The numbers game has always been a part of the domestic car model name. For example, who can forget the muscle car models that used large cubic inch displacement numbers as part of their sales pitch?

Mechanized beasts with number names like SS 454, 426 Hemi, or 428 Cobra Jet, to name but a few of these legendary street fighters from a bygone era.

Jim Sutherland

However, there is one number that stands out from the motorized crowd for a different reason: 500. This number was associated with only two of the Big Three, namely Ford and Chrysler models during the 1950s and ‘60s, and usually meant an upscale edition, with some exceptions in the Blue Oval family.

The 500 label typically reflected the car’s lofty status within a particular model brand at Ford and Chrysler. 500 was a premier model within their car lineups and elevated their owners to a higher level of prestige in car status because a 500 model typically had more whistles, buzzers and bling than a lesser model-except when Ford used the 500 handle for its lesser models like the 1964-78 Ford Custom 500 models-along with the 1961 Ford Fairlane 500.

Ford’s 500 label program initially ran from 1957 until 1959 with the Fairlane 500 models, upscale cars that were perched on the top rung of the Ford models in terms of prestige. The first-generation Ford Fairlane 500s had plenty of bling to celebrate their lofty perch at the top of the Ford Division during a time when chrome was king and meant more bucks were spent on a more expensive car model.

Nevertheless, a 1961 Ford Fairlane 500 model became a cheapskate model that targeted cheapskate customers because the Ford Galaxie 500 had taken top spot in the Ford family. The Galaxie model was added to the Fairlane 500 name in 1959, but quickly became a standalone name after it muscled its way to first place honors in the early 1960s.

Ford’s obvious implication? A Galaxie was an out-of-this-world car that rocketed ahead of the pack during the Space Race, particularly when 500 followed Galaxie on the emblems of a Ford.

1962 marked the return of the Ford Fairlane 500 as a prestigious name, although the Fairlane had already become an intermediate model during the early Sixties after the Fairlane shrank in the wash. Thus, the downsized Fairlane could once again offer a luxury model with 500 in its badges.

Honorable mention in the 500 club goes to the Mustang Shelby GT 500 in the Ford numerical brand game. 

As mentioned earlier, 500 was also a mainstay as a luxury number for Mother Mopar’s Dodge boys in days of automotive yore. One of the most famous earlier 500 models was the Dodge D-500, not to be confused with the Dodge heavy truck that was also known as a D-500.

Instead, the Dodge D-500 car version was arguably a high end 1950s muscle car built for a customer who wanted performance, style and luxury in one package. The boys at Mopar wanted a fast street machine with plenty of creature comforts when they created the Dodge D-500.

Eventually the “500” label attached itself to upscale Dodge models like the Polara, Coronet and Monaco 500s during the 1960s. The emphasis for Dodge 500 models leaned more toward luxury, but they could still be powered by big block monster engines if the customer checked off the right boxes on the option order list for them. 

The 500 club may not have included General Motors as a member, but it is clear that 500 was a big part of its arch-rivals Ford and Chrysler numerical game plan during a bygone automotive era.      

Jim Sutherland

BY: Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.