The popular perception (and especially Pontiac purists) would like you to believe the musclecar era began with the '64 GTO. But others, among them early-'60s big-car devotees, are adamant that the horsepower race started much earlier. Certainly Chevy's '55 small-block unsheathed the sword that killed the flathead, but it was really the big-blocks that escalated the horsepower and torque skirmishes into a full-fledged war by the late '50s and into the early '60s. By the time astronaut John Glenn was circling the earth, Ford was mining heavy metal with its FE-series big-blocks. While this engine family started out small at only 332 inches, it didn't take long to mature to 390. By 1962, Ford had a great body style but was sliding behind in the horsepower department.
That's when the Dearborn clan infused the basic 390 with a bigger bore, while maintaining the 3.74-inch stroke. The difference in power made an impression on the buy-on-Monday crowds after watching Ford racers begin to take the win light at the drags. The first 406 engines were single four-barrel combos that added 10 hp to the old 390's 375hp claim. But the real news was the introduction of the three two-barrel 406 packages that promised a ground-pounding 405 hp. This was the Super High Performance option that gave Ford fans a larger caliber weapon to compete against Chevy's 409/409 and the Super Duty 421 Pontiac that matched Ford's 405 hp. Thus began the Ford Total Performance years.
During this time, John Riggs was a young man hungry for every word he could find on performance Fords. His first car, at 16 years old, was a two-door '59 Ford, but what he really wanted was a big-block car. By the time the 406 Fords were in dealer showrooms, he was one of the first to step up to a 406-powered car. And in those all-or-nothing days, John opted for the six-bore version. He eventually sold the car in 1970 to a gentleman in Arkansas for $600. Some 20-odd years later, John located the car and its still-second owner, but the man refused to sell. The Galaxie was still sitting outside as it had for almost 40 years, so it would have been a tough resurrection, even if John had managed to negotiate a sale. That's when the plan to build a '62 re-creation began to take shape.
John's original '62 had been a hardtop, but the new plan was to build a replica of the less popular two-door sedan body. He began looking and couldn't believe his luck when someone in Texas offered almost exactly the car John wanted to build. Though it sported 406 badges, the reality was this was originally a 292ci V-8 three-speed stick car that had been frame-off restored. The last 15 years had been kind to the Galaxie and everything was in amazingly great shape, so John took the dive. The engine is also not a 406 but a carefully rebuilt 390 that originally powered a '68 Mustang GT. The re-build included a few minor mods to the heads and a cam, but the important part is the requisite 3x2 induction system. Now the car is just fun to drive. "I've had pretty cars, the ones that you drive for one hour and clean for two, but I have more fun just driving this one." That's the way it should be.
What: '62 Ford Galaxie
Owners: John and Dinah Riggs
Hometown: Springfield, Missouri
John's Galaxie was originally equipped with a pedestrian 292ci V-8 that took a hike when the previous owner rebuilt a 390 to gracefully place between the fenderwells. The original 406 engines expanded the 390's stock 4.052-inch bore out to 4.130 inches while retaining the 3.74-inch stroke. To accomplish this, 406 engines employed a different cylinder block to accommodate the larger bore. Later '63 castings are also credited with introducing cross-bolted main caps into the Ford engine lineup to improve durability. Since John didn't build the engine, many of the current 390's details are a bit fuzzy. The single four-barrel and three-deuce 406 engines were blessed with 11.4:1 compression, but this FE probably runs a more conservative compression to make pump gas more attractive. History tells us there was even a 12.5:1-compression, 3x2-carbed 406 in 1963, but the horsepower remained the same at 405. As for the camshaft, John tells us his engine is equipped with a mild Crane 272 hydraulic cam with 0.533-inch lift and 216 degrees of duration on the intake and exhaust. The iron 390 FE heads have been tuned up slightly with stock-size stainless steel 2.02/1.60-inch valves. The fun part comes with the factory-style Holley 3x2 induction system. Holley rates its two-barrel carburetors at a different test depression than four-barrel carbs, but according to the Ford 3x2 experts at Hptrends.com, this induction package is equivalent to a 730-cfm four-barrel carburetor setup, so it's not necessarily overcarbureted, even for a 390. John says the car currently has electronic ignition, but he wants to go back to dual points for the sake of originality. The valve covers in the photos are 427 FE versions he has now changed over to the gold-painted factory 406 style.
Ford didn't feel confident about putting its Cruise-O-Matic behind that snorting 406, mandating instead a more durable Borg-Warner four-speed to which John has added a Hurst shifter. The Top Loaders didn't debut until a year or so later.
John's Galaxie is equipped with the ubiquitous 9-inch with a set of 3.70:1 gears.
Here's where the information is short but perhaps not so sweet, since it's all basically stock. There is a set of aftermarket traction bars John wants to replace, but otherwise, even the brakes are stock drums front and rear. The only trick pieces are the steel Wheel Vintiques 15x6 front and 15x7-inch rear wheels mounting a set of 225/60R15 front and 275/60R15 tires on the rear.
On a car like this, you would expect to see a factory stock interior. One minor surprise is the radio-delete plate where a simple Ford AM radio once resided. In classic early-'60s fashion, the Galaxie exhibits a distinct lack of amenities. Don't look for the A/C, power brakes, or power steering, because they're not there.
Felix the Cat's arch nemesis was the evil Master Cylinder. In the early drawings, Master Cylinder looks suspiciously like a screw-top, single-reservoir master cylinder.