Vintage Car Life Comparison: 1968 Impala, Galaxie, Fury & Ambassador – “Family Car” V8 Coupes Duke It Out

Car Life apparently had been getting razzed by its readers for focusing on high performance cars, so they decided to test four big “family cars” with their base V8s to see how they compared on the test track and drag strip as well as in ordinary driving. All of them did well enough, although there was an overall “winner” as well a bit of a surprise at the drag strip.

Having sworn off supercars and ponycars for this test, Car Life specified the best selling versions of the best selling full-size coupes: small, base V8s, automatic transmissions, power brakes and power steering. The Fury came with optional a/c, and the Ambassador had standard a/c. Getting cars with these specs was easier said than done.

They ended up coming not from the manufacturers, but from…Hertz! These were exactly the way full-size rental cars were specified, and Hertz was able to find them in their vast pool.

Test weights (curb plus 310 lbs) ranged from 3870 lbs (Ambassador) to 4180 (Fury). The Impala had the 200 hp 307 V8 and Powerglide, although the THM was also available. The Galaxie came with the 210 hp 302 V8 and Cruisomatic; The Fury had the 230 hp 318 V8 and TF, and the Amby had the 200 hp 290 V8 and the BW automatic.

The test track was first, and not surprisingly, all four exhibited various degrees of understeer.




The Fury was deemed to be the best handler, despite a fairly soft suspension and lots of lean. On the freeway, though, the Fury felt the least stable. The Impala had the best weight distribution, higher than average cornering speeds, and the best high-speed stability. The Ambassador had the worst weight balance and lots of understeer, yet it was controllable. The Galaxie had the worst understeer, and was hampered by slow and heavy steering.

The Amby came with disc brakes, and not surprisingly, had the best brake test results. Unlike the others, its front wheels locked first, which tends to make the car slide in a straight line, unlike when the rears lock first. The Impala’s drum brakes “stopped well”, and still came to a stop in a straight line after six hard stops, although with fade. The Fury locked its rear brakes first, causing it to swerve. Braking power was also not good. The Galaxie’s brakes overpowered its suspension, causing it to tilt forward and the rear axle to twist and bounce, with the rear wheels hopping.

Next up was the drag strip. The surprise “winner” was the Impala, given that it was short an intermediate gear with its 2-speed Powerglide. This is one more of a number of surprising outcomes with Powerglide Chevys we’ve documented here lately in these vintage reviews. It’s 1/4 mile time of 18.56 seconds was nothing to write home about, and its speed of 71.2 mph in the traps was actually the slowest of the bunch, so it confirms that the PG has a real knack for launching cars quickly. Given the lack of an intermediate gear, “the Impala did better than we expected”.


But the PG “was also a handicap in traffic”, due to the lack of that intermediate gear. The light Ambassador came in second at the drag strip with an 18.6 second run @ 75.2 mph. The Fury came in third with 18.7 seconds @ 74.0 mph, and the Galaxie was a bit behind with 18.90 seconds @ 74.0 mph.

The Ambassador’s standard a/c wouldn’t shut off, so that handicapped its performance a bit.

The Ambassador’s engine also heated up after several runs, causing fuel starvation, and had “excessive intake manifold and fuel pump and line temperatures”. The Fury “took the tests calmly and quietly”, while the Ford had the highest engine noise and “sounded like it was working harder than the others”.

CL got a wide variety of employees to drive these cars, and they picked a winner: the Fury. It was the biggest and had the most interior room, and its body felt “taut and solid”. It drove well and was put together well.

The Amby had “some niggling little flaws”, and was of course not as roomy, as it really was more like an intermediate with a long front end. The Impala’s main drawback was not in design but components, as it would have been more harmonious with the optional 3-speed THM.

The Galaxie “won the unhappy distinction of being both heavy and loose. The car rattled…all the Ford products tested by CL this year have jangled and thumped.”

Although there was a “winner”, CL deemed them all to be “acceptable” being driven the way they were intended to be driven.