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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. As a foreigner, I think both of these are quite cool, because they’re exotic (to me). But the Imperial would be the one I’d go for. Someone mentioned something torquey – so assuming it’s possible, would it make it a good candidate for an electric drivetrain?

    1. I was thinking EV on the Imperial as well, maybe wait to see what Stellantis does for it’s EVs and wait for one to get crashed to get the parts from.

      Now the Ford, a Coyote powered road course type car would be pretty cool for that one!

    1. And for a car like that, you’d want an original powertrain, its a luxury car, and a rare one at that. For the work-a-day Ford, you could throw anything in there from a 300 6 EFI out of a 90s F-150 to a modern Coyote 5.0L or the 351 W that doesn’t belong to, but is currently sitting in, my 1969 F-100 Ranger. The possibilities are endless. I think the Ford gives you more freedom here.

      1. Why be limited to the original powertrain? It’s not a museum piece, it’s an uncommonly lovely old heap in remarkably good shape at a dirt cheap price. Give it a better drivetrain, and drive it. Upgrade the upholstery, give it better lights, have the fun with it that the concours chuckleheads can’t.

  3. The Imperial is begging to be my Goth Car. This is the exact car I want for that. I’ve thought about a 1957 Imperial a lot already!

    I want an outrageously large, overstyled beast of a car to put a custom upholstered Barcalounger style interior into. Paint the car all black, and the chrome red or red chrome. Or green/green chrome. Not sure yet. Maybe even purple.

    Dark windows. Extremely air soft suspension with lowrider pumps. A nice lumpy exhaust note. Top end audio system. Maybe a huge cutout in the hood to see the custom air cleaner shake.

    If I could afford it, it would get a modern 6.2 Mopar, maybe a Hellcat motor. The Hellephant would be too much because it’s not really for going fast, but still an option. If those are all out of budget, an LS is the answer.

    I’d damned sure make something fun to look at. And, to top it all off, I’d put it on 30-inch rims, and live a Goth Donk life every time I rolled it out.

    1. Well, I can’t say I share your taste, but I do admire your style. I have a buddy with a hot-rodded ’66 Cadillac hearse that’s part surf wagon and part Munsters Koach; I’d love to see your vision parked next to his.

  4. I’m not one for classic cars but given the choice, Imperial. The lines are amazing on that car. I wouldn’t even paint it, just clean it up and put a coat of ceramic on it. Do a full resto on the interior though.

    As far as motor, whatever the junkyard has for cheap that will bolt up. The engine isn’t going to have matching numbers anyway and I’d be making a driver out of it.

  5. Easy win for the Fairlane. If I was going to get a Forward-Look Mopar, it’d be either a Belvedere or a Sport Suburban but not the Imperial. For the Fairlane, my mom had a beige Fairlane 500 for her first car so I’d probably try replicating that to some extent.

    1. Did she choose the beige, or did it just happen to be beige, and if given a choice, might she have chosen differently? I mean, my mom once had a ’63 Buick Wildcat convertible, which may not have been the prettiest year, but it was bright red and awesome, so if I were going to get a mom-tribute car I’d be pretty happy hers wasn’t beige and if it was, mom, we’re upgrading you.

      1. She got the Fairlane as a used car, so the color was already chosen. The other car she was looking at at the time was a dark blue Mustang, but it had an I-6 and was a bit too much over what she wanted to spend. That said, the fact that it was beige didn’t bother her too much simply because of how much of a sleeper it was (she still insists it was the 427 Cobra engine, but I’m guessing it was at most the 390). I guess the beige primer of this one reminded me of that but she’d probably want some shade of blue if she was getting another, maybe Guardsman Blue as seen on a number of Shelbys.

  6. The Imperial is not in bad shape, but it’s what we don’t see that has me concerned. The Fairlane gets the vote as the basis for an EV swap, if only for the ubiquity of available interior/other parts.

  7. While I love the looks of the Imperial more, the Fairlane is going to be easier and cheaper to find parts for. Fairlane gets the vote.

    Not sure that I’d go with a modern Hemi for the Imperial though. Need something with massive amounts of torque with no fuss. I’d be tempted to look at what is out there with modern diesel engines.

    1. Not only that, but smaller Ford can result in a much more fun car to drive once it’s done. The Imperial is just going to be a big highway cruiser. With some upgraded suspension parts and brakes, the Fairlane can be made into a fun w/e backroads car that can take a curve without making all passengers seasick.

        1. Number of people that think it’s cool to restore a vehicle that has extra obstacles far exceeds the number of people actually willing to do the work.

          I’m working on a ’65 Suburban; it shares like 80% of it’s parts with a C10 (one of the easiest vehicles to find parts for) and it’s still an expensive PITA.

          I’ve helped restore a ’59 Cadillac. All that “extra return” is just a few people saying, “Cool,” and it sure as hell cost the owner a pretty penny for that little extra “Cool.”

            1. Again, one could always buy a Civic. That Imperial doesn’t appear to need all that much work. Finding a numbers-matching engine (or equivalent) would take more time and $, but not more actual physical labor. There were nearly 300,000 Fairlanes made in 1962. Fewer than 38,000 ’57 Imperials. One of them is a feast for the eyes. The other is an old Ford. One of them would give you a rolling work of art for your investment of time and labor and money. The other would give you a fairly bland-looking old Ford. One of them has groovy innovations that are still interesting, like the spare in the trunklid, and the pushbutton transmission, and the pronounced jet-age fins and taillights. The other has vestigial fins, and is a beige Ford. They both will need some effort and money expended. One of them will be an anonymous old Ford with its bright headlights missing because making it look like a Thunderbolt will the next owner’s only ambition.

              1. Spoken a like a guy that either has deep pockets, or has never worked on something weird before. I’ve got a ’65 Suburban that is basically 90% C10, and finding things like seats is a chore unless you are willing to shell out $1,500 for rusted out seat frames.

  8. Not something I have the skills to do, but I’d love to see someone create an EV conversion out of the Imperial (AMP-erial?). Seems like an ideal candidate with the engine AWOL.

  9. I’ve never seen the gauge cluster of the ’57 Imperial before… and they are fantastic! I like the symmetry of the two large pods, and how on the right pod you have four different gauges coming off the same central axis. It just works so well.

  10. If you’re going to have to a 100% restoration anyway, how can you not choose the Imperial? I mean look at the potential of that thing! That is the car you steal when you’re the lead in a time travel movie back to the late 50’s and you’re hunting Satan.

  11. I have the perfect powertrain sitting in my storage unit for the Fairlane for what I’d have in mind for it, so it gets my vote. I swap in the 4.6/TR3650 I have laying around, paint the car in an early-to-mid-60s Nascar livery, and put the loudest exhaust on it I can get away with and live out my fantasies of roaring around the high banks of Daytona back in the day with the engine roaring at 6000rpm plus.

  12. one of these is in my top 10 wish list, the Imp. but then I looked at the ads. And clicked the Falcon. Only 4 pics of the Imp, and nothing under hood/under body. Having lived both in rust belt and high deserts, it’s so easy to fall in love with the desert bodies only to find a different rot / rodent issue under everything. I’ve helped friends with their restos and this Imp is one that will be unready for years, decades, then probably sold again looking like it looks now., but filled with stuff the ex said to get out of the house or it will be thrown out… just sayin.

  13. Imperial, especially if the floors are solid.
    And while I’m sad the OG 392 hemi and Torqueflite is missing, imagine this with a Gen 3 392 Hemi and a NAG1 5-speed or a Torqueflite 8? I’m sure a little bit of fiddling with an Arduino or something could translate the pushbutton inputs into the electronic signals those new slushboxes would need to shift. That would be a way-cool ride.

  14. I think this comes down to a stylish cruiser versus a potential muscle car resto mod. I think I’d go for the Fairlane and work on a Thunderbolt style build. (I’m not a fan of the hood bulge, so a good 289 would do the trick for me.) I’ve never been much for the 50’s styling unless maybe the wagons. The 1960’s coupes just seem RIGHT to me.

    I’d be tempted to try an EV conversion.

  15. I’m all for the EV Swapped Imperial, especially after what ever Stellantis has planned hits the streets, then something else, just to keep it as close to “all Mopar” as possible. I’d want to clean it up and make it look nice and probably paint it the Jeep Moss Green my late, great ’98 XJ was painted, since these Imperials have the curves for that paint!

  16. Having considered and for various reasons rejected both a ’65 Fairlane convertible and a ’59 LeBaron,\* I’d say it depends on what you want and how far you’re willing to go to get it.

    The Ford could be fun (I once considered a ’65 Fairlane convertible as a project) and would be a lot cheaper and easier to complete with essentially no pressure to restore rather than customize, since the landscape is littered with them. I do wonder why the seller did all that surface prep (at what level of quality, though, given that he sprayed the bumpers instead of having them rechromed) and shaved the door handles and then abandoned the project.

    The Imperial is more in the grand-commission end of restorations, and a lot of parts are near unicorns by now, but they’re just so exemplary of a period in history, and you have something special when you’re done (all the more so because a lot of the Forward Look cars became little more than car-shaped rust outlines on the street a long time ago).

    * It proved to be in the hands of an interesting but plainly at the end of his driving days fellow who added oil to the running engine while we looked at it and got some, perhaps even most, of the quart bottle in the hole. My impression was that, despite his having advertised the car, he may have wanted somebody to talk with more than he wanted to actually sell the thing. Such poignant occasions are part of the old-car hobby…

  17. 62 Fairlane needs a 427 Hi-Riser stroked to 500 + with computer controlled injection stacks, Top Loader trans and a 9″ with a Detroit Locker. Tub it out and cage it.

    Poor mans Thunderbolt

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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?

  22. The Imperial is by far a more beautiful beast, and yet it truly does nothing for me.
    The Fairlane is plain, and a great sleeper candidate. I hear the EV conversation, and it is tempting.
    But
    S#@%box, not pebble beach.
    Fairlane with 300 I6 and reliable C4 backing it up, not Grand, but reasonable. Sorry 😉 not sorry

  23. The Fairlane’s a relative snooze, basically an early Mustang in an uglier suit. Yeah, you can make it drive fast, and the price will be cheaper than any similar-condition Mustang up until the II, but… I’ve already fallen asleep again just thinking about it. It will turn no heads unless you go full Thunderbolt with it, which… I kinda doubt you’re gonna shoehorn a 427 into a ’62.

    The Imperial is style for the rest of your short happy life and this one is dirt cheap for the condition.

  24. There’s a lot of modern HEMI/Hellcat talk here, but honestly, what that Imperial needs is a big honkin’ truck motor. Nothing that revs about 3000RPM. Just a lump with maybe 100HP but 300LB/FT of torques to nudge it along without anybody inside noticing they are moving. It’s a living room after all, or at least bigger than my living room.

    1. I agree. A big block, preferably a 440, would be more fitting for this ride. Putting a modern performance engine in it would be a waste because the car will never handle well enough to adequately deal with that sort of power. It was designed for the highway.

  25. Imperial for sure. Also in total agreement with an EV swap – “Amperial” – A quiet, torquey option would be perfect for that wafting-down-the-road-in-luxury monument to mid-century automotive design.

    I understand the appeal of an easier restoration in the Ford, but it’s more-or-less just a 1962 Camry of the era. Go big or go home.

  26. I love the lines of the imperial, it’s gonna stand out in any parking lot. For drivetrain, I’ve been mildly obsessed with Webb motorworks, electric motors hidden inside a hollowed out v8s, buff out the paint and refresh the interior. Then cruise it.

  27. Like most of the comments, EV conversion on the Imperial would be absolutely brilliant. Think of the genius of it:

    -Rocket age styling made it look like the future in the ’50s, which makes doing something extremely modern very sensible.
    -Since it’s about as large as a mid-priced hotel room, lots of room for batteries.
    -Any no drivetrain car is a great choice for an EV conversion because it’s not like you’re stripping out anything, why not go for something new?
    -It’s a fantastic base for cool paint.
    -It’s very easy to work in the unique original features like the pushbutton transmission, though if you want to make it really kickin’ you’d probably have to do custom gauges which wouldn’t be cheap.
    -As originally designed, it was meant to be a smooth, quiet ride, so EV fits its overall demeanor.
    -Added weight of batteries doesn’t matter because it already weighed about as much as a beached whale.

  28. The Imperial is in so much better shape, it’s the winner by a lot here. I wouldn’t even restore it. I’d clean up the interior, and put some shine juice (linseed oil and mineral spirits) on the exterior. My first thought was a modern hemi, but I like the EV conversion idea that several of y’all threw out there already.

    1. there aren’t enough pics to see if it’s in better shape. I’m staring at the rot under the front seat and thinking: full pan replacement and what’s up with the frame and mounts? Of course, if full frame off resto is the plan, then yes, Imp.

    2. My dad bought a few old Chryslers that had been sitting around when I was a kid. They all had a certain smell to them from the deteriorating carpet and the seat cushions. There’s no amount of carpet and upholstery cleaner that will remove that stench. The interior in the Imperial would definitely rate stripping it down to the bare metal and redoing it.

  29. If the Imperial were a coupe or convertible I would be all in on it. Throw a Hotchkis Suspension under it and give it a EV Heart and it would be awesome. However, it is a sedan. I will have t cast my vote for the Fairlane, drop a Rousch 5.0 SR Heart into it and terrorize the County.

  30. Not a lot of love for the Ford in the comments. All the body work is finished, and its a coupe. Easy choice for me. Find an old cop car and swap the subframe over. Take the cash you didn’t spend on the imperial for a new interior.

  31. I’d have to go with the Ford. Throw a nice period-correct paint job on it, toss in a new interior and newer drivetrain and you’ve got a sweet ride. While it’s a classic it’s not a grail car, so you’re not going to be considered a heretic if you update it with some modern mechanics and technology, as long as you don’t hot glue an iPad onto the dash.

    The Imperial looks like it would indeed be a noble project to take on but from a practical standpoint, it would be a nightmare to actually drive. It’s a true lead sled and maneuvering it around a city would be akin to puttering around a marina in a 60′ yacht.

    Besides, if I was in the market for an Imperial it would be the ’66 and it would be done up like the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty. Of course, that would create the even bigger challenge of finding a super cool Kung Fu master to drive me around in it.

  32. Since I can’t have both, I guess I’ll go with the one I already have the engine for and pick the fairlane. Of course I’m pretty sure I could convince my buddy to sell me one of his Donovan block blown 1st gen hemis but it would cost a pretty penny, and he kind of actually uses them.

  33. I spent a few months last summer working on a similarly painted ’55 Dodge Coronet. Having had the opportunity to drive that beast, I can say with certainty that despite its long and low looks, the Imperial would be a bear to drive. Comfortable maybe, but not a terribly fun car to use, no matter what power plant gets placed between the fenders.

    Therefore, my vote goes to the smaller, lighter, and cheaper Fairlane. Throw a random Ford motor between the frames, and let it rip. 289, 302, 390, 427, really doesn’t matter. Or go full fuel-mizer on it and put a 200ci inline six and a small turbo in it.

  34. I voted for the Fairlane, I’d go full heretic and drop in a Lima 4 with a big turbo and adapt a Tremec 6 speed to it.

    Style wise, I’d throw big plastic fender flares and 15×10 square wheels, full interior refresh with Bride or OMP buckets and sparse but functional, definitely a Broadway rear-view. Live out my JDM Fanboy dreams in the completely wrong car, since I can;t afford the right ones now that I could buy them.

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