Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL 406 – “Total Performance” Started Here

In 1962, Ford was getting blown away by Chevrolet, thanks in very large part due to the Chevy V8’s near dominance in all manner of sporting events as well as just their image, including the Corvair Monza. Lee Iaccoca saw the writing on the wall, organized an executive meeting, and launched what would become a massive campaign to establish a credible performance image for Ford, under the banner of “Total Performance”.

This led to the first of a pattern of new mid-year introductions. For 1962.5, that included the Fairlane 500 Sport Coupe with the new 260 V8 and the Ford Galaxie 500 in new XL trim, both with bucket seats and  console. And for the big XL, there was also a new bigger top-dog engine available, the latest 406 cubic inch version of the hi-po FE V8 family and the last step in its evolution into the 427. CL tested one with the newly-available 4-speed manual transmission, and it did not disappoint.

It’s not like Ford didn’t have hot versions of the FE V8 before; that line started in 1960 when it was graced with some badly needed better-breathing heads plus the full-on hi-po massaging, to create a genuine powerhouse that acquitted itself very well on the NASCAR tracks and drag strips.

In 1961, the new 390 cubic inch version of the FE got the same treatment, and was rated at 375 hp with a four barrel carb, and 401 hp with the dealer-installed tri-power induction system. And the B/W T-10 four speed manual was available too, but only as a dealer-installed option, meaning it arrived in the trunk from the factory. Literally.

At the beginning of the 1962 MY, these two 390 “Super Thunderbird” V8s were the top power option, until mid-year, when the larger 406 became available. It too came in two versions: 385 hp for the 4V, and 405 hp for the 6V (triple-two barrels).

CL claimed that their tested Galaxie had the 405 hp version, but their photo of the engine clearly shows it to be the four-barrel 385 hp version. They either got that wrong, or took pictures of a different version. This is what the 405 hp version looked like.

In case it’s not obvious, this whole lineage of 352-390-406-427 hi-po FE V8s were very substantially different from their “normal” relations; they were essentially limited-production racing engines suitable for street use, with special blocks, heads and internal organs. The exhaust headers seen here are just one example. Power steering was not available, but wisely Ford required that HD suspension and brakes were mandatory when ordering the 406.

Once again CL points out that with such a powerful engine, it hardly matters which gear one selects to drive in.

Of course at w.o.t. the engine turns from a lamb into a tiger…one might think that speeds in the gears of nearly 60, 80 and 100 mph would give a feeling of magnificent acceleration accompanied by a thrilling sensation of rapidly rising speed. Actually, it isn’t like that at all. Each shift point comes up so suddenly that the driver, at least, is too busy trying to avoid over-revving to enjoy the acceleration.

Top speed was estimated to be “over 150 mph“, depending on the rear axle ratio.Acceleration was brisk, although the 0-60 time of 7.0 seconds could have been lower if they had let the engine rev past 6000 rpm and not shifted at 58 mph. 0-100 took 18.6 seconds, and the 1/4 mile was done in 15.3 sec. @93 mph.

As a point of comparison, the 425 hp 427 1965 Galaxie that Car Life tested was significantly faster, with a scorching 0-60 time of 4.8; 0-100 in 15.8, and the 1/4 mile in 14.9 @97 mph. Both cars had very similar rear axle ratios (62: 3.56:1; ’65: 3.50:1).

The mandatory HD suspension was appreciated for its control at higher speeds, despite being a bit firm at lower speeds. It was money well spent.

But the significant cost ($188; $1890 adjusted) of the optional 4-speed was seriously questioned. The standard three-speed had close ratios, and with an engine this powerful, the additional expensive gear would not likely be missed. For a more reasonable $108, overdrive was available for the three-speed, which came with lower 4.11:1 gears.

As mentioned before, neither power steering or brakes were available with the 406, so this was a serious driver’s car. An optional steering linkage to make the effective ratio  quicker was also available, reducing turns from 5.0 to just under 4.

Related CC reading:

Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 XL 427 – This One Takes Olympic-Sized Muscles To Drive

Auto-Biography: 1961 Ford Starliner 390-375 – Yes Pop, You Can Get A V8 Four-Speed 1961 Ford If You Really Must Have One