Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Bob Lalk knows the comment is coming — over and over again. It can be either in the form of a question, or just a puzzled observation.
“Ford made one of those?” He’s certainly heard the query more times than he can count. It’s quite often accompanied by some head scratching and the admission, “I’ve never seen one of those. I didn’t know they made them like that.”
Indeed, most car folks, even Ford fans, seem to have forgotten that Ford did indeed make full-size hardtops with four doors in the early 1960s. Such post-less cars are scarce on their own, but when you throw in a few other goodies like the XL package, big-block 390-cid V-8 and a four-speed with a console, well, you’ve got yourself a pretty rare bird.
Lalk, a resident of Hubertus, Wis., doesn’t take his big 1964 Galaxie 500 XL hardtop sedan to shows very often. He prefers to drive all of his old cars rather than hang out at shows, but he never really gets tired of talking about cars, and his rare four-door in particular. He knew the car would be a cool conversation piece from the first time he saw it 12 summers ago at the Iola Old Car Show in Wisconsin. The fun of talking about it and proving to other folks that such a car does exist was a big reason he bought it that same weekend.
“I have never seen one like this, so when I saw it I was stunned. I thought it was something somebody had put together. I had no idea. It was in the [Iola Old Car Show] car corral for sale. By the end of the day I was convinced I was going to purchase the car, which I did, and I’ve had it ever since,” says Lalk.
“It’s very unusual and I knew it at the time because I grew up around Fords. My dad was a Ford technician for 35 years in the metropolitan Milwaukee area. I own three ’59 Ford retractables, one of them he bought new, so it’s been in the family since new. So I know Fords pretty well, and when I saw how unusual this was, I had to have it.”
FoMoCo built a modest total of 14,661 four-door hardtops in the fancier Galaxie XL series for 1964. The Galaxie 500XLs were also available as two-door hardtops and convertibles, with the coupes being far and away the most popular.
What isn’t known for sure, at least according to Lalk, is how many XLs were loaded up the way his unrestored green car was — with an optional 390 V-8, four-speed top-loader and air conditioning. The XL package brought with it bucket seats and floor shifter, plenty of special badging and trim bits, special tail light lenses, and fancier wheel covers.
What seems to stop people in their tracks most when they see the car is the low-back bucket seats on either side of a four-speed with a console. Such performance car equipment doesn’t seem to fit on a four-door. With all four doors swung open, something just seems amiss.
“And at first blush, when you see the car, you don’t realize it’s a four-door because of the roofline,” Lalk adds. “People walk by and say, ‘I had one. When I was a kid I had one.’ I say really? ‘Yeah, it was a two-door.’ Well, a lot of them were two-doors! I’ve got a couple myself! …You get the older guys who see it and say, ‘I worked at a Ford dealership and I remember those, but they didn’t have all those options!’ This car without all that trim, you would walk past it and not even notice it.”
That the car is a basically unrestored survivor only increases its cool factor. The odometer reads 64,000 miles — about 10,000 of which have come with Lalk behind the wheel in the past dozen years. He has done only a few minor things to the Ford over the years and is not entertaining any notions of having the car restored.
“I haven’t had to do a lot of work to the car. That’s one of the reasons I was so interested in it — it was literally a turn-key vehicle,” he said. “I’ve done things like brakes and exhaust and maintenance and things like that. Mostly it’s just keeping it clean, but I haven’t done any restoration to it. The car only has 64,000 miles on it, so the drive line has never been apart. It had some dings and dents and [the previous owner] showed me some documentation on that and they were repaired and there is some touch-up on the car, but it has not had a restoration. The interior and everything is all original.”
Lalk and the car’s previous owner became friends after the title was signed over, but neither knew a lot about the car’s early years. Lalk believes the Galaxie 500XL might have come out of South Carolina, but isn’t positive. He’s hoping some day somebody recalls seeing the rare big-block green-with-tan-interior hardtop in the past and might know who originally owned it. “I’m hoping bringing it out will get people to see it and someone will say, 'I know where that car came from!’" he laughs. “That’s the kind of thing you always hope for at shows. You hope maybe somebody sees it and knows some piece of history about it.”
Lalk keeps a sign with the car when he shows it that details the car’s rarity. If he didn’t point out a few of its most interesting traits, he knows the car would be easy to overlook. He’s never seen another one equipped similarly, and he’s hoping that calling a little attention to it now and then might help him unearth any other similar cars that still exist. “With the color combination of green with a saddle tan interior, big-block, four-speed, XL, air, AM/FM, there’s like three of them. That’s it. I’m looking and trying to find out exactly what that number is,” he added.
Of course, the Galaxie 500s and Galaxie 500XLs in their more traditional configurations were anything but scarce in their hey days. For 1964, more than 503,000 of the base Galaxie 500s were built, while the upscale XL500s accounted for another 88,136 assemblies. The full-size Fords rolled on 119-inch wheelbases and stretched about 209 inches from tip to tip. Under the hood, the base engine was the 260-cid overhead-valve V-8 listed at 164 hp. The 390-cid V-8 was a $246 add-on. That option, plus the four-speed and air-conditioning, probably pushed the base price of $3,287 for Lalk’s four-door up close to he $4,000 mark.
Not many of the big, family-friendly, full-size Fords were treated as gently as Lalk’s car during the 1960s and beyond. He’s not sure why the car had only 52,000 miles on it after its first 48 years. Lalk and his wife, Sue, have been averaging about the same number of miles every year they have owned it.
"It’s a very nice driving vehicle. It’s still a 1964 car, but it drives nice. I’d have no trouble hopping in it and taking 100-mile trips,” he says. “The car gets used. That’s why I have them. They don’t sit in the garage and get pampered. I do try to take care of my vehicles, but I drive all of them, and I definitely drive this one.”
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