For 1956, Ford sported only minor styling changes and continued with the trendy Crown Victorias, adopting their longer, lower roofline for all Victorias (and Mercury hardtops as well). A four-door Victoria was even added, but not in Crown form.
The 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria sported
wider V-spear side trim and new taillight lenses.
Ford now featured 12-volt ignition (Chevy had it in 1955) and a choice of three V-8s. The venerable two-barrel carb 272 was rated at 173 bhp with stick, 176 with Fordomatic, but was only for lower-line Mainlines and Custom-lines. The 292 -- called the "Thunderbird Y-8" and again borrowed from the 1955 T-Bird and Mercury -- was for Fairlanes. It had a Holley four-barrel carb, 8.0:1 compression, and 200 bhp (standard transmission); with an 8.4:1 squeeze it cranked out 202 horses (Fordomatic). Optional at mid-year was the "Thunderbird Special" 312 (not quite the same engine as the 272/292), rated at 215 bhp with stick, 225 with Fordomatic.
Carburetion was again a Holley four-barrel. Other advances for 1956 were an automatic choke for all V-8s, increased valve lift across the board, a new distributor control diaphragm, and some differential modifications. The six, still standard across the line, was upped to 137 bhp via 8.0:1 compression.
The 1956 Ford front end sported a parking light treatment using a "pod" theme snitched from the Mystere. The V-spear side trim on Fairlanes was changed and widened somewhat, and the taillights gained new lenses. Interiors sported a major dashboard change, eliminating the Astra-Dial in favor of a "Thunderbird-type control panel" with a hooded instrument cluster highlighted by round, easy-to-read dials and a simplified MagicAire heater/defroster setup.
Sales of most makes were down after banner 1955, but Ford's drop in sales that year has frequently been linked to its safety campaign -- which may or may not be true. Spurred by Cornell University's research efforts and the first year of its own safety crash program in 1955, Ford decided to go all out for safety in 1956 with its "Lifeguard design" advertising campaign. Standard equipment included stronger "double-grip" door latches, "deep-center" dished steering wheel, recessed instruments, and safety designed door and window handles.
For a few dollars extra, buyers could order a safety package consisting of padded dash and sun visors, as well as seat belts. (Seat belts were first offered by Ford in 1955.)
Marketing studies soon showed that talk about safety actually turned off some buyers, but Ford continued to push safety right up until 1968, when the feds made it mandatory for everybody.
The 1956 Ford retained essentially the same good handling and ride characteristics of the 1955 models, but with considerably more snap. With a 292 engine and Fordomatic, Motor Trend was able to cut the 0-60 time to 12.2 seconds, a good 2.3 seconds faster than in 1955. But this still wasn't enough to keep up with Chevy, which outran Ford at Daytona and in early 1956 NASCAR racing, but not nearly by its 1955 margins. Ford's revenge was the 312 V-8, which totally outclassed Chevy later in the year.
In the most exhaustive test that he had ever done, Floyd Clymer drove a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria Skyliner 3098 miles for Popular Mechanics. It was equipped with the 292 and Fordomatic. Clymer was not one who went in for 0-60 times and fastest one-way runs. He had minor niggles and picks about the car, but was most impressed by its comfort at sustained high speeds, covering 900 miles effortlessly on the last day of his test.
Motor Life, meanwhile, tested a 202-horse, Fordomatic-equipped Fairlane, zipping through the 0-60 run in 11.6 seconds. Motor Life lauded the handling: "The ease with which it can be whipped around tight turns and excellent acceleration out of corners furnished by the good low-end punch of the 292-cubic-inch Fairlane engine make this car fun to drive." Also noted was a firmer ride than the competition, with the further comment: "However, don't think that comfort has been sacrificed noticeably."
All 1956 Ford prices were up from 1955, $66 in the case of the Crown Victoria V-8. Clearly, the bloom was off the Crown Vic as production tumbled to 9,209, plus only 603 Skyliner versions. Standard Fairlane Victoria production, however, was up to 177,735 two-doors and 32,111 of the new four-doors. The entire Fairlane count for the year was 645,306, about 19,000 better than in 1955.
In addition, there was now a Victoria in the Customline series ($1,985 with six), with 33,130 produced. The success of the standard Victoria at the expense of the Crown can be partially explained by its now sharing the Crown Vic's longer roofline, which made the Victoria look almost as good for $144 less in the Fairlane V-8 series, $245 less in the Customline V-8.
For 1957, Ford broke its traditional three-year cycle by introducing its most changed styling since 1949. The 1957 Victorias would have been enhanced greatly by a Crown Victoria, but other than a few preliminary sketches for such a model, it was not to be. Public reception simply didn't warrant the added production cost. No real reason has ever been given for the Crown Victoria's lack of popularity, although the fact that it wasn't a "true" hardtop with disappearing B-pillars must surely have been a major factor. The 1955-57 Chevrolet Nomad wagon never sold in great numbers, either.
Overall, Ford output for the 1956 model run dropped 42,679 units, to 1,408,478. Meanwhile, Chevy fell by 137,550 cars, to 1,567,117. Interestingly, while Ford sold 85.1 percent as many cars as Chevy in 1955, that figure actually moved up to 89.9 percent in 1956. Perhaps the conventional wisdom that insists Ford took a licking in 1956 because of its safety campaign really isn't true -- in terms of production, at least. Ford actually gained on Chevy in 1956.
The 1955-1956 model years stand as a unique period in Ford history, marked by excellent handling for the standards of the day, engineering that was better than most, and styling that has weathered the test of time. In fact. Crown Vic Skyliner models have been awarded Milestone Car status by the Milestone Car Society. The Crown Victorias are truly the crown jewels of the Ford collection from that "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" time period.
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