1957-1959 Ford Styling

1958 Ford Styling

The rejoicing over Ford's 1957 styling successes didn't last long. For 1958, Ford garnished its smorgasbord with a heavy facelift and a new Fordor Ranch Wagon, then watched production slide to 987,945 units for the model year, including some 40,000 examples of the stylish new four-seat Thunderbird. The main problem, of course, was the national economic recession that severely depressed sales industry-wide, but it's the styling that gets most of the blame to this day.

1958 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner retractable
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Ford's 1958 models, like this Fairlane 500 Skyliner retractable, saw decreased sales.

Ford had three objectives for its 1958 facelift: provide a family identity with the new T-Bird, strengthen the inherently weak 1957 body panels, and be competitive with the all-new "gull-wing" 1958 Chevrolet. In retrospect, the result comes off quite well against that year's "Chromes-mobile" and bespangled Buick, but it was not well-liked at the time. That judgement is shared today by collectors, who consider the 1957 the most beautiful Ford of the decade, the 1958 the ugliest.

The most startling -- and controversial -- change from 1957 was an elliptical rear deck indentation designed to improve panel strength. It also served to accent four oval taillamps (with the inboard pair in the trunklid), Ford's first departure from round units since 1952. Greater rigidity also prompted the addition of seven longitudinal grooves or "flutes" in all roof panels, including wagons.

Up front were quad headlights per industry fad and two ideas from the 1958 T-Bird: a phony hood air scoop, again for panel strength, and a wide, mouth-like bumper/grille for maximum air flow to the radiator core. Unlike the Bird's one-piece ensemble, the passenger cars had a less costly two-piece affair. Interestingly, both 1957 and 1958 hoods hinged from the front, a production advantage but not necessarily a buyer benefit. On a happier note, interiors were improved for both durability and looks. Pleated door panel trim and silver-finish dash applique were the most noticeable changes.

1958 Ford Fairlane 500 Town Victoria hardtop sedan
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Ford's 1958 models, like this Fairlane 500 Town Victoria hardtop sedan, were widely considered to be the ugliest of the decade.

Though the 1958 looked clumsier than the 1957, it was a much better Ford mechanically. Ride was slightly softer due to minor changes in shock calibrations, the front upper control arms, and rear spring rates. Steering was improved, with Ford's recirculating-ball type now standard across the board.

Actually, cars without power steering felt like they had it except when parking, as gearing remained at a slow 4.5 turns lock-to-lock. The only difference was a 35-percent increase in oil pressure with power assist. Elsewhere, the 272 and 312 V-8s were unceremoniously dumped, the old six got one extra horsepower, and the 292 was reinstated from 1956 as the base V-8, rated at 205 horsepower, down seven.

The big attractions for 1958 were Ford's first three-speed automatic and a pair of all-new big-block V-8s sharing a gaping 4.00-inch bore. Stroking 3.30-inch-long cylinders, the smaller, 332-cubic-inch unit could be had with two-barrel carburetor and single exhaust for 240 horsepower, or with a four-barrel and duals for 265 horsepower. Both versions ran 9.5:1 compression. A 3.50-inch stroke produced the new 352, a four-barrel, dual-exhaust powerhouse cranking out 300 horsepower at 4,600 rpm on 10.2:1 compression. So equipped, a 1958 Ford could scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds with manual or the silky new Cruise-O-Matic. But though respectable for the day, that wasn't any better than Motor Trend' s 1957 with 312 and stick. Nor was it quite as quick as a full-size 1958 Chevy with the new 348 V-8 that had 20 fewer horses.

On the next page, learn about the design for the 1958 Ford FE-series engines.

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