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Cover Stories

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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We are Lorraine and Russell Karnik from Fort Atkinson and this is our life story of our cars. We have been very happily married for 43 years and we have 4 grown children and 10 grandchildren.

It all started with my first car that was a 56 Ford two-door sedan. Lorraine was my girlfriend at the time and later she became my wife. When we were going together I worked at a Shell gas station. I had this car for 2 years and then I had a bad accident with the car and it was totaled, so there went my car. My second 56 Ford was a 2 door Victoria hardtop. I painted this car and put a 312 engine in it that I built up, bored 90 over 11 & V2 to 1 piston, high performance cam, 3 deuces, 3-speed on the floor and 4:11 gears in the rear end. It was a very fast car. I had this car for 2 years and sold it. I had found a 56 Ford Glass Top but by the time I got there the guy had already sold it. In the meantime, I got married to Lorraine and we raised our family of 4 children and had built our home. I put my dream on hold, but in the back of my mind I was always thinking that some day I would find my dream car. I wanted to find and own a 56 Ford Glass Top. They were so hard to find in our area.

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I was a junior in high school, 16 years old, when my Dad got me a job with the Ford dealer. The dealer was moving from downtown to “Auto Row”. My job was grunt work, moving the parts department and assembling shelving. The job lasted until I turned 17. They wanted to keep me on, but I needed to be 18.

Since I couldn’t work, I saved parts books from the late 40’s to the 60’s. Since there was no recycling back then, they would have went to the garbage. Little did I know these would be a resource later in life. I did get to know the parts guys at the Ford Dealer pretty well. At the time I was driving a 55 Sunliner. It was cool to get a “discount” on Parts, so I was in and out of the dealer often.

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When I began to think about retirement in the fall of 2007, I decided that I needed a project to keep busy until I firmed up a plan for the future. Fords were the cars of choice in my family while growing up in northern Illinois. Further, my wife, Ronna, and I owned several Fords during the 1960s through 1984. The 1955 and 1956 Ford hardtops were two of my favorite cars of the 1950s. During my search of the Internet during the spring of 2008 I found a red and white 1956 Ford two-door hardtop in a dealership located on the Oregon coast.

In May 2005 I purchased a 1955 Crown Victoria, which was already here in Australia but needed a complete rebuild. With the help of my good mate Frank and my son Jayden we were off to pick her up. When I got her home my wife said, “you paid how much for that” as she was looking through the front window. Anne did not even come out the door to look at it. I’m sure there is a lot of you guys who can relate to that comment as I read in an article in the November 2011 issue called “The Road To The Party” that was by Ray Idleman Jr, If anyone hasn’t read his story make sure you go back to this issue and have a read. What a character Ray must be.

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It had long been a dream of mine to own a Crown Victoria. On the other hand, my wife Karen, long had a dream of owning a ’57 Chevy Bel Air. Ahhh…a Ford and Chevy lover in the same family – what to do? It took a bit of convincing, but Karen eventually ended up seeing things the Ford way but she had one request – she wanted a seafoam green and white Crown Vic. The search was on in the spring of 2008. When I came across a beautiful tropical rose and snowshoe white Crown Vic on the Indianapolis, IN Craigslist I knew I’d have to convince her that this was the car for us. Luckily, she agreed. I had some long phone conversations with the owner as to its condition as I had previously towed a trailer to North Carolina to buy one of those “great condition,” “no disappointments” Crowns that was a junker in every respect. After I was sure this car was worth a look, we borrowed a trailer and headed for Indiana. I was aware that the body and interior had been restored while leaving the underneath totally un-restored. After a thorough inspection, I could see that the car needed inner quarter & rocker panels as well as repairs to some of the floor supports. Considering the great condition of the paint, chrome and interior, I decided it warranted repairing the undercarriage and we loaded our “new” ’55 Crown Vic on the trailer for its ride to its new home in Pittsburgh, PA.