MCG Car Spotter’s Guide to the 1955 and 1956 Ford

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 

 

 

19 thoughts on “MCG Car Spotter’s Guide to the 1955 and 1956 Ford

  1. My dad had a ’55 Customline Tudor with the base six and three on the tree. He absolutely loved that car and kept it until it had rusted so badly that the headlights were falling off. To my excitement, he replaced it with a Tri-power ’59 Bonneville hardtop with all the bells and whistles. For the next four years, we had to listen to how the Ford was the best car he ever owned and how much he missed it.

    • Salt roads were not kind to these cars. I remember the entire headlamp assembly falling out and you could look straight in the gaping hole at the front tire. In later years (1986-1990) I had a nice (desert car) ’56 Fairlane Club Sedan with 351W drivetrain as daily driver. What a sweetheart — just a nice driving, well-balanced car.

    • I know the feeling. I traded a ’63 Ford Galaxie 500XL convertible for a ’65 Chev Impala SS convertible. The Chevy was crap from day one. I’ve always regretted that move. I kept the Chevrolet less than one year and swapped it off.

    • The 1956 Fords were the most successful facelift ever in the automobile industry. ’56 models looked several times better than ’55 models. they actually looked everything was intended to go together. By the way, the 1960 Buick was maybe the worst ever facelift. How they could sell such an ugly car after building the beautiful ’59 Buick is beyond me.

      • I beg to differ. I’m the very proud owner of a pair of Crown Victorias, 55 a gift fromMy Rebbeca and 56 I bought, both beautiful.I’ve always considered the prettiest cars ever.
        Google search,
        “Chuck’s Triple Crowns”
        The Crown Victoria Association recognizes all
        54,55, and 56 Fords. The Skyliner connects the
        three. My 54 Ford Skyliner is my third Crown.

  2. I don’t recall these 2 year models being as rust prone as the 57’s. In fact there appears to be as many 55’s and 56’s around as 57’s 56 plus years later. My father almost bought a 56 Fairlane 2 dr. hardtop. black with the power pac V8. I was driving but didn’t have my own car yet and being able to use this car was a dream come true. However my Mom talked him out of it and he bought a 55 Buick 4 door hardtop to my disappointment.

  3. I had another experience involving a 55 Crown Victoria I wanted to buy in 1960 after I got out of the service. It was like new with 12000 miles on it and it had everything Ford offered as options. I can’t remember the exact color but it was a dark shade of maroon I think. I had saved a thousand dollars to purchase a car with but the dealer wanted 1500.00 and he wouldn’t budge. I tried to talk my Dad into cosigning a loan for $500.00 but he declined. That ended my Crown Vicky dream so my search continued. The next week I found a 57 Ford convertible, dark gray with a black top. I looked at it late when the Ford Dealer was closed and planned on coming back the next day to see if I could make a deal. The odometer showed 47000 miles and when I got back the next day I walked up to the car and the odometer read 27000 miles. I asked the salesman and he said the 47000 mile car was just sold, sure it was. I then took this 27000 mile one on a test drive and it was junk. Drove terrible, noisy engine and transmission so my search needless to say continued. I wound up purchasing a 55 Mercury Montclair 2 dr hardtop for 995.00 but it also in the year or so I had it gave me lots of mechanical problems. Lesson learned, I should have got the Vicky.

  4. Facelifts are not always successful. In my opion the ’60 Buick was one of the worst facelifts ever conceiveed and ruined a beautiful car. Not so with the ’56 Ford. It was one of the best executed facelifts ever. It was so much more refined than the ’55 and looked like everything was designed to go together. The same goes for the ’54 Chevrolet; the ’53 never looked right but the ’54 was a beautiful car with a more attractive grille and nicer tail lights. The ’56 Buick was also a great facelift. The ’62 Buick was a flop in my eyes after the ’61.
    t

    • I agree the 60 Buick was not an improvement. It looked bulky and awkward next to the sleek 59. Another bad facelift I consider equally as bad if not worse was the 58 Ford especially the Fairlane’s. The grill, the out of proportion stuck on side trim and the quad tail lights that did nothing but clutter up the rear end of this car and ruined a good looking car. All Ford had to do was put in a pair of dual quad headlights, change the texture of the grill, not the shape just the insert and possibly change the bumpers somewhat and the tail light lenses.

  5. Here in Oz we got slightly different versions of these cars, all badged Customline. All 4 door post. Or Mainline for the utes. I believe the 6 was available but I have never seen one, all 272 except for 57 which had both 272 and 292. There was a few wagons but they were imported. Trim and equipment differed quite a lot I feel. And yes they were rustbuckets and few have survived though they are an attractive car that drove well too. Often nicknamed lead sled as they were quite heavy and not that powerfull. Great towcar but lousy racecar!

  6. I currently own a 1956 Ford six passenger Country Sedan in Fiesta Red and Colonial White. It is a beautiful car and I am very proud of it, but it kind of steams me when people refer to it as a “Nomad”.

  7. My father in law had a 56 Parklane wagon and that model was actually brought out to compete with the Nomad. People are confusing your car with the Parklane. If you recall the Parklane even had the convertible seat in the rear with the center trim and Ford crest.

  8. When I was a little kid in the ’60’s, I started buying the occasional issue of Hot Rod or other car magazines. An issue of Popular Hot Rodding had a how-to feature on grafting ’63 Riviera headlamp covers on the fenders. Even at 9-10 years old, I thought that was really cool!

    I wonder where that Ford is today…..?

  9. Really interesting and clearly presented, thanks for the history lesson. I think that 1955/1956 were the years Fords and Chevys most resembled each other.

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