1961 Ford Fairlane 500 With Holman-Moody V8 Power Is a Moonshine-Running Sleeper

Built from 1955 to 1970, the Fairlane is one of Ford's most iconic nameplates. And it also spawned a high variety of vehicles, ranging from stylish full-size sedans in the early years to muscle cars and even factory dragsters in the 1960s. An impressive feat for a model line that was around for only a relatively short while.
1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper 11 photos
Photo: Curious Cars/YouTube
1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper
Introduced as a replacement for the Crestline, the company's premier full-size offering, the early Fairlane is perhaps most famous for the Crown Victoria Skyliner, which features a tinted, transparent roof. Then there's the 500 Skyliner, with its then-innovative power retractable hardtop.

In 1962, Ford decided to redesign the Fairlane into a midsize, leaving the Galaxie as its sole full-size offering. And that's when the company also began stuffing increasingly larger V8 engines in the car. Two years later, Ford created the Thunderbolt, a heavily modified, factory-built dragster powered by a 427-cubic-inch V8.

The race-spec engine never made it into the regular Fairlane, but the Thunderbolt was followed by an R-Code version with a 427 Cobra in 1966 and 1967. The 1966 version homologated the Cobra engine and the "Top-Loader" four-speed gearbox for NHRA and IHRA Super Stock duty.

1969 saw the Fairlane get the 428-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) Cobra Jet, while 1970, the nameplate's final year in showrooms, marked the introduction of the 385-series 429-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V8. Yup, that's plenty of beefed-up versions to choose from if you're a fan of the Fairlane. However, that's only available as long as you want a midsize iteration.

1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper
Photo: Curious Cars/YouTube
If you're into the full-size variant (that's three generations from 1955 to 1961), you're pretty much stuck with Y-blocks and Thunderbird V8s. That's not necessarily a bad thing, given that the range-topping 390-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) mill delivered 375 horsepower in 1961, but you won't get more oomph unless you opt for a swap.

Which brings me to what has to be the coolest sleeper based on a third-generation Fairlane I've seen in a very long time. Finished in a light shade of blue, the 1961 Fairlane 500 you see here looks rather plain. The kind of car a grandmother would buy to drive to the supermarket on Saturdays.

The color comes from the regular Ford palette, the car rides on steelies, and nothing suggests this Fairlane is more than just a family car. The same goes for the interior, which is as stock as they get and boasts a lovely two-tone finish in pastel green and blue colors that were popular at the time. Overall, it's a car you'd find at a classic car dealership under "fantastic factory-spec restorations."

But things go a different way once you pop the hood. That's because you won't find a regular Thunderbird V8 in there. At some point in its life, this Fairlane 500 had its original mill removed and replaced with a 428-cubic-inch Cobra Jet. Yup, I'm talking about the mill that found its way into the Ford Mustang in 1968.

1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper
Photo: Curious Cars/YouTube
And get this: it's not a run-of-the-mill Cobra Jet. This engine was built by Holman-Moody, one of the greatest racing outfits of the era. Established in 1957, Holman-Moody was at some point one of Ford's main motorsport partners and built dragsters, NASCAR racers, and even a few Ford GT40s.

The team's achievements are too many to list here, but you need to know that Holman-Moody-built Fords won 48 of 55 NASCAR Grand National Series races in 1965, a record that has never been broken. It also scored third place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Ford's iconic 1-2-3 finish in 1966.

Back to our two-door Fairlane here, there's no info as to when this car was put together in its current configuration, but it's a solid build that looks as good as a factory project. We also don't know how much oomph comes from the 428 Cobra Jet mill, but we're probably looking at more than a stock unit, which came with 335 horsepower on tap.

Interestingly enough, the engine isn't very loud. As our host points out, it could very well be a 289-cubic-inch (4.7-liter) V8 based on the way it sounds. But that's what makes it really cool. Not only does it look totally unassuming, but this Fairlane is also surprisingly quiet for a 428 Cobra Jet car. It's the perfect sleeper.

1961 Ford Fairlane 500 sleeper
Photo: Curious Cars/YouTube
And here's another cool twist. The owner likes to pretend the Fairlane is a moonshine hauler. Yes, this car was built almost 30 years after the Prohibition was over, but it's probably the kind of vehicle bootleggers would have used to avoid the law if the production and transportation of alcoholic beverages would have been banned in the 1960s.

He even stuck a weathered wooden crate packed with jars and an old bag in the trunk just for kicks. Check it out in the video below and tell me it's not the greatest Fairlane sleeper you've seen this side of a 1966 R-code special.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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