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Cover Stories

jthomas cover

It was 1961 and was just out of high school and I was ready to enter college which meant that I should start looking for my first car. My brother found a 56 Ford he thought I should go drive on a dealer lot just nine miles away in Sturgis, KY. What a find it was, 1956 Victoria two door hard top in Sunset coral and Black, 292 CI, water cooled automatic.

I was driving it when I met Kay in college. Kay and I were married in the spring of 1965 and in 2015 we celebrated our 50th anniversary That Vicky served me well until I traded if for a new car the day John Kennedy was killed.

Twenty years later, we still talked about how nice it would be to have another one. It was a real hot day in August of 1985 when I put an ad in the Prairie Farmer Magazine (Indiana Publication) looking for a 1956 Ford Victoria. We were living in Valparaiso, IN at the time. A truck driver from Ladoga IN called and said his 56 matched what I was looking for. Three days later, I drove it home and started the restoration process. I found a body shop owner operator that was willing to work on the Vicky in the evenings when I had time to work with him. He told me he was a crash rebuilder, but he was sure he could make the Vicky straight and fit properly and give it a paint job that would stand out for years and I was welcome to work with him even though I had very little knowledge of body work at the time. Over a four month period he and I were able to rebuild the body and he was able to paint it just a month before John Deere Company (my employer for 31 years) transferred me to PA.

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When I was 16, my Dad bought me my first car, a 1955 Ford Custom Line Tudor for $200. I believe the year was 1963. The body needed work done to it, especially the rocker panels. So my Dad and I started working on it. Since we had to paint the car anyway, I took off the hood ornaments and scripts (Dad didn't object) and then broke out the J C Whitney catalog. From the catalog I purchased a tube grill, fender mirrors, full moon hub-caps, and adapter kit to put Oldsmobile bullet tail lights on the car (Dad didn't object).

Then one day I came home from school told my Dad someone at school is willing to trade his manual transmission for my automatic transmission, then I would have a three speed on the floor. (Dad objected I) Dad sat me down and explained, "When he started driving he shifted on the floor. Then they made It easier by shifting on the column. Then came the Cat's Nuts (Dad's way of saying really good I). You shift the pointer to R and go backwards, then shift the pointer to D and goes forward. And you dumb SOB you are going right back to the beginning." So I explained NO ONE wants a slush box, and a floor shift Is COOLI Well it worked, and Dad had let me use the garage. Some of my high school buddies came up to help me switch the transmissions. My Dad had a good friend that was a Ford mechanic and asked him to help us, and he did.

Truth be told, I never even got under the car during the switch. When they were finished I was one happy camper! Shortly after the switch, there was a problem. When trying to shift sometimes the transmission would lock up in first gear. I would then have to crawl under the car to pry the linkage to unlock (rain, sleet, snow and hail).

My best friend's Dad had a gas station/garage. I dropped my car off for state inspection while I was In school. When his Dad took it for a test drive it stuck for him too. He bent and adjusted the linkage and the problem was solved.

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The golf cart shown with our redone 1955 Sunliner was built in 1990 by Bob Haas in 1995. He sold it to a gent in Florida, and I traded my 1955 Ford with two front ends to the gent for the Club Car 1955 golf cart. It looks cool in the front of the 1955 Fairlane Sunliner that we just restored from a wild custom to stock.

This story really began in 1962, when at age 17, I bought a 1955 four-door Customline for $450. I worked off part of the money for 25 cent an hour at my family’s A & W Root Beer Drive-in in Sanford, FL. That car carried me 100,000 miles to Seminole High School, Orland Junior College, and Florida State University. Sold in 1968 for $165, I still miss it.

Over the years, I owned parts and cheap project cars. Then in 1999, I bought a rough-running, highly-customized 1955 Sunliner with a fair on a Sunliner was $2,224 and 49,966 were produced (far more than 1,999 Glasstops made in 1955). In 2000, another $2,500 worth of work for new intake, carb, exhaust, and wiring, and the car ran well. In January 2003, it was a Fomoco Times cover story. Yeah! It ran well until 2014. Then I undertook a cosmetic restoration to stock. It has a good-running Y-block 292 and 3-speed stick with overdrive, so little mechanical work was needed.Fortunately, the Sunliner had been heavily customized in 1958. I say “fortunately” for three reasons. First, the car would be driven very little, mainly to shows. The 85,570 odometer miles might be original. Second, the car would be kept inside, protecting it from the elements. Third, the car would be driven at least a couple of hundred miles per year, keeping the gas fresh and brake lines clean.

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I first saw this 1955 6 cyl. Fire Chief car in the parking lot at the 1990 CVA Convention in Dearborn. I fell in love with it. My son David had been on the local fire department for only a few months and my brother C.W., who was born the same day and my wife Shirley back on January 9, 1938, was on the same fire department. It was owned by Warren Fetzer.

I like what I saw, so I asked Warren if it was for sale. The answer was no. I was having a lot of health problems at that time and didn’t really need it. About a year and a half later I made a call to Warren. Still the answer was no. So, I started calling Warren every six months to check on him and the 1955 Fire Chief car. Then came the 1996 CVA Convention at Dearborn Inn. Now mind you this was 6 long years that I had bugged Warren. Shirley had drove two card to Dearborn. So we walk in to the doors there was a group of CVA members greeting us as usual the first day (or every day) of the Convention. Warren was in that group. He looked me in the eye and said yes. I guess he was tired of me calling him every six months. True, I had a garage full Because I had just bought a 19,5000 mile, all original, 1955 4 door Fairlane and a 1957 Red and White 2 door hardtop. But my answer was yes with one catch the car on soil at 11 McClardy Road. The deal was finished.

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Our trip to Dayton OH started out quite normal – about 100 miles out the engine seems to be losing power. Hot weather, right? Also hard starting as I stopped for fuel every couple hundred miles, but ….. hot weather, right? Got a little worse the further we drove. Too late to turn around as we are now over half way, almost thru Illinois. We had decided to spend the night in Danville. As we parked at the motel, the engine died, and two couples were standing close by and they came over and pushed us into a parking spot by the grass. As I walked around the car I found we were sitting by sprinkler heads so they helped us push the car out of that spot and under the canopy of the motel where the clerk said we could park our car. We got out our CVA roster to see if a local member might know of a mechanic/shop who might be able to look at it. Larry Cox was quite close and had time to check it out after 10:00 AM, but I wanted to be there by then. We found the name for Danny Calton, who knew of nobody in the area that he could recommend. So after some small talk and he knew where we were staying, he and his girlfriend (Emily) insisted on coming out and taking us out to dinner at the “Beef House” and what a treat it was. Had a very nice evening with them and when they dropped us back at the motel, we met a fellow standing close to our car who had heard of our woes from the desk clerk and wondered if he could be of assistance as he was a retired mechanic. Gene Prokop from Omaha came to our rescue. I explained what was happening with my limited knowledge as I don’t claim to be a mechanic but I have been around these cars all my life so I have enough knowledge to make me dangerous. I told him I was convinced it was a vacuum problem. He said perhaps but let’s look at your points first as it sounded to him like they were probably not opening properly. AND HE WAS RIGHT. So after adjusting them the engine fired right up and seemed to have some power back. What a great bunch of people we have met, but wait…. There is more. At breakfast Gene came over to me and any told me he had set my points at .0030 and it should have been .0016, but shouldn’t give us a problem for the rest of trip.

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The 1956 Ford was basically a carryover of the ’55 model with different trim, but inside it was all-new.  Included was a completely restyled dashboard available with optional safety padding along with padded sunvisors and seat belts as part of a safety promotion.  Instead of a flat steering wheel the Ford used a new wheel with a 2.5-inch recessed center hub said to lessen injury to the driver in the event of a collision. Increased power was available from the 292 cubic inch Thunderbird Y-Block V8.  Thanks to higher compression and improved camshaft lift it broke the 200 horsepower mark, while a new 312 cubic inch Thunderbird Special V8 was added at mid-year for an additional 15 horsepower over the 292.  For ’56 Ford also upgraded to a new 12-volt electrical system, following Chevrolet’s lead in 1955.  Solidly built with clean, colourful styling and good performance the ’56 Ford sold well including its Fairlane convertible model with 58,147 built.  Today the ’56 Ford Victoria hardtops, Skyliners and Sunliner convertibles are solid collectable vehicles and while there are a good many still around their popularity has soared in the past decade.

amey 2015

January 2010, was the year the project started. My aunt found a 1956 Ford Mainline for sale. I didn’t know what it looked like until she showed me, but thinking it was in good shape for the year made the deal to bring her home on a cold, snowy day from Wayland, New York.

My aunt showed me black and white pictures of my grandmothers Ford that she had before I was around. Hers was pink and black, and I thought wouldn’t that be cool to paint it just like grandmas. Then changed the plans and decided on the blue and white.

She was plain as could be, we say the diamond in the rough though. She was straight six, with three on the tree. I couldn’t drive it, so we looked for something different to put in it. We got a 302, bored 30 over and an automatic transmission. My aunt Carol, and brother Brian rebuilt the motor, and my cousin Mike rebuilt the transmis-sion. My father, Harold was the electrician for this project. We replaced the suspension, tires and wheels, radiator, put a Holly four barrel carburetor on the motor along with lots of other things that needed replacing. My brother was the brains on changing the brackets to change the rear seat.

mickmoore1

In the fall of 1955 I was riding my Schwinn Panther. While riding past my neighbors house (who was the town J.P.) I was able to check out the brand new 1956 Indiana State Police cars. I stopped for a closer look. One of the troopers left the J.P.’s office and he must have seen that I was interested and he took the time to point out the new features of the 1956 or maybe he just wanted to check out my Schwinn as it was decked out with all the accessories! In any case I never forgot that experience. After 3 years in the Army as an MP. I considered becoming a State Police officer until they sent a recruiter to interview me and explained the pay scale and that was the end of that! Fast forward to 1976 when Toby, Sandy, Dinah and I met and decided it was time for the 1955-56’s to be recognized.

Through the years I have owned several 1955-56 Crowns, Converts and pickups. Through the club I’ve made many friends and one of my close friends is Dick Snyder from Cloverdale, IN. In 1995 I explained my interest in restoring an Indiana State Police car. He being from Indiana knew what I was talking about. I told him I was looking for a 1956 two-door Mainliner preferably black with a gray interior, stick shift and no accessories. In less than a year Dick called and said “I bought you a car”. I asked him “What did you buy me?” He replied “Well what did you tell me you wanted.” He found a one owner 1956 Mainliner in Kansas. The only accessories were a heater and turn signals. Perfect. The car was painted green but I didn’t want to bring that up!

darsey1

In October 1954 I went to work for the railroad. I owned a 1954 ford. On a Saturday in 1955 I walked into the ford dealership in the little town of Baxley, Ga. There set a red and white 1955 Crown Victoria. I thought it was the most beautiful car I had ever saw. I had to have one.

Luck was with me. A man at the railroad owned a Tropical Rose and Snowshoe White one. He was going to join the military and if I would give him two hundred and fifty dollars and take up payments I could have it. Finally I had my dream car!

It had a high performance engine from the factory. It was a fast car. Car owners would come down from Atlanta, Georgia to race my 1955. It was also mentioned in a true life novel about fast cars and pretty women. One evening late I was heading out of town with a buddy of mine I had just looked down at the speedometer and I was running close to ninety miles an hour. When I looked up there was a pulp wood truck setting in the middle of the road with no lights. I hit the truck. My 55 caught a fire and my friend Howard McCloud whom I had just passed pulled us out saving our lives. My Crown Victoria was gone. I stayed in the hospital for over three weeks.

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When I was fifteen years of age, I rode my red and white Western Flyer bicycle to the Wauchula Ford Dealership located in Wauchula, Flor-ida. The dealership had a red 1955 Ford Vic-toria 2-door hardtop on the turn table in their show room. I drooled over the prettiest Ford I had ever seen! I promised myself I would one day have one of those cars for my very own.

Six years later at age 21, I purchased my first 1955 Crown Victoria, black in color, for $750. I have the original bill of sale, from Harold Peeples Motor Sales, Ft. Meade, Fl. Same year I had “Vicky” painted Torch Red since my younger brother Robert lost control of the car on a wet road and went through a barb-wire fence, scratching the car all over the entire body. My promise I made at age 15 was now fulfilled. “Vicky” had a dealer option continental kit, one spot light and front grill guard when purchased.

Upon my marriage in December, 1962, I traded “Vicky” for a mobile home. Six months later my finances afforded me to buy “Vicky” back and drove it for another five years. In 1963, I purchased my second “Vicky”, a red and white 1955 Crown Vic. I was now the proud own-er of two Crown Victorias. I then traded the red and white “Vicky” to brother Robert for a 2 door '56 sedan.

In 1965, I became a deputy Sheriff and focused on law enforcement and put Fords on hold. With much regret, I sold my red 1955 Vicky in 1966 for $650.

I built my '55 Crown Vic Glasstop Bumble Bee "my way", as Frank Sinatra would sing. Like many other CVA cars, it is comprised of the best parts I could assemble from quite a number of other cars, including a two-door post Mainline Sedan, two rusty Crowns, a 1971 Ranchero and a '55 Glasstop. The drive train is all-Ford with rebuilt 351 Cleveland and C-4 automatic from the 1971 Ranchero, but is installed such that an original 272/Fordomatic will drop right in. My builder used lots of good old American ingenuity and creativity, and the final product is something I am proud of. I have wanted a Bumble Bee since 1991, when I saw one at the National CVA Convention in Fredericksburg, VA. Finished in 2014, it was four years in construction.

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My love for '55 Fords began in 1963 when I was a senior at Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida. My first car, a'53 Plymouth Cranbrook, had been rear-ended by a Greyhound bus, and even though my driver's door said "CAUTION: BLIND MAN DRIVING", I won $200 in court. Add $225 to that and in 1963 I bought my schoolteacher driven four-door '55 Customline 6-cylinder automatic with 40,000 miles. I had saved all that money working for 25 cents an hour at my parents' A & W Root Beer Drive-In. As a senior at Florida State University (FSU), four years later, my '55 had 140,000 miles on it, and I sold it to another FSU student in 1967. Like some of you, I lost my cherry in a '55 Ford. It would be the late 1980's before I started getting back into '55-'56 Fords, with a series of 25 project and parts cars. My sweet wife of 37 years, Becky, was always tolerant of "that crusty old junk". We both worked paycheck-to-paycheck until 15 years ago, when I bought a solid '55 Sedan, which had had a Crown roof, welded on. Crown doors hung, and rear Crown windows bolted in. That project car 15 years ago cost $1,500 and it had a smoky 6-cylinder automatic. It killed every mosquito within miles whenever it huffed and puffed. Then in 2009,1 found Jack Evans in Annapolis. He assured me that with plenty of money and my accumulated parts, he could make my parts into a nice car. He had done two Crowns before, and he made mine stunning, after four years of part-time work.