1966 FORD Fairlane GTA convertible- Ken Print
Written by Double Dragon
Saturday, 11 April 2015 12:44

1966 FORD Fairlane GTA convertible- Ken


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

66 ford fairlane GTA ken logo

The Fairlane GT and GTA were Ford's response to the wildly popular Pontiac GTO. When Pontiac installed a big 389 engine into their intermediate Tempest and named it GTO they sparked off musclecar mania. For the first few years from 1964 to 1966 Pontiac owned the musclecar market. Everyone was caught flatfooted by the GTO.

The other General Motors divisions eventually released their own versions of intermediate musclecars like the Chevelle SS, Oldsmobile 4-4-2 and Buick GS, but Ford didn't immediately copy the car. Ford was pumping out insane numbers of Mustangs. Being the author of the ultimate sales success story of the 1960s Ford can be forgiven for their lapse. Since the Mustang could be ordered in fighting trim with the K code 289 or as a Shelby there was no immediate panic to duplicate the GTO formula.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken front

The secret of the GTO was that it provided everything the youth market wanted from a tire frying car. It was a moderately priced exciting performing image car that was useful as a daily driver. Eventually ponycars would become musclecars but at this period the intermediate cars were the fastest inexpensive cars coming out of Detroit. Kids wanted those 'supercars' that could trounce most typical 'ponycars'. Ponycars may have weighed less but that advantage was lost because ponycars couldn't readily fit big blocks underhood and the stylish short rear over hang necessitated the use of a single transverse rear muffler that choked off power.

Ford wasn't unaware of the potential of the intermediate platform and in fact created a mind bending vicious muslecar with the limited production special drag racing Thunderbolt Fairlanes. The Thunderbolts cost the factory quite a bit of money for each one built. For the 1966 model year Ford went after profitability. Ford entered the musclecar market with intentions to mass produce the new Fairlane GT and GTA. Unfortunately these Ford intermediate musclecars were caught in catch-up mode in a maketplace dominated by the GTO. The 2 year run of GT/ GTA didn't register the big sales numbers Ford was hoping for.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken GT grille badge

The GT and GTA were positioned in price competition with the Chevelle SS 396. Next rung up the hierarchy sat the Mercury Cyclone which was the price and trim equivalent of the Pontiac GTO. Despite competing with the Chevelle SS 396, the natural inclination is to compare the Fairlane (or any musclecar for that matter) with the dominant seller: the GTO.

The youth market was awash in Pontiac's tiger imagery. GTO mania had become deeply entrenched by 1966. The Fairlane GT and GTA had to make inroads into the musclecar market with the looks of a 1965 GTO but without the juggernaut momentum of several years of marketing. The GTO for 1966 had evolved into the 'coke bottle' style with sweeping rear C pillars which left the Fairlane looking 1 year behind. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing because many GTO fans considered the clean, light 1965 GTO to be the pinnacle of GTO style. Fairlane GT/ GTA offered a similar light stripped platform to go storming the streets with.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken driver front

Not only were the looks of the GT/ GTA reminiscent of the 1965 GTO but even the name is only one letter away. It could be argued that the Fairlane was just catching up with the Ford Galaxie's stacked headlight styling or simply that most cars from any particular model year share basic structural design regardless of make. But it is hard to avoid the fact that the Fairlane bore a strong resemblance to the 1965 GTO with stacked headlights and a tightly squared off body. The hood scoop style was a two sided ornamental grille insert which seems to have inspired the design used on many Chryslers.

At 116 inches, the wheelbase on the Fairlane is 1 inch longer than GTO which shared its wheelbase with the Chevelle. The Chevelle was actually closer in size to the Failrlane. Both Chevelle and GT/ GTA are shorter than the GTO due to less rear trunk overhang. The Fairlane is 197 inches long. Fairlane weight at 3,650 pounds is close to the GTO.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken hood scoop

The 390 4 barrel Ford engine is just 1 cube larger than the 389 in the GTO. Like the GTO engine, Fairlane offered a lot of chrome plating underhood. Fairlanes received chrome valve covers, air cleaner, oil filler cap, dipstick and radiator cap.

Extensive promotion of the Fairlane was needed to even just catch up to the GTO. The Fairlane name did have familiarity, being well established with a longer history than the Tempest name. Fairlane had been around as a top trim version of the full size Ford since 1955. Fairlane became an intermediate size car in 1962 which was 2 years before the Pontiac Tempest became an intermediate.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken 390 front view

Despite Fairlane name recognition knowledge of the 1966 GT/ GTA package was not widespread. The marketing of the Fairlane musclecar wasn't nearly as intense or ubiquitous as that of the GTO and also lacked years of focused build up. To further dilute the GT/ GTA impact there were now many intermediate musclecars on the market from a variety of manufacturers.

The Fairlane message was however clear and simple to comprehend. The Fairlane musclecar had one engine: the 390- 4 barrel rated at 335 HP which was the same rating given the Pontiac GTO base engine. Where things went ground to a halt for the Fairlane was a lack of optional 'step-up' engines. Pontiac sold a significant number of GTOs with the upgraded 'Tri-Power' engine option. Tri Power had tons of image and prestige as well as more horsepower. All Fairlane GTs had the 390 4 barrel. Period.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken 390 driver side view

Where the GT/ GTA blazed a new trail in the musclecar ranks was with an excellent forward looking concept built around the new 3 speed automatic transmission. This idea deserved to catch on but didn't stir up many sales. Ford adopted a European method of distinguishing the identity of the GT further according to the type of transmission installed. Thus the GTA name was born. All the GT or GTA cars bore the GT nameplate on the front grille badge and on badges on the inner door panels as shown below. GTA cars received GTA badges on the lower front fenders atop the side stripes.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken GTA badge driver door

Fairlane GT cars had the typical manual transmissions which were favored by the youth market in the early 1960s. Ford advertised the presence of an automatic transmission installation in their Fairlane GTs by designating the automatic cars GTA with the 'A' standing for automatic. Why would Ford blatantly draw attention to the presence of an automatic transmission in a market where automatics were derided as 'slush boxes'? Simple: the new Ford 3 speed C-6 automatic transmission was an excellent transmission and a serious game changer on a par with the high performance Chyrsler Torqueflite 3 speed automatic.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken interior

In 1966 an automatic transmission equipped GTO was hindered with only 2 forward speeds which was NOT the hot ticket for low elapsed times. The 1966 Ford Fairlane GTA Sport Shift Cruise-O-Matic 3 speed automatic provided good gear spacing and very fast firm shifts. The C-6 was also bulletproof. The 3 speed automatic in the GTA made it possible to get performance from an automatic intermediate musclecar while simultaneously enjoying ease of use.

The GTA may not have made a big splash with buyers, but Pontiac seems to have taken notice of it. Pontiac GTO used the 3 speed automatic concept for the 1967 model year and enhanced it with a console mounted Hurst dual gate 'his/her' shifter. But for 1966 the GTO automatic came up short when contrasted to the Ford 3 speed automatic. The base specifications of the GTA compared favorably to a base engine automatic GTO for 1966. Serious prejudice against automatics in the performance crowd meant that the GTA concept never made much of an impact, although the GTA concept was kept alive long enough to grace the Mustang as well.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken steering wheel

To this day the majority of guys who grew up in the musclecar era look down on automatic equipped cars and will even go so far as to convert an automatic car to 4 speed status. The 4 speed imagery of a guy banging shifts overpowers any technical argument about the virtues of a 3 speed automatic. With a moderate rear gear around 3.50:1 using street tires and a standing start the torque multiplication offered by the automatic transmission will get you off the line quickly and the upshifts are lightning fast.

The serious street sweepers of course were oblivious to the 3 speed automatic route despite its growing popularity on the drag strip. Guys with 4.33 rear gears wanted to rev up to 5,000 RPM and then dump the clutch which they couldn't do with an automatic. By the late 1960s many of the heavy hitters who were tired of breaking rear ends had adjusted street racing rules to favor rolling starts. Rolling start races negated off the line torque multiplication benefits of the automatic so this form of street racing didn't favor an automatic any more than the dump the clutch burnout style. By 1970 plenty of guys were running mega cubes and slicks on the street and needed a 4 speed to take full advantage of all the performance potential they had built into their cars.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken diver front tire

For the average musclecar buyer who left his car stock and didn't live for tenths of a second the automatic transmission musclecar was a lot better than popular perception gave it credit for. The general population of buyers who enjoyed the image of the muslcecars and didn't need to squeeze out the last drop of power from their car were satisfied with the performance of the 3 speed automatics. Gradually the 4 speed option became rarer as the 1970s unfolded and the virtues of the 3 speed automatic transmissions filtered down into the order sheets.

Ken owned his first 1966 Fairlane convertible back in 1966 when he bought a brand new example that was light blue with a white top. Ken's 1966 Fairlane 500XL was ordered with a 390-2 barrel engine. He enjoyed the car for 5 years until a growing family caused him to sell it. When the opportunity to buy this Candy Apple Red 1966 Fairlaine GTA convertible presented itself in 1989 Ken's home circumstances had changed enough to allow him to pounce on it.

Ken's 1966 Fairlane GTA convertible bodystyle makes it a rare bird among the already thin herd of GT and GTAs that were produced. There were 4,327 convertible GT/GTAs produced, but only a handful have surfaced on the registry which suggest very few have survived. The Fairlane GT/ GTAs have not enjoyed the high profile status of other musclecars which makes a restoration a daunting task. Not a lot of aftermarket support exists for these cars although some shared parts with the Mustang makes the mechanical process a bit easier.

Ken's Fairlane GTA was built at the Lorain, Ohio Ford final assembly plant on May 5, 1966. Most manufacturers isolated the production of convertibles to 1 final assembly plant. All Fairlane convertibles for 1966 were built at Lorain. Once Ken's GTA was built it was sent to the Ford of Canada Pacific zone which handled British Columbia dealerships. Ken doesn't know which dealership first sold his car.

Ken's GTA is well equipped with power brakes, power steering, power convertible top, tinted windshield, AM radio, electric clock, deluxe seatbelts, visibility group (remote lefthand outside mirror, day/ night interior rear view mirror), 2 speed wipers.

Ken had done some cosmetic work on his car over the years since purchasing it in 1989 but finally got down to serious business in November, 2001 when he had a complete restoration performed by Canadian Auto Restoration. Parts and work were contributed by Icing on the Car, R & L Performance, Dearborn Classics and various other parts suppliers.

Once the car was totally redone Ken's GTA 'found' its original owner. At the Vancouver Car Auction and Show in June, 2014 a man approached Ken because he was fairly certain that Ken's GTA was his old car. He asked Ken if he could examine the inside of the trunk for a sign that this was his old car. Ken explained that the entire car had been ground up restored so whatever tell tale sign he expected to find in the trunk would have been obliterated during the restoration. The man looked into the upper rear part of the trunk anyways- perhaps looking for a nick or scrape in the torsion bars?

As details of the GTA's history were discussed it became apparent that this was indeed the first owner of the car. Ken recognized the man's name as one of the names in a list of prior owners he found on an ICBC list of former registrations. The GTA had initially bounced back and forth between 2 owners located in West Vancouver, BC and Whistler, BC. The original owner, Glen explained that he and his brother had traded the car back and forth. One of the transfers was done to facilitate a crate engine replacement.

Glen's name appeared on a 1976 registration in West Vancouver, BC. 4 years later in 1980 it was transferred to his brother in Whistler, BC. 4 years after this in 1984 it was back in Glen's name. In 1985 Glen sold the GTA to a private party who sold the GTA to Ken in 1989.

Ken has had his car judged by experts and discovered that the scant details that need to be addressed on this car are very minor. For example judges noted that the screwheads on a plate on the inner driver door were the wrong format. Other equally subtle points were observed in the judging process. Ken has addressed some of these small items since.

One interesting detail about Ken's car is that the second serial number on the car's rad support didn't match the rest of his car and it contained a code in the VIN that didn't make sense. The rad support was a replacement, likely after an accident by a previous owner. Despite being quite knowledgeable about these cars (Ken maintains a Registry of all 1966 and 1967 Fairlanes), he couldn't decode the VIN number completely.

The code letter B for build plant left Ken confused. That code does not appear in any of the usual reference books. Trying to link that code to a different Ford model than the Fairlane didn't lead anywhere. Things finally came into focus when Ken learned that Ford built some Fairlanes in Canada. This replacement rad support came from a Canadian built Fairlane. Code B = Oakville, Ontario, Canada final assembly plant. Most books don't provide codes for Canadian built cars.

By the way, the Fairlanes built in Canada didn't include any convertibles. Since that time Ken has found 3 complete cars bearing serial numbers from Ford's Oakville, Ontario, Canada final assembly plant.

The VIN for Ken's Fairlane reads:

6  = 1966 Model year

H  = Lorain, Ohio final assembly plant (the rad support had a 'B' here for Oakville)

44 = 500 GT 2 door convertible

S  = 390 cid 4 bbl which was only used for the  GT/GTA cars.

xxxxxx = sequential number at the final assembly plant.

66 ford fairlane GTA ken diver rear

Last Updated ( Thursday, 13 May 2021 14:58 )