Vintage Car Life Comparison: 1962 Ford Fairlane V8 vs. 1962 Chevy II Six – The Old Ford V8 vs. Chevy Six Battle Updated, With Surprising Results

This comparison hits very close to home, as in the Niedermeyer home on Park Avenue in Iowa City in 1962, that is. My father bought a ’62 Fairlane (a base stripper, not a 500) equipped the same as the tested one, with the brand new 221 V8 and Fordomatic. He was so V8 proud, repeatedly pointing out that six cylinder engines were just not powerful enough for American driving conditions. He blatantly put down his boss for having bought a new ’61 big Ford six. Not Ernst Niedermeyer...

Even though our Fairlane proudly sported that V8 badge on its front fender, I pretty much knew it was no hot rod; far from it. But did I ever dream at the time that it was actually slower than a Chevy II with its little 194 six and Powerglide? Which happens to be exactly what our next door neighbors had, and I looked down on? I would have cringed at the thought. Or maybe not,  since I was something of a Chevy guy at the time: “Ja Papa, why didn’t you just buy a Chevy II? It’s faster and you could have saved yourself a couple of hundred bucks, which you could have used to increase my allowance.

Car Life bring up the old Ford flathead V8 vs. Chevy “stovebolt” six rivalry, one that came to a screeching halt in 1955 when Chevy rocked the world with their hot new ohv V8. But in this somewhat unexpected match up, CL pitted the new mid-size Fairlane with its V8 against the also-new compact Chevy II, with its six. CL said that the Chevy II was considered “the surprise car of the year, because it was supposed to compete side by side and dimension by dimension with Ford’s ‘in-between’ car (the Fairlane). Instead, the Chevy II is a true compact by every definition.” CL says that although prices for both were not available at press time “these two will undoubtedly be very competitive dollar-wise”.

Well, that’s not quite how it turned out. A base Fairlane V8 was priced about $216 above a base Chevy II six; that’s about a 10% premium, and not exactly pocket change back then. The Chevy II was aimed squarely at the Falcon (and other genuine compacts), but apparently its interior room gave away little to the longer and slightly wider Fairlane.

Despite having a worse power-to-weight ratio (24.7 lbs/hp vs. 22.2 lbs/hp), the Chevy II six (rated at 120 hp vs. 145 for the Fairlane V8) pulled harder and beat the Ford in every acceleration category. Only in top speed did the Fairlane barely edge out the Chevy II, 94 to 92 mph.

How was this possible? The Chevy Powerglide had somewhat lower effective gearing from a start than the two-speed Fordomatic, which although much newer than the PG, it was generally considered somewhat inferior. That’s certainly the case here: “Powerglide does a better job than the 2-speed Fordomatic”.

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.

No fuel economy tests could be made in these early tests at the respective manufacturers’ proving grounds. CL predicted both would be similar, with an edge for the Chevy II. I would certainly think so.

As to how they drove, “The Chevy feels a little better over rough roads while the Fairlane has a softer, boulevard-type ride.” In terms of interior space, “The interior dimensions are almost equal in every respect with the nod going to the V-8 (Fairlane) for a little more rear seat room and a larger trunk volume.”  I should hope so, given the Fairlane’s 116″ wb vs. the Chevy II’s 110″, and 15″ more overall length.

I question the caption on the Chevy II that says “Chevy II is just a wee bit longer than the current Corvair but much roomier inside”. In truth, the Corvair was deceptively roomy inside, thanks to its very low and flat floor. I don’t have the time to gather up all the interior dimension stats, but I suspect that the Chevy II’s more upright seating went some ways to create that impression, true or not.

CL point out that a lower (higher numerical) rear axle ratio would perk up the Fairlane’s rather sluggish acceleration a bit. But then its 3.00:1 ratio as tested was just barely higher than the Chevy II’s 3.08:1 ratio.

CL has this to say about the Chevy II: “we have a feeling (which may prove wrong) that it is better engineered and will be better put-together, at least in early production.” The new Chevy six, based to a substantial degree (and using some parts) on the well-proven Chevy V8 “looks like an exceptionally rugged unit. We wound it to 60 mph in low range once, equivalent to 5000 rpm. The resulting 0-60 time was 13.0 sec.”  (The test 0-60 time was given as 14.0 seconds).  CL did go on to say that Ford was about to up the ante with an optional 260 CID version of the V8. Of course the horsepower wars among these smaller cars was just barely starting.

A better comparison might have been the Chevy II six against the Falcon with the optional 170 CID six.


Related CC reading:

Auto-Biography: 1962 Ford Fairlane – Sometimes It Is About The Destination

Curbside Classic: 1962-1965 Chevy II – Chevy Builds A Compact, Take II

Powerglide: A GM’s Greatest Hit Or Deadly Sin?

Automotive History: 1959-1963 Two-Speed Ford-O-Matic – Ford Builds a Powerglide