Ford’s Slippery NASCAR Scam: The 1962 Starlift

Faced with a competitive disadvantage in 1962, Ford made a bold end run around the NASCAR rulebook, and it worked—but for only one race. 

As the 1962 NASCAR Grand National Series got under way, the Ford teams were soon faced with a significant problem, and it’s evident in the two photos just above. For ’62, Ford dropped the sleek Starliner hardop body style of ’60-61 (top) and adopted a squared-off, formal look (just below) for the Galaxie. Ford called it “DIstinguished Hardtop Styling,” but in NASCAR lore it became known as the Boxtop.

Drivers reported that with the boxy, Thunderbird-style greenhouse, the Galaxie no longer handled properly in traffic, while Holman Moody, Ford’s official factory race shop, estimated that the new roofline cost 3 mph or more on the big tracks. Clearly, something had to be done. There was added pressure from Dearborn. Henry Ford II declared that spring that the AMA’s 1957 racing ban had “come to have neither purpose nor effect,”  so now the carmaker was totally committed to motorsports. And naturally, results were expected.

Exactly who came up with a workaround for this apparently unsolvable problem is no longer clear, but it was a peach. A lift-off fiberglass top for the Galaxie Sunliner convertible was quickly engineered with a sleek, slippery profile much like the ’60-’61 Starliner. The aerodynamic bolt-on top was given the name Starlift, as Ford hoped to sell it to NASCAR by representing it as a factory-authorized dealer accessory.

Unfortunately, the execution wasn’t very convincing. For one thing, the ’62 rear passenger glass on each side didn’t come close to fitting the sloping C-pillar, requiring a pair of tacked-on plastic fillers to close the gap. NASCAR officials weren’t buying it, and as chief inspector Norris Friel huddled with NASCAR boss Big Bill France—long story short—the Starlift roof was outlawed.

But since five Starlift-equipped Fords had already qualified for a rained-out event at Atlanta before the ban, they were allowed to start the make-up event on June 10. And there, driving a Holman Moody Ford, Fred Lorenzen scored a victory for the Starlift the one and only time it ever raced in NASCAR competition.

Ford collected a meager five wins in 1962, a year dominated by Pontiac. The company’s aero troubles would be solved the following year with the ’63 1/2 Galaxie Sports Hardtop. The Starlift did run one more time—at Bonneville in October of ’62, where Holman Moody and Lorenzen brought the Atlanta winner, now equipped with an experimental FE-based 483 cubic-inch V8 built by Ford engineering. There, the big Ford was clocked at 182.19 mph and averaged 163.91 mph for 500 miles, setting a slew of international speed records.