1962 Ford Fairlane
1962 Ford Fairlane. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

When the Big Three automakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, introduced their 1960 compacts to counter the rising tide of imports, they took distinctly different approaches.

GM’s Chevrolet Corvair had a Volkswagen-influenced air-cooled, flat-six engine located in the rear. Chrysler’s Valiant was more conventional with a front engine, rear-drive layout, but its styling was considered to be more daring and European. Ford took the middle-of-the-road with its plain and conventional Falcon.

The Falcon reflected the austere, granny-glasses approach of the Ford division’s brilliant general manager, Robert McNamara. It turned out to be the right decision because this “modern Model A” outsold its competitors by a substantial margin.

The advent of these 1960 compacts seemed to induce the manufacturers to begin slicing up of the marketplace by bringing out what were called, variously, mid-size, intermediates, or senior compact cars. They fitted between the compacts and traditional large cars.

And while GM would again try some innovations, such as the Corvair’s and Oldsmobile F-85’s turbocharging, and the Pontiac Tempest’s “hanging rope” driveshaft and rear transaxle with fully independent suspension, Ford continued on the road well-travelled with its new 1962 Fairlane.

The Fairlane name, derived from Henry Ford’s Dearborn Fair Lane estate, had been used on a variety of full-sized Fords from 1955 to 1961. Then for 1962 it was switched to the new intermediate segment, and as the sales brochure said, “…This name has a new car.” It turned out to be a return to a more sensible size.

By this time the Big Three’s full-size “standard” Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth cars had ballooned to enormous dimensions, a trend begun in the late ’50s. Wheelbases of 3,023 mm (119 in.), lengths of over 5,080 mm (200 in.), weights of 1,818 kg (4,000 lb), and engines of 6.6 litres were typical. It was a gap too wide for Ford’s marketers to ignore.

The Fairlane, therefore, with its 2,934 mm (115.5 in.) wheelbase, and 5,019 mm (197.6 in.) length was definitely a step in the right direction. It was a return to the size of the original ’55 Fairlane, dimensions many people thought they should have never have abandoned.

As with the Falcon, Ford made the Fairlane a pretty conventional car; memories of the ill-starred Edsel were still too fresh and painful. The Fairlane had a strong Ford family resemblance in such styling features as the large round tail lamps, little blade-like canted rear fins, and a squared off Thunderbird-style roof.

The Fairlane’s chassis/body was conventional in engineering too, with unit construction similar to the Falcon’s. It had A-arm and coil spring front suspension, and a solid axle on leaf springs at the rear.

The base engine was the Falcon’s optional larger powerplant, a 2.8-litre overhead valve, in-line six rated at 101 horsepower. It fed its power to the rear wheels through a standard three-speed manual or an optional two-speed “Fordomatic” automatic transmission.

It was the Fairlane’s optional engine, however, that was the biggest news, and its major claim to fame. It would turn out to be a corporate workhorse, Ford’s answer to the wildly successful “small block” V8 that Chevrolet introduced in 1955.

When Ford’s engineers set to work on the new V8 they produced one of the best ever. Using what was called thin-wall casting which they had designed into the Falcon engine, they engineered a V8 that was even smaller and lighter than the famous small-block Chevrolet V8. Like the Chevy, it also had stud-mounted rocker arms, although they were iron, not steel stampings.

By a quirk of coincidence the new engine displaced the same 3.6 litres (221 cu in.) as the original 1932 Ford V8. But whereas the first one produced 65 horsepower, the new one was rated at 145.

Along with the use of thin-wall iron casting for light weight, the Ford designers left lots of room for expansion. Half-way through the 1962 model year, the 3.6 V8’s cylinder bore was increased from 88.9 to 96.5 mm (3.5 to 3.8 in.), giving it 4.3 litres (260 cu in.). It would later be increased to 4.7 (289) on its way to 5.0 (302), where it would stay to serve as Ford’s evergreen powerplant.

It even had its place in racing history. The Fairlane V8 served as the basis for the aluminum block engine used in the Lotus mid-engined Indianapolis racer that revolutionized the layout of open-wheel race cars. It also found fame in A.C. Cobra sports cars.

The Fairlane was a sales success, selling over 297,000 during the first model year. It would go on to 344,000 for ’63, although sales slid a little to 278,000 for ’64, and to 224,000 in 1965. The fins disappeared in 1964, and it got a revised grille. The Fairlane was restyled for 1966, and again for 1968.

The Fairlane was a successful model for Ford, just the size car that many buyers wanted. It lasted until 1970, and then metamorphosed into the Torino. It deserves its little place in automotive history for being the vehicle that introduced Ford’s outstanding compact V8 engine.

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