In the 1950s and 1960s, there were usually major model changes every two or three years. But Ford made its third major styling change in three years when it introduced the standard-size Ford Galaxie for the 1961 model year.
Of course, each new styling change is supposed to be more desirable than previous models, but sometimes they miss (i.e. 1957 Ford to 1958 Ford). This time they really got it right. In fact, according to ehow.com, the 1961 Ford Sunliner won an award for its functional beauty from the noted Italian fashion authority Centro per L'Alta Moda Italiana.
The Sunliner convertible was, of course, the top of the line for Ford, with a price starting at $2,849 ($22,300 in today's dollars). Various engine options were offered, from a 292-cubic inch, 175-HP V8 to a 390-cubic inch Thunderbird V8, generating 400 HP.
Called Monte Carlo Red, this Ford Sunliner belongs to Hayward resident Kathy Langley.
"My father-in-law, Norman Langley, bought the car in 1984 for $2,250," she said, "and owned it until 2000, when he passed away. He left the car to my husband, James, but unfortunately he passed away in 2003.
"Up until that time, I had never driven the car, but I didn't want to let it go. I thought it was too beautiful and too much fun. So I learned how to drive it. It's a great car to drive, but it's really big. You don't park a car like that," she said," you dock it."
Langley, an accountant and former flamenco dancer danced me through some of the other numbers relating to her 1961 Ford. The Sunliner sits on a 119-inch wheelbase and weighs 3,792 pounds. Of the 349,665 Ford Galaxies built for the 1961 model year, almost 13 percent, or 44,614, were Sunliner convertibles. This big convertible is 17.5 feet long and 6.7 feet wide -- considered the standard size for cars in the 1960s.
Langley's Ford has the big Thunderbird V8 engine teamed with Cruise-O-Matic, a three-speed automatic transmission. Ford also offered a two-speed Ford-O-Matic as well as a three-speed manual transmission, but most customers opted for automatic.
Langley related a memorable event. "When my father-in-law had the car, he was a big Raiders fan. One day, the Raiders office called and commissioned him to drive Carol Doda around the concourse prior to a game." (If you don't know who Carol Doda is, ask someone over 50 years old.) This car was also used in a travel trailer advertisement, probably to emphasize that an ordinary car is all you needed to pull a big Airstream trailer.
The car is not completely restored, but was recently repainted by Gilbert's Auto Body in Hayward. "My husband put new upholstery in the car, added mag wheels, front disc brakes and power steering as well as a new top," the owner said.
Langley doesn't drive her 172,000-mile convertible much in the winter, mostly because of limited visibility with the top up. She drives it often April through November, always with the top down.
She treasures her car not only for sentimental reasons, but also financial. "When my husband inherited the car in 2000, it was valued at $12,000. Now the value is between $50,000 and $60,000. So I think these cars are better than the stock market."
Langley plans to keep the car forever.
"My biggest amount of fun," she said, "is just having it out on the road and having people respond to it. One day, I was wearing my scarf and sunglasses driving slowly down a narrow residential street with speed bumps. An obviously 'Southern' gentleman was working on his truck at the curb, and with his accent said, 'Honey, you look just like Elvis Presley's wife.' That just really made my day."
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com