My passion for the ‘55 Ford goes way back. It was about the summer of 1955. We lived on a farm in southwest Minnesota. I was standing in the yard and I looked down the road, I the distance there was a car coming. As it was getting closer and closer, there it was, this beautiful brand new 1955 red convertible, come hell a kiting with stream of dust behind it, (I was about 9 ½ years old). I told myself, “I am going to own a car like that someday.” The guy that owned it drove a gravel truck at a pit near our farm all summer. Well his name was Morice Zimmer (Moose, because of his size). He married a girl from town and I never seen him again.
I am the 3rd Australian owner of the Victoria, the importer being the first; it was sold to another, then to me in a weathered but running condition. It was registered it on ‘CH’ plates & my Family drove it ‘as was’ for about a year.
It was a low mileage California USA Ford evidenced by the minimal corrosion to the body & virtually none to the chassis & running gear. The body rust was confined to 45% of one side rocker, front fender lower trailing panel areas & the rear beaver panel at both sides. Nothing else of significance was found. Also, there was minor denting of the roof panel … An easy fix.
In 1963, I was a Junior at Paxton High School in Jacksonville, Florida. My dad was the pastor of a small church and a mail carrier for the Duval County School Board and Mom was a homemaker so, needless to say, they didn’t have any extra money to throw around and us kids learned very quickly that, if we wanted it, we got out and worked for it. So, I landed a part time job on a dairy farm about a mile from where we lived. It was gut wrenching hard work but I stuck it out and worked to pay my own way through high school and saved up enough money to buy my first car. Back in those days, it was every school boys dream to have a drivable car, and, those who had to get out and work for one, like I did, parked it very close to Heavens Gate and guarded it with there life.
I fell in love with a very beautiful Florida farm girl and when I graduated in 1964, I joined the military and ask her to marry me. She said yes and, while most of our dates were just to church or on family outings, the 55 was our dream car. I drove the 55 back and forth from Fort Jackson, in Columbia, SC, to Jacksonville Florida every week end to visit her until I was deployed to Korea in 1965. While I was in Korea, I did something that I regretted for many years. I sold my beloved 55 to one of our church members.
In 1961, our first year of marriage, we purchased a 1956 Ford Sunliner Convertible. It was Torch Red with a 312 engine with standard transmission with overdrive. I believe it was the fastest car I had ever owned at that time, but it wasn't practical once the children started coming. So it had to go.
We worked hard and raised four children. In 2007 our youngest son purchased our business, and since then I have been very busy chasing and finding parts for our new project. It is a 1956 Crown Vic Skyliner, which we purchased in 2005. But I should go back to the first 1956 Ford that we restored. By coincidence, these two cars were originally owned by the same person.
It was in 1994, we bought a 1956 Ford Sunliner Convertible at a bank auction. I had the car done at two body shops, both were total disasters and the car was not that bad to start with. I heard about a body man in Pawlet Vt. named Gary Stone. I took the car to him and he did a remarkable job. It is Fiesta Red and Colonial White with a lifetime warranty on the paint job. We took it to an all Ford car show and it won best of show. Our first show and best of show - WOW! It has also taken many other trophies over the years.
It all started in the spring of 1956 when my Dad pulled into our driveway with a brand new 1956 Mandarin orange and colonial white Ford convertible. Wow, what a car... I was hooked on ‘56 Fords, then and now. The car was for my mom, Helen. Dad had special ordered it from Collingwood Motors, Findlay, Ohio, our town’s, longstanding Ford dealership. The options included power steering and brakes, a safety equipment package, which included safety belts, a special steering wheel and a padded dash. Also in the optional order was an automatic transmission and after-market Yankee, fender-mounted mirrors. And of course, the high impact Mandarin orange and colonial white paint option. The real truth was that Dad enjoyed driving the car as much as Mom. He also knew that it would be the first car that I would drive. It was the first car that I would "officially" drive, when I got my license a year later (actually Mom let me drive her 1951 Chevy out in the country prior to that!)
“I meant to buy a pink car,” my dad, Leon McLane, would say, when telling about that day in 1955 when he went to the Ford dealership to buy a new car. He saw The Crown, sitting on the floor of the dealership in raven black and snowshoe white, and had to have her.
“The Crown” was what Dad called his 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria “with Overdrive.”
I am Cherrilyn McLane, his daughter, and I would like to tell you the story of The Crown, who was a member of my family before I was a twinkle in my dad’s eye. In fact, if it weren’t for The Crown, well, I might not even be around.
Leon was “cruising Main” in The Crown, when both he and The Crown were young, and going slow beside a sidewalk when he first spotted the pretty blonde woman who would someday be his wife (and my mother). When he and Jimmie later married in downtown Oklahoma City in 1957, The Crown was the “get away” car at the wedding. I do believe that I came home from the hospital in The Crown in 19–well, the particular year is not important to the story. I do know that The Crown played a role in getting me to a hospital when my life depended on it.
In the early ‘60’s I worked as a valet parking attendant at a private country club. I was a high school senior driving a ’56 red and white four door Town Sedan which I had inherited from and named after my great aunt Gertrude. There were three club members with ’56 T-birds. Oh how I loved parking those Birds, even if it was “necessary” for me to take the long way around a couple of blocks to find a space in the lot which was only a hundred yards from the club entrance. I promised myself that some day I would own a black ’56 Bird with overdrive.
In 2003 a running injury forced me to look for a new hobby. Now I was a mechanical engineer who loved cars. Maybe now was the time for my first collector car, a ’56 Bird, of course. I started checking EBay. Wow, it was going to cost me at least $25,000 to get a Bird. How could I be sure that old cars could become my passion to replace marathon running? But wait, there was a great looking red and white Town Sedan just like my old Gertrude whom I gave up when I went off to college. After 40 years I still remembered her fondly. Maybe this would be the way to find out if tinkering with old Fords would be fun without having to make a huge financial investment.
In the early 1990’s, we traveled to my hometown of Wishek, North Dakota for a visit. We intended to buy a 1963 Chevy Convertible that had been restored by Mike, owner of Martel’s Auto Salvage, but it had been sold. Mike told us about a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria stored in a barn not far from town. He said he would check out for us. I had a 1955 Ford Customline stick shift with overdrive in my late teens, so I was interested. Mike, a long time friend, called us the next morning and said he had picked up the car and it was in his shop. We went to see it and I immediately recognized the pink and black Crown.
As a young boy early 1955, I remembered the car being new and cruising around town. I wanted one like that so bad, but at my age and the $2,800.00 price tag, it was out of the question. So, I did the next best thing. I painted my 1946 Chevy pink & black with a paintbrush. It seemed like a great idea at the time. However, in a small town I may as well have installed radar in it, I could not hide from anyone. I did survive that ordeal for a few months, than I decided to paint it all black. That was much better, I finally had some privacy.
Back to the ‘55, we bought the Crown from Mike and shipped it to our home in Lakewood, CA. It sat in our garage for another six to seven years untouched, due to the lack of funds.
It was the summer of 1976. I was 14 years old and busing tables part time to earn some money. We were on vacation driving to my Uncle’s house in Henagar, Alabama from our home in Michigan. I always remember the stories my dad told me about his first car, a ’55 Ford Fairlane and how he would punch it at the red light and the tires would just spin, back in Harriman, Tennessee. I saw old pictures of it in black and white and it was always fresh in my mind.
Driving through the countryside, we would always spot old cars and I was pretty good at nailing the year and make, but this time Dad saw it first. It was a black and white ’55 Ford Crown Victoria with raised white letter tires. He turned the ’71 Chevy Caprice around and we drove into the driveway to get a closer look. The owner came out and let us look at the car. It was mostly all original except the Crown Victoria emblems were removed and he had two sets of points installed as he raced it on the weekends. It had the original 272 Y8 engine and was in pretty good shape. My dad talked to him on the side and asked if he wanted to sell it. The next thing I knew we were taking it for a ride and bartering for the price. Mom and Dad were a little quiet but I new something was up. All Dad would say is we will see.
Well, I suppose you are dying to know how this project came about. My business partner Jim Rock has a yellow ‘56 Ford Convertible. He kept saying he would let me drive it. This was a few years ago and it just never happened. The sure guarantee of driving 56 Ford, I thought, was to purchase one! My preference was a hard top with automatic transmission. The color was flexible. However, it was just a thought at that point. Yet, I admired many of the cars at the CVA national conventions, which increased my desire to own a ‘56 Ford even more.
Meanwhile Jim’s convertible needed some specialty work and Don Stickler referred me to Steve Rocke of Canaan New Hampshire to help out. He lived 143 miles from where we live. Steve had built cars for Dick Metz.
Columbus Day weekend of 2006 arrived and we both planned to see Steve Rocke with Jim’s car. We noticed upon arriving that there was a ‘56 Ford for sale in Steve's yard. The color was right (Diamond blue and Bermuda blue). It was automatic and a hardtop. The poor girl was sitting there as if to say “Please buy me!” I decided that this was the car I wanted. Thus began a long money pit restoration job. The date was October 2006. After finding out that Steve had worked on the dream cars of Dick Metz, Steve was the one I wanted to restore the car. Seeing that I know nothing mechanically about ‘56 Fords, except how to check the oil, fill the gas tank, and turn the key in the ignition, Steve would be doing virtually everything. My job was to write checks, more checks, and more checks!
I never thought of owning a skyliner, much less a 1954 Dealer Demonstrator with a glass hood, as well as glass top to go along with the 1955 and 1956 Crowns my wife wrote the CVA about. When I read the ad about a barn find, I couldn't believe it. "New barn find" 1954 Crestline Skyview, H/T, V8, AT, PS, PW and power seat, in same family since new. After calling the number to discuss the car, I asked when I could see it. The man said he was having some work done on the brakes so it could be driven. He took my number and promised to call. I wanted to be the first to see it. He assured me that he would call.
About 3 weeks later he called. I was the 12th call he made. It was short notice. I was given only 3 or 4 days to prepare for the 6-hour drive, get trailer ready, and have cash for purchase. I still had 2 days on the road before I could get home! On Saturday evening I headed North with the intention of being the first to arrive and purchase the 1954 Skyliner. The agreed time to meet was 8 am, but I was there at 6:30 am, anxiously watching the clock. At 8am, I called to let him know I had arrived. I was the first one there to see "her."