Most guys have a special car from their past that they dream of re-creating or owning again. Vince Ciganik has two. We're not sure if that's a blessing or a curse.
Blame it on Vince's well-spent youth. Back in the late '50s and early '60s he got his weekend kicks racing a home-built, Y-block-powered roadster at local dragstrips. During the week he cruised around Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, in a chopped green '54 Ford ragtop with a '56 Dodge grille and Olds taillights. That's a rod for racing and a custom for profiling: two cool cars, one lucky guy.
Those carefree days didn't last forever, though. Vince dismantled his roadster in the early '60s when he enlisted in the Army, and soon his wife Donna convinced him to sell the Ford, too (she had a hard time peering through the tiny rear window). Thus began several bland decades of driving garden-variety passenger cars.
By the early '90s Vince had decided to put something cool in the garage again. He considered building another quarter-mile roadster, but the idea of hanging around the pits all day just to make one or two passes down the 'strip didn't seem so appealing anymore. Cruising in a cool custom sounded more fun, so Vince scoured the countryside for an affordable drop-top '54 Ford. He almost found it.
"It was a Victoria hardtop," Vince says of the project he eventually purchased. "My dad and I dragged it home from Alabama. I should have left it there!"
In other words, the car was less than cherry. It needed considerable reconstruction before any custom work could even begin. Vince was committed, though; visions of a cool kemp were dancing in his head. Before long he'd met Howard Eggers, an amateur bodyman with professional skills, and the hardtop-to-custom-convertible conversion was underway.
Crafting the chopped, folding, Carson-look top was a major undertaking but only part of the plan. Vince's design also called for a '56 Dodge grille (just like his previous Ford), '56 Olds headlights, and a raised center hood accent. He also had Howard graft in '54 Packard Clipper taillights, carve scoops in the quarter-panels, and install upside-down '53 Pontiac side trim.
While Howard was pounding on the body, Vince was busy resurrecting the chassis with a rebuilt suspension and Jamco springs. He also screwed together a special powerplant-a hot 292 Y-block filled with parts from his old roadster engine. "My wife thought I was wacko for keeping the motor all those years," Vince says, but he got the last laugh as he stuffed Jahns pistons, an Isky cam, and Mallory distributor in his new mill, topped it with triple Strombergs, and hung a T10 four-speed off the back. "Let me tell you," Vince says, "we ate up a lot of Chevys back in those days." He probably still can.
Vince found more craftsmen to help as the project progressed, and became good friends with all of them. Joe Koscevic and Bill Strauser handled the finish bodywork before Jim Kunze sprayed the distinctive blue finish, which fades from front to rear and top to bottom. Guy Shively striping and a "Kunze Eyeball" finish things off.
Outfitting the cockpit was an equally creative endeavor involving a '56 Olds dash, '56 Lincoln wheel, '54 Merc power seat, '53 Pontiac door trim, and '65 Merc rear seat trim. Chuck Siscco stitched the tan vinyl upholstery and Mercedes cloth top.
Vince has about a decade invested in the car's construction but considers it time well spent. The finished car far exceeds initial expectations. Not only that, he's also gained a great new circle of friends. Now if he can get them to help build a roadster, he just might feel like racing again.