In this installment of the Spotter’s Guide series, we examine two very popular model years in Ford history,1955 and 1956.
The 1955 and 1956 Fords are strikingly similar in appearance, but there are some significant differences as well—especially when we look a little closer. Let’s dig right in.
The easiest way to differentiate the ’55 and ’56 Fords is by their turn/parking lamps—on the ’55 they’re round (but elliptical in ’56, as we shall see). Note the complete lack of side chrome on this Mainline, the stripper trim level in 1955. Interiors on the Mainline were equally spartan, while body styles were limited to the Tudor Sedan, Fordor Sedan, and Tudor Business Sedan.
Next step up the ladder is the Customline series with its single, straight side molding, available in both Tudor and Fordor body styles. Six-cylinder 223 CID I-Block and V8 Y-Block engines of 272 and 292 CID were offered with three-speed standard, overdrive, and Fordomatic transmissions. The wraparound windshield was new at Ford for 1955.
Another handy tell for the ’55 is its distinctive dash, a one-year design. Three big round dials across the center of the dash incorporate the heater controls on the left, the clock on the right, and in the center, the unique ’55 radio with its round tuning selector.
Ford’s station wagon line for ’55 consisted of five models: the two-door Ranch Wagon and Custom Ranch Wagon, the four-door Country Sedans in six and eight-passenger versions, and the top-of-the-line Country Squire, shown here. The faux wood was executed in mahogany-grain Di-Noc film with bolt-on fiberglass moldings.
New for ’55 was the premium Fairlane series, which took its name from Henry Ford’s Dearborn estate, Fair Lane. Body styles included the Victoria two-door hardtop shown here, a two-door Club Sedan, a four-door Town Sedan, and a convertible called the Sunliner. All sported this distinctive checkmark-style stainless side trim.
If you attend many vintage car shows, you could get the impression that Ford built mainly Fairlane Crown Victorias in 1955 and 1956. With their stainless tiara B-pillar trim, these hardtops are that popular today. The Skyliner version with its clear acrylic roof panel (as shown in the illustration leading this feature) is also highly coveted. Compare the windshield height and roofline of this Crown Vic with the standard Victoria hardtop in the previous frame—the standard hardtop is significantly taller.
For comparison, here’s a ’56 Victoria, which shares its lower, sleeker roofline with the ’55 and ’56 Crown Victorias. Note also the totally revised side trim for ’56—continuing the checkmark motif, but with all-new pieces.
Among other features, the elongated turn/parking lamps (in large diecast housings) on this Parklane Station Wagon are an easy tell that this is a ’56. The two-door Parklane was added as a sixth member of the wagon lineup in ’56 to compete with the sporty Chevrolet Nomad.
Another glamorous new style for 1956 was the Fairlane Fordor Victoria, Ford’s first four-door pillarless hardtop. For ’56, Ford also upgraded from 6-volt to 12-volt electrical systems across the car and light truck ranges.
An all-new dash was incorporated in ’56 to accommodate Ford’s Lifeguard Design safety system, which included a dished steering wheel and an optional padded dash covering. Also note the lap belts. Racing-style gauges were nestled directly in front of the driver, while the radio and heater controls were deployed along the bottom of the panel in a traditional horizontal format. Lifeguard Design was not a hit with the public and the program was quietly put to sleep.
Here’s a relatively rare bear today— a Victoria hardtop, but it’s not a Fairlane. This is a Customline, one step down the model heirarchy, with slightly less deluxe side trim and interior appointments. Fordor and Tudor Sedan Mainline models were also offered.
Ford employed a bold color palette in ’55 and ’56. Here’s a ’56 Fairlane Sunliner in flamoyant two-tone with matching interior fabrics.
This ’56 Mainline Fordor Sedan sports an extra strip of chrome trim to accommodate a an optional two-tone paint spear. A Tudor Sedan and Tudor Business Sedan were also offered at the Mainline trim level. In this period, Ford branded its bodies Crestmark products, in seeming imitation of General Motors and its Fisher Body Division.
In 1955 and 1956, a continental spare tire kit was a factory-approved dealer accessory. Note the exhaust outlets that exit through the bumper, a Fairlane feature with considerable nuisance factor—the rear bumper was nearly impossible to clean.
Nearly identical from the rear, ’55 and ’56 Fords do differ slightly in their tail lamp lenses. The ’55 lens is at left, ’56 on the right. -photos courtesy Dennis Carpenter Ford Restoration Parts