The 1959 Ford Galaxie was Ford's attempt to marry style with substance, attempting to sidestep the growing criticism in the 1950s that Detroit more often than not attempted to pass off the former as the latter.
To be sure, the decade produced more than its fair share of "all-new" cars that weren't, "major innovations" that really boiled down to superficial gimmicks, and styling sizzle masquerading as design steak. Yet it must be asked whether this was really so bad when we happily bought most everything the industry put before us. If we were sometimes duped, as the critics said, some of us were at least willing victims.
As the best-known practitioner of "design by opinion research," Ford Motor Company came in for much of this criticism, especially once the Edsel bombed. Yet the approach gave Ford at least as many successes, including the 1959 Ford Galaxie. The 1955 Ford and Mercury, the 1956 Lincoln, the 1957 Ford, and especially the four-seat 1958 Thunderbird came about as considered responses to what buyers said they wanted -- and who promptly put their money where their mouths were.
Ford would score even greater marketing triumphs in the 1960s (like the phenomenally successful Mustang, to name the biggest), but we shouldn't forget a popular 1959 development: the first Ford Galaxie. It came as a hasty effort to cash in on the success of the "Squarebird" hardtop, whose semi-formal wide-quarter roofline met with overwhelming acceptance.
Of course, it had been too late to change 1959 standard-Ford styling by the time buyers rendered their verdict on the Thunderbird, but company planners figured a similar roofline might boost the appeal of Fairlane 500 sedans and hardtops. It did.
As the final Ford in the design cycle began with the all-new 1957, the 1959 Ford Galaxie and other models received far more changes than most end-of-the-line evolutions, probably because Ford knew an all-new 1959 Chevrolet was coming. The previous 116-inch-wheelbase models moved over to the 118-inch Fairlane/Fairlane 500 span. New outer panels covered a much-changed 1957-1958 inner structure, resulting in bigger, brighter, blockier cars.
Ford rather immodestly hyped them as "The World's Most Beautifully Proportioned Cars." However dubious that claim, the 1959 Ford Galaxie and its brethren looked downright conservative next to the radical new "bat-fin" Chevrolet, but it went on to win a Gold Medal for exceptional styling at the 1959 Brussels World Fair.
It could have been otherwise. Some 1959 proposals were ugly, heavily sculptured affairs with enormous round tail lamps, reverse-slant rear windows à la 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and -- amazingly enough -- "batwing" tails, though more subdued than Chevrolet's. Fortunately, Ford had the good sense to reject those nightmares.
For more on how the 1959 Ford Galaxie helped Ford continue its Detroit dominance, go to the next page.
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1959 Ford Galaxie engineering showed good sense, too: a stronger frame with more widely spaced side rails for extra interior room; engines slightly detuned for better economy (a definite selling point after the 1958 recession); a lighter, redesigned two-speed Ford-O-Matic with 105 fewer parts; and a new link-type front stabilizer bar and variable-rate rear springs that did nothing for handling, but softened the ride.
Of greater long-term importance were the adoption of more durable aluminized mufflers, full-flow filters providing 4,000-mile oil-change intervals, and "Diamond Lustre" enamel paint that wasn't supposed to need waxing.
The wisdom of introducing a new top-line standard series with Thunderbird roof styling caused little debate, but there was debate about its name. Ford considered variations on its more popular recent monikers, including Townliner, Crown 500, and even Thunderstar, then chose Galaxie -- incorrectly spelled, but perhaps inspired by the belated success of the U.S. space program.
No matter. The big Ford Galaxie with "the Thunderbird look" sold strongly despite a late, mid-model-year start: better than 464,000 units. That figure is a bit misleading, however, in that the Fairlane 500 Sunliner and Skyliner became Ford Galaxies at the same time through a simple change of rear fender script, though all 1959 Galaxies retained Fairlane 500 rear-deck identification.
Yet even if the two drop-tops are added to the Fairlane 500's total, the 1959 Ford Galaxie still comes out ahead by almost three to one. At over 405,000 units, its four closed models accounted for better than 27 percent of Ford's total 1959 volume.
With this, plus vastly better quality than in 1957-1958, Ford nipped Chevrolet in calendar 1959 sales, though Chevrolet won the model year production race by a bit less than 12,000 units.
But the 1959 Ford Galaxie had made its point, and would remain the top standard Ford for the next decade, always a strong seller. It also prompted a similar roof graft for the 1962 Falcon compact, which proved just as popular. Which only goes to show that even the best steak seems to taste better with the right sizzle.
To see the specifications of the 1959 Ford Galaxie, keep reading.
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1959 Ford Galaxie Specifications
The 1959 Ford Galaxie may have been a latecomer to the crowded 1959 field, but it certainly held its own. The 1959 Ford Galaxie specifications below help show why the Galaxie helped push Ford back to the top of the Detroit mountain.
Engines: I-6, 223 cid (3.62 × 3.60), 145 bhp; ohv V-8, 292 cid (3.75 × 3.30), 200 bhp; 332 cid (4.00 × 3.30), 225 bhp; 352 cid (4.00 × 3.50), 300 bhp
Transmissions: 3-speed manual; overdrive, 2-speed Ford-O-Matic, 3-speed dual-range Cruise-O-Matic optional
Suspension, front: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs
Brakes: front/rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 118.0
Weight (lbs): 3,388-4,064
Top speed (mph): 95-110
0-60 mph (sec): 10.0-18.0