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
As you say, it’s not the best comparison. Chevrolet didn’t yet have a true mid size, but the Chevy II was posed against the Falcon.
It seems as though they planned two separate articles but went this way when they found out just how close the Chevy was to the externally bigger, more expensive Ford.
We had a white with red interior, base model ‘62 Fairlane 4-door bought in 1964. It was a six with 3-speed. It still had a manual choke. Even Larks had automatic chokes by then! The Fairlane was the car that turned Dad off of Fords forever. It was traded on a new ‘67 Chevelle 300 Deluxe four-door with 3-speed and the optional 250 six.
I know and love both of these cars, the Fords were quieter and slightly less roomy and of course, different styling .
The new Chevy II’s were good cars that out handled the Fairlane and Comet but IMO the Fords were sturdier .
The 194 CID i6 engine was pretty anemic , the 230 was seriously more powerful and economical to boot .
Sadly the Chevy II’s rusted worse than the Ford Fairlane .
This somehow hurts my Ford Guy heart a little bit, but I’ll get over it. I really enjoyed the test’s discussions of variables and their affect on results, and am proud Ford made the late choice of upping the tire size a bit for the Fairlane.
A year later, Ford offered the V8 as a 260, and then the 289 for 1964; it’s my pet theory that Ford did this as quickly as it was able to refine casting accuracy (of the cylinder bores and water passages) with this new “thinwall” engine.
It’s fun to be reminded of your violin (?) playing days, Paul—even if that’s all in your past!
Bizarre that both the instrument panel and under hood pics belong to neither a Chevy II or Fairlane.
My goof; the underhood pic is the Fairlane. This kind of magazine goof–using the wrong instrument panel photo–is rather surprising.
They used the wrong dash photo – that’s from an early Buick Special.
The early Fairlane always seemed/looked smaller than it actually was. Or maybe it just wasn’t as big as it should have been. I don’t think anyone ever sung many praises for the performance of the 2nd generation Ford O Matic.
I always thought the Chevy II looked dull, but if you like clean, minimalist design, it’s quite nice. The man I bought my ’72 Mercedes from in ’89 had two 1st gen. Chevy II’s in mint shape. I noticed the greenhouse and overall length closely resembled that of the Mercedes.
The ’62 Fairlane (& Meteor) were, along with some Chrysler products, the closest thing you could buy to an American ’50s car in ’62. (Oh, and a ’62 Corvette!) And maybe a T-Bird.
What would have happened if they tested these cars with the base engines? The Chevy II four supposedly had a lot of vibration; and the Fairlane w/ the 170 six . . . ? If you thought the Comet was slow . . .
I would choose Fairlane V-8 over Chevy II. Actually, I would go with the Meteor version, with its jazzier looks and “Cushion-Link” suspension which delivered an even smoother ride. An S-33 w/ bucket seats would be a sharp choice!
“The ’62 Fairlane (& Meteor) were, along with some Chrysler products, the closest thing you could buy to an American ’50s car in ’62.”
I would include the Rambler and any non-Avanti Studebaker. And Checker. And the International Travelall. There, I think that’s it.
And also the ’62 Cadillac (with the fins). Especially the Series 75 with the panoramic windshield.
And to see clean and minimalist design seems to be a formula then Chrysler got inspired for the Dart and Valiant.
It would have been interesting to see a comparo of the Ford Fairlane against one of Chrysler’s “plucked chicken”, the Dodge Polara or the Plymouth Belvedere since they was around the same size.
I’m a Chevy guy (at least for the 1960s) so I’d have chosen the Chevy II. And as a two-door Nova hardtop.
Funny that there wasn’t a Chevy II V8 until 1964.
The Falcon didn’t offer a V-8 until halfway through the 1963 model year, and the Valiant and Dart didn’t offer one until halfway through the 1964 model year. The Rambler American didn’t offer a V-8 until 1966. The Chevy II/Nova didn’t lag its direct competitors in waiting until 1964 to offer a V-8.
The Falcon structure had to be beefed up quite a bit for the V-8; the Falcon Sprint wasn’t just an engine swap. Putting the V-8 in the Chevy II was a less elaborate exercise, and a number of the magazines tested engineering mules with a 283 or 327
Well, the Lark had V8’s starting with ’59 and had high-performance V8’s starting in ’63. But it was off of most people’s radar.
Dad bought a new ’62 Fairlane 500 in Chestnut Brown metallic from Towson Ford in April 1962. My Jr High was right behind the dealership so I”d walk over to see if it had arrived, an exciting day! The first 2nd car for the family so Mom would have the wagon every day. It would hold our family of 6, was quite handsome in a sort of traditional Ford way, like our ’57 wagon (round lights and small fins), it rode smoothly (torque box front end) and sounded nice, though it did seem rather weak-chested, as it had to rev to get going. Oddly Ford chose 221 supposedly because it was the same size as the original flathead of 1932, a weird choice, the 260 should have been standard from the start imo. I have warm feelings recalling that car, it was a good car for our family at the time.
We do have a lot in common! Not just living nearby in Towson, but also a ’62 Fairlane V8. Yes, the 221 wasn’t worth bothering with; by midyear ’62 they already offered the 260, which was much better suited to keep the Fairlane ahead of those pesky six cylinder Chevy IIs.
How did the metallic paint hold up over the years. A friends dad drove a 1966 Ford Cortina finished in silver metallic .The paint came off in scabs leaving grey primer like patches all over the car. Adhesion was very poor due to undeveloped new paint type.
Ford’s paint jobs of the early 60s tended to be pretty durable. The exception was light metallics (especially the silver or champagne colors) that would become dull if they spent much time in the weather, but this was a more-or-less universal problem then. I don’t recall seeing Fords with paint adhesion problems here in the US.
Not until about “1988”.
I wasn’t around to witness it, but the automotive scene in the US from about 1960-65 must have been an incredible thing to be a part of. It feels like there were new ideas and innovations around every corner, both in engineering and design. Exciting times.
There was a good deal of “new packaging with the “”same as before” contents too.
From reading this comparison one would come away thinking the Fairlane V8 as Ford referred to it wasn’t much to brag about. But then consider that in a year Ford would take the 260 CID version of this engine, reduce the displacement to 255 cubic inches, cast it in aluminum, put it in a chassis developed by Colin Chapman and enter it in the Indianapolis 500 with Jim Clark driving and place second. The car ran on regular gasoline and made only one pit stop.
Here is a list of interesting statistics:
Bettered all previous times for Indy 500 winners
Fastest time ever recorded for a V-8 or any other eight-cylinder engine
Best time ever recorded by a rear-engined car
Established race records on the 70th, 80th and 90th laps
Fastest average speed ever turned in by a first-time entry in Indianapolis “500” history!
Required only one pit stop in 500 miles versus an average of three or four for the “Offies”
Then in 1964 Carroll Shelby would enter a Cobra Daytona Coupe powered by the 289CID version of this engine in Le Mans placing first in its class, third overall and almost winning overall if it hadn’t been for a rock puncturing the engine oil cooler. Le Mans rules restricted how often oil could be added, forcing Dan Gurney to reduce his speed at the end to keep the engine from blowing.
The little Fairlane V8 was one of the greatest engines ever made.
That, ah, starts to sound a lot like not at all the same engine one got in a Fairlane.
The information below is from the Technical Paper Ford submitted to The SAE. Note the use of the word production
“First of all and most important, the 260 production engine, used in Fairlane, Falcon, and Comet cars, was selected as most suited to readily meet the Indianapolis displacement limit, which is 4.2 liters or 256.284 cubic inches. A slight reduction in the displacement of our production engine would permit us to meet this race entry regulation.”
“Investigate the maximum horsepower capabilities of our production 260 engine and compare our performance with the measured output of a purchased Offenhauser engine.”
“Duplicate the production 260 engine in aluminum and resolve any basic weight or high speed durability problems.”
Ford’s objectives were to evaluate and determine the potential of their new compact V8 and it met all of their objectives and acquitted itself quite well against the Offenhauser racing engine tailored specifically for the Indianapolis 500.
Now the 289 in the Cobra Daytona Coupe was very much a stock production engine and it held its own against the Ferraris.
Well, then, I’m impressed!
An interesting follow up road yest would be a 230 cubic inch Chevy II against a 260 Fairlane.
A good reminder of how American car buyers thought during this era. Cars were categorized by exterior dimensions rather than interior dimensions.
Had the Chevelle existed in 1962, I suspect Fairlane would probably have been tested against it based on exterior dimensions. Yet the interior dimensions suggest that the Chevy II vs. Fairlane really was an appropriate comparison.
This test reminded me of an old ad comparing compact VW bus with a large American station wagon. A lady who owned both was quoted as saying she used the larger wagon when she didn’t have much to carry – presumably saving the smaller VW for those occasions when she had more to carry.
The same father who bought a ’67 or ’68 Dodge Dart with the base 170 Slant-Six? I guess he must’ve had a change of heart!
Tell the readers the Fairlane bounded and wallowed and bottomed out and made everyone nauseous without using that word, and put a vaguely positive spin on it so the friendly Ford folks don’t cordially disinvite us permanently from their test track.
I’d forgotten that the small block Ford V8 started out as a 221, I remember the 260. I had a 289 in my ’66 Mustang it was a good engine for Mustangs and Falcons. The final 302 ended up in my ’97 Explorer. It was a good engine, but even with fuel injection the fuel economy wasn’t that good. Of course the old “5.0” became a legend in the Fox body Mustangs.
Ford’s lightweight six started out as a 140 then grew into the 170, became a seven main bearing crank as the 200, and finally the 250. The Ford and Chevy six cylinders were good engines, but the automakers didn’t want to put too much development into them, The Ford had the integral intake manifold that saved money, but couldn’t easily be improved on. The Chevy started with a separate intake, but by the end of their production also went to the integral intake manifold. Both companies felt that it was better to just make a V8 optional, and pick up some extra bucks on the sale. Chrysler was more serious with their Slant Six, which had a much better breathing head and carb set ups.
I liked the 250 six in my ’70 Mustang but the fuel economy wasn’t that much better than the 289 V8.
Didn’t Ford lightweight six grow up to 300 ci to be used in base model Ecolonine and F-100/F-150?
I think the 300 and 240 cubic inch sixes were a new engine family introduced in 1965 for the full-size Ford cars and pickups with nothing in common with the Falcon six.
Yeah, Ford described the 240 and 300 as applying a lot of the design principles of the 289 (whose pistons and rods the 240 shared) to a big inline six intended for truck use.
The fuel economy in the 4.6L’s I had in my 2004 Crown Victoria and 2010 Grand Marquis was no better than the fuel economy I had in my 1989 Crown Victoria, and the 302 never had any problems, while both 4.6L’s have had some issues (intake manifold in the 2004 and throttle body in the 2010). The 4.6L does perform more strongly on the highway.
My father ordered a 1970 Fairlane 500 wagon with the 250, but it ended up with the 302 instead. That was a good thing, because the car lasted well over 200,000 miles, which I doubt the 250 would have done. The engine still ran strong, but the three speed manual shift linkage had problems and the car had terrible rust when he traded it in 1981 for a new Escort wagon.
One of the best articles Mr. Niedermeyer has written was on the derivatives of the 1960 Falcon platform, which the Fairlane/Torino from 1962 through 1971 were.
I’d love to see a 1960s road test of the 6 cylinder cars. A Slant Six Dart or Valiant vs a Buick 225 ci V-6 vs a Ford inline 6 vs an AMC 6. All of these lasted for a long time at least into the 1980s. The AMC and Buick engines into first decade of the 2000s. All were good engines. I love 1960s compacts and a comparison would be interesting to see.
Nice article. I don’t know why after all these years I’m just noticing it now but that side profile view of the Chevy II sure has a lot of Rambler in its rear wheel well/aft fender area. Ed Andersen must have appreciated that.
I had the 260/2 bbl in my first car – a 64 Fairlane 500 four door – it was an OK engine, not real fast but certainly able to pull away from any of the US six cylinder models of similar vintage.
Ford seems to have repeated the 1962 221 saga with its 255/4.2 of 1980. Both were produced only two model years and removed because they were under-powered, I remember a work-fellow bought a new 1980 T-Bird with the 255 and was so proud of it. I had to really bite my tongue – it was a pitiful thing.
I’m much fonder of Fords in general, but a 221 with a Ford O Matic vs almost anything is a recipe for failure. The baby 8, the 221 was not much more than a joke, but the FOD was just an absolutely terrible transmission, a real power hog. It was IMO on a par with many of the European auto boxes of the time and they were noted for their inefficiency. The PG while not great, was almost ok. It was almost like Ford said to customers, you want an auto in the worst way, we’ll give you the worst auto.
I knew several people in the 70s with later Fairlanes of that generation and they loved them, claimed good MPG and performance. But I think that was with a 289 and C4.
The Fairlane’s speedo error has jogged my memory. Bloke I used to know had ’63 or ’64 sedan (known as the “compact” Fairlane in Australia) . According to him it was a rocket ship, capable of an amazing turn of speed.
Given the speedometer’s habit of randomly winding the needle off the scale at suburban speeds we were sceptical.
I daily drove a Canadian 194 in a 66 Studebaker Commander in the late 80’s into the mid 90’s. 3 speed manual with 3.73 rears. That motor loved to rev and delivered 20 mpg doing it. One trip with my parents driving their Nissan Pathfinder with the same displacement V6 the Studebaker absolutely embarrassed the Nissan going over the Cajon pass and got better economy doing it. That is one of those I never should have sold it deals.
My aunt had a new 1963 Acadian Beaumont , a Chevy II clone, bought when she got home from France with the RCAF in the fall of 1962. 194 I6 with Powerglide. It was a nice little car served her well until they left for Germany in 1969. Quite a bit more deluxe than the 1961 Ford Consul my father drove, which was a piece of English crap.