The 1960s ushered in an era of made-to-order cars, expanded selection and ferocious competition for sales. And the intermediate 1966-?67 Ford Fairlanes were smack in the middle of the action.
Of course, the trend of offering buyers just about anything they want continues to this day. Unlike in the 1950s, you wouldn?t dream of heading to a dealer today to simply see the new Chevrolet, Chrysler or Toyota. You?d have to be much more specific. In fact, by comparison, today?s combinations and permutations are endless.
However, for much of the previous century, until about 1960, buying a car was pretty much an off-the-rack experience. Starting with a one-size-fits-all chassis, you simply chose the number of doors, selected from a few trim and color options and perhaps two or three engine choices. Once the bank approved your loan, you were done.
But with the end of the 1950s came an end to limited selection. The introduction of compact-sized cars such as the Chevrolet Corvair, Plymouth Valiant and Ford Falcon created two tiers of vehicles under the same label. This was quickly followed by intermediate-proportioned cars that were positioned between full-size and compact. Suddenly, the proliferation of models made buying a new car a dizzying, if not daunting proposition.
Selecting an intermediate such as the Ford Fairlane would have appeared to be a good deal for most buyers. The car?s bench seat provided room for six passengers, the trunk was capable of swallowing several week?s worth of groceries, and the available power, trim and comfort options meant you could select as many features as you could afford. Best of all, the Fairlane?s sticker price was hundreds of dollars less than a full-size Ford. No wonder Fairlanes began selling like hotcakes.
The creation of the intermediate also ushered in the birth of the Musclecar era. In 1964, Pontiac stuffed a big V8 into its mid-sized tempest, turning this otherwise docile kitten into a rip-roaring tiger known as the GTO. The marketing frenzy that ensued still reverberates to this day in Detroit. Faster than you could say hemispherical combustion chamber, every North-American automaker began to copy this approach, and most intermediates soon had high-performance options of their own. The reality was these cars never sold particularly well (most buyers still opted for much tamer powertrains), but their racy image was perceived to be critical in the quest for sales, profits and marketshare.
The first of the 1962 and 1964 Ford Fairlane intermediates were judged too small to participate in the burgeoning horsepower wars. Of the five different engine options offered, the most popular were the small-block 221, 260 and 289 cubic-inch V8s. Some ?64 models did wind up with monster 427 cubic-inch motors stuffed inside their relatively tiny engine bays, but these few were used strictly for drag racing and were not generally available to the public.The second-generation 1966 Ford Fairlane, along with the nearly-identical Mercury Comet, considerably upped the intermediate stakes. The smooth styling of these cars bordered on the spectacular, arguably outshining not only the full-size Fords, but also competitors including the Chevrolet Malibu, Plymouth Satellite and Pontiac Le Mans. The Fairlane two-door hardtops, with their smoothly flowing rooflines and uncluttered body panels, were particularly handsome.
The other significant change with these intermediates in 1966 was their size. The Fairlane that was originally a notch above compact was now only slightly smaller than the big Custom and Galaxie models.
Again, model variety and powertrain selection on the Fairlane ran the gamut, and included two and four-doors, coupes and hardtops, wagons and convertibles and even a car-like pickup called the Ranchero. Buyers could order their Fairlanes in bare-bones form, avoiding such frills as an AM radio, cut-pile carpeting, full wheel covers and whitewall tires all the while sticking with the base six-cylinder/three-speed manual transmission combo. At the other end of the scale was the Fairlane 500XL and XL GTs with their full load of features and engines ranging from a 200-horse 289 V8 all the way up to the ground-shaking 427 that produced up to 425 horsepower.
The classic styling of the 1966 and nearly-identical 1967 Fairlane holds up well to this day, and these cars are much in demand by Ford fanatics. The subsequent Fairlane and Torino products that were to follow are nowhere near as attractive or sought-after as collectable intermediates.
In its all-to-brief lifespan, the ?66-?67 Fairlane was both tasteful and elegant in design, and as quick as greased lightning when equipped with the appropriate firepower.
You could say the Fairlane represented automotive custom tailoring at its finest.