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1955-1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria

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.

1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria
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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