The year was 1956. Elvis Presley made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, Don Larson pitched the only perfect game in World Series history, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House and Cecil B. DeMille’s classic, “The Ten Commandments”, starring Charlton Heston, was released in the United States.
The years following the Korean conflict were difficult times in the American automobile industry. Kaiser automobiles, operating as Willys Motors since 1953 ceased production in 1955. The Studebaker and Packard companies merged with the last true Packard model produced in 1956. Studebaker continued into 1964 before folding after introducing the Avanti. Nash acquired Hudson in 1954 and formed the American Motors Corporation.
While the smaller companies struggled with obtaining resources and the costs of new tooling for their cars, Chevrolet and Ford continued to battle for supremacy in American automobile sales. Both companies introduced new full-size models in 1955 with Chevrolet’s Bel Air leading the way and Ford countering with the new Fairlane.
Ford’s latest offering was named after Henry Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan estate, Fair Lane. Introduced in 1955, the Fairlane immediately brought Ford into close contention with Chevrolet. The newly restyled Fords were available in three models; Mainline, Customline and Fairlane. The Fairlane was popular with new buyers and with good reason; you could have it in many different styles and color combinations.
The full size Fords were available as a two-door pillared coupe, a four-door town sedan, several station wagons, (the Ranch Wagon and Custom Ranch Wagon two door models and the Country Sedan and Country Squire four door models) the Sunliner convertible and the lower roofline, pillarless Fairlane Victoria and chrome pillared Crown Victoria. The Crown Victoria was also available with a Plexiglas half roof, a stylishly appealing option but one that did not sell well. Production numbers in 1956 show the two door Victoria at 177,735, second only to the four door Town Sedan at 244,672. The Victoria coupes had a curb weight of 3345 pounds and retailed for $2294.00.
Ford sales improved dramatically in 1956 due in part to the efforts of a young salesman named Lee Iacocca, who would become the father of the Ford Mustang and president of the company. Iacocca was instrumental in introducing a new and popular sales program called “56 in 56” where a buyer could put 20% down and pay $56 a month for three years for a new Ford. The public embraced this new sales program and it proved to be a boon to the Ford dealerships.
The 1956 models also featured advancements in engineering as Ford for the first time offered a 12 volt electrical system. The new Fords sported a restyled grill, parking lamps; a bolder side body trim molding and new colors with additional two-tone combinations available. Ford also introduced new safety features for the 1956 model year. Several of these were combined in the “lifeguard safety package”, and included an impact absorbing deep dish steering wheel, improved door latches and a breakaway rearview mirror. Optional equipment included seatbelts, a padded dashboard and padded visors at additional cost.
Debuting in 1956 were two new engine options, a 292 cubic inch V-8 producing 200 horsepower and the “Thunderbird Special”, a 312 cubic inch V-8 with a four barrel carburetor producing 225 horsepower. Both V-8’s came with dual exhausts and chrome exhaust tips. In addition to the new power options, the Fairlane offered distinctive design cues such as headlamp eyebrows and a bold, down swept stainless steel side trim that ran the length of the vehicle leading back to the trademark Fairlane round taillights.
This article’s feature car is a local Philadelphia area car with an astonishing 19,000 original miles, a 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria. The car has the original 312 Thunderbird four-barrel V-8 and a three speed, column shifted manual transmission with power brakes. Its current owner added an NOS power steering package and seatbelts. The car has also been upgraded to radial tires which have made a dramatic improvement in the Fairlane’s handling.
The Fairlane Victoria presents a striking view from any angle. It was the first time Ford had used the Victoria nameplate since 1930, when the Model A had a Victoria body style which was a two-door, four passenger car. The low, pillarless roofline is embellished with a wide stainless steel molding that complements the striking, down swept side molding on the vehicle. Full-sized polished wheel covers, integrated parking lamps and the script Victoria on the doors complete the appealing visual package.
The current owner retired in December 1999 and began a search for a 1956 Ford which was the first car he had owned. In August 2001, he found this car in Hemming’s Motor News. The car was located in Northern Kentucky and after several conversations with its owner he sent an appraiser out to look at it. The appraiser reported back that the car was everything that the owner had represented it as and an agreement was struck over the phone.
The next step was to fly out and look at the car in person. The owner met him at the Cincinnati airport and they drove down to take a look at the car. It was a one family owned car originally purchased by the owner’s grandfather. The grandfather was a farmer and the thought is that the car was purchased new in 1956 as a Sunday driver and the low mileage was a result of the farm truck being used for most of the family’s transportation needs.
When the grandfather passed away the car was parked in a barn and not driven for many years. The grandson took ownership of the Fairlane and decided on a complete restoration which was completed in 1986. It was finished in the correct original two-tone paint scheme, Bermuda blue over Diamond blue. I can tell you firsthand that the paint has held up remarkably well over the years as has the rest of the car’s restoration. The interior and the stainless steel trim are in excellent condition.
This Fairlane has won multiple awards, an AACA National and Senior first place as well as numerous local show awards. The owner is a member of the Historical Car Club of Pennsylvania and the AACA and he takes it to many local shows in the Philadelphia area. If you happen to be out and about at one of the shows this summer and see this striking Fairlane, stop by and say hello, he’ll be happy to talk to you about it.