Hey, There’s a Cool Car: 1958 Ford Custom 300
By Charles Krome
This one’s from the “you learn something new every day” department—or at least the “I learn something new every day” department. Because until I stopped to take pictures of this fascinating Ford sedan, I had never heard of the “Custom 300.” It looked like some interesting example of 1950s Detroit iron when I first drove by it, and although I’m no expert on this era’s cars, I figured I’d at least recognize the name of this one when I got close enough to see it. But as I said, no dice.
From what I’ve been able to turn up on the ol’ Internet, this iteration of the Custom line ran from 1957-1959 and was Ford’s entry level model at the time. In fact, as was trumpeted in the car’s PR materials, “[T]he best news about the ’58 Ford is its price! Ford has actually reduced prices on the popular Custom 300 models you will see in this catalog! … Ford offers them at a price so low that it makes Ford, more than ever, the lowest priced car of the low-price three.” (Italics and exclamation points all per Ford!)
To put this into more concrete terms, the original MSRP on the car was $2,109, and to add a little context, the most expensive 1958 Ford was the Fairlane 500 Skyliner Retractable Convertible Coupe, which started at $3,163.
Yet despite all this focus on affordability, the accents on the Custom 300 are pretty amazing. Check out those marker lights mounted on top and behind the headlamps—and the headlamp treatment itself. And that honeycomb grille with its unique compass-like badge. And the wrap-around front and rear glass. And that highly detailed hood scoop. And the straked hood. And the sculpted brake lights and even the lettering on the hubcaps. The car’s like a 1958 version of the 2011 Ford Fiesta, in its own way.
Under the hood of this specific model—a Ford Custom 300 Fordor Sedan (and again, “Fordor” is Ford’s PR department earning its keep)—is a 292-cubic-inch V8 with a double-barrel Holley carburetor, rated at 205 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s not all that much power, but the car weighed in at a bit less than 3,600 lbs., so it has a better power-to-weight ratio than something like an I4 Chevy Malibu or Honda Accord. Actually, the best modern comparison as far as dimensions go is the Chevrolet Impala; both it and the Custom 300 are about 200 inches long, with a nearly 3,600-lb. curb weight and something over 200 horses worth of motivation.
And speaking of models, I’ll point out that there also was a two-door version—cleverly designated the “Tudor Sedan” in Ford-speak—and a Business Sedan, and the latter was a relatively interesting model. It was a Tudor version in which the rear seats had been removed, providing a flat load floor for extra storage. Oddly, however, it doesn’t seem to have had a pass-through that would connect the rear cargo area and the trunk.
On the other hand, despite these kinds of relatively advanced characteristics, the Ford was nowhere near as fuel-efficient as today’s vehicles—the information I’ve seen indicates the Custom 300 turns up mileage numbers of about 9 mpg city/14 mpg highway/11.5 mpg combined.
So just think of how much gasoline that thing sucked down when Ford put it through “the most rugged pre-announcement road test ever given an automobile.” Forgive me for quoting at length again from the Custom 300’s brochure, but we’re talking about an around-the-world drive during which “Ford engineers sent it up and over the snow-capped Alps … the mighty Himalyas … the towering Rockies.” Then, they also “exposed Ford’s ’58 styling to the critical eyes of the fashion conscious from London to Saigon … including such famous style centers as Paris, Rome and Athens.”
And guess what? “On every count … in every country … the ’58 Ford won acclaim equal to that given the finest cars ever built.”
All of which makes you wonder how a vehicle that amazing could last just one more year on the market.
(A tip of the hat goes out to OldCarBrochures.com for this one.)