Bill Erdman
December 1, 2008

The Starliner was the top-of-the-line trim level on the big Ford Galaxie back in 1961, and since they arrived on the scene, these cars have become noted for their elegant hardtop featuring very narrow B-pillars. Frank Laidlaw of Saddle Brook, New Jersey, bought his car out of the classified ads in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1986; he is the fourth owner. Getting back to our history lesson, the '61 Galaxie was so well received when new that it was awarded for being a "functional expression of classic beauty" by the recognized international design authority Centro per L'Alta Moda Italiana. That elegant styling statement by such an authority quickly made the Starliner one of Ford's most sought-after models. Although production figures for the '61 Galaxie amounted to 349,665 units, not including station wagons, only 29,669 were Starliners like Frank's.

The new-for-'61 look included a bullet-embellished front bumper and afterburner taillights. There were over a dozen exterior color choices, while interiors varied from model to model. The engine selection for the Galaxie consisted of the Mileage Maker Six, a Y-block 292 V-8, an FE 352 V-8, and the new Thunderbird 390 Special at 300 hp--the six-cylinder engines were not available in the Starliner. Transmission offerings included a three-speed manual transmission, Ford Overdrive, the two-speed Ford-O-Matic Drive, and the Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic transmission.

In addition, Ford had also developed a new 375hp 390 engine that was available as an option. This solid lifter unit used a cylinder block that was cast under strict quality control standards and the reciprocating assembly components were X-ray inspected before use. This high-performance engine could be equipped with a dealership available triple-carb setup, which made the package worth 401 hp. A rating of over 1 hp per cubic inch was really cranking for 1961, and the engine gave Ford a comparable answer to the popular brand-X 409.

Frank's Starliner is a shining example of the breed. His beautiful car was optioned beyond the engine with only a radio and heater. While the 292 Y-block engine was the base powerplant in the Starliner, a 300hp 390 4V engine was original to Frank's car as was the base three-speed manual transmission. Frank removed the OE engine and had a Holman-Moody-prepared 390 installed in its place. The factory-offered triple-carb arrangement is also employed. To improve gear spacing, the three-speed was also tossed and a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed installed in its place. The high-performance FE 390 Galaxies offered some serious horsepower for 1961 and, because the midsize Fairlane didn't arrive until 1962, the big-block Galaxie was indeed the factory hot rod of its day. With the Holman-Moody engine and four-speed transmission, we're willing to bet that this Starliner runs just as well as it did when new, probably better, actually. We'd love to have a ride in Frank's car for a Saturday night cruise and see the people's reaction to this superbly designed time machine from the dawn of the Total Performance years.

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