1966 Ford Fairlane GTA: Unleashing the Beast in Amber Glow – A True Pontiac GTO Challenger

Introduced in 1955 as a full-size car, the Ford Fairlane was downsized in 1962 when it became one of the first American vehicles to compete in the then-new intermediate (midsize) segment.While the niche was mostly kickstarted by American Motors Corporation (AMC) with the Rambler in 1956, midsize cars didn’t become a thing until the Big Three automakers jumped on the bandwagon in the early-to-mid-1960s.

This 1966 Ford Fairlane GTA Is a Pontiac GTO Slayer in Emberglow - autoevolution

Ford was first to the intermediate party with the Fairlane in 1962, while Chevrolet joined in with the Chevelle in 1963. Plymouth had also downsized the Belvedere in 1962.

By 1965, Oldsmobile had the Cutlass, Buick released the Special, and Dodge introduced the Coronet. To catch up with its rivals, Pontiac enlarged the LeMans and the Tempest for the 1964 model year. But the GM division took it up a notch by introducing the GTO package for the two-door versions of the Le Mans.

The bundle included a larger V8 engine, a stiffer suspension, and a long list of other performance-enhancing parts and turned the GTO into the hottest midsize available at the time. Transformed into a stand-alone model in 1966, the Pontiac GTO kickstarted the muscle car wars that followed.

The arrival of the beefed-up Poncho prompted both Mopar and Ford to come up with their own high-performance intermediates. Powered by a 289-cubic-inch (4.7-liter) V8 in range-topping trim, the fourth-generation Fairlane was no match for the GTO, but that changed when Ford redesigned the midsize for the 1966 model year.

Once a top-of-the-line mill, the 289 was relegated to entry-level V8 status as the Fairlane got the 390-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) Thunderbird V8 on the options list. The two-barrel version wasn’t exactly mind-boggling at 265 horsepower, but Ford also dropped a four-barrel mill in the intermediate. Good for 335 horses, it gave the Fairlane the oomph it needed to go after the 389-equipped GTO.

The latter also came with 335 horses in base trim, while the optional unit delivered only a tad more at 360 horsepower. But the GTA you see here is more than just a regular Fairlane with extra oomph.

When ordered with the GT package, the Ford came with the four-barrel 390 V8 engine as standard, but it also included suspension tweaks and upgraded brakes. The GTA bundle was identical to the GT, but it featured the then-new SportShift Cruise-o-Matic automatic gearbox. Thanks to its lower weight, reduced parasitic power loss, and greater torque capacity for larger engines, it helped turn the Fairlane GTA into a proper competitor for the GTO.

Ford was so confident about this model that it conceived an aggressive ad campaign to roll it into dealerships. It included a “How to Cook a Tiger” commercial aimed directly at the Pontiac GTO that featured a GTA with a tiger’s tale coming out from under its hood. The “recipe” itself was a fun take on the GTA’s techical specs and ended with the punchline “Remember, it’s a very hot dish!”

But was the Fairlane GTA as successful as Ford hoped it would be? Well, come 2023 and it’s the Pontiac GTO that gets all the credit for having triggered the muscle car segment, so the answer would be “no.” But the Fairlane GTA remains one of the coolest high-performance midsize cars from the era and an awesome classic when in restored condition. And this Amber Glow example is one of those stunning GTAs I’d take over a GTO any day of the week.

Restored over a whopping five years in a process that also included rebuilt engine and transmission, this 1966 GTA looks better than new more than 50 years since it rolled off the assembly line. It’s still highly original, it comes with a color-keyed interior, and that beefed-up 390-cubic-inch V8 sounds fabulous regardless of the rev range. But you don’t have to take my word for it, hit the play button below to see and hear it for yourself.

But as cool as it is, the GTA wasn’t the most potent Fairlane available in 1966. Ford also built a very small number of R-Code cars fitted with a 427-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V8 rated at 426 horsepower. It was pretty much a factory-built dragster and Ford made only 57 of them. But that’s a different story for another time.

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