Fifty years ago, while one segment of society was building and driving hot rods and custom cars, a whole 'nother segment was enjoying its cars in a different way. Gas was cheap, babies were booming, the interstate highway system was brand-new, and for a lot of people, family vacations meant piling into a spacious new station wagon and hitting the road.
Ray and Judy Brown have been using their '57 Ford wagon to blend both of those automotive traditions. Since recently completing the two-year build on this mild custom, the Browns have driven the owner-built car on a 5,000-mile trip across the country and back. We ran into them in the middle of their first big outing, at the Goodguys Nationals in Columbus, Ohio. They'd left Bend, Oregon, with 700 miles on the wagon and driven to Des Moines, Iowa, and continued on to the Nationals in Ohio. A few days later, they'd be back on the road.
Ray started playing with cars when he was in high school. Now that he's retired, he has more time to spend working on them and driving them, and this mild custom was pretty much a one-man project. He said he's always liked the body style of the '57 two-door wagon and had been searching for one for a while, when a friend told him about one only 35 miles away. Not only was it nearby, it was a complete car, minus the engine and transmission. Better yet, it was in pretty good condition and rust-free, so instead of having to spend a lot of time repairing bad stuff, Ray could get busy building good stuff.
He wanted the wagon to look mostly original, but low and long, with a few modifications to set it apart. A front clip from a '69 Camaro contributed to lowering the stance without having to add dropped spindles or cut coils. The only exterior change--replacing the sliding quarter windows with one-piece glass--was an easy way to give the car a longer-looking profile. When he bought the car, it was wearing monochrome black paint with a red interior--a cool color combination maybe, but not right for the resto custom theme Ray had in mind. He remembered that most of the '57 wagons he'd seen were two-toned, so he changed the paint and upholstery to a more nostalgic combination. Since he and Judy would be spending a lot of time in the car, Ray wanted some creature comforts such as air and audio, but he didn't want to fight the character of the car and was careful to keep the modifications low-key. He used the same strategy in the engine compartment, keeping it simple. His goal was to keep it "no frills" and to make it look like the Chevy small-block and underhood accessories belonged there.
It's been a few months since we met the Browns in Ohio, and we suspect they have been accumulating some miles in the '57 Ford. Another show season is right around the corner, so who knows where they'll turn up next.