The 1955-1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria was the crowning gem of the bright two-tone and chrome era. One of the most imaginative cars of an imaginative decade, it took off for the heavens in looks -- but never in sales.
Nineteen fifty-five was a great year to be shopping for your first new car. Chevy finally had a V-8 and looked as cool as Kim Novak in a stretch-nylon swimsuit. And Plymouth was hotter than the Cuban Mambo, strutting the first year of Virgil Exner's "Forward Look" styling and boasting a V-8 of its own. Ford, whose overhead-valve V-8 was now in its second year, sported many advanced styling themes, with a deliberately strong association to the new Thunderbird.
The 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria's claim to fame
was a wrap-over-the-roof tiara that sported painted
black slots at the rear. See more pictures of classic cars.
It was the year of wraparound windshields, tubeless tires, flying saucer wheel discs, and more options, vivid colors, and flashy two-tones than a month of Canadian sunsets. Little wonder that Ford's smart new Crown Victoria was to become a classic symbol of the times, if not one of the year's hottest sellers. Road tester Tom McCahill, writing in Mechanix Illustrated, called it "loaded with more saleable angles than a shipload of Marilyn Monroes."
With the high-performance race already in high gear, the sales contest between the "Big Two" was off and running in 1954. It was murder on the dealers, and left the independents with no choice but to merge or become history. But overall, 1955 was a banner year for the industry, with production just a hair under eight million units.
In 1954, Ford had actually outproduced Chevy (barely) for the model year: 1,165,942 versus 1,143,561. But in the calendar-year sales race, Chevrolet outdid Ford, 1,417,453 to 1,400,440, or just over 17,000 units. This brought about endless claims by both as to who really was "USA-1." Ford thought it had a chance to lick Chevy in 1955, but when the smoke settled it was Chevrolet with 1,640,081 sales to Ford's 1,573,276, a lead of some 67,000 units. Model-year production, however, was far more decisive: 1,704,677 for Chevrolet, versus Ford's 1,451,157. Plymouth, as ever, took the back seat in output with 705,455 units, and while this was an impressive 240,000-unit gain over 1954, it wasn't quite enough to overcome fast-charging Buick's 737,035 model-year output.
Matching the Chevrolet Nomad wagon in sheer freshness of design was Ford's Crown Victoria, king of the new Ford Fairlane series, named after Henry Ford Senior's Fair Lane estate in Dearborn. The "Crown Vic," as it has been affectionately nicknamed, was a stunning "non-hardtop hardtop" featuring a stainless steel tiara (or "basket handle") wrapped over the roof of the hardtop body. Ford prosaically called it a "bright metal roof transverse molding." Wrapping from the base of the B-pillar location over to the other B-pillar position, it was fixed -- so the Crown Vic wasn't really a "true" hardtop with an unobstructed side view.
Compared to the standard Victoria, the Crown Victoria's roof was lower (the first Ford closed car under five feet high), much flatter, and longer (the rear pillars were swept back an extra three inches). This greenhouse, incidentally, was shared with the 1955 Mercury Montclair hardtops, while Mercury's Custom and Monterey models got the taller Victoria roofline. The Crown Vic's windshield was also lower, shared with the Sunliner convertible.
Not surprisingly. Crown Vics looked longer than the standard hardtop, although they weren't -- all 1955 Ford passenger cars measured 198.5 inches overall and rode the same 115.5-inch wheel-base as in 1954. Also featured on Crown Vics were a visored stainless windshield molding, vinyl pseudo bucket-seat interiors in candy-flavored colors, blinding chrome and bright stainless-steel trim at every curve and corner, and a rear-seat center arm rest.
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Inspiration for the Crown Victoria
It could be argued that the original inspiration for the Crown Victoria was the Lincoln XL-500 fully operational show car done by Bill Schmidt and Elwood Engel for Ford's 50th Anniversary in 1953. It had an all-fiberglass scarlet body and an all-glass (or Plexiglas) roof with a tiara of stainless steel.
It could also be argued that the immediate inspiration for Ford's Crown Victoria was the Mystere. This was a non-running fiberglass styling study/show car that went completely into the astrals and back to incorporate numerous styling cues for 1955 and later FoMoCo production cars -- but in far more extreme versions than ever made it to anyone's driveway. Joe Oros, who worked for George Walker's outside styling group at the time and later became director of Ford styling, claims that the Mystere did not directly inspire production automobiles. Oros contends there were a number of styling "themes" being developed at the time that were carried out on the Mystere, as well as on many production automobiles.
Red and white was a popular color choice for the
1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria.
Some of the stylists who worked on the Mystere were Bill Boyer, L. David Ash, Frank Hershey, and John Najjar. They were all experimenting with styling themes that would appear on a number of advanced designs and production automobiles. The 1955 Fords were done under Frank Hershey, who was fired by George Walker as soon as he took over Ford's growing styling department in 1955. Assisting Hershey were Bob Maguire and Damon Woods, both now deceased, and John Najjar and Art Querfeld, both now retired in Florida.
Interiors were done primarily by the late L. David Ash, whose claim to fame was the peek-a-boo transparent top first seen on the 1954 Ford Skyliner and Mercury Sun Valley. Ash should also be credited with the famous V-spear (or "check mark") body-side chrome, which was executed on both the Mystere and production Fords.
Ford stylist John Najjar repeated the peek-a-boo theme on the '54 Ford "Astra-Dial Control Panel," which was continued on the '55s, although the speedometer was slightly flattened to reduce reflections in the windshield. The base of the Astra-Dial carried turn-signal arrows, idiot lights for generator and oil pressure, and gauges for fuel and engine temperature. MagicAire heater, radio, and clock were set in three large circles in the center of the dash. A stem-wind clock was standard on Fairlanes, an electric clock optional. Both the heater/ventilator and radio controls took some getting used to.
According to the late Dave Ash, who had as much to do with the Crown Victoria as anybody, the model began life in 1953 as a full-size clay with a "noticeably lower roofline and more sloped rear roof than the standard Victoria hardtop." It originally carried the name "Special Victoria."
Among a group of young product planners who dazzled engineers and management with this car was Donald E. Petersen, who in later years would become President of Ford Motor Company and then Chairman of the Board. Petersen convinced management that a car with a low roof profile could be built without sacrificing interior headroom.
Just prior to this project, Ash had developed the Plexiglas roof concept for the '54 Ford. From there, he was assigned the task of participating in the full-size clay modeling of the 1955 Special Victoria. Ash then became a key figure in working out the details of the "Crown" and the Plexiglas top on the 1955 (though he never did take full credit for the design). Art Querfeld did most of the Crown Vic's unique interior trim design.
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Two Versions of Crown Victoria
The 1955-1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria came in two versions, with the bubbletop over the driver's compartment for $2,272, or with an all-steel roof for $2,202. Ford built 13,344 "Skyliners" for 1954, and 1999 Crown Victorias "with transparent roof" for 1955, then a mere 603 Crown Victoria "Skyliners" for 1956 (the quotes being official Ford jargon during those years).
"Elegant" describes this all-black 1955 Ford Fairlane
Crown Victoria featuring full-disc hubcaps and
wide whitewall tires.
The equivalent Mercury Sun Valley first appeared in 1954, and sold 9,761 copies. Little known is that there were also 1,787 Sun Valleys built with the Plexiglas roof for 1955. While the Merc carried the same body code as the 1955 and 1956 Ford Crown Victoria, the glass top was somewhat larger than Ford's, and there was no tiara. It has also been rumored that one or two 1956 Mercury Sun Valleys were produced, but none have ever surfaced.
While not expensive -- only $70 more for a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria with the Plexiglas top -- it wasn't a very brilliant idea as it cooked the passengers on even mildly warm, sunny days, and was intolerable in the Southwest. The top had a neutral blue-green tint that theoretically filtered out 60 percent of the sun's heat rays and 72 percent of the glare, to further keep out heat and glare. Ford added a nylon headliner that zippered in place. While optional on the Skyliner late in 1954, it was standard on the 1955-1956 Crown Vics. But, of course, it made little sense to order the see-through top only to zipper it up.
Little wonder that the bubbletop bombed in the showrooms, and soon after on used car lots. None of these models survived into the 1957 model year. Even today, cars so equipped do not demand near the prices that their sheer novelty would indicate.
What really knocked the public off its pastel pink socks in 1955 was the entirely new Fairlane series, which included two-and four-door sedans, Victoria hardtop coupe, the two versions of the Crown Victoria, and a Sunliner convertible. Total 1955 Ford Fairlane production was 626,250 units, or about 45 percent of total 1955 Ford production. The number of Crown Vics was 33,165, plus 1999 Skyliner versions. Victoria production, at 113,372, underscored a public preference for Ford's traditional hardtop, which had been around since 1951. In 1955, this model listed for $107 less than the Crown.
The 1955 Ford body, with its GM gold-fish-bowl windshield (nearly 1,100 square inches), wasn't as new as it looked. It was really an extremely clever rework of a now four-year-old body structure with the inner panels and framing changing very little. Ford had spent so much money correcting its 1949-1951 body mistakes with the all-new 1952 that the firm wasn't about to do it all over again for 1955-1956 -- nor was there really any need to.
While steel reinforced, the Crown's tiara was not a roll bar. Strength came from the standard frame of the Ford Victoria hardtop. All 1955 Ford frames were much altered from 1954 with a lower center section and more kickup at both ends. Sedans and wagons had a K-shaped center cross-member, but the convertible, Victoria, and Crown Victoria chassis got extra stiffness via an X-shaped support.
Ford's ball-joint front suspension -- introduced on the 1952 Lincoln and 1954 Ford and Mercury -- boasted a number of improvements for 1955, the most significant of which was angling the front wheel spindles forward by three degrees. This resulted in what was hyped as "Angle-Poised Ride," claimed to reduce road shock transmitted into the passenger compartment by some 15 percent.
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Mechanics of Crown Victoria
The engine of the 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria was the second-year version of Ford's "Y-Block" overhead-valve V-8, famous for its problems with valve lubrication on the top end and the virtue of long life on the bottom end.
The Y-Blocks featured "rigid deep-block construction," a crankcase skirt hanging well below the crankcase itself for added strength. While the 239-cid 1954 Ford V-8 had the same displacement as the time-honored flathead, it had a much larger bore than stroke. The problem with the 1954 V-8 was that it didn't pack all that much power.
The 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria featured
the 292, also called the "Thunderbird Y-8."
For 1955, the displacement was raised 14 percent to 272 cid, enough to be a few cubes larger than Chevy's new 265 V-8. The compression ratio went from 7.2:1 to 7.6:1 in the standard version, and Ford bragged up its short-stroke "Low-Friction Design" and "Automatic Power Pilot." The latter was "Ford's exclusive carburetion-ignition-combustion system that makes sure just the right gas mixture is ignited at just the right instant and burned completely to give you the most 'go' from every drop of gas."
Also touted were high-efficiency "Turbo-Wedge Combustion Chambers" and new 18-millimeter spark plugs, which resisted build-up of deposits and sealed better due to "tapered seat construction." The result of all this was 162 horsepower, 32 more than in 1954.
Beginning with the 1954 V-8, Ford had offered a "Power Pack" option with high-compression heads, four-barrel carburetor with automatic choke, and dual exhausts. Predictably, it developed a taste for premium fuel. In 1955, for $35 above the $100 cost of the base V-8, this package had higher 8.5:1 compression and a four-barrel carb, raising the horsepower to 182 -- but was available only with Fordomatic. Dual exhausts were standard on all Fairlane V-8s.
Two other power options were added along the way. One was the bigger-bore 292 V-8 from the new T-Bird and 1955 Mercury, with 8.5:1 compression, four-barrel carb, and 198 bhp. This was part of a special-order package for Fairlanes and wagons that also included Fordomatic. Late in the year, a special 205-bhp "Interceptor" 292, ostensibly for police use, appeared on the list, an outgrowth of the factory's efforts in NASCAR stock-car racing.
The base engine for all 1955 Fords was the "High-Torque I-Block Six," the 223-cid overhead-valve six introduced in 1952, now rated at 120 horsepower. The V-8s, overdrive ($109), and Fordomatic ($178) were optional. Rarely (if ever) were Crown Victorias ordered with the six-cylinder engine.
For 1955, Ford called its three-speed automatic "Speed-Trigger Fordomatic Drive." That was because it embodied "a new automatic low gear for extra-fast starts or quicker, safer passing at low speed. ... First, with selector set at Drive (Dr) you may start in either low gear or intermediate as you prefer. For a real 'Speed-Trigger' start, just press the accelerator to the toe-board and you'll flash away in low gear . . . with transmission shifting automatically from low to intermediate to direct. For most driving, starts will be through intermediate gear as in previous Fordomatics." By comparison, both Chevy's Powerglide and Plymouth's PowerFlite were two-speed units.
Along with the reworked Fordomatic was a "Safety-Sequence Selector ... mounted in control panel just above steering column where it's easier to see. It is illuminated for easier reading at night." That safety sequence was the Park-Reverse-Neutral-Drive-Low arrangement that would later be adopted industry-wide (GM still had Reverse below Low).
It was in the 1952-1954 era that Ford began offering all manner of convenience options. For 1955, you could equip your Crown Vic with "Power-Lift Windows" for $102, "4-Way Power Seat" for $64, and, of course, "Master-Guide Power Steering" for $91 and "Swift Sure Power Brakes" for $33.
Air-conditioning was also offered, but seldom opted for prior to 1956, when it was called "SelectAire Conditioner" and cost $435. And of course there were a myriad of minor options, such as "I-Rest" tinted glass and "rear fender shields." Although the base price of a 1955 Crown Victoria V-8 was $2,302, a fully loaded example -- as a good many of them were -- showed a bottom line closer to $3,500. The Crown Victoria Skyliner V-8 cost $2,372, making it $48 more expensive than the Sunliner V-8 convertible, but still well below the $2,633 Country Squire V-8.
While testing a 1955 Customline four-door with the 162-bhp V-8 and Fordomatic, Motor Trend obtained a non-exhilarating 0-60 time of 14.5 seconds and an average top speed of 95.2 mph. With overdrive, Motor Trend shaved the 0-60 time to 14.1 seconds. Even with Power Pack, it was hard to break 13 seconds, although Road Test magazine pushed a Ranch Wagon so equipped to a top speed of 108 mph.
But all in all, this made Ford no match for a Chevy, which with Power Pack and Powerglide could easily zip from 0-60 in about 11 seconds.
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1956 Crown Victoria
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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1955-1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria Specifications
The 1955-1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria models represent a unique period in Ford history. Here are engine specifications for 1955-1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria, and detailed specifications for the 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria.
The 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria was hyped as
"The fine car at half the fine-car price."
|1955-1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria: Engines|
|Type/cid||bore x stroke||bhp @ rpm||c.r.||carb||availability|
| I-6, 223.0|| 3.62 x 3.60|| 120 @ 4,000||7.5:1||1V||Standard|
| V-8, 272.0||3.62 x 3.30||162 @ 4,400||7.6:1||2V||Optional|
|V-8, 272.0||3.62 x 3.30||182 @ 4,400||8.5:1||4V||Optional|
|V-8, 292.0||3.75 x 3.30||193 @ 4,400||8.1:1||4V||Optional*|
|V-8, 292.0||3.75 x 3.30||198 @ 4,400||8.5:1|
|V-8, 292.0||3.75 x 3.30||205 @ 4,400||8.5:1||4V||Optional***|
|Type/cid||bore x stroke||bhp @ rpm||c.r.||carb||availability |
|I-6, 223.0|| 3.62 x 3.60|| 137 @ 4,200||8.0:1||1V||Standard|
| V-8, 292.0|| 3.75 x 3.30||200 @ 4,600||8.0:1||4V||Optional*|
|V-8, 292.0||3.75 x 3.30||202 @ 4,600||8.4:1||4V||Optional**|
|V-8, 312.0|| 3.80 x 3.44||215 @ 4,600||8.4:1||4V||Optional*|
|V-8, 312.0||3.80 x 3.44||225 @ 4,600||9.0:1||4V||Optional**|
| *Manual transmission, **Fordomatic, ***Mid-year introduction, called "Interceptor," mainly for police and NASCAR racing|
| 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria: Specifications|
| Wheelbase (in.)||115.5|
|Overall length (in.)||198.5|
|Overall width (in.)||75.9|
|Overall height (in.)||59.0|
|Tread, front (in.)||58.0|
|Tread, rear (in.)||56.0|
|Ground clearance (in.)||6.5|
| Conventional Drive||3-speed manual, synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gears|
|Overdrive||automatic 4th gear ratio (0.70:1), cuts in at 28 mph, cuts out at 22 mph|
| Speed-Trigger Fordomatic||3-speed with automatic planetary gear train and single-stage, 3-element hydraulic torque converter; automatic low-gear starts with wide-open throttle; illuminated Safety-Sequence Selector to control panel just above steering column|
|Clutch||semi-centrifugal; dry, single-plate type; pressure plate 9.5 in. with Six, 10.0 with V-8; suspended pedal|
|Frame||double-drop, 5 crossmembers, heavy box-section side rails, K-bar construction, added X-type reinforcement for Crown Victoria|
| Front suspension||independent; Angle-Poised ball-joint system; rubber-bushed tilted, transverse-link-type; tailored-to-weight coil springs; tubular shock absorbers; rubber-bushed, 3-piece ride stabilizer|
| Rear suspension|| solid axle; 5-leaf semi-elliptic leaf springs; rubber-bushed brackets and tension-type shackles; diagonally mounted tubular hydraulic shock absorbers|
| Rear axle||semi-floating type with hypoid gears; pressed-steel, banjo-type housing, Hotchkiss drive|
|Ratios||Manual shift: Six, 3.89:1, 4.11:1 opt; V-8, 3.78:1; 3.89:1 opt. Overdrive: Six, 4.11:1, 3.89 opt; V-8, 3.89:1, 3.78 opt. Fordomatic, Six or V-8: 3.30:1, 3.55:1 opt|
|Steering||worm-and-roller, symmetrical linkage with spring-loaded ball-stud in steering cross link|
|Ratio||25.3:1, manual or power|
| Turns lock-to-lock||4.75|
| Turning circle (dia, ft)||41.2|
|Brakes||hydraulic, double-seal, 4-wheel servo, suspended pedal|
| Drum diameter (in.)||11.0|
| Lining area (sq in.)||192.0|
|Wheels||steel disc, 15 x 5 in.|
|Size||6.70 x 15 (7.10 x 15 with V-8 and Fordomatic)|
| Electrical system||6-volt; 35-amp generator; 17-plate, 90-amp-hr battery|
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