1966 Ford Fairlane 427


In the mid-1960s, manufacturers played a game called "grabbing the Tiger by the tail." The hot Pontiac Tempest GTO was the car to beat and everybody was taking a shot by building mid-sized cars with tiger stripes and hairy engines. Ford entered the arena with the 1966 and 1967 Ford Fairlane GT and GTA. They were hot cars -- but not quite as hot as they looked. In fact, most of their competitors could beat them by a few tiger's lengths.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1966 ford fairlane coupe
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The completely re-styled Fairlane 500 hardtop coupe was built to rival its competition. See more classic car pictures.

In any discussion of these cars, it's impossible to separate the GTs from the rest of the Fairlane pack because they were purely Fairlanes with special badges. And Fairlanes were pretty fine cars, especially in their 1966-1967 guise.

The new mid-size Fairlane, built from 1962-1965 in its first-generation guise, was sized between the compact Falcon and the standard-size Ford. Its unitized body was cloaked over a 115.5-inch wheelbase, exactly the same as the 1954-1956 Fords, and other dimensions also paralleled the popular mid-1950s Fords.

Although the 1962 Fairlane was 16.5 inches longer and nearly 500 pounds heavier than its compact Falcon companion, it was nonetheless 11.7 inches shorter and 800 pounds lighter than the "standard-size" Ford -- which only demonstrated just how far Ford had moved away from its very successful 1954-1956 package.

Because the big Ford's 223-cubic-inch six wouldn't fit into the new Fairlane's engine bay, the Falcon's 170-cid six became the standard engine. The old 292 V-8 wouldn't fit, either, so Ford developed an all-new 221-cubic-inch V-8 and a bored-out 260-cid version specifically for the Fairlane as optional engine choices. This was the famous small-block Ford V-8 with the new thin-wall casting technique that made it the lightest V-8 of its day.

The 1962 Fairlane was available in only four models: standard and Fairlane 500 two- and four-door sedans that looked a lot like the 1957 and 1959 Fords. The factory cranked out 297,116 units during the first model year, and sales came more from cutting into GM and Chrysler territory than stealing from Falcon and Ford.

Wagons and hard-tops were added in 1963, but the styling remained basically the same through 1964, after which a more serious (and not totally successful) facelift took place for 1965.

Ford's middleweight got a lot more exciting in 1966, when it was completely redesigned to mirror 1965-1966 big Ford styling in a junior size. Three convertible models were added, including the spectacular new GT, which had a more popular companion hardtop model.

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Development of the Ford Fairlane

The late David L. Ash, a mainstay in Ford styling for decades, recalled the development of the Ford Fairlane. "With the big Mustang push for 1964," he said, "the Fairlane kind of got put on the back burner. I think that [president Lee] Iacocca saw it as more of a bread-and-butter car for the sedan and station wagon crowd.

ford fairlane 500
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
This 1966 Ford Fairlane is a pampered, show-winning 500 that was still with its original owner when this phot was shot, in 1993.

"But once the Mustang was launched, we started remolding the Fairlane to be sort of a junior version of the Galaxie 500 and 500/XL. It was really a very fine car with extremely well-integrated styling from exterior to interior to trim details. You don't always achieve overall excellence in a new design, but I think that in the 1966 Fairlane we did."

Although it looked entirely new from the outside, the Fairlane continued to employ the unitized construction that had its origins in the 1960 Falcon. Its isolated torque boxes at the front frame members were improved by insulating them from the floor. This pretty effectively eliminated transfer of deflections to the main body structure, eliminating a lot of the noise and vibration that plagued unitized cars at the time.

Coil springs were bigger, and the entire front suspension system was strengthened to accommodate big-block V-8 engines. Rear leaf springs were also enlarged.

Compared to the boxy-looking 1962-1965 Fairlane, the 1966 models -- 13 of them in five series -- were pleasing to the eye, and marginally aerodynamic as well. Sedans continued to use a formal-style roof, but this time it came off far better than the Galaxie-look of previous years.

Two-door hardtops sported swept-back rear pillars that blended beautifully into the rear deck area. Vertical quad headlights, with the top units jutting ahead of the lower ones, rode at the outer ends of the front fenders much as on the 1965-1966 full-sized Fords. The grille also followed the 1965 Ford theme, adding a pronounced horizontal center divider bar.

The fall-away front fenders swept back to meet the slightly "Coke bottle" rear fenders, and a crease a bit below the door handles stretched the entire length of the car. A second full-length body crease ran above the rocker panels and through the wheel cutouts.

Stylists thoughtfully resisted all temptation to hang a lot of stainless on the sides. The only bright trim was around the wheelwells and along the rocker panels of the Fairlane 500 and 500/XL models. From the rear, the Fairlane continued the full-sized Ford theme with a squared-off trunk and large, vertically placed rectangular taillights.

Doors now used thin, curved window frames with inboard weather-stripping for less wind noise. The curved glass did away with the slab-sided look and also increased shoulder room.

The wheelbase was increased slightly to 116 inches except for the wagons, which saw a reduction to a 113-inch span that was shared with Falcon wagons. Actually, the Fairlane's wheelbase had been expanded in 1965 so that it could achieve minimum dimensions for NASCAR competition. The tread was up to 58 inches front and rear, compared to 57 front/56 rear for 1962-1965.

The new dashboard was much better designed and detailed than previously. A rectangular panel swept more than halfway across from the driver's side and picked up many of the good design themes from the 1965-1966 full-sized Ford dash. Padding was standard equipment, and the panel was an integral part of the unitized body.

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Production of the Ford Fairlane

Let's start with the engine as we consider the production of the Ford Fairlane. The base engine of the Ford Fairlane was the same 200-cid, 120-bhp six that also powered some Falcons and Mustangs. It came with a three-speed manual transmission with synchromesh on second and third gears. The most popular powerplant was the Challenger 289 V-8, Ford's third version of the lightweight small-block V-8 first seen for 1962.

ford fairlane engine
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The standard 390 V-8 cranked out 335 horses, and chrome trim even made it look good.

In 1966, a buyer could order a 200-bhp version with a two-barrel carb. It was mated to Ford's Synchro-Smooth manual with synchromesh in all three forward gears, and could also be had with overdrive -- the only engine choice to offer that gas saving option.

Curiously, the Challenger Special 289 with a four-barrel carb and 225 horsepower wasn't offered. Neither was the 271-horse Cobra 289, at least not according to the brochures, though some sources indicate that a few Fairlanes were so equipped.

Apparently, Ford figured that buyers looking for more performance would step up to one of the four versions of the big-block 390 V-8. They became available for the Fairlane as a result of a stronger frame and a larger engine bay. A two-barrel 390 Thunderbird V-8 came with either 265 or 275 horses, depending on whether a manual or Cruise-O-Matic transmission was specified.
The next step up was a Thunderbird Special four-barrel 390 with 315 horsepower. Finally, the 335-bhp Thunderbird Special was standard on the GT models. It featured chrome-plated rocker covers, oil filler cap, oil dip stick, and air cleaner cover. All four-barrel 390s came with dual exhausts.

For its fifth year, the Fairlane was split into two groups. The Series 30 came only as a base two- and four-door sedan and four-door wagon, The upper-level Series 40 encompassed the Fairlane 500 two-and four-door sedan. two-door hardtop, 500/XL and GT hardtops, plus a Deluxe wagon and a new Fairlane Squire.

In addition, there was the aforementioned convertible in no less than three flavors: Fairlane 500, 500/XL, and GT. Notably, the Falcon ragtops were scrubbed after a three-year run, this due to sharply declining sales following the Mustang's debut in April 1964.

The 390 engine was re-engineered for 1966 with new heads and intake manifolds, a combination that made it both more powerful and more economical. In the 335-horse GT and GTA version, Ford went even further: high-lift cam with different valve timing, larger Holley carburetor (600-cfm versus a 446-cfm Ford carb in the 315-bhp engine), and low-restriction air cleaner, which together provided the extra 20 horses over the Thunderbird's four-barrel 390.

In the GT, this engine was coupled with a three-speed manual transmission, optional four-speed, or Sport Shift Cruise-O-Matic. With the last, the GT became a GTA. Sport Shift, which was available only on the GT in 1966, featured an automatic over-ride control.

According to Ford, this let the driver have "the fun of conventional 1-2-3 manual shifting or the ease of a completely automatic transmission. To go manual, move selector lever to '1' (low) and upshift through '2' (2nd) and into 'D' (Drive). To go automatic, just shift into 'D' and forget it!" In the typically sexist talk of the day Sport Shift was described as "two transmissions in one...a manual for 'him' and an automatic for 'her'..."

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Feedback for the Ford Fairlane

Some early feedback for the Ford Fairlane was positive. Motor Trend liked the Ford Fairlane Sport Shift, saying it "definitely belongs in the better-mousetrap category."

ford fairlane GTA
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
A GT with SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic became a GTA, and received appropriate badging on the front fenders.

On the other hand, John Smith, in Super '60s Fords, commented that "The only new thing about the transmission was the advertising! It employed the same shift quadrant pattern as on the previous Galaxie, and had been available as a 'floor shift' all the way back to the 1962 Galaxie 500/XL models." Dual-range Cruise-O-Matic had first appeared in 1958.

GTs and GTAs were easily identified by their black-out grille and hood "louvers." On the bodysides were three vinyl stripes just above the rocker panels. Upon closer inspection, one could find GT or GTA identification at the center of the grille, front fender plaques mounted within the stripes, and a badge on the right side of the rear deck on a distinctive chrome panel placed between the taillights.

The chromed hood indentations, or louvers, carried the engine's displacement in red numerals. At the end of the rear fenders, the word Fairlane was spelled out in individual chrome letters. Lesser models had their letters attached with a chrome line under them, same as on the full-size Fords.

Inside, bucket seats were standard. A GT badge crowned the front of the console, beneath the dash. It featured a storage compartment and attractive brushed stainless trim. Doors also carried stylish GT identification. As exclusive as the console setup looked, it was shared with the 500/XLs, which were very similar to the GTs except for the engine. Both GT and 500/XL models sported red and white lights built into the door arm rests.

Full wheel covers were standard, and the engine came with a viscous drive fan and the chrome dress-up kit. Other special GT and GTA features included 120 pounds of insulation and sound deadening material, wide rims, larger tires, and a heavy-duty suspension highlighted by a stabilizer bar.

Of course, this made the car heavier: about 400 pounds more than a Fairlane 500 hardtop with a 390. Little wonder the GT/GTA wasn't the best choice for racing.

Motor Trend's 0-60 time with a GTA hardtop was 6.8 seconds. The standing quarter-mile came in at 15.2 seconds and 92 mph. It all looked great on paper, especially when MT's test of a Pontiac Tempest GTO with a four-speed stick showed no better figures. One GT ad carried the headline "How to Cook a Tiger," offering "An original Ford recipe that may be tasted at your Ford Dealers...Remember-it's a very hot dish!"

In reality, it was the GTO that cooked the GTA as Car Life proved in a two-car comparison. In fact, nearly all the GM and Chrysler super sport cars were just a bit faster than the GT and GTA, especially the Plymouth Belvedere and Dodge Coronet and Charger with the 425-horsepower 426 Hemi V-8.

The Pontiac GTO had a 389-cid V-8 rated at the same 335 bhp as the Fairlane GT, but at 5,000 rpm as opposed to the Fairlane GT's 4,800. With Tri-Power (triple two-barrel carbs), the GTO was rated at 360 bhp at 5,200 rpm. This could be boosted even further with a dealer-installed fresh air intake system.

Meanwhile, the Chevelle SS 396 was rated at up to 375 bhp and the Olds 4-4-2 boasted a 350-bhp, 400-cid power-plant, while the Buick Skylark GS had a 401 rated at 325 horses, but this was later bumped to 340. Within the Ford family, Mercury trotted out the Comet Cyclone GT with the same 335-bhp 390.

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NASCAR and the Ford Fairlane

NASCAR and the Ford Fairlane made a good pair in the mid-1960s. For 1966, Ford Fairlane GT and GTA production came in at 33,015 hardtops with a base price of $2,843 and 4,327 convertibles starting at $3,068. It was the competition, especially from the GTO (96,946 built) and Cyclone (24,164 built), that kept sales down.

ford fairlane 500 red
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
With 75,947 built, the Fairlane 500 hardtop, here in Emberglo, was the most popular model in the 1966 Fairlane lineup.

Overall, the 1966 Fairlane fared extremely well: 317,274 were produced, second only to the 343,887 sold in 1963, and an impressive 42 percent higher than in 1965. The new GTs proved quite popular within their own sphere, outselling the tamer, less expensive 500/XLs by nearly 9000 units.

Top seller for the year was the Fairlane 500 hardtop coupe, whose 75,947 sales even beat out the Fairlane 500 four-door sedan's 68,635 units.

Considering the competition, it's easy to understand why GTs were never put on the tracks except for some drag racing. Even there, the Fairlane GTs weren't heavily promoted, though the Comet Cyclone GTs were.

Ford had something else up its sleeve, a run of 57 white Fairlane 500 two-doors with 427 engines. (No GT or GTA was ever equipped with the super hot 427.)

The bodies were purely stock, but the suspension and transmission were beefed up and a fiberglass hood with a built-in scoop was added. These cars were not immediately successful, but by the end of the season the Fairlane proved to have far-reaching application.

It happened this way. Ford backed out of racing at mid-year in a dispute with NASCAR over getting the 427 single-overhead-cam engine legalized. In the case of the Fairlane 427 wedge for drag racing, it was put in the same class as the sohc Mustangs and other experimentals -- where it was completely outclassed.

Still, the Fairlane 427 wedge (not to be confused with the sohc version) had its moments at NASCAR even without factory support. On Labor Day, for example, Fred Lorenzen finished fifth at the Darlington 500 in a 1966 Fairlane.

That same race was won by Darel Dieringer driving a 1966 Mercury Comet, which he had campaigned successfully all season long for Bud Moore. Presumably, both of these cars were powered by the 335-bhp 390.

That same month, Lorenzen, driving a Fairlane 427 for Holman & Moody, took first at the Martinsville, Virginia, 500-lap event. In October, he won again at Rockingham, North Carolina, followed by a Dodge and three more Fairlane 500s.

These victories proved beyond any doubt the superiority of the 427 in the lighter Fairlane body as opposed to the Galaxie 427s. When Ford returned to NASCAR in 1967, and for anybody else who picked a Ford for the tracks, it would be the Fairlane 427 wedge.

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Changes to the Ford Fairlane

For 1967, there were changes to the Ford Fairlane. The narrow/wide/narrow Fairlane GT side stripe motif was carried on the other models in the form of a bright molding rather than vinyl. The grille now sported three vertical crossbars and new split taillights filled the old housings.

ford fairlane 500 hardtop
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Because a vinyl bench seat was standard on the Ford Fairlane 500 hardtop, the 200-horse 289 V-8 was controlled via a "three-on-the-tree" shift lever.

The GTA manual/automatic transmission, now called SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic, was optional on all Fairlanes, even those with a column shift lever. Front disc brakes became standard for GTs, optional on other Fairlanes. Wide-Oval tires were also standard on GTs, optional on all others except wagons.

There were no additions to the GT model lineup, but the Ranchero, which had been a Falcon since 1960, was now moved into the Fairlane line. Probably in an effort to attract more conservative buyers into GTs, the 390 was no longer the standard engine.

The lineup now started with the 200-horse 289, then moved up to a two-barrel version of the 390 with 270 bhp or a four-barrel rated at 320 bhp. The price of the GTs remained about the same as in 1966, $2,839 for the coupe and $3,064 for the convertible, but it cost the buyer an extra $78 or $158 for the 390 depending on whether the two- or four-barrel version was chosen.

GT/GTA identification changed slightly. A crest replaced the round grille identification and rear plaques. Chrome GT or GTA letters replaced the side badges. The chromed indentations on the hood were replaced by twin "power domes" housing the turn signal indicators. When the optional 390 was ordered, chrome numerals were attached to the outside of the domes at the rear.

Facing increasing competition from all the intermediates and given a down year for the industry as well, Fairlane production for 1967 fell to 238,688 units, GT and GTA output slid more than 40 percent to 18,670 hardtops and a mere 2117 convertibles (500/XLs were even rarer: 14,871 hardtops and 1943 ragtops).

Standard references do not list the 1967 Fairlane GT and GTA as having the 335-bhp version of the 390. But Motor Trend claimed it tested one, so a few must have been built. MT preferred the 289 in another Fairlane they had driven, claiming that "power corrupts," even in automobiles.

"As good as it felt, that big engine has other subtle disadvantages besides economy," said MT. "Power steering masks the fact that the 390 adds a hefty chunk of iron over the front end, but it is clear that handling is not the same as the 289. Not terrible, or brutish, or dangerous, just not as good. This manifests itself in the kind of front-end pushing that makes it tricky turning into a narrow street at speed."

MT further commented that it took longer to stop a 390 with front disc brakes than a 289 with drums.

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Legacy of the Ford Fairlane

Once again, the Ford Fairlane GTs did not go to the tracks except for some drag racing. The 427 wedge was most often matched up for racing with the standard Fairlane 500 hardtop body. Ford returned to racing with this combination.

ford fairlane red hardtop
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Flagship of the Fairlane fleet was the GT, like the flashy red hardtop seen here.

By this time, NASCAR had legalized the 427 sohc engine, but Ford chose not to produce it. NASCAR further permitted Galaxie suspension systems for racing Fairlanes, and Ford did take advantage of this new ruling.

The first event of the 1967 NASCAR season, the Motor Trend Riverside 500 in January, was won by Parnelli Jones aboard a Fairlane 500 after four-time Riverside winner Dan Gurney's Comet Cyclone broke a rod. At the Daytona 500 in February, Mario Andretti won in a Fairlane with a special 427 engine while officials looked the other way.

Fred Lorenzen was second in another special Fairlane 427. Both were Holman & Moody cars. Fairlanes won again at the Atlanta 500 in April, with Cale Yarborough taking first, Dick Hutcherson second. At the Atlanta 400 in July, it was four Fairlanes in a row -- Cale Yarborough, followed by Dick Hutcherson, Darel Dieringer, and David Pearson. But Richard Petty, driving a Plymouth, dominated the season.

Things went about the same for the Fairlane in USAC competition. Fairlane winners were Parnelli Jones, Jack Bowsher, A.J. Foyt, and Mario Andretti. They were all at the Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway in Milwaukee on July 9, but Don White in a Dodge Charger emerged as the winner.

Ford unleashed another Fairlane armada on the same track during the Wisconsin State Fair in August. These two events were won by Fairlane drivers Jack Bowsher and Parnelli Jones. Ford Fairlanes took nine of the 23 USAC events that year, which only equalled Don White in a Dodge. He was declared the champion.

The Fairlane score was Jack Bowsher, four wins; Parnelli Jones, three wins; and one win each for Andretti and Foyt. Drag racing relief for the Fairlane came that year when the NHRA expanded Super Stock from one class to five, going from SS/A, the hottest class, down to SS/E. The Fairlane 427 was put into SS/B, where it held its own but wasn't the dominant competitor.

According to the tiger ad, the GT/GTA was "a very hot dish." Maybe it didn't cook any tigers, but with all the trimmings and the manual/automatic transmission, it was a pretty good mousetrap.

Even so, the Fairlane would be completely restyled for 1968, with the top series renamed Torino. Not only would it be slightly bigger, but it would also offer fastback styling -- and see demand rise to a new model-year record of 372,329 units.

Still, the 1966-1967 models have their place in many collectors' hearts because of their clean styling and status as the first of the big-block Fairlanes. In addition, the GTs are far rarer than the GTOs and Mustangs they ran with.

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1966-1967 Ford Fairlane Specifications

Here are 1966-1967 Ford Fairlane specifications.

1966-1967 Ford Fairlane: Engine Choices

typecid
bore x stroke
bhp @ rpm
torque @ rpm
c.r.
carb
years
ohv I-6
200.03.68 x 3.13
120 @ 4,400
190 @ 2,400
9.2:11V1966-1967
ohv V-8
289.04.00 x 2.87
200 @ 4,400
282 @ 2,400
9.3:12V1966-1967
ohv V-8289.0¹4.00 x 2.87271 @ 6,000
312 @ 3,400
10.0:14V1966-1967
ohv V-8390.04.05 x 3.78
265 @ 4,400
401 @ 2,600
9.5:12V1966
ohv V-8390.04.05 x 3.78270 @ 4,400
405 @ 2,600
9.5:12V1967
ohv V-8390.04.05 x 3.78275 @ 4,400
405 @ 2,6009.5:12V1966
ohv V-8390.04.05 x 3.78315 @ 4,600
427 @ 3,20010.5:14V1966-1967
ohv V-8390.0²4.05 x 3.78320 @ 4,800
427 @ 3,200
10.5:14V1967
ohv V-8390.0²4.05 x 3.78335 @ 4,800
427 @ 3,200 10.5:14V1966
ohv V-8427.0³4.23 x 3.78
410 @ 5,600
476 @ 3,400
11.1:14V1966-1967
ohv V-8427.0³4.23 x 3.78425 @ 6,000
480 @ 3,70011.1:12-4V1966-1967

¹Actual installations questionable.

²High-left cam, 600-cfm Holley carb, low-restriction air cleaner.

³"Limited production engines. Available only for special purchase," beginning in late 1966.

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