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Ford Zephyr MkII
Ford Town Victoria Hardtop, 1957
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

Ford cars of the 1950s - USA

Ford started the 1950s offering value for money, but nevertheless large and spacious automobiles.

Like the other major car makers Ford followed a policy of annual model revisions. They offered a variety of body styles and trim levels to suit different preferences and pockets.

The company facelifted the basic model every year. They launched a brand-new model periodically with a significantly restyled body.

For each model year there was a range of body styles and trim options. For example, the original 1949 Ford was available in Tudor (two-door) or Fordor (four-door) body styles. There was also a more up-market custom trim level.

Ford expanded the range throughout the decade. The top of the range models became more luxurious. All Fords became longer, lower and wider during the 1950s. Ford followed the trend of rocket and space-age styling that was a feature of the 1950s. Their cars, however, were restrained compared to other makes. Huge tail fins were never a feature of Fords.

In 1955 Ford broke with the one-model tradition and introduced a completely new model, the Ford Thunderbird Convertible.

A new body style was launched for Ford's main range of cars in 1952, 1955 and 1957. Each model was offered as two or four door sedans, coupes and convertibles. There was also a hard top option from 1952, called a Victoria. The Victoria had a more stylish roofline than the sedan.

Ford moved trim levels down the range as time went by. Custom was the top level of trim in 1950, it became the base level in 1957. Fairlane was introduced as the top level of trim in 1955, it was supplanted by Galaxie in 1959. This gave buyers the impression that they were trading up, but in fact buying an equivalent model in Ford's newer range.

By the end of the 1950s the terms Tudor and Fordor applied only to the cheaper cars. Ford used the terms Club and Town to represent two and four door models on its more up-market trim levels.

A complete list of Ford cars from the 1950s is:

Ford also owned the brands Lincoln and Mercury. The company launched the misjudged Edsel brand in 1957.

1949 Ford (1949-51)

1949 Ford Club Coupe
1949 Ford Club Coupe
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

The 1949 Ford was a departure from Ford's previous range, which was based on a 1941 design. It had a new body in the modern three box shape known as 'Ponton'. The design was simple and understated.

The 1949 was available in five different body styles:

The Business Coupe only had a front bench seat. The rear seat was omitted for extra storage for salesman's samples.

Trim levels varied over the three years of the 1949 Ford body style.

1949 model year

The original line up was:

All cars were available with either a six-cylinder or a V-8 engine.

1950 model year

Ford Fordor, 1950
Ford Fordor, 1950
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

For the 1950 model year the car got some new brightwork and detailing. The basic spec was now called Deluxe. Models available were:

The Custom Deluxe spec included horn ring, two sun visors, locking glove compartment, extra chrome trim inside and out, cigar lighter, clock and a wide choice of upholstery, including leather seats.

On 9 July 1950 Ford launched the special Ford Crestliner. The Crestliner brought a touch of glamour to the Ford range.

There was a choice of two two-tone paint finishes, red and black or green and black. The roof was covered with black basket weave vinyl. To underline the luxury status of the car the word 'Crestliner' was picked out in gold.

Inside the car was loaded with features not usually fitted to lower-priced cars:

Whilst the Crestliner was not a huge success, it provided the inspiration for the new Crestline and the Victoria hardtop launched in 1952.

1951 model year

Ford Custom Fordor, 1951
Ford Custom Fordor, 1951
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

Ford continued with the 1949 Ford as the basis for the 1951 model year. There were some styling changes, including a new grille. The model line up was the same as for the 1950 model year.

The basic level of trim was still Deluxe. The mid-range cars were now just Custom and the Crestliner topped the range.

This was the last year of the 1949 Ford body. A new body was introduced for the 1952 model year.

1952 Ford (1952-4)

Ford refreshed the range in 1952 with a new style body. The new cars were longer, wider and roomier. For the first time the Fords did not have a split windscreen.

Ford split their range into three distinct 'lines'. Mainline (basic), Customline (mid-range) and Crestline (top of the range).

Crestline represented the best of Ford. There was a coupe, a convertible and a Woody station wagon.

1952 Model year

Ford Country Squire, 1952
Ford Country Squire, 1952
Image by Rex Gray licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

There were station wagons in all ranges, called Ranch Wagon, Country Sedan and Country Squire.

1953 Model year

Ford Mainline Fordor Sedan, 1953
Ford Mainline Fordor Sedan, 1953
Image by JOHN LLOYD licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

There were only detail trim changes for 1953. The line up remained the same as in 1952.

1954 Model year

1954 Ford Crestline Convertible.jpg
1954 Ford Crestline Convertible
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

For 1954 the Crestline was expanded to include a Fordor Sedan and the new Skyliner with a tinted transparent roof panel. Ford also offered six-cylinder engines in the Crestline range for the first time.

1955 Ford (1955-6)

Ford introduced a new body style for 1955. It was once again longer and wider than the previous model. It was also lower, giving the cars a more modern look. A wraparound windshield completed the classic mid-1950s look of these cars.

The range was also updated. Station Wagon was now a line on its own. Mainline was still the basic level of trim, with Customline the mid-level. Crestline was gone and Fairlane was the top trim level.

The name came from Fair Lane, Henry Ford's estate in Dearborn, Michigan.

1955 Model year

Ford Mainline Tudor, 1955
Ford Mainline Tudor, 1955
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

1956 Model year

Ford Fairlane Victoria Hardtop, 1956
Ford Fairlane Victoria Hardtop, 1956
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

Ford gave the 1955 model a cosmetic facelift for 1956. There was a revised grille and new tail lights.

Ford offered a choice of higher power V8 engines for the first time in 1956.

1957 Ford (1957-59)

1957 and 1958 Fords, showing the different tail treatment
1957 and 1958 Fords, showing the different tail treatment
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

The basic Ford body was substantially revised for 1957. It was larger than the outgoing model.

Ford also revised the range again. Custom was now the base level trim and Custom 300 the intermediate level. The Fairlane and the new Fairline 500 had a longer wheelbase than the two lesser cars.

1957 Model year

For 1957 the Skyliner Coupe had a retractable hardtop that folded down into the boot at the push of a button.

1958 Model year

1958 Ford Ranch Wagon
1958 Ford Ranch Wagon
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

The cars got a cosmetic makeover for 1958. All models had twin headlamps and a new grille. The 1958 Fords had a passing resemblance to the 1957 Desoto Firelite, made by rival Chrysler, from the front. Ford though eschewed the huge tail fins of the Desto.

The entry level range was now the Custom 300. The lineup for 1958 was:

1959 Model year

Ford Galaxie Town Victoria, 1959
Ford Galaxie Town Victoria, 1959
Image courtesy of The Ford Heritage Vault

Ford did another makeover for 1959 but fell short of a complete new model. They retained twin-headlamps but the new cars had a grille made up of chrome stars. There were large tail lights which resembled the rear of a jet engine. To complete the space-age theme, a new top level of trim, Galaxie, was introduced.

Despite the makeover Ford, as always, remained conservative compared to the other large volume car makers, GM and Chrysler.

The range for 1959 was:

Read more:

By Steven Braggs, August 2023

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles ★