A good custom doesn't have to be over the top to draw attention, and is often all the better for that. As the owner of this 1956 Ford Park Lane wagon, Bill Story, tells it, "I went to Art Center in the '60s, and one of the lectures stated, 'Make a strong statement to capture the audience. However, a successful design must also give that audience details to enjoy once they have been drawn in.'" That advice obviously stuck with Bill, as there are numerous trick body mods to appreciate on his wagon, which we'll come to shortly.
With a '32 roadster already in his garage that sees plenty of mileage, why did Bill want a comfortable, roomy wagon? "I grew up in suburban Detroit, off Woodward Avenue, and drove a wagon in 1954 delivering office supplies. I've liked them ever since. I like all that glass. This was supposed to become my daily driver, but it turned out too nice. I guess that shows my naïveté! I've seen enough Tri-Chevys and think mid-'50s Fords are pretty, but to me that equates to 'custom' and I wanted to evoke more of a 'performance' image. I wanted to respect the styling of the original car while putting my own hand to finessing the details." Ford manufactured 214,000 station wagons in 1956, but only 15,000 of them carried the Park Lane designation, a one-year-only model, which was a DeLuxe Fairlane trim level, two-door Ranch wagon.
"Rod & Custom did a '55-56 T-Bird for Bonneville in the late '50s and I incorrectly recalled the installation of '55 Olds headlight doors. I especially remembered how the fenders were split almost all the way back to the cowl to accommodate the lowered lights. However, a good friend gave me a copy of that Feb. '58 article recently and it transpired there were Continental lights on that 'Bird. I sure like the Olds solution better. It was one of those goofs that turned out for the better. My favorite modification is the rear wheelwells, and no one notices them! Most '50s cars have rear wells suited to skirts, with the tail dragger look and whitewalls next. It's a look that didn't interest me, but raising the rear cutouts 3 inches and using big 'n' little blackwalls and aluminum wheels yields a more robust look and performance statement."
We can see what Bill meant by details for admirers to enjoy, and coupled with the use of a '57 Chevy truck grille centersection and a modified Mustang windshield used for the glass in the liftgate amongst other mods, his wagon is far from standard while looking decidedly stock.
The project wasn't all smooth sailing though, as after sourcing the completely original wagon through the classified ads of a magazine in 1995 from a guy who'd had it in storage for 15 years, and who finally relented to his wife who really wanted a Nomad, he described the ensuing build as "like giving birth to an elephant!" The most challenging part of the build was getting what he wanted from the help he paid good money for, being let down by a number of companies, including a transmission rebuilder who simply disappeared! "I'd do more myself if I did it again," Bill told us, though he's very happy with the work by Hight Fabrication of Orange, California (custom metalwork), GTA of Santa Ana, California (modified stainless and chrome), and Specialized Coachwerks of San Juan Capistrano, California (paint).
We'll leave the final words to Bill: "I wanted a reliable car that I could jump in and drive nonstop to San Francisco or Austin, Texas, with air conditioning, a decent ride, and good mileage. I also like my blues music, but broadcast radio sucks, especially on the road, so I learned how to load an iPod and sprung for XM Radio. Road trips are now a non-stop boogie! The car looks and performs better than I could have expected, and despite getting beat up in school for my bias toward green, I'm now feeling vindicated!"
Rod & Custom Feature Car
W.R. "Bill" Story
Mission Viejo, California
1956 Ford Park Lane Wagon
Bill Story's wagon sits on the frame it came from the factory with, and while there are no radical modifications, it now handles and stops way better than it did 54 years ago! Granada spindles and disc brakes, with a master cylinder and booster from ABS, go some way toward that, as does a custom 1 1/8-inch antiroll bar on the front and a GM 605 steering box. Cut front springs and de-arched rear leaves, along with lowering blocks, get the ride height down, with gas-adjustable KYB shocks up front and Monroe-matic shocks in back.
Ford-in-a-Ford purists will be pleased to hear there's a 345hp, 302HO Ford crate motor under the wagon's louvered hood, with a COMP cam installed to bring the torque peak down to the 2,000- to 2,500-rpm range. Under the Mooneyes air cleaner there's an Edelbrock 500-cfm carb and Performer manifold. A Flex-a-lite fan keeps the coolant temperature down in a modified copper and brass Walker radiator, while ceramic-coated, cast-iron exhaust manifolds feed the carbon monoxide to MagnaFlow mufflers. A Ford AOD trans with a modified valvebody takes care of power transfer to the Dana 44 rearend.
Body & Paint
Working from the front, the wagon has a filled and smoothed bumper, '55 Olds headlight doors and relocated headlights, louvered hood, shaved handles, and shortened side trim. The centersection of a '57 Chevy truck grille inside the stock outer trim works well, the idea coming to Bill while walking the aisles of the Long Beach swap meet. The vent windows and gas filler door were deleted, the latter now behind a drop-down taillight. The rear wheel arches were raised 3 inches, while an eyebrow was added to the rear bumper above four exhaust tips. Bill says, "I've liked four centered tailpipes ever since the Ala Kart debuted." A similar eyebrow was added to the tailgate, above a recess for the license plate. Having driven the car for a short time without the liftgate section fitted, Bill liked the large opening, so he modified a late-model Mustang windshield to become the full-width liftgate glass, which brings the rear view of the car up to date.
Wheels & Tires
Billet Specialties Apex-G legend wheels are the perfect addition to the wagon, offering a performance look without being overly flashy. With 17s all around, the rears are 8 inches wide with the fronts 1 inch narrower. The 255/50 and 215/55 Kumho tires were fitted respectively.
Starting with a Cadillac six-way power split bench seat, the spacious wagon interior now boasts walnut-colored Ultra-Leather, a custom-designed headliner, German square-weave wool carpet, Hot Rod Air A/C with Vintage Air controls, New Port Engineering wipers, electric windows, a custom dash with Classic Instruments "stainless series" gauges, custom armrest seat controllers, and a Budnik "Stringer" wheel on an ididit column. Bill also installed a stereo system comprising a Pioneer head unit with Alpine amp and a fold-down armrest that houses the audio sources, including XM Radio, iPod, CD audio, and GPS. All this is wired using an American Autowire harness.