After picking 10 cars at 10 different car shows from across the country, the staff of STREET RODDER gathered photos of each one and spent an afternoon pouring over all of them in the effort to narrow down the group of 100 to only one that would receive the honor of being named STREET RODDER's Street Rod of the Year.
Taillights from a '56 replace the '55 signals, and the bumpers were shaved before being mo
The Top 100 program has been around (in various forms) for about 18 years, and each year it seems to get harder and harder to be able to pick one vehicle as a winner because there are so many that could have been considered real contenders. But if we have to pick one (and we do), STREET RODDER picked Frank Tetro's '55 Ford Sunliner as "the one".
Frank, who is 55 years old, has been around cars all his life (his dad owned gas stations when he was a kid) and he bought his first hot rod, a '56 F-100, back in 1976. But it's funny how cars end up in someone's garage, and sometimes the path they take to get there is quite interesting, which is certainly the case with this ride.
The story on this car begins with a gentleman who lived near Louisville, Kentucky, who bought a new Ford Sunliner in 1955 that had a black top and a red 'n' white interior. He had a garage where he parked the car, but folks passing by could see in and were always bugging him and asking if it was for sale. By 1966, he got tired of the attention and walled up the garage, entombing the car. The car sat there until 1986, by which time the gentleman was in the middle of a divorce and needed to sell the car.
It's hard to imagine anything better than a polished SOHC under a hood. Keisler Racing ass
Street Seats also fabbed the rear bench/bucket combo, covering it in the same material use
Mercury dash replaces the stock Ford metal unit, and a simple gauge cluster (from Classic
Randy Moats knew of the car and ended up buying it, and then stored it in his garage until hot rodder Bobby Alloway bought it 10 years ago and stored it in his own garage. A few years ago Alloway sold the Sunliner to one of his customers: Ken Nester. Nester owns a black Dodge Challenger that Alloway built, and work had begun on the Sunliner, but Nester decided to sell it before it was completed, which is when Frank Tetro entered the picture. Frank bought the Sunliner and asked Alloway to get it "roughed out" before taking to his home in Melbourne, Florida, for paint, final assembly, and interior.
By the time Tetro picked the car up from Alloway, it was sitting on an Art Morrison chassis with the Winters quick-change installed. Strange Engineering coilovers were on each corner, as were 13-inch Wilwood disc brakes. The rack-and-pinion connected to a shortened ididit column, and Kugel Komponents products made up the brake master cylinder and pedal assembly. Out back a gas tank from Tanks Inc. was also set in place.
From any angle this is a great-looking car and, seemingly rare for this day and age; it do
Stance is everything with a hot rod, and Alloway knows how to dial in the profile on a car, so a set of his 17x7 and 20x10 wheels were wrapped in BFGoodrich 205/70-17 and 275/55-20 rubber to help achieve the correct stance.
Also already installed was the motor—a 427 SOHC bored 0.020 over and assembled by Keisler Racing in Marysville, Tennessee. Crower rods and CP/Carrillo pistons were used before the big single-overhead cam heads (equipped with Holmon Moody rockers and Crower springs and reground cams) went on. Backed up to the SOHC is a five-speed Keisler transmission operated by a Hurst shifter.
Alloway also turned to former owner Randy Moats to get all of the trim parts and pieces needed to convert the convertible to a '56 by changing out the grille, turn signals (both front and rear), and headlight rings, though the side trim remained '55. The bumpers were also shaved, tucked into the body, and then chromed by Finishing Touch in Chicago. Alloway also learned something interesting after having the body acid dipped: the quarter-panels on Fords of that era are thinner than what you would think they should be, and suspects that's why Ford covered everything extensively with deadener. He believes it wasn't so much to deaden sound, but rather to make the panels and metalwork framework a bit stiffer, and says he'll blast those bodies in the future, leaving the factory deadener intact.
A Hurst shifter controls the Keasler five-speed transmission located under the custom tunn
Alloway was able to give Frank a great start on the project, and Frank was more than capable to pick up the ball and run with it. Back in 1983 Frank and his brother, Bill, along with their dad, William, opened Harbor Auto Restoration (HAR) in Rockledge, Florida, a company devoted to the restoration of classic automobiles. Over the past 30 years, the Tetro team has worked on cars up to 100 years old and end up being shown at fine concourses around the country, but they also know their way around street rods, too.
The body was prepped for paint by Jason Mangum before HAR's Josh Kelly sprayed the black RM paint over everything. HAR also took 3/4 inch out of the center bow of the convertible top to give the car a lower appearance (Frank Tetro Jr. and Clay Deen did the install and adjust on the top), and had Fusco's Upholstery in Fort Lauderdale stitch up the black top. A.J. Gisonda from Street Seats in New Port Richey got the call to then add a bit of color to the interior by using lipstick red leather throughout. The design from the front seats, out of a '64 Thunderbird, was carried through to the rear bench/buckets, and red loop carpet was laid out below. Danny Cheeks was in charge of repairing all of the stainless steel molding and trim pieces, and Bear McAlpine fabbed some of the car's small fasteners.
Seats from a '64 Thunderbird were recovered in lipstick red leather by A.J. Gisonda from S
Jesse Greening of Greening Auto Supply used a sketch supplied by illustrator Eric Brockmeyer to create a one-off steering wheel for the car, capping it with a custom HAR-inscribed horn button. Will Tetro worked on the dash, which was outfitted with a stock-appearing Classic Instruments gauge cluster, and the car's wiring was handled by a Ron Francis Wiring harness installed by Rodney Hadwinger.
The overall appearance of the car certainly says "hot rod", but in a subtle way. The interior is as simple as it gets, but very well planned and laid out. The engine is impressive, but there is only enough there to get the point across without it being in your face. Black is as understated as you can get when it comes to a paint choice, but on this car it's done so well and so flawlessly fits the car's theme, you can't imagine it in another hue.
Frank's Sunliner is one of those rare examples when the sum of the parts is greater than its individual pieces: a perfect hot rod. And it obviously has had a great impact on folks—that's why it received a STREET RODDER Top 100 award at the NSRA's Nats in Louisville, a Best in Show at the most recent Shades of the Past event, a Builder's Choice award at the Goodguys Nashville show, and why it was ultimately named STREET RODDER‘s Street Rod of the Year.
Just the Facts
Owner: Frank Tetro