Although Buick entered the post-WWII era with their new overhead valve Rocket 88 V8 and Chevrolet with their Powerglide automatic, other automakers reused pre-war tooling to meet the pent-up demand from war time rationing. For Ford, that meant they weren’t able to take on Chevy until 1956 when they brought out the Fairlane Club Sedan, a big two-door family car that had mid-50s power and amenities.
Modern Power of the 1956 Ford Club Sedan
Ford finally replaced the legendary but incredibly outdated flathead V8 in 1955, giving buyers a choice between a 223-cubic-inch (3.3 liter) straight six and a 272-cubic-inch (4.5 liter) Y-block V8. The following year brought the 292-cubic-inch (4.8 liter) V8 from the Thunderbird and by mid-year the 313-cubic-inch (5.1 liter) “Thunderbird Special” engine. Every engine was available with a manual or automatic, but the automatic cars received different engine tuning for higher output. For the Special, that meant a jump from 215 to 225 bhp. Thunderbird Specials could reach 60 mph two seconds faster than the most powerful ’55, easily outrunning production Bel Airs and giving Ford a fighting chance in NASCAR.
Ford Club Sedan Safety – Sales Success or Flop?
Accident research done by Cornell University led Ford to work on and advertise safety features. Stronger door latches and sunken gauges were present on all models, while the “Lifeguard” safety package added a deeply dished steering wheel, lap seat belts, a padded dashboard and a break-away rear view mirror. Sales of the package have long been disputed, and it has been claimed that talk of safety turned off buyers. However, sales were down industry-wide in 1956. Fewer Fords may have been sold, but percentage-wise they were gaining on Chevrolet.
Modern Amenities on the 1956 Ford Club Sedan
Ford licensed an automatic transmission design from Borg-Warner, rebranding it “Ford-O-Matic.” Normally, it used only second and third gear: first was an extremely low ratio only used when the transmission was shifted to “L.” Properly used, the extra gear gave the Ford a crucial edge over Chevy’s two-speed Powerglide in standing starts.
Air conditioning was offered from the factory and used vents built into the top of the dash with most of the equipment located under the hood while most a/c units still took up space between the driver and passenger seats. It would be a couple more years before alternators were introduced, but the new 12-volt electrical system brought a major boost in power and reliability.
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