1957-1959 Ford Styling

1958 Ford Features

The 1958 Ford features were a mixed bag. Initially an option only for Fairlanes and wagons, Ford's new Cruise-O-Matic reminded you a little of GM's dual-range Hydra-Matic, with the same butter-smooth operation up and down the box. The selector had two Drive positions. D2 started in second gear and changed down from third only as far as second. Dl started in Low for maximum acceleration, and changed down all the way to that gear from third. Of course, you could still shift to L (Low) range for engine braking or pulling stumps. For convenience, a built-in "hill-holder" obviated the need for holding the brakes while stopped on uphill grades.

1958 Ford Custom 300 Tudor
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Ford's 1958 model line-up included this Custom 300 Tudor.

Ford, like GM, dreamed of air suspensions in 1958, and its "Ford Aire" setup proved just as nightmarish. Optional only on Fairlanes and wagons, it consisted of a 300-psi compressor and an air storage tank placed close together at the right front of the engine compartment, plus an air spring or dome at each corner and three leveling valves, one for each front dome and one near the right rear spring.

Except for the domes, the front suspension differed little from the conventional coil-spring setup, while the rear added trailing arms to take care of the axle location normally performed by semi-elliptic leaf springs. This set Ford Aire apart from the various GM systems that necessitated more fully redesigned chassis.

Alas, it worked no better than any other of its typically Fifties ilk. When you entered the car, solenoids connected to the door courtesy lamp switches caused air to be pumped to each dome as required to adjust ride height to load weight and distribution. Once underway, the leveling valves kept the domes properly pressurized to compensate for road surface changes and hard braking. That was the theory, at least.

In practice, Ford Aire proved so troublesome that only 100 or so 1958s were so equipped. The main problems were leaky air bags and water condensing and/or freezing in the lines. No air-sprung T-Birds, Lincolns, or Mercurys were ever built, though systems were planned and Mercury even advertised one. By 1960, only Cadillac and Rambler still offered "air ride" options, and they wouldn't last long either. Ford wouldn't try one again until 1984.

On the next page, find out how Ford updated styling for 1959.

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