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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