1955 Ford Crown Victoria
1955 Ford Crown Victoria. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The Ford Crown Victoria, one of Ford’s most respected nameplates and the darling of big car lovers and countless police forces, began life in 1955. But although it’s been a stalwart Ford nameplate, it took a 26-year hiatus from 1957 to 1982.

The original Crown Victoria came in 1955 as the top option of Ford’s Fairlane series. Ford’s line-up at that time consisted of the Mainline, Customline and Fairlane, the Fairlane having replaced the Crestline as the premium Ford. The Fairlane was named after the first Henry Ford’s grand Fair Lane estate in Dearborn, and the pinnacle of the Fairlane line was the Fairlane Crown Victoria.

The Crown Vic, as it soon became known, had an even further split: it came as the regular Crown Vic with an all-steel roof, or the Crown Vic Skyliner, a carry-over of the 1954 Crestline Skyliner in which the front half of the roof was made of tinted transparent plexiglass. The regular Crown Vic outsold the Skyliner by more than 15 to one because it was soon discovered that the sun shining through the transparent roof cooked those in the front seat before air conditioning was popular.

In Canada the Crown Victoria also came as a Meteor model. For the Canadian market Ford had created the Meteor, a Ford clone, and the Monarch, a Mercury clone. This allowed Ford to have two dealer networks, one for Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, and one for Meteor-Monarch. The Crown Victoria had a good base to build on because the Ford line was redesigned for 1955. It got a wraparound windshield, and was longer, lower and wider than the ’54. Also in 1955 Ford of Canada received the overhead valve V8 engine that U.S. buyers got in 1954.

Crown Vics came with two-doors only, with the “Crown” part of the name being inspired by a wide chromed metal strip that ran across the roof and down each of the forward slanted B-pillars (the pillar at the rear of the front door). The back of this strip had phoney “vents” painted into its trailing edge. This strip was intended to give the Crown Vic a pillarless “hardtop convertible” look. Although it resembled a roll bar, it wasn’t reinforced enough to serve as one.

The Crown Vic’s roof was longer, lower and flatter than regular Fords, which gave it a sleeker appearance. And a stylish chrome strip started at the tops of the hooded headlamps, ran along the fender tops, and then curved down along the doors and back up, creating a vee-shaped dip before travelling straight to the taillamps. Vestigial fins marked Ford’s entry into the tailfin age.

All-in-all the 1955 Ford Crown Victoria was a handsome car, especially with its two-tone paint treatments in shades of white and pastels like pink and green that were very much in vogue at that time.

Under the hood was Ford’s corporate 4.4-litre (272 cu in.), 162 horsepower overhead valve V8, with a 4.8 litre (292 cu in.) V8 optional. For American buyers the base engine was a 3.6-litre (223 cu in.) 120-horsepower overhead valve inline six, an engine that wouldn’t become available in Canada until 1956.

In a somewhat unusual departure for the company that had popularized the V8, Ford began calling its engine a Y8 rather than a V8. The name was used because the crankcase extended down past the centreline of the crankshaft, not to the centreline as was normal practice. Ford said the engine now resembled a “Y” rather than a “V,” and claimed that it provided a more rigid cylinder block. The Y description soon disappeared.

A more significant feature was in the automatic transmission. It was a three-speed, which in normal driving launched in second gear and automatically shifted to high. But Ford engineered it so that a driver wanting quicker acceleration could get a low-gear start by simply flooring the accelerator. The transmission would then go through its normal automatic second and high shifts. The standard transmission was a column-shifted three-speed manual, with overdrive optional.

The Crown Vic was, like other Fords, carried over into 1956 with only minor alterations, including parking light/turn signals that were changed from round to horizontal. Due to poor sales the plastic-topped Skyliner was dropped soon after the start of the model year.

This was the year in which Ford decided to try selling safety, including seat belts, padded instrument panels and sun visors, stronger door latches, and deep-dish steering wheels. Unfortunately the public was not yet ready to accept them.

Fords were completely redesigned for 1957 to be longer, lower and wider, and sporting real tailfins. The Crown Vic was not continued, being replaced by the Fairlane 500 as the top model. It had represented a short but imaginative chapter in Ford’s 1950s history, and is now a popular collectible. It was too good a name to lose forever, and was revived in 1982. With is rugged rear-wheel drive and roomy interior, it went on to become the quintessential North American police car.

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