1962 Ford Galaxie 500XL Thunderbird Special 406
You’ve Gotta Read the Fine Print
By JOHN MATRAS
IN THE EARLY 1960s, YOU HAD TO read the fine print to know whether that red Galaxie stopped in the next lane was powered by, say, a 223-cubic-inch inline-six, or if it was the fire-breathing V8-powered Galaxie 500. Or by reading the three-inch-tall numerals on the Thunderbird- and-crossed-flags badge whether it had the new Ford 406-cubic-inch eight. You might notice the basso rumble, of course, but still there was no way to know whether it had the Holley four-barrel and 385 hp, or if it was the Thunderbird Special 406 with three Holley two-barrels and a whopping 405 horses. That is at least until the light turned green.
Which is what the big triple-carbed engine was there for: blistering, straight-line acceleration. Now, Ford’s 390 V8 was impressive when it debuted in late 1960, but after Chevrolet, Pontiac and Dodge responded with 400-plus-inch engines, Fords suffered in the Super/Stock drag class. The 406 was Ford’s response.
It wasn’t a big change from the 390, just a 0.080-inch-larger bore, with thicker walls in the engine block casting. Compression went from 10.6:1 to 10.9, exhaust valves got slightly larger, and to take the extra stress, piston and connecting rods were strengthened. Carbs and camshaft, crank and the dual exhaust stayed the same.
The three-carburetor setup had become available as a dealer-installed option in 1961. New was the Warner four-speed manual transmission, originally developed for General Motors, replacing a three-speed manual of the prior year.
These seemingly minor changes made a big difference in factory-made performance. The ’61 390 four-barrel was rated at 375 hp. The three-carb 406 raised that to the 405-hp figure. Ford would stuff this monster into any Galaxie but the station wagon, starting with the base-trim model. Even the convertible took the 406; they still went topless in NASCAR in ’62, though the four-barrel was the engine of choice for roundy-rounds. Drag racers opted for the three Holleys.
For 1962 the NHRA came up with new classes that allowed bigger engines than stock in smaller chassis, the “factory experimental,” or FX. These overshadow-ed the S/S class, for which the standard-bodied Galaxie 406 three-carb was built. Worse, though the 406 was competitive in the class, it lost manual-transmission honors in 1962 to Chevrolet and the automatic-transmission title to the Dodge Dart.
The Galaxie 406 was still a daunting machine for the street. In the era before big engines in midsized chassis, heralded by Pontiac’s GTO, it was the quickest way to go short of a sports car. Quarter-mile test times ran from Hot Rod’s 15 seconds flat to Motor Trend’s 15.6 on a green engine.
An XL, denoting sporty, top-of-the- line trim offered from midyear, included vinyl buckets, a chromed-and-ribbed metal plate around the floor shift and a vinyl-covered console. Puddle and warning lights were added to the door panels, and it got XL badges. One convertible XL equipped with the 406, three carbs and a four-speed was sold in Pennsylvania’s coal country, and it spent a few years with the current owner’s brother. Joseph Forish has owned it for the 36 years since.
Forish calls the car “a survivor of Dead Man’s Curve,” referring to the illicit racing venue near his McAdoo, Pennsylvania, home that gave it its name. Forish confesses to being one of the bigger dogs in that fight, and no wonder. Even today the Galaxie rumbles, though with no tach, there’s no temptation for the novice to rev it where it really works. With the optional “quick” 22:1 unassisted steering, however, plus a persistent understeer designed into the heavy-duty suspension and 7.10x15 bias-ply BFGoodrich Silver-stone tires, the Galaxie really wants to go straight.
Yet when all is said and done, the XL 406 lives up to the front fender Thunderbird badge. Those numbers really are fine print.
Photo is from Galaxie Parts.com
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....