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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.