Ford Customline 1955-59: In its prime before prime-time

18 October 2013

The legendary Len Lukey (No.1) and ‘young gun’ Norm Beechey (No.4) are captured in their historic battle in ’55 Customlines at Albert Park in 1956. Note the straw poking out of Beechey’s front bumper, after he ran wide and collected some hay bales. (Image from: Chevron Publishing)

Ford’s mighty Customline V8 sedan could well have won multiple Australian Touring Car Championships had Australia’s premier tin-top title been up and running a few years prior to its inception in 1960.

Henry’s handsome, rugged and fast family sedan - particularly the 1955-59 models powered by the 272 cid (4.5 litre) overhead valve Y-block V8 - was at its competitive peak long before the ATCC existed. In fact, prior to 1960, there wasn’t even a national set of touring car rules. 

Touring car races were mostly support events at open wheeler and sports car meetings and media coverage was poor. It was generally regarded as a bit of fun in which open wheeler drivers would often compete in the road cars they used to tow their racing cars.

The tin-top races were also staged by a multitude of promoters in different states, who all had their own sets of rules. As a result there was virtually no limit to the modifications being performed. The cars became increasingly fast – and dangerous.

However, it was this run-what-ya-brung philosophy and close relationship with the showroom product that ensured touring car racing’s rapid and irreversible rise in popularity in the 1950s and ‘60s to become Australia’s number one motor sport attraction.