Making up for 5 more inches. While the body width grew one inch in 1966, that was still not enough to fit the
FE block without shock tower modification.
FORD FAIRLANE GROWS UP
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It was all about shock towers.
What’s a shock tower and why was this important? Ford, who called themselves “the Total Performance Brand”, was caught napping. On the track, they were going head to head with the Mopar Hemi, on the street, their 427 big car was perceived as the be all end all in stop light performance. But the appearance of the GTO and the rest of the GM brand’s response in 1965 was to put a 400 CID V-8 in a mid size car.
Mid size car? Ford and sister Mercury had put a performing Fairlane 500 XL and Comet Cyclone on the table, and journalists and the public ate them up. They were light, lively and crisp looking, but their source of power was the famous 289 CID V-8 in 225 and 271 HP configurations. When the GTO and later 442, GS 400, and Chevelle 396 appeared in 1965, Ford marketing knew they had a problem – 271 HP versus 335 wasn’t going to cut it with the new mid size muscle crowd.
Why not just shove the Ford 390 V-8 in the car and get on with it? Because those aforementioned “shock towers” in their unit body intruded too far into the engine compartment to fit the big Block “FE” V-8. Ford engineers and the savvy marketing people knew this because of the 1964 Ford Thunderbolt A/FX cars that had campaigned that year had to have the entire front end rebuilt by widening it almost 4″ to fit the FE 427. So in 1965, when all other manufacturers were touting 400+ CID V-8s in their mid size cars (Chrysler Corp had been doing it since 1962). Ford had no answer. Without a major redo of the unit body, Ford was stuck. Yes, the Mustang as selling like hotcakes, but in the mid size market, with Fairlane, not so much – especially when it came to what we now call “muscle”, the Fairlane was simply outclassed.
A new unit body was in the works for 1966, and the word quickly went out: “Move those shock towers!”
The consensus at Ford was that the new Fairlane body had to be able to accommodate the FE block, not just because of the consumer demand for big inches in a mid size car, but because Ford, who was heavily involved in NASCAR, needed the mid size car to be competitive on short tracks and road courses. The extra weight of the full size car was just too much to overcome pulling off the corners versus the Dodge and Plymouth, that were already placed in their mid size car. (As a note, Chrysler Corp had never called their mid size car, that , it was sold as their full size car.) In the 60’s, Ford was heavily involved in racing, having won the NASCAR Championship in 1965, when the Hemi was disallowed. Now the Hemi was back . . .
Hard to believe today, that a racing program and a demand for a mid size muscle car would drive an entire car line redesign, but that happened. Even more so, was that design parameters were set 3 years in advance in those days, meaning the layout of the ’66 Fairlane would have been set back in early 1963, well before the GTO appeared and certainly well before Ford realized that the Hemi would reappear and be in mid sized Mopars.
Unit body cars don’t have a frame to mount a front suspension. In most cases, use a sheet metal tower to house the shock and spring assembly, and Ford had used a McPherson strut approach since the intro of the Ford mid size car in 1962 (utilizing a modified Falcon front end). For all intents and purposes, the entire engine bay becomes the front frame and how and where the “towers” for the shock is placed, affects the design of that entire unit. Since the FE was 5 inches wider than the 289, not only was the shock tower affected, but the steering as well. And while the block was 27 inches wide that does not count the exhaust headers.
If you look at the engine cross sections above, you’ll note that the driver’s side exhaust header is pressed up against the block, to clear the steering and clutch pedal linkage in all applications. The passenger side is more free flowing. Well, in the Fairlane the passenger side would have to do the same, and the engine was offset 1: to the passenger side, to allow clearance. Further, the shock towers were redesigned to move outwards 2 inches, seemingly easy to do except the geometry of how the shock and spring impacts the entire front end is affected because the entire front suspension is only 1 inch wider than the ’65 car. This necessitated a complete redesign and when accomplished, was considered a great feat.
In the 1965 Fairlane, the Shock tower was much more bulky and intruded into the compartment at the bottom as well as being pointed toward the engine at the top. The 1966 version goes straight down and is not pointed saving almost 2″ at the top and 4″ at the bottom. Note that there is less room on the 1966 tower to bolt the shock tower brace to the new towers, as in 1965.
Next, Ford had to consider the impact the additional 100 ft. lbs. of torque that the engine would apply to the entire body, also with out a frame. While Chrysler products had already made those adjustments starting in 1962, and GM’s mid size cars would be a traditional body on frame setup, Ford again was behind. Heavier gauge steel would solve the problem, but this would add weight and change the stamping and assembly process. Ford chose to reinforce the areas where they knew the twisting aspect of the larger engine would impact integrity. While the shock towers were narrower, they were reinforced with an additional sheet metal overlay, doubling the resistance to twisting and other torsional stresses. This overlay can be seen on the passenger shock tower.
All 390 CID cars received the famous Ford 9″ rear axle and the front springs were heavier by about 50 pounds in spring rate. Further, it is said that Ford used the 390 CID in the mid sized car and did not fully allow it’s HP and toque potential, knowing full well that the impact would be twisted bodies or broken pieces. When the famous 427 was fitted, additional sheet metal was welded wherever the engineers felt that torque would weaken the unit body.
Regardless, the installation was a success and over 40,000 people enjoyed the addition of the FE V-8 to their 1966 mid size Ford Fairlane!