When Bernie Heck buys an old car, he really commits to it. Of the more than half-dozen vintage rides in his stable, he's owned most for several decades. He buys what he likes and keeps what he buys. It's an eclectic collection that's not loyal to any marque or style. Bernie's current lineup includes a '52 Ford pickup, a '55 Chevy, a '61 Pontiac, a '66 Riviera, a '40 Ford sedan, and a '50 Olds that received a Rod & Custom Top 100 pick. Some have been rodded or restored, others await their turn.
With so many projects, it can take a while to focus on any particular one. Such was the case with this '56 Ford Victoria. Bernie bought it back in 1979, drove it for a few months, and then parked it for more than 20 years. Why so long? "I had three other cars," Bernie said, so the Victoria ended up on the back burner. He never thought about selling it to fund or accommodate other projects, though. "I was lucky enough to find places to keep them all," Bernie joked. Good man.
This is actually Bernie's second '56 Victoria. He owned his first-with a 312 V-8 and a column-shift three-speed-back in the '60s, but he sold it before going to Vietnam. Fond memories of that Ford compelled him to call when this one appeared in the local classifieds. This was also a three-speed car-a bit unusual for the upscale Victoria-and its previous owner had already plugged in a 352 Fe engine in place of the Y-block.
Bernie knew the Victoria deserved special treatment when its turn for revival finally came. "I have been into cars since I was 14," he said, "but I had never taken one 100 percent apart. I decided this would be the first one."
Bernie wasted little time separating sheetmetal from suspension. He sent the body to his friend Jimmy Vaag in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who put it on a rotisserie to repair the typical midwestern rust and massage every panel both top and bottom. Jimmy smoothed the firewall, extended the inner fenders to hide the freshair vents, and shaved the antenna. He then sprayed everything in custom-mixed duPont blues that bear resemblance to '50s Ford hues, but pack a lot of pearl for added depth and impact.
While Jimmy was busy with the body, Bernie stripped and powdercoated the frame, reassembling it with a 3.73:1- geared '57 9-inch, Fatman dropped spindles, front disc brakes, and 17- and 18-inch Billet Specialties rollers. The 352 mill was set aside for a fresh 390 topped with a factory Ford aluminum intake and a trio of Holley carbs. Bernie bathed the big-block in chrome and aluminum and backed it up with a Top loader four-speed.
Once the body and chassis were reunited, Bernie visited dennis adkisson at West end upholstery, who wrapped the original seats in leather custom dyed to match the light blue paint. a second set of Victoria side trim was cut down and upholstered to accent the door and side panels, while a Vintage air system was integrated by fitting the switches to the original heater control panel and routing the lines inside the right fresh-air duct (which also hides the wiring).
Bernie's Vicky finally hit the streets early last year and promptly won four awards at the Omaha World of Wheels before catching our eye at americruise. Bernie said the car came out exactly as he had envisioned; he wouldn't change a thing. That's good, because he'd hate to redo it after nearly three decades of planning and building. The only other alternative would be to sell it, and, well, that just wouldn't seem right!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1956 Ford Victoria
Bernie stripped the chassis bare and had the frame and suspension components powdercoated. Reassembly started with a '57 Ford 9-inch rearend set up with 3.73:1 gears, a heavy-duty sway bar, and 3-inch lowering blocks. The front suspension was treated to fresh bushings, Fatman dropped spindles, a sway bar, and disc brakes activated by a Corvette master cylinder.
a previous owner had installed a 352 Fe V-8, making it easy for Bernie to upsize to a '64-vintage 390. daly's machine rebuilt the bigblock with 10:1 pistons and a Speed-Pro camshaft before topping it with an aluminum tri-carb intake and a trio of Holleys. Tom Fender built custom brackets for the alternator, power steering pump, and a/C condenser, while Industrial Plating added fresh chrome to everything Bernie could unbolt. Finishing touches included a mallory distributor, Griffi n aluminum radiator, and aluminized exhaust pipes linking the coated manifolds to Flowmaster mufflers. In the true spirit of rodding, Bernie replaced the original three-speed with a '64 Ford Top loader four-speed.
Wheels & Tires
Bernie wanted contemporary wheels that wouldn't look dated in six months (or six years), so he selected Billet Specialties 17x7 and 18x8 Vintecs. They're wrapped in michelin Pilots sized at 235/45ZR17 and 255/45ZR18.
Body & Paint
Bernie had been planning the resto-rod treatment for more than 20 years, so the only body mods made by Jimmy Vaag were a shaved antenna, smoothed firewall, and smoothed and extended inner fender panels. While the body remains essentially stock, the Ford's fit and finish are head and shoulders above anything that came from dearborn in the '50s, and the car's underside is as nice as the top. Jimmy put plenty of pearl in the custom-mixed duPont blue hues to give them maximum punch and depth. The gorgeous paint is accented with fresh chrome by Industrial Plating in Omaha.
Bernie sent a sample of the light blue paint to the Rich leather Company in Georgia, and after three months and several samples they were able to match it with custom-dyed leather. Dennis adkisson at West end upholstery in Omaha took that and stitched it around the Ford's rebuilt original seats. He crafted door and side panels to match, using upholstered Victoria side trim for added accent. auto Custom Carpets supplied the floor covering, while a Budnik wheel topped the original column. Switches for the Vintage air unit were integrated into the original heater control panel, while the a/C lines were routed through the right air vent duct alongside much of the Ron Francis wiring. modern kenwood tunes and alpine speakers were mounted out of sight, along with a hidden antenna in the trunk.