughly coincided with my sister’s departure from the family fold, skin contact issues took a huge step forward. Kids today have no idea what we endured back then. And kids in the Depression would undoubtedly have thought us to be spoiled babies. And so on…
Enough Niedermeyer family carma. The 1962 Fairlane had a good debut, but not anywhere near the success that the 1960 Falcon had been. But then that was a monster, selling almost a half million in its first year. Nevertheless, it was another coup for Ford in its ability to expand at the expense of GM in the early-mid sixties, by expanding into niches that hadn’t been exploited fully yet. But when GM unleashed its A-Body assault in 1964, the Fairlane quickly became a runner-up.
Undoubtedly, the Fairlane was developed and built on the cheap, given its Falcon bones. The only noteworthy thing was its premiere of Ford’s brand new small-block Windsor V8. Why the hell Ford chose to build it in a tiny 221 cubic inch (3.6 L) version, with a modest 145 (gross) hp is hard to fathom. By mid-year, the larger 260 CID version already debuted as an option. And a year and a half later, the definitive 289 replaced them all. Ford liked to keep the boring machines guessing.
The little 221 was a smooth and tidy mill, but it was no more powerful than the Chevy 230 or the Chrysler 225 slant sixes, and because it had eight small cylinders, it intrinsically had a less favorable torque curve. After 1963, the 221 inch V8 was gone; an oddity of Ford history. But the fact that our stripper Fairlane at least had the little V8 was its redeeming grace. That badge on the front fender meant more to my self esteem during that difficult period in my life than my father will ever know. I might not be who I am today because of it. Thanks, Dad!
My sister used to come to pick me up from grade school every Wednesday to drive me and a friend to the all-city orchestra rehearsal. On the one slightly longer stretch of road near the school we would goad her to floor it. She obliged, but we had to floor and kick-down our imaginations to experience some sort of actual visceral accelerative sensations. With the two-speed Ford-O-Matic, the little V8 whispered rather than bellowed its efforts to accelerate the fairly light 2800 lb sedan.
The Fairlane may have tortured us on long trips, but it never complained. It served its three years faithfully, and the seats were still like new under the clear plastic seat covers. Not that it made a difference at trade-in time; bargaining was not one of Pop’s talents either.
This forlorn Fairlane 500 sat in front of an old house near downtown, owned by a couple of young sisters who live in the upstairs apartment. I know this because it had a For Sale sign on it, and I talked to the guy who lives below them. He was tired of looking at it, and told me that they would probably take anything for it, since the next stop is the junk yard if no one steps up. He encouraged me, eager to rid himself of the eyesore.
I thought about it briefly, but then I remembered that other saying: you can’t go home again. And even if I could, I’m not so sure I’d want to.
A story I heard long ago- the Windsor was a new series of engines, with thinwall casting & light weight. It was sized @ 221 cubic inches as some sort of tribute to the flathead V8s, 221 ci being the size of the early ones.
Buick/GM had the smaller 215 ci aluminum V8, usually with a new-type questionable automatic transmission. It would be interesting to see performance comparison with the V8 Fairlane.
The 6-cylinder Fairlane/Meteors used a lot of Falcon hardware; the V8 F/M had a lot of different & more heavy-duty hardware- axles, brakes, etc.
These did lead to the cross-pollination to the V8 Falcons & the later Mustangs.
The story I heard was that Ford engineers picked 221 ci because it was the displacement cutoff for their favorite class of powerboat racing. As you rightly observed, however, that class probably existed because of the stock displacement of the 85hp Ford flathead V8 before 1942.
I don’t want to go back but I do like that car. It was a Ford time and I was still stuck on Flatheads until 1960. I skipped right to 1955 with the 272 but I still like me some flatties. Feels like 1960 here in texas with my AC broken but I bet I fix that before the weather becomes brutal.
My 1st car was a 1963 2-door Fairlane with the 200 six and 2-speed tranny.
Needless to say I had to customize it 70’s style. Wide tires, air shocks, repaint,
cherry bomb, tach..loved that little car. One valve job was the only big mechanical fix.
Bought it for $350.00 sold for $600 years later.
My first car was a 1963 Fairlane as well, except mine was a factory hi-po 289 with a 4 speed, dual point distributor and buckets. Grandma gave it to me when she became”Too old to shift,” then promptly bought a 66 GTO with the 389 and 2 speed power glide! Like all young boys I jacked-up the FAirlane, raced it unmercifully and sold it for $100. Stupid!!!
To think then the shrunked 1962 “full-size” “plucked chicken” Dodge Dart/Polara and Plymouth Belvedere/Fury was the same size as the mid-size Farlane. I guess the design of the Fairlane helped for the sales. At least they improved the design of them over the years to morph into intermediates Coronet and Belvedere/Satellite for ’65.
Your posts containing Niedermeyer (and not the Neidermeyer) family stories are among my favorites, they have an almost “Christmas Story” feel to them which is a high compliment in my book, more please
Ha, so it’s not just me who thinks that.,how funny…
The autobio stuff often reminds me of “Christmas Story”. In fact, last year when I watched it again, I kept thinking of how Paul would’ve told us more about that Buick.:)
I can’t tell you how enjoyable I find these articles. It’s like reading a good book, once you really dig in it’s over.
I’m curious about that 3 wheeled rig in the background of the 65 Wagon pic. Is that a little Milk Truck?
Mail delivery. We did a post on one of these recently.
Pieces like this are the reason we all hang around here at CC. Thanks for sharing a great story with us. I presume that the folks with the surfboards in the Pontiac ad are another sighting of the now-famous Not-Niedermeyers? For that matter, they could have been the Not-Cavanaughs, too. Someday you will have to clue us in on why Ford V8s spoke so loudly to your father during his early years in this country.
You had me laughing out loud at the seat covers. My 59 Fury had a set of these, and perfectly preserved upholstery below after twenty years. Don’t think that freespending parents would have helped, though. My family’s new 64 Cutlass was plenty deluxe, right down the the extra-cost vinyl seats (in very dark green). All the seams and graining did was to make the red marks on the back of your legs more interesting.
I have plenty of memories travelling in the back of that Cutlass. At least we had the windows down (and it was only two of us in the back). But the windows down was not always a picnic either, particularly if your dad smoked. Occupying the seat behind Dad often resulted in periodic applications of cigarette ash.
“Occupying the seat behind Dad often resulted in periodic applications of cigarette ash”. LOL, can I ever relate to this. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, or scarred for life, one of those 🙂
Hmm, now that you mention it, my windup-windowed 1960 Lincoln had one of those seat covers on the back seat. The clear vinyl looked as if it had started to bond with the factory upholstery on the top of the back seat, so I didn’t try to remove it.
Those seat covers look positively painful. Hoo boy!
Thanks for your continued Auto-Biography. Great stories from a great storyteller.
My bother Dean had a 62 Fairlane 4 door when I was kid, with the same 221 V8. His was that beige metallic. Kind of a slug though. But I thought even then it was reasonably sized car. I’d love 63 Sports Coupe with a 289/4 speed!
His twin, Dennis, had a 61 4 door Fairlane 500 (?) full size with a 390/ 3 on-the-three.
My grandparent’s ’66 Tempest (Sprint 6!) had the “deluxe” bumpy seat covers. The bumps really didn’t help any, Paul… When I got the car years later, one of the first things I did was strip those torture devices out, and the seat fabric still looked factory fresh… Since I had tendencies toward car sickness as a young boy, and this was the favored car for extended family trips to the Great-Grands, it’s probably a good thing those seats were hermetically sealed.
Great yarn Paul your dad sounds like mine brought up on nothing during the great depression and schooled how to waste nothing. I always liked the Compact Fairlanes as they were called here this is where Ford sourced the suspension for the Mustang not the Falcon its where Ford OZ got the stronger parts to improve their Falcon so it could handle potholes and tram lines.
For context, the we had the 1959 Ford called the Fairlane which was produced through to 1963 when it was replaced, and is known as the Tank Fairlane, for obvious reasons! The locally produced Fairlane was a fairly smooth transition from these.
I don’t mind the mid-size Fairlane, but I prefer the 63-64 models to the awkward looking 62, they look like the full-size cars which are great, in a more manageable size. I think they only sold the sedans here, but I’d actually go for a wagon or fastback if I had to make the choice.
Your dad’s Fairlane sounds like the sort of car my father would have bought if I was about 25 years older – The absolute cheapest midsize or “senior compact” sedan from the #1 or 2 manufacturer, which meant Corona/Camry or Accord by ’80s/’90s. The earliest cars still had vinyl upholstery and no A/C, just automatic, floormats and mudflaps. And don’t forget the useless Rusty Jones undercoating! He was also convinced that factory or dealer-installed radios were a ripoff and that he could install a “better” radio from the Crutchfield catalog for less; This was largely true, but it usually required about six months worth of motoring silence before he finally got around to putting the radio in.
The one upshot was that he used to trade the cars in after 5 years, right after they were paid off. So we had the cheapest cars on the block, but they were always pretty new. 5 years turned into 10+ around the time I left for college and the old man currently drivings an aging Camry with keyless entry and a power driver’s seat…it seemed like a luxury car when he got it.
Looks like your father should’ve invested in a nice scarf. Would’ve solved a lot of draft problem.
Also, it seems like a minivan with separate rear a/c blower (and separate controls for such) would be ideal for your dad and his family. Kids can turn the a/c full blast in the rear, and he could set the front blower to off, and enjoy draft-free motoring. I guess there weren’t such vehicles back then, when even a single-blower a/c was not common.
I wonder what the younger you would’ve think when you saw today’s typical minivan ads, with separate captain’s chairs for each kids, each with its own TV monitors and headphone, not to mention its own a/c outlet… Especially during those hot summer trip… And knowing that those kids are probably still saying “Are we there yet?”…
Hitchhiking to the west coast in 1963, an old guy picked me up in a new one with the 221 engine. He was sleepy and wanted me to drive which I did. However, it became appreciably noisier after 65 mph and he would always wake up as soon as I exceeded that speed. I had a 63 Dart at the time and thought that with the exception of the engine, the Dart was the more desirable car.
Many of us had fathers like yours, the sometimes absurd lengths they went to in the name of thrift neverthless brought us financial security that few have today.
By coincidence the Ford Falcon had a 221ci 6-cyl engine in 1968-70 in Australia
I grew up thinking it was natural to have some sort of protective seatcovers. My father’s 64 Biscayne had homemade covers made out of canvas or cotton muslin. When he traded in the car for his beloved 72 Polara 2dr HT, the old Chevy’s seats were like new, while the car itself was delapidated beyond repair.
My mother washed those covers and they resided on the Polara until I returned from the service and bought a black vinyl front seat cover. It cost about $ 4. Every summer, I’d clean and polish the car for Dad when I was on plant shutdown. The seat covers would come off for vacuuming, and I’d cruise around without them, a real treat. Then back on again.
In about 1978, I removed the covers for the annual cleanup and to my horror, I found the driver’s side had a few rips. At that point, the covers came off for good. By 1984, the front seat was in tatters, and the metal springs and frame were broken. Burlap sacks were stuffed into the seat, but I remember ripping a few pairs of pants.
Dad loved that car, even when I bought a mint 75 Eldo (in 1986) to replace his Dodge. He kept the old Dodge until 1987 when he was hit from behind, while taking the car to his mechanic.
My grandmother would buy a couple of pairs of cheap terry-towelling seat covers for my grandfather’s farm ute (Subaru Brumby aka Brat), every so often they would be swapped for a clean set & washed, but only a few times before they became so threadbare they would no longer protect the seat. It kept the seat fabric in very good shape.
Similarly one of the first tasks he did when he bought a new ute was remove the chrome/stainless trim around the edge of the bed, and replace it with a set of angle iron he had made up complete with tie down hooks. He also had a set of pipe racks and a small stock crate for transporting a couple of sheep or a ram. All this would get transferred from one vehicle to the next, he had Subarus for probably 15 years.
Reading Anthony’s comment below I’m reminded of a trip in a 1976 Chrysler Galant (Dodge Colt over there), stuck in the back seat between my sisters in a baby seat and a booster – not much room left! I wasn’t allowed to ride in the front because it was safer in the back seat – and sure enough a rock thrown up shattered the non-laminated windshield. Suddenly I was no longer unhappy to be in the back seat!
I had forgotten about those old terry toweling seat covers. For some reason we never had them in the Kingswood. We had them in the Hillman Hunter before the Kingswood and in both of Dad’s Ford Escort work vans. If ever a car needed them it was the Kingswood. Those dark brown seats on hot Aussie days. Not a good combination. Eventually we (me, my brother and my sister) worked out our Beach Towels helped eradicate the problem 🙂
Thanks for the story Paul, every time I read about the your family trips in the Fairlane, I am automatically propelled back to mid 1970’s Australia. I am in the back of a white HQ Holden Kingswood Station Wagon with brown vinyl bench seats (front and back), brown vinyl floor, no air conditioning, three on the tree and a 6 cylinder engine. It is the middle of summer, we are on a long trip and there always a heatwave and a traffic jam. My parents owned the car out of necessity because it was all they could really afford getting a new business off the ground. It got us around and it was ever reliable. None of us missed it when it was traded for a new Datsun Skyline with velour seats, carpet and air conditioning. It was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen.
Know how you feel. Dad had an XP Falcon which he kept into the early 70s. When visiting our “holiday” home on Bribie Island the vacation was an ordeal of dodging hot black sand inland, hot white sand near the water and blistering blue metal or filthy dirt roads everywhere else. Who wore shoes? The car offered scorching vinyl seats in summer and a complete lack of draft proofing in winter. Boy, when Dad got that Japanese car it was like a transition to the 22nd century.
Paul, thanks for this. Timing couldn’t be better. Wife, two kids and I are about to begin a road trip in our midsize Ford sedan. If I get any whining about spending a few days in an ’06 Fusion, I’ll just recount your tale of woe, with heavy emphasis on all the unwelcome skin contact!
Mid-60’s, riding in Grandma’s ’58 Buick. Plastic seat covers. All four of us grandkids dressed in our best for our annual lunch at the shore with Gram. Although it was the usual hot July, she wore her furs. Her stop-and-go driving style and that Buick air suspension always brought several lunches forward.
In light of your Dad’s recent transition, as always great story Paul.
What I wouldn’t give for one last ride with Gram, or Mom and Dad, in the car….
I stumbled on your site looking for some information about a car I was offered. I have been reading all morning, mesmerized. This one prompted my posting, as I was laughing out loud at the plastic seatcovers and skin contact! My grandfather had a Rambler in the late 60’s. He was a hunter, and had a hound dog. He had a couple of camps, the furthest which was a 2 hour drive away. My two younger brothers and I would visit in the summer and we’d all go stay at camp for a week. The dog had to go too, both for the exercise and spiritual “vacation”, so pappy put those covers over the seats. July/August, 3 sweaty pre-teen boys arm-to-arm, glued to the seats, and throw in a slobbering, smelly hound!
Funny how we’d give it all up today to get back that old misery!
I attended university in Germany. Guess what? You dad’s quirks are typical German.
Germans wear sweaters, year ’round, regardless of temperatures. Germans hate drafts and always ride on trains or in cars with windows – closed. It doesn’t matter how warm, windows in classrooms, stores, restaurants, anything with a window – are closed. Ice cubes are forbidden dangers that can cause some kind of serious problem if you use too many and your drinks end up icy cold – something like that. Underarm deodorants cause breast cancer, as do too much daily usage of soap on the body, (according to my room mates). Hair can go without washing up to a week. Shaving is done when there is a need to shave – (I liked that part!) – except I do prefer a lady to know a razor, which wasn’t common in Oestfriesland and Oldenburg. Lots of female body hair there. So naturally, they also believe that hair grows in darker if it is shaved off, which is of cource, wrong – but hey, we have our “quirks” too, right?
In Germany, the weather is almost always comfortable enough to wear a sweater. They seem to universally believe that drafts are evil causes of illnesses.
Your dad sounds like he was a great German. Knowing them like I do, that’s a great thing!
Or, why German cars have great heaters (even the aircooled VW if only by 1938 standards) but marginal A/C.
Great website, I will always remember my Aunties 1963 Rambler Classic, she too had the plastic seat covers. Plastic seat covers+Parked outside in the hot Hawaiian sun=Toast!
WAY back when…a running joke in MOTOR TREND magazine was its all-business, no-nonsense woman staffer. I forget what her title was, but it was apparent that amidst a whole roster of car guys, she was the one who had the task of making sure articles were composed of complete sentences, made up of correctly spelled words.
The car we were always told she drove: a 1962 Ford Fairlane with a dented hood.
The only female car mag staffer I can think of is Jean Lindamood.
And to follow up my own comment, here’s a photo of a 1962 Ford Fairlane with a dented hood.
The 221 V8 had a purpose. In those days Indy Cars could only use production blocks, where a production run was at least 100 on the street. The 62 Fairlane 221 V8 run made the block available for the 500.
The Indy 500 limit was 255 CID, and Ford used the 260 engine (slightly reduced) for the basis of their Indy engines.
My guess is that the 221 was built because at the time it was first designed (about 1960 or so), engine sized tended to be quite small. The 221 was a decent step up form the 170 six. The 200 six was still a couple of years off.
I wonder if Ford was influenced by the little Buick 215 V8. It is not hard to imagine everyone thinking that if GM was doing it, it was the wave of the future. As it turns out, those teeny displacement V8s had no real following. Not then, and not in the early 80s when GM and Ford tried again.
The 215 Buick V8 led directly to the 3.8L Buick V6 that was used until quite recently, though, so the GM engines were influential in at least that respect.
Yes, we went through that lineage in some depth a short while back.
The 221 was originally designed to be very compact so as to specifically fit between the narrow shock towers of the unibody Falcon and Fairlane. Only a few years later, was its potential to be increased in displacement and used in the larger cars fully exploited, by modifications to the block which started with the 260.
Here’s several articles about the Ford racing V8. All of them say very clearly that the 1963 OHV Indy V8 was based on the 260 block, not the 221. There were differences between them. The 260 block is essentially the same as the 289. For that matter, they didn’t really use the stock block, as these engines all had aluminum blocks with iron cylinder sleeves.
The real issue is that the Ford V8 didn’t race under any “stock block” rules; the displacement limit for racing engines at the time was 255 cubic inches, which is why the Offy at the time had 252 cubic inches. The Ford was not a “stock block”, and met the racing displacement limit.
And, my dad had one of those … in Chestnut Red. The two speed automatic transmission plus the V8 torque allowed you to beat anything when drag racing … for the first 50 feet, then you were cooked.
The block had to be production. It could then be modified for the race. The 221 was bored out to run the race.
What a great article Paul .History with a personal touch . Thanks for the link to the brochures as well .
Not only did my Grandfather have the “bumpy” clear plastic seat covers on the front and back seats of his 1960 Falcon; he also had the matching sun visor colors! One side of the visor colors gradually turned a brownish color from constant Oklahoma sun exposure.
In the summer of 1966 I was working at the family business. My dad talked me into putting every other paycheck in the bank for college. I did so, as I would be starting in the fall. I didn’t make much, but it did add up. At the end of summer Dad asked me how much I had and I told him, although I don’t remember now. He then told me that the money wasn’t really for college but he thought I needed a newer car than my trusty ’55 Ford for the daily forty mile round trip to the university. So, I sold the Ford to a friend and used the money for a down payment on a really nice ’62 Fairlane 500 two door sedan. I really liked that car. It was a nice size, drove well, looked good, and returned decent, for the time, gas mileage. Unfortunately it was cursed with the 170 six. In the two years I owned it, I threw a rod and later fried a piston. That engine was not made for a teenage enthusiastic driver. The later 200 was much improved with 7 main bearings. After I fried the piston, I got it fixed at a trade school as at that time I didn’t have the facilities or skills to rebuild it myself. Unfortunately, the students did not bother to check the size of the replacement crank that it had in it. I was going to school in Indy at the time and picked up the car to head home for the weekend. I 70 had just opened and as soon as the oil warmed up real good it started knocking. So I eventually had it towed back to the shop, got it patched up, drove it home and traded it in on a beautiful ’64 Galaxie. That car turned out to be the biggest piece of crap I have ever owned. But it did look good doing it. Hindsight being 20/20 I wish I had dropped a 200 in the Fairlane or even a 221 and kept it.
I know the Fairlane’s failures were mostly caused by my driving because my grandpa had an identical one, except for the color and it caused him no trouble whatsoever.
Great story, was also subjected to my father’s frugality here too, though not quite to the extent you were. We were spared the plastic seat covers, though. My folks bought a new mid-century modern sofa in about 1962, got a plastic slip cover to keep it nice with three kids and our pets. Plastic only stayed on a short time, until the summer heat and humidity made it unbearable to sit or lay on, my dad yanked that damned thing off after sticking to it!
To see where the ’62 Fairlane front styling came from, hold your finger over the ’59 Edsel vertical grille, add a brow above each headlight set. Even the grille side wrap is the same!
How about a paean to that icon of the postwar good life: automotive plastic seat covers?
I have always thought that too about the Edsel and Fairlane. I built model kits of both, which I still have in my collection, and did that comparison back then in a 1/25 scale. The resemblance is uncanny.
As I recently found out at CC, the Comet was originally supposed to be an Edsel compact. I am wondering if the ’60 Comet and ’60 Edsel use the same tail light only in different positions. I bought a set of those lights, for some reason , a long time ago at a swap meet , but no one around here has either car to compare with. The lens number does start with an E.
“…….wondering if the ’60 Comet and ’60 Edsel use the same tail light……”
Your hunch is right, they are. A large M-E-L collector in lower PA confirmed that for me years ago. Ford also recycled the ’60 Continental taillight lens on the ’63 Comet.
One wonders how well what we know as the ’60 Comet would have sold had it still carried the Edsel name. Surprisingly they didn’t call it “The New ’60 Edsel Comet, ” then quietly faded away the full-size Edsels before ’61.
Interestingly, both Comet and Valiant were standard-alone makes to start, became Mercury Comet for ’62, Plymouth Valiant for ’61. Guess compacts were supposed to be the big car’s little brothers. When it comes to nonsense naming of sub-models, nothing beats “Ambassador by Rambler” for 1958.
Hmmmm. Thinking plastic seat covers for my 05 ION 1.
Wouldn’t the BOP compacts from GM in 61 be considered the first “intermediates”, before the Fairlane ? All are similar size and weight.
Laughed out loud at that picture of your Dad and his pens.
Your writing reminds me of Michael Lamm’s, my favorite automotive writer since the 60s and his “Used Cars” columns. Thanks for the great stories.
My theory about the 221/260 is that Ford–working on the precision-casting of these new “thin wall” V8 blocks–wanted to make sure they could do it at production-line speed first with the 221’s bore (3.5″). Then, once they knew they could really locate the cores with consistent accuracy, they’d move to the 260 (3.8″ bore).
My father then worked in management at Ford’s Cleveland Foundry, and in a recent chat said he could neither confirm or dispute the idea. One “rule of thumb” he passed along was that—at the time—Ford’s goal was to cast any block surface (exterior/interior) that was to be machined to within 1/16th of its finished dimension, which I still find pretty impressive.
But, all of the above has nothing to do with Paul’s charming slice-of-life tale, which was an entertaining re-read today.
Loved the references to Fingerhut! It took me back! And they still exist,and still suppy “free gifts” with purchase!
My brother had a 4 door 62 like this but with a 6.Nice car,I sometimes got to drive it.
Thank God our family never used those plastic seat covers. I remember many cars had them back then. Vinyl seats were not a lot better, but on long trips we rode in the back of the wagon without the seat. The ’65 Impala wagon had AC, and also manual windows. This was a good thing, as Dad always thought it was amusing to fart on and around his brood. When he got the ’67 Conti, it had AC and power windows. And the dreaded window lock out switch. Giggles from him meant a foul odor was about to occur, and no amount of pressing the switch would lower the windows. Mom would yell at him, so it didn’t last too long, depending on his mood. If Mom wasn’t in the car though, he would hold out a lot longer giggling the whole time. Your family stories are great, Paul. Miss my parent’s every day.
Nice to see this on re-run! Not having endured this I can laugh. I made my son read this the first time to illustrate that the automotive aspects of life could indeed be more inconvenient – and less character filled – than I’ve made them for us.
Unfortunately thrift is not part of my makeup but I’ve never objected to cranking the windows down.
This story invoked a youthful memory of packing a Fairlane with kids like a sardine can.Early 70’s. My life long friend who’s a couple yrs older was the first of our pier group in the neighborhood to have a car at 16. A 64 Fairlane 4dr 260 3 on the tree. On summer evenings us kids would congregate under a shade tree in their side yard . A couple of times a week his mother would appear on the front porch, empty milk bottle in hand for an errand to the local dairy store .Since he didn’t yet have free rein with the car we,d ride along into town and get ice cream. One evening the skin contact record was set. Everyone and younger siblings were hanging out when the milk run was called. Fourteen kids in all climbed into the Fairlane! three layers deep in the back seat, sitting on laps, youngest on top,four or five in the front seat. When he,d shift gears or climb a hill the drive shaft was rumbling on the tunnel of the car! At the dairy you pulled up drive in style towards the front doors. An elderly couple were sitting in their car eating ice cream. I clearly remember the gentleman doing a double take over his shoulder after seeing an endless procession of kids entering the dairy only to see us still streaming like ants from the much relieved Fairlane. Now Paul you clearly had it much worse. Our trip was only a few miles made all the more bearable with a cute girl on you lap.
That poor car…
Holy Curbside Classic Effect, Batman!! I took this picture yesterday and was going to post it to the cohort or something: I introduced myself to the driver, told him about the website and asked to take a picture. I didn’t ask about the details on the car due to having to get going.
Wow; that has to be the first base ’62 Fairlane I’ve seen pictures of in memory that’s still on the streets. Nice catch; identical to ours except for the whitewalls and wheel covers.
Speaking of the CC Effect, I spotted an pristine ’62 Fairlane 500 in traffic on our walk last night, but it was a already a half block away and moving down the road, so no shots. It’s the first ’62 I’ve seen since this black one, which is long gone; hopefully not to the crusher.
CC effect part 2, I saw a clean 2 door ’62 Fairlane cruising down the coast yesterday. Bright red and pretty stock looking. No picture, I was on my bike and he was doing 65.
My father bought a new, basic 62 Comet sedan and from then I was always a fan of early sixties Comets, Falcons and Fairlanes. Although my father did not buy the optional AM radio, plastic seat covers front and rear seemed like a good idea–and why not when you have a growing 7 year old boy riding in the back seat? So I kmnow the pain of plastic in the summer time. Three years into ownership the front plastic cover came off.
Many years later I thought a 64 Fairlane complete with AM radio and hub caps would be a nice restoration project. Never happened; time and money left me with little choice but to sell the car.
Good Lord, was everyone’s father from that generation a miserable, miserly old coot? My father’s old man was the same way; strippo cars with power nothing, no A/C & seats you stuck to like fly paper. Ugh. Brutal! Thank God my father was the polar opposite!
My dad, although blue collar like his dad, was not rich, but he would buy the best car his money would get him. He bought his 1st brand new car in 1975; a lovely baby blue Impala 4-door hardtop-no dowdy sedan would do for him, no sir! He very carefully selected the options that were must-have in Suburban eastern Pennsylvania; A/C for humid summers, cloth seats that comforted in winter & not stick to you in summer, and an AM/FM Stereo radio for entertainment. A 400 small-block with 4bbl carb ensured my Pop could jockey for position on the busy I-95, even with a trunk full of construction tools.
I loved that Impala & we’d still have it to this day if not for some wacko 21-year old hussy driving her daddy’s 1987 Toyota 4-Runner slamming into it on Monaco Blvd. in Denver, where we lived in the 1980’s. Dad promised I’d inherit it when I got my license in 1988. Some things aren’t meant to be, I suppose.
My first car was a 62, or was it a 63 blue Fairlaine 500 with a 289. I like to think of it as a pre-Mustang rather than a stretched Falcon (my dad had a ’60 Falcon in some hideous shade of barely green). I bought the Fairlaine from my Gram in 68. It was clean and barely broken in, though reluctant to start on cold Cleveland mornings. A little starting fluid and dad’s hands acting like a 2nd choke usually did the trick. With the 289, it had enough grunt to top 100mph, though getting it stopped was harder than hitting the redline. Had a lot of fun throwing it into reverse at 40mph, punching it and creating great clouds of acrid smoke. I could “power brake” it and lay rubber for a city block. I eventually blew the tranny. Cost me $150 bucks to get it replaced, which was a lot when I was working at Micky D’s for $1.15/hr (minimum wage). I treated her bad, but I always loved that blue Fairlaine. My 2nd car was my other Grammy’s 64 Skylark with a 350 which quickly made me forget about my Ford, but now I realize how special my first love was. Please don’t hate me for abusing her. I was young and dumb and full of stupid ideas. But I did learn how NOT to treat a car in the process.
I read somewhere that McNamara wanted to discontinue the Galaxie after 1961. He also wanted to cancel all V8 engines, leaving six cylinder engines in all Fords, which would have been disastrous because Ford made its name by building V8 engines. If this had happened, I wonder if the top of the line midsized Fairlane would have been called “Galaxie”. Good thing that Kennedy snapped him up so he could no longer destroy everything that was good about Ford.
Sorry for the very late reply but I’m very surprised to learn that. I heard about Ford original plans to stick with only the six cylinder for 1952 but decided to keep the V8.
I wonder if it could be the source of another rumor where former Chrysler president William Newburg heard besides the new “smaller Chevy” (who was finally the Chevy II) to push Exner to design the plucked chicken 1962 Dodge and Plymouth?
Had Ford gone with that plan, I wonder what would had been the impact on GM, Chrysler and to a latter extent, American Motors?
The story about Newberg, the Chevy II, and the 1962 Dodge and Plymouth probably isn’t true as shown in Mr. Niedermeyer’s brilliant article – https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/automotive-design-history-1962-plymouth-dodge-brilliant-blunder-or-suddenly-its-1977/
There is a book about Ford’s proposal to drop the V8 – https://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Saved-V-8-Important-ebook/dp/B00I1LZX0M/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Chase+Morsey&qid=1615075427&sr=8-1
Any pictures or impressions from your attending the NY Worlds Fair would make for a great write up.
At 62.3″ tall, the ’54 has a lot more sit-up room than the Fairlane’s 55.4″. (The length and width of the ’54 is not even 2″ more than the ’62.)
I know one subject which really gets attention here is space usefulness, from the early-mid ’50s, suffering in the late ’50s, and varying widely after that.
Now I’ve spent some of my youth in a Fairlane, but have never been in a ’54 Ford.
Was the ’54 just that much better at space utilization?
Oh, spare me your moaning and gnashing, why, in ’71, there were EIGHT of us in the red vinyl hell of a 1954 Holden sedan with 5 inches less width and 15 less in wheelbase AND only 134ci of wheezy 1940’s six cylinder for alleged motivation. (We soon after had a vastly more capacious VW split van, but I quickly didn’t like that much either, something I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned on this site). Admittedly, we were allowed to open windows, though in retrospect, that was probably a practical necessity so we could fit than airy permissiveness.
I never sat on a clear cover in a car – Aussie sun and vinyl is quite bad enough, thanks – but I do have a dim recall of visiting some slightly odiferous ancient relative who had them on her floral couches, and that was bad enough. (“Do stick around, dear children” wasn’t exactly a choice, given the weather, but I digress).
Here’s a random thought on the 221ci engine. That’s the exact size of the long-lived side-valve: maybe the choice was for deliberate appeal to those older parsimonious types who, as this site has pointed out before, bought the Falcon in such numbers?