Though Chevrolet's Bel-Air remains the best-remembered car from 1957, Ford's lower, longer and wider Fairlane was actually the better seller thanks in part to the Skyliner, the world's first production retractable hardtop. For the first time since 1935, Ford outsold Chevy in 1957; the stylish '57 Fairlane with its bevy of options led the way.
The '57 Fairlane boasted a roomier, more comfortable interior easily capable of carrying six adults. The car had a 118-inch wheelbase beneath an enormous 17-foot-long body a little more than 6 feet wide. Thanks to the new lower-profile "cowbelly" frame and offset rear axle, 1957's Fairlanes were 2 to 4 inches shorter than earlier models.
Under The Hood
Though 1957's engines were carryovers from '56, Ford did enough tweaking to provide more power. In addition to the economy Mileage-Maker 223-cubic-inch (ci) V-6 engine, buyers could get a V-8 throwing out anywhere from 190 to 270 horsepower. These powerhouses included the 312ci Thunderbird Special with a four-barrel carb and "supercharged" 300 horsepower V-8s in 500 models, all fed by a Holley four-barrel carburetor.
Ford offered a conventional three-speed manual, Ford-O-Matic auto or three-speed manual OverDrive transmission. Front coil spring suspension and semi-elliptic leaf springs in the rear improved the Fairlane's ride.
Exterior & Interior Style
The '57 Fairlane came in two-door Club Victoria and hardtop Victoria models, along with four-door town sedan, two-door Club sedan, and two convertibles: the Sunliner soft top and the famous retractable-hardtop Skyliner. The 500 series Fairlanes were the upper-crust models.
Chrome side molding ran from beneath the headlights to the middle of the rear-seat window, with a "V" dip halfway across the car, highlighted by a panel of textured anodized gold aluminum. The redesigned chrome grille spanned six rectangular slots wide and five tall, topped off by the new "bull's-eye" hood ornament with the Ford crest just beneath it. The Sweep-Sight curved windshield and large windows with slender frames allowed improved visibility.
The car offered 13 body colors, and the option for a two-tone Fairlane brought almost dizzying possibilities. Ford also offered "sculpted" nylon and vinyl interior with 37 available combinations. The new dashboard had a hooded speedometer curved over the steering column, flanked by fuel and temperature gauges.
A plethora of options available with the Fairlane helped it beat Chevy in sales: Buyers could order accessories such as additional mirrors, backup lights, seat belts, rear door locks, a transistor-powered radio, power windows, a fender-mounted antenna and center-dashboard radio, air-conditioner and heater controls. Also available were creature comforts such as heat, a defroster, ventilated seat cushions and a SelectAire air conditioner.
The retractable-hardtop Skyliner Fairlane, the world's first such production automobile, was an engineering marvel and a hit with buyers. The most expensive Ford offered in 1957, it came with a standard V-8 and had required some additional engineering on Ford's part. The trunk was larger than other Fairlanes in order to accommodate a relatively short roof. Ford sank the spare tire deeper into the trunk, necessitating the relocation of the gas tank, which sat beneath the rear seat.
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