Just the Facts
Year: 1957
Make: Ford
Model: Custom 300
Owner: Don Wiste
State: Wisconsin

The cult of the 1957 Chevy may lead casual automotive observers to believe that nobody else built cars that year. Those of us who obsess over old iron, however, are well aware how pivotal 1957 was for most American automakers. Not only did the Chrysler Corporation introduce bold new designs across the board, Ford also offered a fresh restyle to compete with the moderately face-lifted Chevy. In fact, true Blue Oval fans are quick to note that Ford actually out-produced Chevrolet for the 1957 model year.

Yet despite its initial sales advantage, the 1957 Ford has struggled to maintain its popularity in the ensuing decades. That's unfortunate, because it means we seldom get to see a cool custom 1957 Ford like Don Wiste's beauty here.

Don knew full well the potential of the 1957 Ford when he spied a solid Custom 300 model at a shop near his home in Onalaska, Wisconsin, a few years ago. With a little digging, Don's son was able to track down the car's owner, giving Don the opportunity to negotiate a purchase shortly before Christmas that year. "When I brought it home," Don recalls, "my daughter asked how I was going to explain it to mom. So I took a Christmas bow off the porch and put it on the trunk, just as she came home. My wife asked whose car it was, and I said it was her Christmas present. She said she didn't want it, so I said, ‘then I'll keep it!' We all had a good laugh."

Never one to neglect a gift, Don dove into the project with help from his son, Brian. Though he made many decisions as the build went along (and even changed his mind a few times during the process), Don had one idea locked in from the start: the car's distinctive quad headlights.

"I have two small-page magazines, December 1960 and June 1961, that show 1957 Ford convertibles with 1958 Ford headlights," Don says. "I always thought if I had one, I would do the 1958 headlights. I get a lot of people who can't decide what year it is."

The headlight conversion proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of the car's revival. Don built jigs to hold the fenders straight while he welded in the lower 1958 headlight bezel panels and built his own upper bucket mounting brackets. Other body modifications included filled body seams, shaved emblems and door handles, and custom Lee-style taillight lenses from Night Prowlers. Don crafted his own grille using a 1952 Chevy bar, adding extra teeth and capping each side with 1957 Chevy turn signals and ends.

The short-wheelbase Custom 300 was a notch below Ford's more upscale Fairlane models in 1957, making it a natural candidate for guys building a hot street car back in the day. Don honored that heritage by having his son-in-law, Brian Fiers, assemble a stout 1963-vintage 390 V-8 topped with Edelbrock aluminum heads and a trio of two-barrels on a 1963 T-bird aluminum intake. For additional hot rod flavor, Don backed the FE mill with a TREMEC TKO-500 five-speed transmission.

Much like the engine-and-transmission combo, Don blended vintage elements with updated components on the chassis. Fatman dropped spindles helped lower the front end and allowed the use of Granada disc brakes, while a 1958 Ford steering box improved road feel and exhaust clearance. The 3.10:1-geared 9-inch rearend was bolstered with a pair of vintage Traction Master traction bars that Don had saved from a friend's 1957 Ford back in the '60s; proof that you should never throw away old speed parts.

Don kept things simple and tasteful inside, commissioning Dan Thompson to stitch the stock seats and custom door and side panels in comfortable gray cloth. Don rewired the car himself, adding a Secretaudio stereo and Pioneer speakers in the process. The most significant modification was the addition of a 1959 Impala steering wheel and column mast, a more challenging task than you might expect.

Another chore Don handled himself was the bodywork and paint prep. While the body was mostly rust-free, the aforementioned custom work gave him plenty to do. When finished with the metalwork, Don had Brian spray the PPG Garnet Red finish. The deep, rich hue perfectly complements the car's chrome and polished stainless trim, not to mention the gold anodized side trim inserts. A set of 17-inch Billet Specialties Street Star wheels complete the overall appearance, lending a bit of modern flair without being overly bling-y.

When viewed as a whole, Don's finely finished Ford achieves the rare feat of tastefully blending multiple styles and genres. Not only is it a classy mild custom, it also sports plenty of underhood hot rod muscle and enough modern touches to keep it from being a strict nostalgia piece; all of this in a car that was largely built by its owner and his family. Among a sea of look-alike Chevys, it's a formula that may just make you rethink your opinion of the other 1957.