Muscle Cars You Should Know: ’62 Ford Galaxie 406 Lightweight

With the “Flathead” V-8, Ford’s place in American high performance history is ensured. For years, while Chevrolet was saddled with the Blue Flame Six, Hot Rodders around the country were dropping Flatheads in everything with four wheels and creating a new cultural phenomenon. However, all that performance equity seemed to disappear with the debut of Chevrolet’s Small-block V-8 in 1955, becoming America’s motor of choice.

The product of an escalating cubic-inch war, the 406 was the final salvo before the venerable 427 took to the scene to take on the 421 Pontiacs and 426 Max Wedge Mopars. Images: Mecum Auctions

A few years later, in 1960, Ford was back on track with a solid-lifter 352, but it didn’t supplant Chevy’s “Mouse Motor” in America’s consciousness. And when Super Stock competition really got fierce in 1962,

Ford’s candidates weren’t competitive enough. Through the efforts of a Ford-sponsored drag racer, the first in a series of lightweight Super Stock Galaxies was introduced.

“Win on Sunday, sell of Monday” became a popular mantra for NASCAR, but manufacturers eventually figured out it also rang true for the burgeoning sport of drag racing. However, it took Ford a little longer to figure it out. It’s not for lack of trying.

When the Flathead was replaced by the Y-block in 1954, it just wasn’t the same love affair. Supercharging came to the 312 in 1957, but with just over 200 Thunderbirds and an unknown number of Ford passenger cars built with the “F-code” motor, they were much less popular than Chevrolet’s fuel-injected 283.

Another perspective of Al Means Ford's lightweight.

A Whole New Plant

Another new engine series introduced in 1958, the FE (“Ford-Edsel”), never inspired the Beach Boys to write a song like “She’s real cool, my 352!”; over at Mercury, the brand-new 430 – part of the MEL series (“Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln”) – produced an advertised 400 horsepower with three two-barrel carburetors. This was the first engine to hit that magic number, even out-powering Chrysler’s hallowed 300-D, but the 430 found more success in NASCAR than on the street.

After Chevy’s second-year 348 and Pontiac’s Tri-Power 389 truly upped the performance ante in 1959, Ford threw in the gauntlet with “R-code” 352/360 Interceptor Special.

With an impressive equipment list including solid lifters, aluminum intake, Holley carburetor, dual-point distributor, and a fast roofline in Galaxie Starliner form, it nonetheless was saddled with a column-shifted three-speed Borg-Warner manual transmission – not the best choice for power-shifting down the 1320.

Nineteen sixty-one brought the same motor bored to 390 cubic inches and available in 375- or 401-horsepower configurations (the latter with three two-barrel carburetion), but that also was the year Chevy brought out the 409. Dave Strickler had a lot of fun with that one.

Yet, for 1962, hope was in the horizon for Ford. The brand-new Thunderbird 406 High Performance V-8 made 385 horsepower at 5800 rpm through a single four-barrel carburetor (“B-code”) or 405 with three two-barrels and a nifty oval air cleaner (“G-code”).

Inside, the Lightweight Galaxies remained exceptionally Spartan in accoutrements. Designed for drag racing duty, these machines were notably limited to civilian purchasers.

For $379.70 you received a motor with 11.4:1 compression and 448 lb-ft of torque, header exhausts leading to duals out back, 3.50 gears, heavy-duty shocks, springs, and driveshaft, face-resistant drum brakes, high-capacity radiator, and 15-inch wheels.

Available with the 406 was a new Borg-Warner four-speed transmission, which was the missing link that had been keeping Ford from being a truly competitive brand.

Available with the 406 was a new Borg-Warner four-speed transmission, which was the missing link that had been keeping Ford from being a truly competitive brand.

However, that didn’t quite seem to be enough. Pontiac had their 421 Super Duty Catalinas, also rated at 405 horses in twin four-barrel form. And the “real fine” 409 had an even 409 horsepower with two four-barrels.

Most notably, Dodge and Plymouth’s new Max Wedge 413 put out 410 horsepower (with up to 420 with 13.5:1 compression) with cross-ram induction. This motor in a car much lighter than the Galaxie rendered the 406 uncompetitive.

Out of frustration, a racer by the name of Les Ritchey made an appeal to Ford, saying their cars were too heavy to compete nationally. Ritchey had gained some prominence through his engine preparation for Gas Ronda, and his Performance Associates shop in southern California eventually became Ford’s official West Coast headquarters for their factory team.

Ritchey knew that Ford could be competitive in Super Stock racing because racer Dick Brannan had modified his Galaxie with plenty of success over the faster Super Duty Pontiacs and Max Wedge Mopars.

While the C-pillar touts the familiar 'A/FX' designation, the car has neither a modified drivetrain or straight-axle suspension, iconic characteristics of other A/FX'ers. Rather, it's factory-supplied fiberglass components OK'ed for the class.

Weight Loss Made Easy

Ritchey felt that a bit more factory support would give their efforts a place in the winner’s circle more often. So, according to Extreme Muscle Cars by Bill Holder and Phil Kunz, Ford subsequently sent an estimated 11 Galaxie Club Sedans (Ford-speak for two-door sedan with a B-pillar) to Dearborn Steel Tubing to be converted into their first lightweight Super Stockers.

This particular '62 Galaxie lightweight was raced by Phil Bonner (pictured), who received it as a replacement for a previous one destroyed in an accident.

These lightweight Galaxies were equipped with a special lightweight frame, deleted sound deadener and sealing, thinner window glass, a fiberglass hood, front fenders, and trunk lid, an aluminum inner fender panels, front bumper, and bumper brackets, deleted armrest and carpet, lightweight bucket seats, battery relocated to trunk.

All cars were shipped with the G-code 406/405 but, in a subversive nod to the spirit of competition, Ford included a brand-new intake manifold with twin four-barrel Holleys in the trunk. As would be expected for a racer of this caliber, there was no radio or heater. All told, weight savings was estimated to be 400 pounds.

Charging a single dollar so as to absolve themselves of any liability, Ford hand-picked Dick Brannan, Jerry Harvey, Phil Bonner (he received a second one after his first sustained damage), Ed Martin Ford of Indianapolis, Tasca Ford of East Providence, RI, Gas Ronda, Les Ritchey, Bob Ford, Inc. of Dearborn, MI, Jim Price, and Jerry Alderman to campaign these Galaxies.

Just when Ford was ready to rip the competition to shreds, the NHRA didn’t feel the lightweight Galaxie was a proper Super Stocker and factored the lightweight in the new Factory Experimental A/FX class. Subsequently, the Galaxie’s race record was not as stellar as hoped because they were prepared for a different class.

And then, before you knew it, the 1962 model year was over – time for the improved 1963 Galaxies. Gas Ronda has gone on record saying he was pleased with the 1962 lightweight’s performance, but lamented the late delivery stating, “By the time we got the 1962 lightweights it was already time to start working on the 1963 cars. Many of these ‘62 lightweights frames ended up under 1963 bodies.”

Luckily for Ford, things fell into place in 1963. Their Super Stock program was much better developed, and Ford’s “Total Performance” dominance on all things racing eventually brought them victory in the 24 Hours of LeMans. Ford may have been slow to the punch, but the 1962 lightweight Galaxie was the beginning of another glorious chapter in Ford’s history.

CHECK OUT OTHER MUSCLE CARS YOU SHOULD KNOW

About the author

Diego Rosenberg

Diego is an automotive historian with experience working in Detroit as well as the classic car hobby. He is a published automotive writer in print and online and has a network of like-minded aficionados to depend on for information that's not in the public domain.
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