Ford Customline

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Ford Customline

Ford Customline

1952 - 1956
Straight 6 and V8
3.9 - 4.8 litre
to 193 bhp (144 kW)
3 spd. man and auto
Top Speed:
Number Built:
3 star
Ford Customline
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


Immediately following the war most manufacturers, understandably, continued with the manufacture of designs dating back to the previous decade. Ford’s first and much anticipated new model line up arrived in 1949, however the 1952 revision, while based heavily on the 1949 design, heralded a new design direction.

Immediately evident was the use of a one-piece windshield, although the introduction of the straight 6 “Mileage an even bigger advance in technological innovation. Joining the 3.9 litre “Flathead” V8 (110 hp / 82 kW), the new 6 introduced an overhead valve arrangement, and while slighly down in cubic capacity to the engine it replaced (3.5 vs. 3.7 litres), the new engine boasted more power, more torque and, best of all, better fuel consumption.

The model line-up was changed in an attempt to clearly identify the . The base model was now called the “Mainline”, the mid-level the “Customline”, and the top of the range model known as the “Crestline”, which included the Sunliner convertible, Victoria wagon. The interior featured what Ford referred to as a “flight style” control panel, with new pedals suspended from below the dash.

The grille sported a single centre "bullet" surrounded by a chrome ring as well as "jet intake" corner markers. In 1953 Ford introduced power steering and power assisted brakes across the range, options previously reserved to the more up-market Mercury’s and Lincoln’s. The centre grille bullet lost its ring and was now flanked by vertical black stripes, while the corner markers were plain rectangular lights rather than the circular "intakes".

All 1953 Fords featured commemorative steering wheels marking the company's 50th anniversary. William Clay Ford paced the Indianapolis 500 in a Sunliner convertible with a dummy Continental tyre kit. This was also the last year for real wood trim on the Country Squire wagon. The long-lived Flathead V8 engine was replaced in 1954 by an overhead valve “Y Block” unit, marking the end of an era. This engine produced 130 hp (97 kW), and was fitted with a 2-barrel carburettor, however there was a Holley four barrel carby made available to law enforcement agencies, and this bumped up the performance of the Y Block V8 to an impressive 160 hp (119 kW).

Another new addition was the "Victoria Skyliner" sedan, which featured an acrylic glass panel over the front half of the roof. A snap-in sunshade was a desirable option. The woody Country Squire wagon now used artificial fibreglass panels to bring about a reduced manufacturing cost, however it remained the most-expensive Ford. Two more desirable options were offered for the first time in 1954: power windows and a four-way power seat.

In 1955 Ford again updated the range, something required if they were to continue to compete with Chevrolet. The underpinnings were pretty much taken from the ’52 Ford’s, however the wonderful “Mileage Maker” straight 6 engine was bumped up to 223 ci (3.7 litres) for 120 hp (89 kW) and the new-for-1954 Y-block V8 was now offered in two sizes: Standard Fords used a 272 ci (4.5 litre) version with 162 hp (121 kW), but the large 292 ci (4.8 litre) unit from the Thunderbird was also offered, boasting 193hp (144 kW).

The Ford Fairlane

Apart from the engine changes, customers were sure to notice the new "Fairlane" top-line trim, while a new "Crown Victoria" style featured a chrome "basket handle" across the familiar (and continued) "Victoria" hardtop roof. The company now boasted three different rooflines, the tall two-pillar Mainline, Customline, and Fairlane, lower chrome-pillar Crown Victoria, and pillarless hardtop Victoria.

The "Skyliner" acrylic glass roof was still offered, this time only on the Crown Victoria model. For the first time, Ford customers could purchase their new cars with air-conditioning. The system included a condenser unit in the trunk, plus a pair of air ducts in the trunk and clear tubes which run from the rear package shelf into the headliner, where one found the air ducts. The system was very costly and few units were sold.

The egg-crate grille featured on the 1955 cars was widened into a series of rectangles for 1956, but this subtle exterior change was nothing compared to Ford's adoption of a 12-volt electrical system across the line. The Crown Victoria Skyliner's sales were plummeting with just 603 made, and it would be replaced by a convertible the next year. A new addition at midyear was the "Town Victoria" 4-door hardtop model which, along with the new Customline 2-door hardtop, were meant to compete with the Chevrolet Bel Air. For Australian's however, the lineup was restricted to the four-door sedan, locally designed Mainline utility and station wagon.

Ford Customline Ambulance

A Victorian Ambulance Superintendent designed and built a radically new type of ambulance in 1953. Designer of the new type ambulance was a Mr. A. M. Cumming, who was at the time Superintendent of the Geelong and District Ambulance Service. In co-operation with Ford he obtained the then latest model Ford V8 Customline sedan, which, in production, was readied for his specially planned conversion operations.

When shown to the public, Mr. Cumming explained the then radical approach to ambulance design. It had been adapted from a Ford V8 Customline sedan and embodied most of the components of the sedan body. It retained the four doors and side mudguards of the Customline. He said features of the new ambulance were:
  • It had an all-steel body instead of the usual wooden one;
  • It had two doors on either side, in addition to the rear door;
  • A single stretcher was loaded in the centre, with seats for attendants on each side;
  • It could carry three stretchers, staggered so that no one was suspended above another.
  • It had a double steel floor, which made the ambulance completely dustproof (dust-proofing back in 1953 was arguably the biggest bugbear in ambulance construction).
The new construction meant a saving of £250 a vehicle on then current costs for building conventional bodies of this type chassis. Mr. Cumming said the vehicle had been designed and built at the Geelong ambulance station. "It will be adopted as the standard vehicle in use in Geelong," he said. "We intend to build three more immediately."

Sturt Griffith's Road Test

A name synonymous with quality automotive journalism in the 1950s was Sturt Griffith. He would take all cars on offer in any particular year, then drive it over a punishing course to determine what was good, and bad, with a particular car. Obviously his yardstick was the best on offer in any particular year - and something we do not have the benefit of today. While we make every endeavour to judge a car on its contemporaries, sometimes it is very difficult. We refer to many of his road tests in compiling our own, but for the record, the Ford Customline review below remains as told in 1957.

1952 Ford Customline

1954 Y-Block Ford V8

1954 Ford 115ho I-Block Six

1955 Ford Customline

1956 Ford Customline

1953 Ford Customline Ambulance
The new model of the Ford Customline differs from its predecessor in aspects of engineering as well as of styling. Alterations in the body are mainly more comfortable seat springing, and the liberal use of chrome embellishment on the body exterior. Tri-tone bodies are also available. On the technical side, the most important alterations are in the fuel system, and the suspension. The carburettor is a balanced dual downdraft Holley.

The air cleaner is of the "low silhouette" type, disposed around the carburettor, and it consists of a dry cellulose fibre filter ring. The springing is available in either of two ratings, the firmer for country use (as on the test car), and the more flexible for softer riding on better roads. The automatic transmission is unchanged, and it consists of a three-speed gearbox associated with a torque converter. This unit gives a smooth and satisfactory performance.


The Customline is a very good example of the American car. Whilst it is large in both overall dimensions and interior space, it is nevertheless pleasant to drive on all except the most winding highways. Riding comfort is good, cornering is safe, and the brakes are sound. The only criticism here is of the slow action of the steering on a car otherwise capable of very high cruising speeds. But one must object to windscreen wipers which stop completely when the throttle is opened wide.

The "Fordomatic" transmission is simple. Having started in neutral, and moved the selector to Drive, the transmission thereafter changes between the three ratios as required by load and by throttle opening. The transmission ensures that most motoring is done in high and intermediate gears, low being used only at very slow speeds, or in particularly heavy going.


As usual with this type of automatic drive, the change-up to high gear was made at relatively low speeds (around 30 mph) on moderate throttle. If, however, rapid acceleration is demanded by a wide open throttle, the change from low to intermediate is delayed until 35 mph has been reached, and the change to high is not made until the speed is 60 mph.

A "kick-down" to a lower gear is available by pressing the throttle to the floor. The only limitation of the kick-down is one of engine safety, which prevents a kick-down from intermediate to low above 19 mph and from high to intermediate above 60 mph.

Engine braking is available and can be increased for very steep hills by slipping the selector lever into “Low” position. This causes the transmission to automatically change down to intermediate and then to low gear, as speed decreases. There is the usual provision of a "Park" condition, in which the transmission is locked against movement, and in which the car can safely be left or. hills.

Hill Climbing and Acceleration

The Customline gives an excellent performance on hills. By depressing the throttle just to the fully open position, climbs can be made in high gear. By kicking the throttle down to the floor, intermediate gear is invoked at climbing speeds below 60 mph. Changes between intermediate and top will occur as the throttle is opened and eased on a long hill. The gears and speeds on the test hills are now given, with the observation that in some cases gears were selected to demonstrate their performances rather than to achieve the fastest ascents:
  • BODINGTON (average grade 1 in 11.5): Drive range (kicked down to intermediate gear) at 50-59-61 mph.
  • RIVER LETT (1 in 12, maximum 1 in 8.5): Lo range selected, surplus rower available at 40-33-55 mph.
  • SCENIC HILL (1 in 10, maximum 1 in 8): A tenacious climb in high gear at 50-29-34 mph.
  • MOUNT TOMAH (1 in 12, maximum climb of 1 in 9): Drive range, using high and intermediate gears in very lively fashion, at 50-42-55 mph.
  • KURRAJONG, WEST (1 in 12.5): Drive range, kicked down to intermediate gear, at 50-55-60 mph.
The power-to-weight ratio of the Customline, carrying the regular load of 3cwt. is high at 94 brake horsepower per laden ton. This power is well able to support a high overall gearing, which yields 24.4 mph at 1,000 rpm. in high gear. Here again the automatic transmission makes the car particularly lively, as it will always select and hold one of the lower gears when the throttle is opened wide. For a fast getaway, with the throttle kicked to the floor, low gear is held up to 35 mph, and intermediate gear is held up to 60 mph. Under these conditions, prompt overtaking can be commenced from any speed.

The times for acceleration, with Drive range selected, are as follows: 20 to 40 mph (low and intermediate gears), 5.3 seconds. 30 to 50 mph (low and intermediate gears), 7.2 seconds. 40 to 60 mph (intermediate and top gears), 8.5 seconds. 0 to 50. mph (low and intermediate gears), 12.6 seconds. 20 to 40 mph (Low gear selected), 4.6 seconds. The maximum pulling power (a torque of 258 lb-ft) is very high, and in this engine it is not developed until 54 mph is reached in high gear, and 36 mph in intermediate gear. This means that acceleration is well maintained up to high speeds, as indicated by the foregoing acceleration times.

Touring Speeds

The automatic transmission allows ample power of the Customline engine to give very high cruising speeds on fairly straight roads. One finds that the car settles down comfortably to 75 m.p.h. on safe highways. Since the transmission capably and unobtrusively attends to gear changing, there is no lower limit to cruising and the car will amble along at any speed desired. The average speed over the test route was 46.3 m.p.h. Weather was fine, with some westerly winds.

Braking, Steering and Roadholding

Two leading shoes are used in the 'front drums and the total lining area is 182 square inches. The brakes gave a good performance and pedal pressures are moderate for all except emergency stops. The brakes were free from fade on the 3.5-mile coast down from Kurrajong Heights. The handbrake, which is of the twist-and-pull type under the right of the fascia, required a lusty pull to stop the car down a gradient of one in eight. The worm-and-roller steering is slow, requiring four and a half turns to move the wheels from lock to lock. As a consequence steering effort is always light and there is absolutely! no reaction felt in the hands over rough roads. The turning circle of 41 feet is moderate for a car of this large size.

With the heavy-duty springs as fitted to this car, the Customline rides very well over any surfaces with a load of two passengers and equipment. The front suspension will bottom only on the- most vicious potholes, and there is a complete absence of pitch under all conditions. The car is very stable on corners and it is indeed difficult to induce a slide on dry bitumen roads. As only a relatively low percentage of the total weight (42.5 per cent) is carried by the rear wheels, naturally these are a little inclined to break away on greasy surfaces without a rear seat load. Under these conditions cornering speeds must be reduced, but if the rear wheels do break away they can be easily checked, as the car is directionally very stable and without any oversteering tendencies.

Driver's Layout

The seating and arrangement of controls for the driver are reasonably good and the improved seats springing ensures that fatigue is not felt over a full day's driving. The wheel is large and well raked, but drivers of short stature may find the seat a trifle high. A horn ring is provided. The two pedals are nicely spaced but the brake pedal is unnecessarily high above the floor. Vision is exceptionally good on account of the full wrap-around screen, and T am pleased to say that there is no distortion even on the heavily curved flanks of this screen.

The handbrake can be reached by leaning forward slightly. The dipswitch is on the floor and the minor controls are sensibly distributed about the fascia. The instruments comprise a back-lighted speedometer set in a large dome on the top of the fascia before the driver. This dome also carries the gauges for fuel contents and head temperatures, and large, if none too brilliant, warning lights for oil and generator. More noticeable are the two large warning lights for the winker turn indicators, which are actuated by an arm on the steering column. The window requires three turns of its crank for full movement. An electric clock in the centre of the fascia is standard equipment. The windscreen wipers are pneumatically operated, and in common with others of this type they stop when one opens the throttle wide.

Body and Engineering

The engine compartment is adequately large and access to the ancillaries is good once the large air cleaner has been slipped off the carburettor. The cleaner indicates a departure from the conventional oil-bath, and it consists of a large filter ring of cellulose material in the dry condition. The V8 engine has a bore and stroke of 92 by 84mm. (well over-square), and with a low-compression ratio of 7.1 to 1 it has a good specific power output of 37 bhp per litre. A full-flow oil-filter is fitted and the distributor is now controlled by a centrifugal as well as a vacuum advance mechanism.

The torque converter gives a maximum multiplication factor of 2 to 1, and the overall gear ratios are high 3.2, intermediate 4.8 and low 7.7 to 1. The oil supply of the automatic transmission is cooled by an oil radiator disposed beneath the normal water radiator of the car. Front suspension is by coils and wishbones, and rear suspension is by semi-elliptic springs. All wheels are damped by telescopic shock absorbers. Much embellishment has been added to the body exterior, as may be seen from the photograph. The characteristic of the car interior is spaciousness, and there is, of course, ample leg and head room in each compartment.

The bench seats are 58.5 and 55 inches respectively, and they are now sprung by a new type of zig-zag springing which is quite comfortable. Seat covering is synthetic material of good quality. Ventilation is well provided through a large-capacity ram air supply to both sides of the front floor and by ventilating panels in the front windows. The hump on the front floor and the tunnel on the rear floor are somewhat pronounced. The boot is particularly large, having an approximate luggage capacity of 24 cubic feet. The floor is substantially flat, the lid is counterbalanced and the spare wheel is disposed to one side.


The Ford Customline automatic is a spacious and large car which is particularly suited to country use in Australia. It rides well over rough going but if so desired a softer suspension may be obtained for city use. The car is stable and safe when driven fast but its rather slow steering places a limitation on the otherwise high cruising capacity of the car. Road performance is excellent with the automatic transmission, which capably attends to gear changes under all conditions, and which gives very good acceleration and hill climbing. Petrol economy is quite reasonable in view of the size and weight of the car, and driving fatigue is not felt on long runs. The car tested was made available by the Ford Motor Co. of Aust. Pty. Ltd.
1953 Ford Customline 4 Door Sedan

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Michael H
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Great article, very well researched.
This article ties the Australian models with their American equivalents.
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