Rare Fords: Greg Gives Us Some History on The 1961 Starliner And 1968 Ford XL GT Cobra Jet Ragtop

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg I enjoy reading your column as I have been a car nut for many years. What can you tell me about the 1961 Ford Starliner 390 Tri-Power? Also, how about the 1968 Ford XL GT 428? Both were neat full size cars that I feel made the muscle car fans take notice. Thanks, Jeff K., St. Augustine, FL.
A: Jeff, you are correct about those full-size Fords from the 1960 decade. So let’s start with the 1960/1961 fastback Ford Starliner.
Specifically, the Ford Starliner was the fastback version of the full-size Galaxie line and was only available for two years in ‘60 and ‘61. Personally, I feel the 1961 Ford Starliner is one of the best looking cars of the entire 1960 decade and to this day they look great when one pops up at a car show or televised auction. The 1960 was nice too, but if I had my choice, the’61 was nicer thanks to a new design that featured a less cluttered front end and small rear tail fin design.
When introduced in 1960, these Starliner hardtops were part of what Ford called a Special Galaxie Series that incorporated the upscale Galaxie interior and exterior trim with the now famous fastback styling cue.
Starliners also carried special script logos on the front fender and trunk instead of a Galaxie logo. Also in 1960, the convertible was called the Sunliner and both sold well. Then in ’61, the aforementioned newly designed Starliner and Sunliners joined the Special Galaxie Series family for what would be its final year of production.
And, just as Chevrolet and Pontiac enjoyed success with its “bubble top” fastbacks, Ford Starliners featured the same aerodynamic theme that made for a timeless hardtop design. These fastback Fords were used by both independent and factory Ford racers who took advantage of the lighter weight and slipstream advantage offered versus the older style, more bulky two-door designs.
To get to your Tri-Power engine question, the 1960 Ford Starliners and Sunliners arrived with the 292-V8 Y-block engine that replaced the famous Flathead V8 in 1954. Lincoln had a Y-Block arrive in 1952, but it was a bit different than the ’54 Y-Block. There was also an optional FE (Ford-Edsel) series 352-V8 in ’60 that developed up to 360 horses, but the real hot ticket was the new FE Thunderbird 390-V8 that would become available in 1961.
This new 390 required an upgraded FE series engine block and with a four-barrel carb developed up to 375-horsepower. However, a dealer installed option called the “6V” added the Tri-Power you mention and this three two-barrel carb setup resulted in a powerful 401 horsepower rating. I saw these Sunliners race at our area drag strips many times and it was very fast. I also feel that this Sunliner with the 401-horse, Tri-Power 390 V8 was the official kickoff for the Ford high performance muscle car era of the 1960s. As for sales numbers some 68,641 Starliners were built in 1960 and another 29,669 were assembled in 1961.
In 1962 the Galaxie 500 and 500 XL replaced the Starliner and the engine expanded to 406 cubic inches where with three-two barrels put out 405 horsepower. However, the fastback design was gone.
As for that 1968 Galaxie convertible you ask of, only 11,832 ragtops were produced in 1968 and of them just 316 were XL GT's with the 428 Cobra Jet engine. The engine was advertised at just 345 horsepower, but anyone who ever drove a Cobra Jet knows about this horsepower fallacy.
Further, these full size Galaxie ragtops must have been quite a car to ride in back then and because only 316 were ever built, it's a tough car to find these days in tip top shape.
As for the Galaxie full-size competition, back in 1968 Chevy had a full-size 427 SS Impala that was one of the hot tickets on the street scene. So, for those who wanted more room than a Camaro or Mustang and lots of power, it was either an Impala SS 427 or a Galaxie XL GT 428.
The ’68 Galaxie XL GT came in both convertible and fastback editions although Ford concentrated more on promoting the Mustang and Torino GT models that where popular with the Ford performance buffs. However, there’s no taking away anything from Ford as to the importance of the XL GT as one of the real full size performers that attract interest today from collectors of all ages.
Hope this all helps Jeff and thanks for your letter.

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