Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

1966 Ford Custom 500

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1966 Ford Custom 500 o

I have always thought this was the coolest tail light ever. Maybe it’s because two were attached to the 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 my dad owned when I was a very small boy. I got to spend a lot of time contemplating them. The neighbor kids’ dads had their Fairlanes and Catalinas and Satellites and Le Sabres, cool cars the lot. But none of them had tail lights as futuristic and brash as those on the ’66 Ford.

I can spot a ’66 Ford tail light from a football field away – or, as in this case, from across a giant room crowded with cars. This is the ’66 Ford to which this light is attached.

1966 Ford Custom 500 l

You have to be older than about 40, I think, to remember a time when the big automakers produced several models based on the same body. The full-sized ’66 Ford hosted a panoply of two- and four-door cars. Those cars came with many different model names: Custom, Custom 500, Galaxie 500, Galaxie 500/XL, and LTD, in increasing levels of trim and convenience from basic transportation at one end to near-luxury at the other. Two station wagons even rode on this platform and shared much of the styling: the Country Sedan and the Country Squire.

This car is a Custom 500. It offers a few creature comforts over the bare-bones Custom, but its cabin is still pretty austere.

1966 Ford Custom 500 r

There isn’t even a radio in this dashboard. The driver will have to be entertained only by the sound of this car’s engine. Now, ’66 Fords were advertised as being as quiet as a Rolls-Royce. But this Custom 500’s engine bay is stuffed with a giant 427-cubic-inch V8 that generates 345 horsepower unmodified (and I’ll bet this one is souped up). That’s a hell of a lot of engine, and I’m quite sure it can make a serious racket.

1966 Ford Custom 500 q

That 427 is a Johnny-come-lately in this automobile, which left the factory with a smaller, but still plenty potent, 275-horsepower, 390-cubic-inch V8. Even that engine is probably fairly unusual for a Custom 500, which was marketed to people who wanted the room of a full-sized car but at budget prices. That’s why the interior is so Spartan – and why these cars were much more commonly equipped with a 6-cylinder engine. But if you squint, you can see a little plaque under the speedometer that reads “Certified Calibration.” Especially in the days before speed radar, the police needed to know for sure how fast they were going when they were tailing a speeder, and a certified speedometer made that possible. You only see that badge on cars equipped for police duty. And to enable catching the bad guys, police cars always came with potent 8-cylinder engines and heavy-duty suspensions.

1966 Ford Custom 500 x

This Custom 500 appears to have been equipped for police duty except for one detail: its four-speed manual transmission. Cop cars are automatics – when you’re in hot pursuit, you don’t want to mess with shifting manually! A private citizen ordered this car. It says so on the copy of the bill of sale posted in the window.

1966 Ford Custom 500 b

This sticker in another window ominously warns you to roll up the windows if you’re going to drive faster than 120 miles per hour. Yikes.

1966 Ford Custom 500 f

You might lose a hubcap or two at 120 mph. Lower-trim-level cars like the Custom 500 got simple hubcaps like this one that covered only the hub and not the whole wheel. I’m pretty sure styled wheels weren’t available anywhere across the full-sized Ford line.

1966 Ford Custom 500 c

Many styling details, such as this grille and these headlights, were shared across the entire full-sized Ford line. Roofs varied across the line, though, and at a distance were the easiest way to tell which model you were looking at. You couldn’t get a Custom or Custom 500 as a hardtop – when you roll down all the windows in a hardtop, you see no pillar behind the front doors to block the view. The two-door hardtop roof line on Galaxies and LTDs was sweeping and elegant, compared to the conservative roof on this Custom 500. LTDs sported a round badge behind the rear side windows, and sometimes offered vinyl trim on the roofs.

I have many great memories of my dad’s ’66 Galaxie 500, which absolutely influenced me as I picked this ’66 Custom 500 as my favorite car at the 2013 Mecum Spring Classic.

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22 thoughts on “1966 Ford Custom 500

  1. Derek

    That window sticker is awesome.

    Sigh, whatever happened to creative designs on things in general? Just the tail light design on that 500 makes everything seems so boring, blend, standardize and unadventurous nowadays.

    1. Jim Post author

      There are many reasons cars don’t have this kind of style today. It’s a complicated explanation actually! But yes, this kind of style is lost today.

    1. Jim Post author

      Thanks! This is the kind of writing I do over at Curbside Classic. My audience here isn’t loving this week of old cars — my stats are way down!

  2. jimsgarage

    So true as regards the tail lights! Ford went from round jet exhaust style to this square version that really set it off and defined the whole shape of the body.

    The condition of this police package is wonderful. I know that I am enjoying the P71 that I bought for my road trip this year. I get more looks than I would in a Ferrari and people tend to drive a lot more politely. :-)

  3. Ray

    This is my first time reading your posts and I was completely drawn in by the 1966 Ford Custom 500. Great article! I am currently restoring a 4 door version of this amazing car. My very first car was a 1966 Ford Custom 2 door that I enjoyed many memories with as a 16 year old boy growing up in Oregon.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      My parents brought newborn me home from the hospital in a ’66 Galaxie 500, so I share your fascination with these Fords! Good luck with you restoration.

  4. Hatter

    I have a1967 Ford Custom500,, and i can’t find out how many of these were made. Can Someone help me? Looks like an original 390 big block,here’s the neat part,factory clutch. Don’t no if it was a three on the tree or on the floor. O, also has disk breaks. So can someone direct me the place where i can find out how many were made? Decoding the vin is no help in this case.

  5. jimmy james martinez

    Hello….my name is james and im restoring a 66 ford 500 classic..this is my first restoration….any idea where I can get parts for it…..head lights..blinker lights…front grill..steering wheel…and so on….thx for your time

  6. John Johnson

    My dad has one of these classics, all original, with 108k miles that he’s finally ready to sell. Does anyone know the best place to sell off one of these classics at a fair price? We live in WA State, south of Seattle. Thanks for the help.

  7. Zach Gilbert

    Excellent article! I just picked up a 66 Ford Custom 500 2-Door. An Arkansas car with no rust and low miles. A lot of it’s been restored but it’s nice to see another 66 Custom 500 that isn’t the Galaxie package, I started feeling alone there.

  8. Eugene Lock

    I’m looking at purchasing a1966 galaxie custom 500 four door hart top with the “factor” 427. Is that a common combination? Is this a rare car?

  9. Steve

    I’m currently working on a 1966 Custom 500 2 door restoration/preservation. Wimbledon white with light blue interior and a 240 6 cylinder; the buzzin half dozen for a motor ! I love the ride these old cars have! I know I won’t be the fastest guy out there; I don’t have that kind of money but I will be luvin’ the ride when she’s done!

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I love it that you’re restoring your Custom with a six-cylinder engine. Too many of these cars have been resto-modded to be things they were never intended to be. You have my respect.

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