In 1973 I almost bought a 1959 Ford Fairlane Custom 300 as my first car.
After visiting many used car yards I’d narrowed the choice down to the Fairlane oe a 1961 Vauxhall Velox.
My limit was $220.
They were lurking in a dubious lot on Tudor Street in Newcastle.
Both had “FOR SALE $210” signs covering their grimy windscreens.
Make no mistake, both were cheap cars.
As a comparison, a new Holden Kingswood with a few options was $3500.
Yet neither car was cheap when new.
In 1961 the Vauxhall retailed for around £1400 ($2800), compared to a Holden Special at £1170 ($2340).
The’59 Fairlane was a massive £2173 ($4346).
That both, barely a decade old, were selling for around $200, shows how their unfashionable 1960s wrap around windscreen and rear fins significantly reduced their value.
The Fairlane was in reasonable condition.
A test drive showed that the 204 hp/152kW, 332-cu.in/5.4-litre V8 engine did not blow any smoke, the brakes worked and three speed manual gearbox did its job.
No doubt about it, it was a powerful and fast car.
Magazine tests in 1960 reported zero to 100km/h in 12.0 seconds.
But, it was BIG.
At 76 inches/1930mm wide and 208 inches/5283mm long, it occupied a significant slice of the road.
It weighed a hefty 3550 pounds/1610kg.
The combination of these statistics meant the Fairlane’s fuel economy was not a strong point.
I knew I could not afford the petrol, even back then when it was cheap.
And what of the repair costs if there was a problem with the V8?
Buying the Fairlane would have been a fabulously extravagant choice.
But, my wallet ruled my heart.
The Vauxhall it was.
The American Fairlane.
And what a clunker it turned out to be.
A rust bucket, with dangerous handling habits and very little in the way of brakes.
By mid-1974 it was gone, replaced by a 1968 Holden Kingswood.
It will be no surprise to you that I’ve always liked the 1959 Fairlane.
It succeeded the venerable Customline and was offered in three models.
The “cheapest” was the Custom 300 at £2173 ($4346).
Next was the “luxury” Fairlane 500, which retailed for £2200 ($4400) and boasted carpet on the floor.
Top of the range was the Ranch Wagon at £2450 ($4900).
The 5.4 litre “Thunderbird” V8 was standard on all models as was manual transmission.
Automatic transmission, power brakes, power steering, heater/demister and radio were all options.
Most of the parts and panels were built at Ford in Canada and shipped in crates to Ford Australia where they were assembled.
Local content included the wheels, tyres, glass, upholstery and trim.
A Fairlane 500 was the first car to be produced at Ford’s then new factory at Broadmeadows, Victoria.
Compared to the “bat wing” Chevrolet of 1959, the Fairlane’s deeply sculptured sheet metal was considered quite restrained.
The large round tail lights were supposed to resemble jet engine exhausts.
Locally, the size of the car earned it the nickname of “Tank” Fairlane.
For many years it was a derogatory term, but these days it is worn as a badge of honour by those who are lucky enough to own one.
It was the missed opportunity of the Fairlane that motivated me to acquire a 1961 and a 1964 Pontiac when my finances permitted in the early 2000s.
They are another story.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos
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