Rod Short
March 14, 2014

Combining pharmaceuticals to get just the right dose is sometime more of an art than anything else. You have to take into account a person's age, weight, allergies and tolerance for side effects, among other things, to determine the right cure for what ails you. In looking at this '61 Ford Starliner, Larry Hill of Roanoke, Virginia, might have just that.

Cars like these say a lot about the era they come from. As America became increasing affluent at the turn of the 1960s, Detroit incorporated first aviation, and then space age cues into the names and styling of the cars to keep their image cutting edge. The upscale Starliners became the flagship of Ford's line-up of fullsized Galaxie sedans while also carrying the performance banner. Starliners claimed 22 victories in NASCAR during 1960-1961 and also made a name for themselves in drag racing as well, with names such as Dick Brannan, future Mopar great Dick Landy, Gas Ronda, Les Ritchey, and Phil Bonner all finding success behind the wheel.

The futuristic-looking rear roofline and expanse of glass made these cars stand out wherever they were seen. While the 1960 production year saw the first of these cars, the refinements made to the 1961 model sheetmetal resulted in a clean, classic body style that still turns heads more than 50 years later. With the Galaxie's dramatic fastback thought to be an aerodynamic advantage on the racetrack and an optional 390-cid V-8 tri-power version of the car that topped 400 horsepower, Chevrolet had no choice but to counter with its own sports roof "bubble top" on some of its cars in 1962.

Larry had a cherry 1961 Starliner with the coveted 390 tri-power V-8, but got a near unbelievable offer for the car, which included a 427 SOHC Cammer engine as payment. Introduced in 1964, this dynamo utilized the same basic 427 block found on the wedge-head engines, but the similarities ended there, as the conventional pushrod design was replaced by a single overhead camshaft in each cylinder head. Hemispherical style combustion chambers with larger round intake and D-shaped exhaust ports, inclined valves and relocated plugs allowed for greatly improved breathing and higher rpm range up toward 7,500 rpm. Reports from that era showed that the 427 SOHC could produce well over 600 hp with two four-barrel carbs, which makes this one of the most potent engines every produced by Detroit in quantity.

Of course, the term "quantity" is misleading, as only 70 to 80 of these engines were ever produced. NASCAR, upon hearing what Ford was up to, promptly banned this and the Chrysler Hemi, claiming they were special production engines that weren't readily available to the general public. While Chrysler responded by making a street version of its Hemi available to the public in 1966, Ford killed the 427 SOHC—and the 427 hi-riser as well—because there wasn't a version of either engine intended for mass consumption.

Even so, the 427 SOHC made a huge name for itself in drag racing. With a price tag of about $14,000 each in 1960s dollars, only the top names got these coveted powerplants. Beginning in early 1965, drivers such as Gas Ronda, Phil Bonner, and Dyno Don Nicholson made household names for themselves with the 427—and sold a lot of Ford cars as well.

"When I sold my original 1961 390 hipo Starliner in 2011, I thought the Cammer engine would be a good fit for a car like this," Larry said. "I started looking for another Starliner and eventually found this basket case. The seats weren't in it and it had been stuffed full with the bumpers, grille, and boxes full of bolts and brackets. I sold the 428 engine that the car came with as well as the Top Loader and the seats for about $6,500, and then went to work."

While the car would have been a decent driver, Larry felt it wasn't quite yet deserving of the engine that would be residing under the hood. So, he took it to nearby Bedford, Virginia, where Chris Turner—with the help of Mike Farr—got the chance to display his painting skills. The entire body was put on a rotisserie so the original body panels could be stripped and primed for finishing. Ray Bishop then took responsibility for the underlying frame, which was sand blasted, smoothed, and repainted with a basecoat/clearcoat to make it just as attractive as the outside of the car. With the exception of front disc brakes from a '65 T-bird, the front and rear suspension assemblies remain completely stock. Once done, Ray mated the body and rolling chassis back together while also taking care of all the missing minor parts and pieces that always get in the way of getting a car done. Repeated trips to the junkyard that had a few of these cars, along with some careful fabrication work, got the job done.

While this was going on, Keasle Racing and Machine in Maryville, Tennessee, had received the 427 SOHC, which was reassembled with a vintage Holman-Moody crank, 9-quart oil pan, Crower custom billet rods and CP pistons. The original SOHC heads were then gone through and reassembled with Holman-Moody camshafts, and a Dove intake with dual Holley 600-cfm carbs sits on top. Modern refinements include an MSD ignition, ceramic-coated headers and a Griffin radiator. Jack Tindell assembled the '65-model Top Loader four-speed that's in the car with Center Force clutch and pressure plate. Wood Brothers racing of NASCAR fame in Stuart, Virginia, did the Ford 9-inch rearend assembly with 3.89:1 gears.

When the engine was done, the car was delivered to Tennessee without the front clip to facilitate installation of the big Cammer, which bolted right in. Stewart-Warner gauges and a rare, original '62 Ford shifter grace the interior, along with SMS Auto Fabrics upholstery that was installed by Maynard Horne. The sound system comes from a 3-inch exhaust system fabricated with Flowmaster mufflers. How's that for audio quality!

While Larry has only shown the car a few times, it's received numerous accolades including a special recognition Celebrity Choice award from Larry Holman of Holman-Moody at the Carlisle Ford Nationals and a Best of the Best Classic class award at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion at Bowling Green, Kentucky. With results like this, you might say that this Rx can cure a lot of ills!

The Details

Larry and Patty Hill's 1961 Ford Starliner 427 SOHC

'65 model 427 SOHC Cammer
Estimated 700 hp at 6,500 rpm
Estimated 547 lb-ft at 4,100 rpm
Crower billet steel connecting rods
Holman-Moody forged steel crankshaft
CP forged aluminum pistons
Holman-Moody camshafts
Ford Single Overhead Cam cylinder heads
Dove 2x4 Intake manifold
Twin Holley 600-cfm carburetors
MSD 7AL-2 ignition

Custom mandrel-bent 3-inch exhaust by Perfection Muffler (Roanoke, VA)
Ceramic-coated Keasler Race and Machine headers
Flowmaster mufflers

'65 Top Loader four-speed
Center Force clutch and pressure plate

Wood Brothers Racing Ford 9-inch
3.89 gears

Front: Ford steel wheels, 15x7
Rear: Ford steel wheels, 15x8

Front: BFGoodrich Radial TA, P225/70R15
Rear: BFGoodrich Radial TA, P275/60R15

Front: Stock
Rear: Stock leaf springs and replacement shocks

Front: '65 Thunderbird disc
Rear: Stock Ford drum

Paint stripping and side windows by Gary and Randy Beckner; paint prep by Mike Farr; PPG Monte Carlo Red basecoat/clearcoat by Chris Turner; assembly, detailing, and glass installation by Ray Bishop

Restored upholstery by Horne's Upholstery (Roanoke, VA)

Special Thanks
Ray Bishop and Zach Straits