Remember the fairy tale about the big bad wolf that disguised itself as a grandma to fool people? This is Tom Wahl's version of the story.
Practically all of Tom's cars have combined understated and elaborate elements. His pewter-colored '51 woodie wagon (which was featured in Custom Rodder in 2005) was not exactly low-key, but its extensive modifications were tasteful and consistent with the whole style of the car.
This time, he kept things more conservative-at first glance anyway. This one's a sleeper all right, and Tom will be the first to tell you (cheerfully, in fact) that this Wimbledon White '62 Fairlane 500 looks a lot like Grandma's Sunday driver-with some wheels and tires and a ground-floor stance. But start looking closer and you start to realize this is no meek and mild resto rod. The surprises start coming out of every corner, from the immaculate bodywork to the intentionally hidden craftsmanship underneath to the real eye-opener in the engine compartment.
The transmission is a Richmond Super T-10 four-speed built with custom gear ratios, select
Tom's story starts with the engine. It's startling to most car show spectators to peek under the hood and find a Ford Racing Performance Parts 347ci ASA sealed race engine staring back at them. Tom lives in Lakeville, Minnesota, which is also the location of Country Joe Racing, and the engine was one they had no plans for. These 347s, rated at 540 hp, are a high-performance circle track version of Ford's new Boss 302 block-which were introduced about three years ago and used in American Speed Association (ASA) and NASCAR late-model race cars. That's why many people are surprised to find one filling the engine compartment of a 48-year-old street car.
Once he had the engine, Tom needed a car to put it in. He wanted to build something light to take advantage of the 540 horses that would be pulling it. So began his search for a '65 or '66 Mustang fastback, but after a year of looking for, and not finding, a suitably clean car, he started considering other Fords.
"One winter night," Tom tells it, "while looking on eBay for a Ford to fit the motor, I found the perfect car by looking beyond the ad. The ad was for a '63 1/2 Ford Falcon two-door hardtop. But up in the righthand corner of the photo, I noticed a portion of a '62 Ford Fairlane 500 peeking out of a garage in the background. It looked to me to be all original, including the paint and the dog dish hubcaps. There was a phone number listed in the ad, so I called the guy and told him I was interested in the car in the garage, not the Falcon. He was a little surprised and his response was fairly emphatic. 'No, that car is not for sale. It's my next project!' After talking for about an hour, he was my 'new best friend.' We talked three times after that and within a week and a half, I was the third owner."
The Fairlane had been in California, but had migrated up to the Pacific Northwest by the time Tom spotted it on eBay. When the car finally got to Minnesota, Tom would see for himself that it was completely rust free and spotless. "It was in mint condition and had only 23,000 miles on it. When it was hand stripped, it looked like it had been stamped from Ford the week before."
Dennis Wothe at Quality Creations in Park Rapids, Minnesota, is the guy who turned Tom's '51 woodie wagon into the Goodguys Custom Rod of the Year in 2005, and also played a big role in the success of this Fairlane project, including much of the exterior work. Body modifications are few, but all the brightwork was reworked; the front Ford emblem and gun sights were removed, but much of the rest was kept. The worn chrome was stripped and redone, along with the stainless trim, with lots of hand polishing by Wothe. The nuts and bolts in the car are either stainless or chromed.
The intake manifold and Holley four-barrel are part of the Ford Racing Performance Parts 3
Scott Schneckloth at Snik's Rod & Custom in Manly, Iowa, also did some exterior work on the Fairlane, performing all the pre-paint prep. That included gapping all the seams. Sniks has contributed to a lot of high-profile cars; this one started out with immaculate sheetmetal and was even better when they were done, Tom told us. The fitment is much better than original. "The gaps are so perfect it's not even funny." Schneckloth also painted the car, matching the Wimbledon White it had worn since leaving the factory. Tom remembers Schneckloth calling him twice just to make sure that this conservative hue was really what he wanted. It really was.
There is one exterior clue that there might be more in this little white Ford than a trunkload of Grandma's groceries. We suspect Granny would still be running the factory steelies with the dog dish caps instead of these 20x8.5 and 18x7 aluminum rims from Schott Wheels. These are the Velocity style, rolling on low-profile Nitto radial tires measuring 255/45ZR20 and 225/35ZR18.
In addition to that upgraded powerplant and those fat tires, Tom modified the unibody chassis suspension for performance purposes. "I threw away the front and rear suspension," he says. A Mustang II-style front suspension was installed, including 2-inch dropped spindles, plus a sway bar. Tom chose Rod & Custom Motorsports' Falcon front end, which is narrower than the Fairlane version, and keeps the tires tucked into the fenders. Coilovers are from QA1 (front and rear) and the power steering is a rack-and-pinion setup. John's Industries in Caspian, Michigan, also known as the 9-Inch Factory, provided the Ford 9-inch, built specifically to the Fairlane with 4.11 gears, and a Tru Trac limited slip. The suspension includes a four-bar, countersunk into the floor to hide it and further drop the car, and a rear sway bar from Art Morrison. The front A-arms and rear four-bar have been ceramic coated in an aluminum color. Wilwood 11-inch disc brakes stop all four wheels.
As you'd expect, the interior was as pristine as the outside of the car, and most of the original components-right down to the dash knobs and bezels-required nothing more than some cleaning up. The factory seats have been reupholstered in the same color as the original interior. Joel Mattix at Boss Interiors in Evansdale, Iowa, used Ultraleather, with the inserts covered in multi-colored nylon in the style of the originals-except he added horizontal stitching perpendicular to the larger pleats. The door panels and console are original and unrestored, and the floor was covered with Mercedes-style carpeting. The only obvious departures from '62 are the shifter, the leather-wrapped Budnik steering wheel, the Auto Meter tach on the top of the dash, and the flip-down gauge panel below. Dennis Wothe rewired the Fairlane, using a lot of the original wires. He was able to skip wiring the A/C because there isn't any ... yet. There also isn't a stereo. "The radio delete dash plate is worth more than most stereos," Tom says, "and I'd rather listen to that motor than any radio."
Telling Tom's story in a national magazine probably spoils the sleeper status of his more-than-meets-the-eye Fairlane,.but there might be a few folks left who don't know the true identity of this wolf disguised as Grandma's car. Won't they be surprised?