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1961 Ford Starliner - The Right Prescription
Pharmacist Larry Hill Finds The Ingredients To Create An Early ’60s SuperCar
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."