Sunday, June 26, 2011

High-Performance 1957 Ford Fairlane 500s

A Pair of 1957 Ford Musclecars
Text and Photos by David W. Temple, Historical photos from author's files
By the time the 1957 model year cars hit the pavement, the post-war horsepower race had been well underway. Automobile manufacturers were backing race teams with performance equipment because racing was becoming a popular sport and helping to sell cars. As noted in an article which appeared in the 1958 annual issue of Motorspeed, “If the car wins frequently, there is publicity that follows naturally. That publicity is often better than advertising, so dealers sell more cars.”
By the mid-fifties some in authority began to notice the rising highway death toll. Seeking an issue upon which to capitalize, it did not take long for the politicians to point at the way cars were being made and advertised. Such talk got the attention of the rule-making body of the National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR).
1957 Fairlane 500 Club Sedan with the F-code Y-Block
In April 1957, NASCAR prohibited the use of fuel-injection, multiple carburetion, and supercharging – all of which were in use on the speedways. This action proved too little, too late. Because they wished to avoid the kind of scrutiny the feds were starting to give auto manufacturing, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) banned factory-backed racing the following June. Officially the Big Three complied with this decision; however, Ford was the only one to take it seriously.
A secondary reason for the AMA edict was the tremendous cost involved in staying competitive. The same 1958, Motorspeed article stated this opinion:
“Stock car racing was a highly expensive venture. It diverted the interest of the engineers, the public relations people and the sales executives away from their principle reason for existing – selling automobiles.
“To be kept in its true perspective auto racing should have been one of the sales aids, but it became an all consuming monster.”
 The “all consuming monster” did not go away in spite of the AMA ban. Pontiac basically ignored the ban. Chevy went a bit further by disguising its performance equipment under the banner of “for police use only.” Chrysler Corp. had already dropped out of speedway competition, but continued to be involved with events such as Daytona Speedweeks. Taking the ban seriously, Ford sold all of its equipment to race team Holman-Moody.
340hp superchardged 312
Even without factory involvement in the last part of the race season, the teams racing Ford cars managed 27 Grand National victories. Runner-up, Chevrolet, succeeded in obtaining 18 wins. In USAC competition the supercharger set-up was legal for the entire season and Ralph Moody drove one to victory in four races. Overall, Ford managed 12 USAC wins for ‘57. This season had been the best to date for Ford – greatly exceeding the 14 NASCAR wins of the previous year and the lowly two NASCAR victories achieved in 1955. Ford was on a roll; then the politicians got involved.
Post war hot rods started appearing from FoMoCo for the 1952, model year. Lincoln became involved in the Pan American races at this point and continued through 1954. Ford began competing with its 205hp, Y-block[*], 292 Interceptor-equipped racers in 1955. Pete Depoalo, an ex-race car driver, was hired by Ford to assist in making its cars competition ready. For 1956, Ford provided an enlarged version of the Y-block (sized at 312 cubic inches) with dual four-venturi induction. About this time rumors began circulating that rival Chevrolet might offer a supercharged Corvette. Depoalo recommended that a supercharger be made available for the 312 and hired Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly to drive for Ford. Ford acted on the advice and made a deal with Paxton to supply superchargers. The supercharged 312 became available in January 1957, on any Ford passenger cars (including the Ranchero, Skyliner, and station wagon models).
Factory shop manual for F-code engine
The 312 was offered with a single four-venturi carburetor and 9.7 to 1 compression giving 245hp, as a dual four set-up (and the same compression rating) with 270 or 285hp depending on the cam and heads used, and of course the blown type with 8.6 to 1 compression delivering either 300hp at 4800rpm or 340hp at 5300rpm – again depending upon the cam and heads attached. Any transmission (three-speed manual, three-speed manual with optional overdrive, and the Ford-O-Matic) could be specified with these engines.
To show off the new '57 Fairlane, a blown version lapped the Indianapolis Speedway at an average speed of 117 mph in the Stephen Trophy Trials. Furthermore, for twenty-two days starting September 9, 1956, two Fairlanes were run continuously at 110 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Pit stops lasted an average of 17 seconds. The cars ran day and night until the 28th when the 50,000 mile mark was reached, thus proving the car's superior durability. Prior to this event, the same Fairlanes broke 458 national and international performance records.
Ford advertising banner
The results at the annual Daytona Speedweeks event were impressive, too. The supercharged Fairlane driven by Fran Hernandez finished third with a 130.058 mph Class 7 two-way flying mile speed run. Class 7 was the over 350 cubic-inch displacement category. The 312-powered Ford had to compete with a 392 hemi-equipped Chrysler 300C, a 364 outfitted Buick, and a Dodge with a 354 V-8. The top five results were as follows:
1st
1957 300-C
134.128mph
2nd
1957 Buick
130.766 mph
3rd
1957 Ford
130.058 mph
4th
1957 Dodge
129.753 mph
5th
1957 Buick
129.683 mph

In the Class 7 acceleration, one mile, standing start event the same blown Fairlane managed an average speed of 85.066 mph placing it behind a '57 300C and '57 Mercury (equipped with a 368 cid engine) with average speeds of 86.873 and 85.511 mph respectively.
A twin-carb 312 Fairlane driven by Bud Wilcox placed fifth in Class 6 competition.  The top five finishers were as indicated:
1st
1957 Pontiac
131.747 mph
2nd
1957 Pontiac
131.531 mph
3rd
1957 Pontiac
128.434 mph
4th
1957 Plymouth
126.205 mph
5th
1957 Ford
125.239 mph

The charged-up Fords proved to be just as fast as the "fuelie" Chevrolets.  Both were capable of 130 mph top speeds. The Fords seemed to have the advantage on the fast speedways while the Chevy did better of the short tracks.
A '57 Ford at Daytona Speedweeks
A road test performed on a 245hp, four-door sedan Fairlane 500 and reported on in the January 1957, issue of Hot Rod showed the car to be a relatively good handling vehicle. Pushing the car into some serious turns at 55 mph at “near-full power in the Ford’s intermediate gear” resulted in the car going “around as if on rails.” At 60 mph chassis roll “reached its limit” and at 70 mph “the car rounded the turn ‘way wide despite the fact the front wheels were fully cramped into the turn.” The article referred to the improved (compared to 1956) front ball joint suspension, the more rigid one piece upper and lower A-arms, and improved weight distribution. Their tests did reveal faults in the Fairlane, though. Changing the sway bar from the standard 5/8 inch type to the 11/16 inch version used on station wagons or to a 3/4 inch bar was recommended. Also, stiffer shocks and torque dividing differential were mentioned as other desirable features to add to the chassis.
In analyzing the steering the same article stated, “It is both light and accurate ... but the overall steering ratio of 27 to 1 is entirely too slow for quick and easy-made corrections.” The report noted the Ford-Bendix power steering unit had “a reassuring feel” and “is responsive though slow, and continues as one of the very best power steering units available.”
Braking was evaluated and considered to be good during normal operation, but when things became livelier, brake fade took place “sooner than expected”. The brake system was carried over from ‘56.
The final observation in the Hot Rod report was, “Mechanically, the ‘57 Ford is a very sound automobile. It isn’t without faults, but it contains a minimum of bad ones and most of these were due to compromises made for the sake of styling. It performs well, is quite roadworthy and driving it can be a real ball ... I’ll bet they’ll sell a jillion of ‘em.”
Production amounted to 1,653,068 units which was good enough to edge out Chevrolet. Of those, 39,843 were the Fairlane 500 two-door Club Sedan model like the examples illustrated here. Production breakdown for the 2x4 barrel (E-code engine) and supercharged (F-code engine) equipped cars is not available. Interestingly, though, is the fact NASCAR rules of the day required an automaker to advertise the engine and have a minimum of 100 units delivered to dealers by January 1, 1957. Additionally, 1,500 units had to be scheduled for production by January 15. A total of 208 Thunderbirds were assembled with the F-code engine. If this figure is included with the 1,500 required units, then 1,292 full-size, supercharged Fords were needed to meet NASCAR rules. The NASCAR ban in April along with the AMA agreement in June certainly precluded such a production total. In fact, the actual figure probably did not come anywhere near 1,292. Most likely only a few hundred were built. The same would apply to the E-code engine, although they were probably more common due to the lower cost of the option.
A 270hp E-code 312 Y-Block powers the Flame Red and Raven Black car.
Styling of the ‘57 full-size Fords received influence from the Ford Mystere show car which was completed in late 1954. The hood and scalloped front fender design was taken virtually unaltered from the unique show vehicle. The Mystere’s large round tail lamps appeared in subdued fashion as well.
The two Fairlane 500 Club Sedans pictured belong to Z. T. Parker of Henderson, Texas. The Inca Gold and Raven Black F-code Ford (minus its engine and transmission) was discovered in nearby Jacksonville in the mid-80s. Other than through the “F” in the serial number, Parker was able to authenticate his find by the three-inch wide brake shoes (as compared with the standard 2 ½ -inch shoes), the larger axle retaining bolts, and the assembly plant code for Dearborn. All of the F-code cars were built at this plant.  Both the 300 and 340hp cars shared the same engine code.
Fortunately, the lack of the powerplant did not present a problem for Parker. Z.T. drag raced a Ranch Wagon equipped with a transplanted 340hp 312 back in the '60s.  After his drag racing days ended in 1971, he removed the engine and placed it in storage. Over the years Parker manually rotated the crank and supercharger once a month to prevent seizure of the internals. Even so, he opened the engine during the restoration just to be sure everything was in top form. New bearings and rings made certain of this.
The date codes (August) on both the block and the car’s data plate match, leading Z.T. to suspect the engine is probably back in the car from which it originally came. Further supporting his suspicion are the facts that August was the last month of production for the supercharged engine and very few of these cars made their way into Parker’s area.
Turbine wheel covers were optional.
Parker and friend, Al Richards handled every aspect of the restoration except for paint, upholstery, and replating the chrome. The effort consumed nearly three years. Z.T. drives the car to nearby shows, but has logged only a few hundred miles in it since 1986. Parker says that with the stock 290-degree cam, “It doesn’t idle very smooth. It’s not a smooth performer at low speeds either, so it by no means could qualify as a daily driver. This type of engine is designed to run best when wide open which isn’t practical around town.”
Later in 1990, Z.T. received a call that led to the acquisition of the E-code Fairlane. The call originated from an Alabama resident who had seen an earlier article on Mr. Parker's supercharged car in a musclecar publication. The man explained he had ordered the twin four-barrel Fairlane in 1957, and although it now needed a total restoration, it was complete and most importantly, for sale. A purchase agreement was achieved shortly afterwards and Z.T. soon hauled the rare 270hp sedan back to Henderson.
Inspection of the data plate revealed an "S" for the paint code. Research revealed the code designated special order paint. The Flame Red and Raven Black two-tone scheme proved to be original, but was reversed from what would commonly be found. In other words, the sides and roof would customarily be black and the hood, fender tops, and rear deck, red. As you can see just the opposite is true here.
As was the case with the other Ford, the 270hp car was nearly rust-free. Light rust had infected the front floor pans; only sandblasting was necessary to remedy this problem. This time Al Richards performed the paint application. The body-off-frame restoration concluded in early 1995.
Mr. Parker says that the E-code engines had a tendency to backfire through the carbs leading to a fire. He experienced this first-hand shortly before taking the car to its first show. Luckily, the fire was snuffed out quickly and only some paint on the air cleaner received damage.
Both cars are identically optioned with two-tone paint, three-speed manual transmission, heater, whitewall tires, turbine style wheel covers, and AM radio.
The E- and F-code Fords of 1957 represent some of the first serious musclecars produced in the United States and are also significant because they ultimately led to the big block-powered Fords of the '60s.


[*] One persistent myth about the Y-block is that its cross-section provided strength to the main bearings. Actually it gave strength to the transmission mounting points – an area of weakness with the Flathead.

6 comments:

  1. It was absolutely a muscle car. First race and it emerged 3rd! Quite commendable. But why wouldn't they adjust the steering wheel for faster navigation so that it would move at a higher speed? Those wheels are amazing. And the covers too give it an elegant look. I can imagine how they look like while the vehicle is in motion.

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  2. The steering probably was not adjusted for racing at that time because the technology of steering geometry was simply not as advanced as it is today.

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  3. Oh yeah. technology has evolved now. Do you still write? I love the research you do and would love to learn more from your articles.

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  4. Thanks for your comments. Yes, I still write for magazines. I just have not posted much on the blogs for a while.

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  5. Very interesting blog. I own the only known survivor of the Bonneville endurance run. It is also yellow and black.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I did not know any of them still existed. Just performed a Google search... I presume this is your car... http://www.russoandsteele.com/collector-car/1957-Ford-Fairlane-Club-500/50132

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