1962 Ford Fairlane or 1957 Imperial: Which Heartless Hulk Would You Find An Engine For?

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It’s our fourth day of project cars, and today we’re going to look at a pair of diamonds-in-the-rough that are both missing one crucial element: the engine — the beating heart of the machine. But before we kick the dry-rotted tires on these two, we need to settle up yesterday’s results:

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Wow. I thought you all had more intestinal fortitude than that. C’mon, where’s your sense of adventure? Where’s that can-do spirit? Oh well, suit yourselves. If I throw out the chicken vote, it looks like the Range Rover takes the win, so it will move on to Friday’s bacchanalia of bad ideas.

Today you’ll need a good deal more gumption than that to make a choice. Today, you will need to take the most critical part of some other car and put it into one of these cars to make it complete. On this day we must choose an old car upon which to bestow new life. From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of… well, anyway. [Editor’s note: This is William Shakespeare’s St Crispin’s Day speech. I’m not sure how it’s relevant here, but let’s let Mark be Mark. -DT]. Let’s take a look at the cars.

1957 Imperial – $2,300

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Drivetrain: Torqueflite 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Wenatchee, WA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Nope

First, you’ll notice that the ad says “Chrysler Imperial,” but that’s not quite right. In 1957, Chrysler Corporation had five divisions: Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler, and Imperial, which was split off from Chrysler as a separate marque two years earlier. So it’s a Chrysler, but it’s not a Chrysler, if that makes sense. This would have been the flagship of Chrysler’s lineup, designed to go head-to-head with Cadillac and Lincoln.

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And let’s talk about that design for just a minute, because, well, look at this thing. It was created by automotive design demigod Virgil Exner as the crowning jewel of Chrysler’s “Forward Look” design philosophy. Exner gave a unique but familial look to each division’s cars, always pushing for longer, lower, wider, more futuristic shapes. His designs had style, weight, and unmatched presence.

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And OK, yes, one of the Forward Look cars got all possessive of its owner and turned into a homicidal maniac, but that was Stephen King’s fault, not Virgil Exner’s.

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This particular car is missing its signature 392 cubic inch “FirePower” Hemi V8, but the rest of it looks remarkably good. You’d have to look underneath to be sure, but it doesn’t look rusty at all, which makes sense for a high desert car. It also looks complete in terms of trim pieces, which is important, because where the hell are you going to find them otherwise? My personal choice for bringing this beast back to life would be a modern Chrysler Hemi, preferably in the correct 392 size, but the push-button controls for the Torqueflite automatic would have to stay.

1962 Ford Fairlane – $1,500

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Drivetrain: none at all except the rear axle

Location: Garden Grove, CA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Um… how hard can your friends push?

For something a little plainer, cheaper, and a few years newer, we have this Ford Fairlane, which also seems to be listed incorrectly. The seller calls it a ’61 with a ’62 front clip, but looking at photos of dashboards of both years leads me to think this is all ’62, so that’s how I listed it.

The Fairlane was Ford’s midsized bread-and-butter car, slotting into the lineup between the compact Falcon and the larger Galaxie. It would have originally had either an inline six or Ford’s then-new Windsor V8, dubbed the “Challenger” at the time, and in this car it looks like there would have been a two-speed Ford-O-Matic (love that name) automatic transmission.

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This Fairlane has had a lot of body work done already, which for someone like me who hates sanding and filling is a big plus. I’ll turn wrenches all day, but don’t make me fix dents and rust. The interior needs some help, but plenty of reproduction parts companies stand ready to take your money in exchange for new door cards and seat upholstery. And it looks like a lot of the exterior trim pieces are in the trunk, waiting until the final paint job is done.

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Between the primer and the complete lack of a drivetrain, this car is a blank canvas. It’s not anything special or rare (which cannot be said of the Imperial) so you can build it pretty much however you want. Drop in a nice junkyard 302 and a C4 automatic, fix up the interior, give it a nice coat of paint, and it’d be a good summer cruiser. Or go hog-wild with the power and turn it into a vintage dragstrip beast.

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Obviously, these are both serious projects, but both have the potential for greatness. Which one is a more worthy starting point for that hero’s journey is up to you. And please do comment any grand plans you might have for either of them.

QuizWiz

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89 Responses

  1. Imperial for me. Drop it a couple of inches, paint it black or dark charcoal, meaty tires in the rear, hellcat motor…….I think it would be pretty awesome. Might have to extend my driveway a few feet so I could park it though.

  2. The Imperial would make a great low rider with a Gen 3 Hemi and 8-speed under the hood.

    The Fairlane would make a great gasser with a Kinsler-injected old Ford something under the hood.

    Thinking…

    Can I have both?

  3. The Ford. If I remember correctly the Imperials all had a unique Bendix brake system that was more similar to the kind used on aircraft landing gear than passenger vehicles. So be prepared to either swap out the front spindles for a normal disc brake system or spend a lot of time chasing down parts, talking to machinists and buying decaying repair manuals off of eBay.

    Also they were always uglier than the Lincoln’s and Caddies. When the only thing a car is remembered for is being a demolition derby champ that’s only sort of a compliment. To be fair the Fairlane shares a name with a shitty Andrew Dice Clay movie but barely anyone remembers that so it shouldn’t count against it.

  4. 1957 Imperial all the way, very unique and beautiful car, always loved the trunk design on those, I mean, it’s not a Diesel 1982 Oldsmobile Nintey-Eight but it’s still pretty cool, I think the wife might approve of this one. Hmmm, maybe someone I could take the Diesel engine out of the 1982 Oldsmobile Nintey-Eight and manage to get it to fit in the Imperial, now that would be interesting!

  5. I am restoring a 1962 Ford Fairlane sports coupe 500 which i dearly love. It has bucket seats and a chrome console in the middle of those bucket seats. It will have a 302 in it and i look forward to driving it a lot. So i guess i am prejudice to Ford Fairlane. It is race red which is a beautiful color.

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