Why Didn’t Ford Offer the 3 Two-barrel Manifold on the Fairlane GT

Available on the 1961-62 390 and 406 CID Performance FE V-8s and the 1963 Thunderbird M-Code 390,
the manifold was readily available as a “bolt on” upgrade for the Fairlane GT, but it never appeared.

Why Didn’t Ford Pull the Trigger and Offer Performance Options on the 1966-67 Ford Fairlane GT?

Funny thing about Ford back in the early mid-size muscle days – they just couldn’t commit. Sure, they stretched the body and moved the shock towers to fit the FE big block in the mid-size car, but when it came to that engine, they hedged.  Sure, the 390 was right size in cubic inches, and certainly they had plenty of experience with the FE in power production – from the 401 HP to the 427 CID 425 HP monster.

But when it came right down to it, they used none of that know-how with the 1966-67 Fairlane GT. They basically put a hotter camshaft in the passenger 390 you could find in a big car station wagon and left it at that. No special heads (and they had plenty)  no multiple carbs, no ram air, nothing.

If this were 1964 or even 1965, when the battle lines weren’t yet drawn, okay, then you could understand it. But by 1966, everyone with skin in the game had it figured it out.  Hell, MOPAR released the Street Hemi with dual quads that year (remember, full size Plymouths and Dodges that year were actually mid-size cars), and Pontiac and Oldsmobile had ram air and three deuces.  But Ford seemed to stumble into the gunfight with a knife.

On paper, the GT compared to the GM mid-size muscle – with the standard setup – but after that . . . .

    • Let’s Compare the Specs of the main players:
    • Buick: 1) 401 CID and 325 HP
    • Chevrolet: 1) 396 CID and 325 HP 2) 396 CID and 350 HP 3) 396 CID and 375 HP
    • Dodge/Plymouth: 1) 383 CID and 325 HP 2) 440 CID and 350 HP  3) 426 CID and 425 HP.
    • Oldsmobile: 1) 400 CID and 350 HP 2) 400 CID and 360 HP
    • Pontiac 1) 389 CID and 335 HP 2) 389 CID and 360 HP
    • Versus Ford: 390 CID and 335 HP


Throw away Buick. They were waiting for the totally new V-8 in 1967. But look at the rest. Every single one had an optional “power pack”.  Forget the end-of-year 1966 427 Fairlanes, if you know your history, there were just over 50 made, and while they appeared to be drag packages – they were primarily to homologate the 427 for NASCAR to race against the MOPARs.

And the 390 that was in the Fairlane GT, in’67, Ford did something else – they re-rated the 390 down to 320 HP with the same configuration as 1966.  This, while the others either increased their HP or offered more engine options. And once again, discount the 427 offered in 1967 in the Fairlane – it was very de-tuned with a hydraulic camshaft, and was a hugely expensive option, at almost $800 ($7,500 in today’s money).

To me- and I lived it, I’m an old codger, and a Ford fan at the time – most everyone looked elsewhere when it came to mid- size muscle.  What was Ford thinking? Maybe they weren’t – maybe they didn’t understand the market, maybe they were happy enough to sell 37,000 GTs in 1966 and a mere 20,000 in 1967.  Maybe they just felt they had to be in that market and were grudgingly there  . . .  or maybe . . .  They had an internal policy that mucked up their mid-size muscle program.

Before we talk about that, let’s talk about what they could have easily done – as they finally learned in 1968 with the Cobra Jet. (Remember, if Tasca Ford and Hot Rod Magazine don’t go on a campaign for the 428 Police option in the Mustang and Fairlane . . . it might never have happened).

So, let’s step back – it wasn’t that they would have had to “invent” anything as they realized later with the Cobra Jet, Ford tons of speed parts available to bolt on the 390 in 1966 – cylinder heads from the 406-427 – camshafts from the racing program – intake manifolds like the triple deuces from the 401 and 406 HP program (and from the 1963 T-bird!) – all was “on the shelf”

So, why? Why didn’t they do it? We could argue that they didn’t understand the market, but that’s baloney – see this 1966 Ford GT/GTA ad. They did. And if the parts to make car existed, why didn’t they offer them?  The answer is simple – Ford was only interested in racing in those years. NASCAR, Le mans, even assisting Shelby with the Cobra and the GT 350.  They were still stuck in “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” and completely missed the impact of muscle cars on youth sales. Let’s face it, they hadn’t even figured it out by 1968 – the Cobra Jet wasn’t even their idea.

So what could they have done back in 1966? What many street racers did – go down to the dealer and bolt on some performance. Discounting  the 428 CID, which even in police Interceptor form was quite potent (and the basis of the Cobra Jet), there was plenty of on the shelf parts that should have been optional  on the Fairlane GT. Here’s what I would have done:

    • Ford three 2-barrel manifold (as on the 1961-62 390 and 406 CID performance engine and available as an option on the T-bird in 1963). C3AZ-9424-D or C3SZ-9424-A
    • Ford 406/427 “Low Riser” A C3AE-D cylinder heads (1966-67 GT heads had a unique exhaust manifold bolt pattern, but that was easily overcome).
    • Ford C8AX-6250-C Camshaft 282/296 degrees duration, 58 degrees overlap, 0.500” lift.

My educated guess is that this combo would have been good for around 370 street HP, more than enough to challenge GTO  – but it never happened . . . sad that Ford lover had to wait until 1969 (’68 was a late, limited availability option) for a performance FE to be available for the mid-size car, one year before it was superseded by the 385 block 429.

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