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Dearborn Royalty: The 1955-56 Ford Crown Victoria

In 1955-56, the Ford Motor Company produced a car so regal that it wore a stainless steel tiara on its roof: the Fairlane Crown Victoria.

How the Fairlane Crown Victoria got its unique tiara is a matter of some small controversy. According to the prolific Ford designer L. David Ash in an interview with historian Michael Lamm in 1976, it was inspired by a similar basket-handle motif first used on the Ford Mystere dream car. (See our feature on the Ford Mystere here.) Other Ford studio people who there at the time say there was no connection. But there should be no argument about this: The “crown of chrome,” as Ford called it, is easily one of the most recognizable features on an American car of the 1950s.

The novel bright-metal treatment wasn’t the Crown Vic’s only special feature. The ’55 model also featured a lower, sleeker roofline than the other hardtops in the Ford lineup that year, which was achieved by borrowing the greenhouse from the ’55 Mercury Montclair (the windshield was also shared with the Ford Sunliner ragtop). The lowered roofline produced such a dramatic improvement in the car’s profile that it was extended to all the Ford hardtop body styles for 1956.

Priced at $2302, about a hundred bucks more than the standard Victoria hardtop, the Crown Vic also featured unique interior fabrics with a faux-bucket seat theme. The full range of Ford factory exterior finishes was offered, and the palette was pretty wild around Dearborn in ’55-’56 with colors like Tropical Rose (bright pink) and Sunset Coral. When the Ford car line received a mild facelift for ’56, the Crown Victoria received the updates as well, naturally.

One more unique Crown Victoria feature was the available Skyliner clear plastic roof panel, which was first offered on the 1954 Ford Crestline Skyliner and Mercuy Sun Valley. Formed in .250-inch Plexiglass supplied by Rohm & Haas, the panel was conceived by the same David Ash we met a bit earlier. While the Crown Victoria Skyliner was priced at only $70 more than the regular Crown Vic, there were relatively few takers. The word on the street was the transparent panel made the cabin unbearably hot on sunny days.

Crown Vic sales were surprisingly brisk in ’55 with 33,165 vehicles produced, plus an additional 1,999 Skyliner models. But sales took a deep dive in the following year with only 9,209 Crown Vics and 603 Skyliners finding homes in MY ’56. There were plans to produce a 1957 Crown Victoria with an even more flamboyant bright metal treatment (above) but they never got past the rendering phase, apparently. The tiara fad had run its course.

While the Crown Victoria was no more, the badge lived on. In 1980, Ford revived the name and applied it to its full-sized, rear-drive sedan platform, where it remained through three production generations before it was finally retired for good in 2011 (1999 model shown below). It was a nice gesture, but these later Crown Vics share little if anything with the original ’55-56 models. Alas, there is no stainless steel tiara on the roof.


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