Obsession to detail brings custom Ford prototype back to life

Marty Vieau even got Gene Winfield to restore the car’s original colors

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1918
GT-X
The Fairlane GT-X custom is subtle when you see it in person, but the pearly white paint, metal flake blue stripes and specialty trim makes it intriguing

Marty Vieau admits he is obsessed with excellence. He even describes his life’s mission as “I will never settle for anything less than excellence. In job, in hobby or home life.”

So, it is probably fitting that Vieau is the guy who uncovered a long lost factory custom Ford Fairlane that many assumed had been destroyed years ago, and not only did he find the car, he took on the challenge of restoring it, one tiny detail at a time.

Vieau’s day job is overseeing a no-excuses quality control program. But away from work, he has a special love for Ford Fairlanes and acts as technical advisor for the Fairlane Club of America. Nearly 20 years ago, he received an inquiry letter from someone in Ohio claiming to own a 1966 Ford Fairlane (dubbed GT-X a Go Go) that reportedly was part of Ford’s Custom Car Caravan in the mid-1960s.

After its restoration, the car had its first public viewing at the 2019 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Illinois

He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see what he thought simply did not exist and made the drive to Ohoi from his home in Minnesota. He found the unusual prototype, somewhat worse for wear but still sporting many of the one-off components used to create the car.

The Fairlane was built by Ford to get some hype going for the restyled mid-size that found itself competing with Pontiac GTOs and Chevy Chevelles for street supremacy and sales. The Ford Custom Car Caravan began in 1963 when Jacques Passino, heavily involved in Ford’s racing efforts, thought it prudent to create a group of vehicles in partnership with model maker AMT and to tour the country and show off performance to a growing crowd of racing enthusiasts. AMT was offering kits with customized versions of the Ford vehicles on its boxes.

The custom Fairlane didn’t come along until around 1965 when planning began in tandem with the car’s restyling. Once production began in 1965, Ford pulled a 2-door hardtop off the line and took it to the prototype division where the magic began. 

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Power was the first order of business and a 427cid side-oiler, medium-riser V8 was put under the hood and was mated to Ford’s C6 automatic and a 9-inch rear hauling 4:11 gears. How’s that for a show car!

At the prototype division the car was outfitted with numerous parts that normally might see duty only on test vehicles. Some of these parts were installed to upgrade and improve performance of suspension, cooling, fuel delivery, exhaust and brakes. Engineers carefully documented these components and marked and tagged them when they were installed, an effort that paid dividends many years later when Vieau got his hands on the car for its eventual restoration.

Once the Fairlane finished its time at the prototype shop, it was shipped off to renowned customizer Gene Winfield in Phoenix, where he had been hired to manage AMT’s Speed and Custom Division Shop. AMT had been building specialty cars for movies and television and Winfield had been involved in many of those projects. 

Ford’s Custom Car Caravan was offering various customizers the opportunity to handle creative transformations of Ford offerings to be used on the annual tours, so it was natural Winfield would get the opportunity to take on one of the Ford models.

The interior is all 1960s custom with over the top metal flake Naugahyde with rows and rows of shiny buttons in the seating area and the blue metal flake adorning the side panels, trim and steering wheel

Vieau was awed by how complete the custom Fairlane was when he first inspected it. True to form for most any customizer, Winfield shaved off door handles and superfluous trim, replacing much of the trim with handmade moldings. Door operators became semi-hidden push buttons, front and rear bumpers were reshaped and tucked closer to the body, and a set of Hurst custom wheels were refinished with paint to match the blue accent striping that adorned the car’s hood and rear deck.

Headlights and taillights were given a contemporary “french” effect, dropping the lights and lenses into the smoothed body. Vieau discovered during the restoration that Winfield had carefully filled and smoothed every seam on the Fairlane, including under the hood. He noted that every curve and contour was meticulously crafted so nothing was out of proportion.

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The car’s front end has a handmade grille and fill panel in addition to the headlight cavities that envelope the single lamps and small chromed grilles immediately below. The taillights are handled the same way with the light units dropped into the sheetmetal. 

On the hood, Winfield created two bulbous vents accented with chrome inserts that make a striking impression. When you first see the car in person, your reaction is, “What’s under those scoops?”

The candy pearl-white paint is contrasted with metal flake blue stripes, a color that is carried over into the interior. But another of the most interesting elements is the side trim/exhaust which runs from the trailing edge of the front fender to a wide exhaust opening just forward of the rear wheel well. The car was outfitted with a dual system that could be switched from a more standard muffler and pipe combination to open exhaust which exited out of those broad side openings.

Exterior appointments were finished with the custom Hurst wheels and red line tires, but the creative touches didn’t stop there. As each door is opened, the door jams show off custom chromed covers, shaped to fit the door edge and the body jam. The step trim follows the same multi-bar treatment as the side moldings and, of course, there are no signs of seams where you would expect to see them.

The interior is simple. Door panels, seat covers, steering wheel and dash all use a what might be considered a gaudy metal flake blue Naugahyde material, but somehow it works for this show car that is meant to grab attention. The seating treatment, buckets front and back, have sculptured seats and backs using rows of chrome buttons for emphasis. The dash gets the color treatment, but for the most part looks pretty much as it came from the factory, which, by the way, is where you get to peer at the odometer and see those 3,003 original miles. 

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The miles beg the question… did anyone ever take this beast out to bang the gears just once or maybe take on a stoplight foe or two? We’ll probably never know.

As the restoration progressed, Vieau contacted Winfield, who wanted to offer the ultimate service for a restoration this special. He would be the guy to handle the repaint. So, the grand master and creator of this masterpiece was brought in to provide the coup de gras, a careful replication of the pearl finish and a thumbs up approval of the finished project.

Vieau spent countless hours tracking down missing or non-repairable bits and pieces that, in many cases, were marked and tagged with color codes and numbers. Fortunately, the car had not experienced so much  weathering that the marks were completely wiped away and he meticulously brought each of them back into view. It’s fascinating, particularly for anyone hung up on details to see how carefully this restoration was approached.

The car had its first and only public viewing at the 2019 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Illinois, garnering a hallowed spot right inside the front entry so the thousands of spectators that show up for that event would see this rarity right away.

And after those decades of working to bring the Fairlane GT-X a Go Go back to life, where has it landed? 

Marty Vieau decided the car needed to be in a collection and consigned it to Barrett-Jackson’s 2020 Scottsdale auction, where it sold to a winning bid of $236,500. A tidy sum, but also an extremely rare piece of Ford muscle car history now carefully and obsessively preserved.

At age 12, Jim Volgarino peeked under the hood of his grandfather’s 1957 Oldsmobile and saw a Rocket 88 for the first time. He was hooked. Following stints in the Air Force, the newspaper business, the printing business, and the teaching business he’s finally settled into his first love… automotive writing. He’s covered everything from Bonneville Speed Week to the Lambrecht Chevrolet auction in Pierce, Nebraska, from his home in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He’s owned pretty much anything and everything with a motor and wheels. Currently, he’s restoring a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS 409.

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