I think you've heard the story: "It was parked in a garage just around the corner for the past 30 years, when some guy turned up from out of town to snag it, and it was gone!" Well, that's the storyline for Don Hardy, so now you know the first chapter. This rare two-door, 1961 Ford Ranch Wagon was parked in a garage not four blocks from his shop, Don Hardy Race Cars, in Floydada, Texas, for years.

Donald had heard about the wagon for 15 years, but it wasn't until about 4 years ago that he got a hankering for a project with a long top, something a little strange but good looking. When he asked around, he found out the wagon was still there (providing a rest home for spiders) but there were others who were also interested in acquiring this piece of history. To his surprise and luck, it turned out not to be a four-door but a rare two-door, which made it even cooler. A deal was quickly struck before anyone else could haul it out of town. Now this might have been a first, this Chevy guy getting excited about a Ford!

The wagon had been last tagged in 1967 after being purchased by the first owner in Amarillo in 1961. Once the wagon was equipped with a new battery, fresh oil, and gas, it fired right up. Don got it back to the shop and tinkered with it until it ran smoothly. He then lowered it, put on a set of wheels and started driving it.

It wasn't long before Donald decided to make the Ford a project car. As is often the case, once the decision is made to do the job right, the task begins to snowball and become more time consuming than ever imagined.

Lucky for him the wagon was in really great shape as it had been nearly all its life in the dry air of west Texas and in storage out of the sun for the past 40 years. It had only a bit of rust in the tailgate and the lower rear quarter. Apart from those minor flaws, the body was factory straight and everything was there.

Donald has built some very respectable muscle cars and street machines in the past 15 years, so he was not new to the game. It was destined to begin its new look from the bare-frame. About a year of disassembly went on before he was ready to start back up. The frame was cleaned, aligned and strengthened for an Air Ride setup. The rear axle is a stock 3.90 gear 9-inch that he cleaned and rebuilt before painting. At this point, Donald added Baer rear disc brakes along with a de-arched springs and Air Ride bags. The frontend followed somewhat of similar course with a basically stock-style rebuilt Ford IFS frontend with dropped '71 Mustang spindles and huge Baer disc brakes. The steering is also stock '61 Ford, but rebuilt.

Next the body was tackled by Joey at Little Feet Racing in Fritch, Texas. It was one of several projects in the shop but within a year it was done. It was stunning, straight and clean. Joey worked over every inch of the metal before Donald moved it on to Mark Warrick at Soncy Road Body Shop in Amarillo, for final body prep and its new coat of PPG Desert Gold. This is the factory original color for the wagon and keeps the look classic.

The only major exterior rework was done to the bumpers. These were shaved and smoothed. Getting the preparation just right meant two trips to Sherm's Plating (Sacramento, CA) before Donald achieved the look he wanted.

To make the wagon sit right with its new suspension, Donald added a set of American Racing 18-inch wheels Torq-Thrust M, sevens on the front and eights on the rear. These he capped with BFGoodrich 225R45/18 for the front and 245R40/18 for the rear. The plainness of the body color and the mass of the new wheels makes it pop and give it a new performance style.

As you might gather, Donald is a bit of a traditionalist. No crazy paint colors or graphics for him. He wanted a super clean factory look, tighter than what Ford did on the production line but also a style the guys in the design studio would have liked. The dash remained all stock, though totally rebuilt, refurbished or replaced with OEM original pieces. The same goes for the steering wheel and column.