There are few cars that capture the mid-20th century American lifestyle quite like the Ford Galaxie. With a name that pays homage to the space race, a large, chrome-covered body and luxurious cabin, Ford’s alternative to the Chevrolet Impala typifies the era’s feeling of optimism and excess.
A wide range of V8 engines, displacing between 4.5 and 7.0-litres were offered throughout the Galaxie's life, while the most eco-minded models featured a 3.7-litre inline-six ‘Mileage Maker’.
The Galaxie was sold in four distinct generations, and as with many American classics of the period, it was updated on an annual basis throughout its fifteen-year existence. Second generation models are among the most popular today, particularly for motorsport enthusiasts. The Galaxie became the basis of Ford’s NASCAR efforts, to the extent of the most potent-road-going versions featuring a 425bhp 427cu. inch V8 to allow for the competition’s 7.0-litre maximum capacity rules.
Maintaining a Galaxie today needn’t be a massive hardship. Although the local petrol station cashier will likely be a good friend, mechanical parts aren’t particularly expensive due to their widespread availability.
Which one to buy?
The launch model Galaxie featured styling very typical of the fifties. Initially marketed as a top-spec version of the Fairlane 500 (it carried both ‘Fairlane’ and ‘Galaxie’ badging) the body was a riot of fins and chrome, with a range of two-tone paint finishes offered. The ‘59 Galaxie was offered in a range of two and four-door styles, including the Skyliner – a four-seater with a fully retractable hard top.
One year later, all-new styling lent the Galaxie a more subtle appearance. The lights were now faired into the front grille, the A-pillar swept forward rather than backward, and 1960 Galaxies were the only examples to feature ‘half-moon’ tail lights in place of fully round items. A new Starliner two door coupe featured a wide, curved rear screen.
From 1961 to 1964, various subtle changes occurred. In ‘61, the rear fins were toned down, the round ‘pie-plate’ tail lights returned, and a 6.4-litre V8 was introduced. In ‘62, the 500 was launched, offering a plusher interior, extra exterior chrome, and new entry-level (3.7-litre six) and range-topping (seven-litre V8) engines.
‘63 models featured minor trim changes, plus the introduction of a Fastback two-door designed primarily to improve competitiveness in NASCAR. A more extreme R version featured a variety of weight saving measures, including a cabin stripped of most of its trim and sound deadening, the removal of the spare wheel, and a hood and front fenders constructed from fibreglass adding up to a total reduction of 170kg. Further looking to improve competitiveness in motorsport circles, 1964 models featured styling tweaks intended to streamline the body.
In 1965, an all-new Galaxie appeared, featuring a squarer shape and vertically stacked headlights. The driving experience was improved thanks to a new three-link/coil spring rear suspension set up in place of the previous leaf springs. From 1967 a variety of safety features were introduced, including a collapsible steering column and a padded centre boss. One year later, a new front end replaced the vertical headlights with horizontal items, though from there back the styling was relatively unchanged. Production of the third-gen model ran until 1968. The top spec XL and LTD models gained concealed headlights.
With the introduction of the fourth fully distinct version of the Galaxie in 1969, a new shape sat on top of an all-new platform. It became the first example by which a station wagon wore Galaxie badging – though previous large Ford station wagons shared much with the Galaxie, none were referred to as such. By the end of the production run in 1975, the Galaxie was gradually phased out, with successors taking the LTD name.
Performance and spec
Engine 7033cc V8
Power 360bhp @ 4400rpm
Torque 480lb ft @ 2200rpm
Top speed 130mph
Fuel consumption approx 14.7mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
● For those seeking to restore a less-than-immaculate example, the good news is that mechanical parts and rubber trim are fairly easy to source, with many new genuine Ford parts still available.
● Most chrome trim will only be available second hand now, while larger body panels aren't being reproduced. However, some classic Ford parts suppliers offer patch panels for common rust areas.
● Finding a Galaxie which has spent most of its life in a dry state will be ideal, but check for rust around the floorpan and boot floor, behind the rear wheels, and the leading edge of the front wings.
● Brake drums were standard-fit for much of the Galaxie's life, though there are plenty of bolt-on aftermarket disc brake conversions available, which improve stopping power considerably.
● Four-speed manual transmissions – given their application in the most powerful versions – may suffer from wear to the synchro. Parts are plentiful, but a sign of trouble is if the lever pops out when attempting to downshift into third or second. The standard three-speed column-mounted transmission is fairly solid.
● The engines are all strong and very reliable. Overheating issues can be a problem on second-gen models, though this is usually caused by cold air feed hoses to the radiator deteriorating, so it is a cheap and easy fix
1959: Galaxie launched
1960: Seconds generation Galaxie introduced. Featured all-new styling, and Starliner model debuted
1961: Styling became more conservative, losing the fins in favour of a more rounded rear end
1962: Galaxie 500 launched. Gained a more luxurious interior
1963: Fastback model debuts. Stripped-out R version produced for motorsport use
1964: More thorough styling updates further streamline the body
1965: Third generation Galaxie appears. All-new styling and redesigned rear suspension
1966: Galaxie LTD featured more luxurious interior trim with unique exterior brightwork
1967: Subtle styling changes include turn signals moving from the front grille to the bumper. Safety measures included the introduction of padded interior trim
1968: LTD, XL and country Squire models featured concealed headlamps for the first time
1969: All-new fourth generation model boasted more passenger space. Air conditioning available
1970: XL models discontinued
1971: Facelift added an updated front end, with a wraparound front bumper and sharp central snout to the front grille
1972: Rear bumper enlarged relative to '71 model. 3.9-litre six-cylinder engine phased out.
1974: Galaxie phased out, replaced by the LTD
Key clubs and websites
• www.galaxieclub.com – A US-based Galaxie owners club, which welcomes enthusiasts worldwide
• www.usautomotive.co.uk – ‘The UK’s number 1 American auto parts supplier’
• www.dearbornclassics.com – Parts specialist for American classics
• www.americanautoparts.co.uk – Parts and servicing specialist based in Redhill, Surrey
Summary and prices
The Galaxie still remains fairly rare in Britain, though there tends to be a reasonable choice on offer, with prices for clean examples not differing drastically from what you’d expect to pay in the US. Early sixties examples in good condition tend to be priced between £15-£20,000, regardless of body style. The most immaculate examples on either side of the Atlantic can be considerably more, though restoration projects in the States can be had for less than £1000.
The search for a former NASCAR for classic motorsport events will be much tougher. A ‘63 model, formerly raced by Dan Gurney, fetched $126,500 at auction back in 2010 – expect values to have risen considerably since.
Words: Alex Ingram