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.
Power is a '57 Thunderbird Y-block now sporting 317 ci. It features a '61 Ford 5-quart pan
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 dash stayed stock including the instruments although everything was rebuilt including
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.
The seats are stitched in two-tone with a solid beige and fabric. All the seat kick moldin
The seating is all done in Ford factory materials concurrent with OEM parts and colors for 1961. The carpet is also Ford brown loop-pile, an option on this model.
The seating surfaces have two tones, one of which is solid beige vinyl and the other, a finely ribbed two-toned fabric section set in three pieces for the front seat and four for the rear. The seat kick moldings are all OEM and are painted per Ford color charts.
The door panels are also all fresh, done in the original style by SMS Auto Fabrics in Canby, Oregon. Donald sent SMS his original door panels that were in pretty good shape but looked aged and a little saggy. These were unavailable from any other source. SMS had identical door panels made to match the fabric they supplied for the seating surfaces. The rest of the software and trimming was done by Dooley & Sons, in Magnolia, Texas.
The other significant interior problem was the headliner. Back in 1961, Ford did not use vinyl in its wagons for headliners, rather a printed cardboard.
The original was an eyesore of sagging cardboard with strange stains. For want of looking he could not find an OEM headliner but the original became the inspiration for Donald. It didn't take long for him to work out an idea with his buddy who owned an instant print shop to make a new headliner.
They copied the old pattern on the cardboard and then created a giant new digital file for the new artwork. This new pattern file was then printed out on a large inkjet printer using archival inks. Once they had enough output of the new printed material they bonded the heavy paper to new flat waterproof cardboard. With these large blanks of fresh headliner material they cut a new headliner using the original headliner as the template. It was a six-month project with quite a lot of messing about to reach perfection. For Donald, it was another worthwhile project to achieve the right look.
Could that be Don in the background? We think so. Don's low-key approach to his two-door w
Other interior changes and updates include a completely fresh Pioneer sound system with Total Mobil Audio eight 6-inch mid-range speakers and three 10-inch subwoofers and a power amp.
For a Chevy guy, Donald certainly became well acquainted with the classic Ford performance hardware. The powertrain is all Ford, centered in a rebuilt 312ci, 1957 Thunderbird Y-block V-8, which now runs 317 ci.
The heads are '57 Thunderbirds, which were prepared with 1.92-inch intake and 1.510 stainless exhaust valves and lightly reworked for clean ports and smooth gas flow. The valvetrain is also lightly reworked using a mild-grind Comp Cams solid lifter cam and stock Ford Y-block parts.
The Egge pistons run 10-to-1 and the engine was balanced and assembled for durability. It features a '61 Ford 5-quart pan, an intake setup with an Edelbrock 2x4 manifold and two 500cfm Edelbrock Performer carburetors topped with K&N air cleaners. Ignition is provided off a stock Ford distributor.
The exhaust is simple and clean and all new. It features a custom layout that is set for improved ground clearance starting with stock Thunderbird manifolds. These lead to a ceramic-coated 2 1/2-inch dual exhaust system with a pair of sweet-toned, Flowmaster Super 44 mufflers.
With all that said, just look how well this engine went together. It's beautifully clean and highly detailed and runs like Swiss watch.
Power is shot out to the 9-inch rear axle via a Ford T5 five-speed transmission running a surprising clutch assembly. Donald wanted a heavy-duty clutch, so for simplicity he re-machined the flywheel drilling it to accept a 454 GM truck pressure plate and clutch disc. It works like a charm using the stock Y-block manual transmission bell housing with a T5 adaptor plate and the '61 clutch linkage. The cogs are now selected with a Hurst shifter topped with a simple white shift knob to finish it off.
When it comes to classic cruising wagons, Donald Hardy's '61 Ranch Wagon certainly is a trick Ford piece. It's so smooth that it can just glide on by without too much fuss but in reality it's a prize piece. It exemplifies Donald Hardy, always Mr. Low Key, just out hanging low and staying cool.
|F A C T S & F I G U R E S |
|Donald Hardy |
|Floydada, Texas |
|1961 Ford Ranch Wagon |
|Frame / Manufacturer ||Stock / Ford |
|Wheelbase ||117 inches |
|Chassis plumbing ||Don Hardy Race Cars (Floydada, TX) |
|Rearend / Ratio ||Ford 9-in / 3.90 gears |
|Rear suspension ||Air Ride (Jasper, IN) adjustable air bags with re-arched stock springs |
|Rear brakes ||13-inch Baer (Phoenix, AZ) disc brakes |
|Front suspension ||1971 Mustang Spindles with Air Ride adjustable air bags with cut-coil |
|Front brakes ||13-inch Baer disc brakes |
|Master cylinder ||Ford |
|Steering box ||Rebuilt stock 1961 Ford |
|Front wheel make, size ||American Racing Torq-Thrust M, 7x18-inch |
|Rear wheel make, size ||American Racing Torq-Thrust M, 8x20-inch |
|Front tire make, size ||BFG 225R45/18 |
|Rear tire make, size ||BFG 245R40/20 |
|Make ||1957 Ford Y-Block |
|Displacement ||317ci |
|Pistons ||Egge (Santa Fe Springs, CA) 10.0:1 |
|Camshaft ||Comp Cams (Memphis, TN) |
|Heads ||1957 Ford Thunderbird |
|Valve covers ||Aluminum Custom 1957 Thunderbird |
|Manifold / Induction ||Vintage Edelbrock (Torrance, CA) manifold - two 500cfm Edelbrock Performer carburetors |
|Ignition / Wires ||Stock 1961 Ford |
|Headers ||Thunderbird Stock Manifolds |
|Exhaust / Mufflers ||Flowmaster (Santa Rosa, CA) Mufflers |
|Make ||T-5 five-Speed |
|Clutch ||Stock GM Truck |
|Shifter ||Hurst Shifter |
|Body style/Material ||two-door Ranch Wagon / steel |
|Body manufacturer ||Ford |
|Body mods ||Hand finished by Little Feet Racing (Fritch, TX) and Smoothed Bumpers |
|Paint type / Color ||Stock Ford PPG / Desert Gold |
|Painter ||Soncy Road Bodyshop (Amarillo, TX) |
|Chrome ||Sherm’s Plating (Sacramento, CA) |
|Dashboard ||Stock 1961 Ford |
|Wiring ||Stock installed at Don Hardy Race Cars (Floydada, TX) |
|Steering wheel ||stock restored |
|Steering column ||stock restored |
|Seats ||stock restored |
|Upholsterer ||SMS Auto Fabrics (Canby, OR) |
|Material / Color ||Stock Ford Pattern and Materials |
|Carpet ||Brown Loop Pile |
|Other interior items ||Custom headliner |