Ford added to its burgeoning bucket-seat brigade in the early 1960s with a full-size flyer that combined Thunderbird interior elegance with race-winning speed and stamina. Here's a year-by-year review of the Ford XL that, more than any other, exemplifies "Total Performance."

Classic Cars Image Gallery

The XLs big attraction was inside, with mylar-trimmed vinyl bucket seats and a center console.
Inside, the Ford XL featured mylar-trimmed vinyl bucket seats and a center console. See more classic car pictures.

Let's be honest. The sporty XL version of the full-size Ford wasn't Henry's flashiest car of the 1960s, it wasn't always the fastest, and it was far from being the best seller. It also wasn't that much different from other big Fords of that era, though it always seemed to have something special that set it apart.

Nevertheless, the XL, especially the early models, remains the definitive "Total Performance" car for many enthusiasts, and that makes all the difference.

Introduced at mid-model year 1962 as a subseries in the top-shelf Galaxie 500 line, the XL was one of the first cars to reflect Ford's publicly stated, all-out commitment to that hallowed industry precept, "racing improves the breed."

It's also significant as one of the first product actions taken by a newly named division general manager, one Lee Iacocca. At his urging, Ford Motor Company launched an unprecedented assault on every major form of motorsports, resulting in a long skein of memorable victories and a plethora of hot new showroom models.

New-for-1961 big-block 390 V-8 was a popular XL choice.
New-for-1961 big-block 390 V-8 was a popular XL choice.

Ford called all this "Total Performance." The aim was to make a big impression -- and score big sales -- with the burgeoning "youth market," the vast postwar "baby boom" generation that reached car-buying age in the 1960s to become an increasingly important sales factor. As we know, the strategy worked like the proverbial charm.

While the heyday of sporty full-size domestics was relatively brief, the XL managed to outlast all but one of its direct rivals. The "horsepower race" of the 1950s spawned the first of the breed.

Chrysler unleashed its posh and potent 300 for 1955, beginning the now-fabled letter series, followed for 1956 by a squadron of limited-edition hot rods, the Plymouth Fury, DeSoto's Adventurer, and the D-500 option at Dodge.

Pontiac launched its image-shattering Bonneville convertible for 1957, with up to 310 horsepower courtesy of fuel injection, and Studebaker debuted the Hawk line of "family sports cars" for 1956, offering up to 275 horses in premium Golden Hawk guise.

As other auto companies caught on to Ford's strategy, competition increased. Learn how Ford dealt with this on the next page.

For more information on cars, see: