1957-1959 Ford Styling

1957 Ford Styling Innovations

A significant aspect of the 1957 styling story was Ford's first use of "sculptured" body panels. The achievement was not without difficulty. At the time, automakers were just beginning to learn how to stamp sheetmetal with sharp edges, creases, and curves so that it wouldn't break. Ford managed to solve some of these problems in time for 1957 -- which partly accounts for the "tailored" look -- but not all of them. As a result, the body panel rejection rate was extremely high; the slightly notched "split level" wagon roof with its C-shaped character line was especially tricky. It wasn't until 1959-1960 that the industry learned to make such stampings reliably.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Town
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Ford's hardtops retained the Victoria name for 1957. Here, the four-door Town model in the Fairlane 500 series.

One 1957 advance that did work well was Ford's new "cowbelly" frame. Necessitated by the lower-profile bodies, it was inspired to a degree by the 1954 Oldsmobile chassis and the Continental Mark II design. Its main distinctions were a dropped rear floorpan, and rear side-rails kicked up further back and more abruptly than on the 1955-1956 frame. This allowed passengers to sit more fully within the chassis perimeter, thus enabling a two-inch reduction in overall height with no loss of interior space. In fact, back seat room was actually improved.

There were short- and long-wheelbase versions, of course, identical except that the latter used slightly stronger metal stock and was five inches longer at the rear. Both had five crossmembers for strength, three of them tubular.

Ford's ball-joint front suspension, introduced for 1954, was simplified and improved for 1957, with 33 percent fewer parts and new "swept back" lower control arms for a smoother, softer ride. Rear geometry was also altered. The semi-elliptic leaf springs were two inches longer, and their front ends were pinned inboard of the side-rails for the first time. Extending from a new, tapered driveshaft was a redesigned hypoid axle placed further back on the springs to reduce rear-end squat under acceleration. The latter changes combined with 14-inch wheels and tires, an inch smaller than before, for another two-inch height reduction.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Town
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Tastefully tailored fin contours are evident on this 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Town.

Though 1957 marked the 25th anniversary of Ford's first V-8, engine changes were comparatively minor, geared to improve both performance and economy. All V-8s received higher compression, larger intake valves and manifolds, and redesigned camshafts with higher valve lift, plus distributors with combined centrifugal/vacuum timing advance instead of the old full-vacuum mechanism. Reduced hood height dictated new low-silhouette carburetors across the board, with simplified control linkages and more efficient design.

The 1957 drivetrain chart listed six engines, each available with any one of the three transmissions: conventional column-shift three-speed manual, the same with optional overdrive, and two-speed Fordomatic self-shift. Returning at 223 cubic inches, the pennywise "Mileage Maker" six, still with one-barrel carburetor, also got a compression boost (to 8.6:1), lifting horsepower from 137 to 144. The base 272 V-8 now produced a rated 190 horsepower (versus the previous 173) on the same squeeze, while the popular 292-cubic-inch "Thunderbird" unit, optional only on Fairlanes and wagons, had 212 horsepower (up from 200) on healthier 9.1:1 compression.

Though both junior V-8s ran on regular gas, their two-barrel carbs offered greater venturi area than the 1956 four-barrel setup for better performance in the low and middle speed ranges. Also, the crossover pipe on their standard single exhaust was dropped in favor of a more efficient Y-system. Dual exhaust was optional for either.

At the top of the chart sat two premium-fuel "Thunderbird 312" powerplants -- 245-horsepower four-barrel "Special" and 270-horsepower twin-quad "Super" -- sporting dual exhaust and higher, 9.7:1 compression. But the really big gun was a low-compression (8.6:1) supercharged 312 with single four-barrel carb. The engine booklet said this Ford exclusive puffed out a "surging" 300 horsepower, "horsepower galore for checkered flag performance." Of course, it was a thinly disguised racing engine and thus cost a small fortune, so orders were few. Most involved the lightweight Custom Tudors being campaigned on the stock-car ovals.

Continue to the next page to learn all the details on Ford's 1957 model lineup.

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