Mercury's passenger-car quarter-panels and taillights for 1955 and '56 differ radically fr
If certain people have their way, you'll seldom-if ever-see a Tri-Five Chevrolet in STREET RODDER. In their defense, they've got a point: The '55-57 Chevy, while good looking, is about as common as a bellybutton. That, and their widespread popularity, almost makes them a class unto themselves. Like Mustangs and Camaros, they have magazines specific to the breed.
But nobody ever said anything about a Tri-Five Ford. In fact, you're not likely to hear those words used in the same sentence.
While it's generally overshadowed by Chevrolet's famed three-year run on a new design beginning in 1955, Ford started its own in 1954. Whereas Ford made everybody wait until the following year for a new body, the rest of the car was groundbreaking. Much like Chevrolet's '55, Ford's '54 got an entirely new chassis with an improved ball-joint suspension and an overhead-valve V-8 engine-both firsts for their respective manufacturers.
If you didn't know that, you probably don't know that Ford's engine overpowered Chevrolet's for the duration of both marque's respective runs. If that's the case, there's a good chance you didn't know Ford outsold its rival in 1957, either. Despite the fact that Ford beat Chevrolet in just about every battle, its cars never won the war of popular opinion. Unless it's a Thunderbird, you won't see a specific publication about mid-'50s Fords.
We Americans are nothing if not champions of the underdog, though. Some bet the long-shot at the track; others, well, they build orphaned Fords. And Bud Wolfe is one of 'em. When he thought to build a Tri-Five, "it wasn't a '55 to '57 Chevy," he began. "I'd just finished putting my '34 back together." While the car's nothing to sneeze at-it's a chopped-and-channeled coupe-he'd owned it since 1962. "I needed another project."
What he found (and bought) at the Puyallup swap meet was this '56. It's the last and-due to 12V electrics, a more stylish grille and taillight, and a safer dash and steering wheel-arguably the most refined of the series. "My wife had driven a Crown Victoria to high school, and I've always liked the standard Victoria," he explained. Though he and Marilyn drove this particular car-bone-stock and nosebleed-high-for a year, "we got bored with it. So I had Joe Pelland at the Drop Zone in Des Moines 'bag it."
Now, there's something you probably can infer about a guy who's owned a chopped-and-channeled hot rod for two generations. What you'd likely guess is that he can't leave well enough alone, and that one change to a car precipitates a landslide more. In Bud's case, "It wasn't low enough for me," he admitted. "So I put Fatman dropped spindles and Granada disc brakes on the front and 2-inch lowering blocks in the rear." And with the purchase of a set of 17-inch Americans, he very effectively put himself on that slippery slope of successive modifications.
Bud told us people tried to talk him into a big-block something or other, but we're stoked
For example, with big-diameter alloys and the heavy drop, the car adopted an attitude more aggressive than the old Holley teapot carburetor atop the Y-block could back up. While touring Gary McKay's Ford collection, "I spotted a dual-four-barrel setup for a Y-block," he recalled. "I thought he wanted too much for it and said so to my son," who, unbeknownst to Bud, "conned the money out of my wife and bought it." Rather than the standard Holley teapot carburetors-specifically for the reason that they earned the moniker "Towering Infernos"-this manifold sports a pair of Carter WCFB carburetors. (Incidentally, they and the Holley teapots just happen to share the same bolt pattern.) Based on the prior experience he had with a 3x2 setup, Bud entrusted them to Pony Carburetor for a rebuild.
Though likely an excuse to just update it to match the custom appeal of the car, we'll give Bud the benefit of the doubt that the interior needed a little attention. Rather than just replace it, though, he bought a pair of '58 T-bird seats and a center console from Larry's Mustang & Thunderbird. Once Bob Jasper pleated them in pearlwhite vinyl, "people started noticing the car," Bud noted.
Despite his fondness for the engine-especially after crowning it with the two-jug manifold-Bud admitted he wasn't terribly hot about the crude-butstout three-speed Ford-O-Matic. After all, a transmission that starts in Second gear unless you kick it into First by stuffing the throttle or manually pulling down the lever sort of detracts from the point of an automatic transmission, right? What he found, though, was that Flat-o Products, the same company that makes adapters to mate later-model transmissions to Flatheads, makes a variety for the later Y-blocks. For his car, Bud chose a simple Ford C4.
To make the installation look factory, Bud modified the mount for the Lokar shifter so it would occupy the T-bird console's speaker hole, "the only hard part," he noted. While the car was torn apart, Bud took it upon himself to smooth the manifolds and have them ceramic coated by Performance Coatings in Auburn.
Most old cars, restored or not, usually have a few hiccups. In this car's case, Bud had Dan and Andy at H&H Collision in Tacoma repair and repaint a crease in the roof and a spot of rust on a quarter-panel. Puyallup's Maranatha Plating replated the window frames and installed new glass. For the crowning glory, Bud found a set of Mercury wagon taillights-Holy Grails of '55 and '56 Ford taillights-and bolted them to the car.
As bitchin' as the car turned out, and as admittedly fun to drive as he says it is, Bud's still one of those guys who needs a project. Now that it's finished, he's once again getting that itch to move on to the next big thing. Again, it's another Tri-year car. And no, it's not a '54-56. Nor is it a Ford for that matter (in a sense). "It's an Edsel that I have," he admitted.
Talk about your underdogs!
Bud got into cars right about the time bucket seats were all the rage. Now, as then, he ha
When Bud bought the seats from Larry's Thunderbird, he also bought the console that origin
Since the Victoria was the high-water mark for the Fairlane and Customline trim series, Fo
|F A C T S & F I G U R E S |
|Bud Wolfe |
|Graham, Washington |
|1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria |
|Frame / Manufacturer ||ladder type / Ford |
|Wheelbase ||115 1/2” (stock) |
|Rearend / Ratio ||Ford Hotchkiss-style / 3.22:1 |
|Rear suspension ||stock parallel leaf w/ Air Ride |
Technologies (Jasper, IN) air
springs, installed by Joe Pelland,
The Drop Zone (Des Moines, WA)
|Front suspension ||stock unequal-length A-arm w/ Air |
Ride Technologies air springs by
Drop Zone; ’75-80 Ford Granada
spindles modified by Fatman
Fabrications (Charlotte, NC) w/
|Front brakes ||’75-80 Ford Granada |
|Master cylinder ||’67 Ford Torino dual-circuit |
|Wheel make, size ||American Racing (Rancho |
Dominguez, CA; special thanks to
the Ruyans at S&S Tire [Spanaway,
WA] for their special attention)
17x7 & 17x8
|Tire make, size ||Dayton 2R, 245/45ZR-17 |
|Make ||1956 Ford Y-block |
|Displacement ||292ci |
|Radiator ||aluminum, Griffin Thermal |
Products (Piedmont, NC)
|Valve covers ||Thunderbird aluminum |
|Manifold / Induction ||Thunderbird E-code / (2) Carter |
WCFB reconditioned by Pony
Carburetors (New Woodstock, NY)
|Exhaust ||ground-&-coated manifolds; 2 1/4” |
diameter, glasspacked mufflers by
|Make ||Ford C4 by Puyallup Trans (Puyallup, WA) |
|Shifter ||Lokar (Knoxville, TN) |
|Trans mods ||adapter by Flat-O Products Inc. (Salem, OR) |
|Driveshaft ||Northwest Drivelines (Fife, WA) |
|Body style / Material ||Fairlane Victoria / steel |
|Body manufacturer ||FoMoCo |
|Bodywork ||H&H Collision (Tacoma, WA) |
|Paint type / Color ||Dupont / Peacock Blue & Colonial White |
|Chrome ||Maranatha Plating Inc. (Puyallup, WA) |
|Taillights ||1956 Mercury wagon |
|Audio ||AM/FM/cassette by Custom Autosound (Fullerton, CA) |
|Air conditioning ||4/60 Armstrong, by owner |
|Steering wheel ||Saturn 15 1/2 split grip by Budnik Wheels (Huntington Beach, CA) |
|Steering column ||stock Ford, shaved shift mechanism |
|Seats ||'58 Ford Thunderbird |
|Upholsterer ||Bob Jasper, Jasper's Custom Upholstery (Tacoma, WA) |
|Material / Color ||vinyl / pearl white & peacock blue |
|Carpet ||peacock blue nylon |
|Seatbelts ||aircraft-style hasp by Beams Industries (Oklahoma City, OK) |
|Other interior items ||'58 Ford Thunderbird center console, modified for Lokar shifter |