1955 Ford Part 98: Merry Christmas! - Senior Photos, Assembly Plants, and Fordomatic Linkages
My 17 year-old son Ethan is a senior this year, headed to college next fall to begin a degree in Criminal Justice. He wants to be a game warden. Last month when mama said, "It's time for senior photos," Ethan turned to me and asked if we could use the 55. "Of course!" I replied. My son has been a help in the garage throughout this process of getting the 55 Fairlane back on the road. If you are a regular visitor to the blog you probably recognize his face. So, we arranged for an early evening of photos with old Ford and we didn't have to go far. Some of the locations were just about a mile away from where live here in Ohio.
This black and white shot was my favorite of the bunch:
And then there is this old one of me, also at 17, with the same car!
Ford Assembly Plants
Every once in a while I run across vintage photos of 1955 or 1956 Fords being assembled in a plant. These pictures are very interesting pieces of history and art all at the same time. Looking at photos of a pre-assembled body being lowered down onto a mechanically prepped frame certainly speaks to the innovation of Henry Ford's original design of the assembly line. Amazing.
From the photo below it seems that Thunderbirds (this is a 1955 model) were assembled in line with the sedans and other passenger cars. If you look at the rear end of the green vehicle on the line in front of the Thunderbird where the technician is standing over the trunk, you will easily notice that the vehicle is a full size car. How they kept parts straight and the techs on the line prepped for the different models I have no idea, but it would have been wonderful to see this play out on video for several minutes. There was a TV commercial put out by Ford in 1955 or 1956 entitled "The Ford People" and covered some footage from assembly plants, going out to different parts of the world where FoMoCo had assembly plants in foreign countries. I will have to find that video and see if I cannot post it here in the blog.
Fordomatic Transmission Linkage
I do receive quite a few technical questions from readers of the blog and other folks on social media. One of the issues that repeatedly pops up concerns FoMoCo's automatic transmission for the mid-50s cars and trucks. FoMoCo called this 3 speed transmission the "Fordomatic" and used it quite extensively behind the Y block engines. Even some 6 cylinder engines came with the upgrade. Below are some pictures of the original Fordomatic that I removed from the 55 Fairlane when I opted to go with the 3 speed standard and overdrive. The transmission was actually shifting and operating well. However, I knew it was a power hog, was extremely heavy with its cast iron case, and because of its limitations in gearing was really not made to allow your engine to cruise at a decent rpm when going 70 mph on the interstate. Back then in the mid-50s, interstate travel was pretty much new to the country and speed limits of 55 mph were the rule of the day for most regions.
While the shop manuals for 1955 and 56 do contain some information about this transmission, Ford decided to write a specific service manual that covered only the Fordomatic. They had separate manuals for 55 and for 56. The one pictured below is for a 1955 transmission and has a green colored cover. I used to have a 56 manual (that has an orange colored cover to match the orange color of the shop manual).
Hidden away in these manuals are pages and diagrams that describe the procedure for adjusting the "kick down" linkage located at the intake manifold. These transmissions were obviously not electronically or computer-controlled like the transmissions we have today. Nor were they controlled by engine vacuum. Nope, the fluid pressure was increased/decreased by a simple lever control on the side of the main case. There are two levers on the main case - one controls the fluid pressure and the other controls the actual selection of your gear. (i.e.: Park, Neutral, Drive, etc.) 3 gears are available although many incorrectly call the early Fordomatic a 2 speed. (For the record, Ford did make an actual 2 speed transmission - aluminum case though - and called it the Fordomatic as well in the late 50s/early 60s so we can see why so many are confused.) Normal 3 speed operation meant that you only took off in intermediate gear and then hit high gear as engine speed and fluid pressure demanded. The vehicle would only shift into Lo gear (or 1st gear) if you floored the gas pedal from standing start or if you manually shifted into Lo with the gear shift lever on the column. These transmissions are still bullet proof and were overbuilt from the factory, but many owners today face the problem of shifting and shift points with their Fordomatic.
If you are experiencing issues with this 3 speed automatic transmission, what should you do? Before we get into the nuances of the Fordomatic, I should probably encourage you to check some of the things that would be common among all automatics. Check the fluid level. Service the filter by removing the pan and cleaning and/or replacing the mesh screen. Seal up all leaks. Replace any bushings or hardware in the linkage that give shift levers a sloppy feel. Ensure that the parts of the transmission meant to cool the fluid are free of obstructions and operating properly. (Most 55's had air cooled transmissions but a good number of 56's had help from a setup that ran to the radiator and back to the transmission.) Lastly, it would be wise to double check the mount, drop the inspection cover on the bell housing and examine the connections to the torque converter, and of course look at your U joints.
Next, we should probably mention fluid type. Back in the 50s, FoMoCo specified "Type A" - well, in 2020 Type A can be difficult to find, and over the past three decades there have been oodles of people that just put "Type F" in the case thinking that it was/is a good replacement. Actually, the Dexron-Mercon is the Type A of yesteryear! It should go without saying that running the wrong fluid in any transmission will certainly modify the friction aspect of plates and bands as they slide together. With any automatic, parts are "slipping" together at different times as you move down the road and you would certainly want the right amount of "slip" between parts or your shifting, shift points, and basic operation will be heavily modified. Even if you do locate Type A for your Ford, it would be wise to double check the properties with the manufacturer. There is no telling what friction modifiers a company may have put into their elixir. This past year, several frustrating stories of transmission shops rebuilding Fordomatics have come back to me. Owners of mid-50s Fords and Mercurys continue to see a decline in "know-how" as the older generation leaves the scene and a new generation of techs just do not know enough to put that old Ford back on the road. Transmission shops can be very reliable places for information and certainly to follow their advice on fluid type after their rebuild you would be wise to heed. However, I highly suggest you look over the shop staff for experience and know-how long before dropping off your Fordomatic into their hands.
I cannot say enough about purchasing a shop manual on the automatic transmission for your model year. The diagrams and service procedures are very good, and if followed the instructions will relieve a lot of frustration and headaches. Whether you have a two barrel or a four barrel linkage, beginning the process is the same - "0" out the adjustment using a pin (or the shaft of a Phillips screwdriver) that fits the alignment holes. You can tell from the photos below that Ford did a good job in both naming the parts and in giving a diagram of the entire assembly. The kickdown rod is of utmost importance. Remember that the rod's adjustment is more than just a rod that will downshift the transmission. Ford called this a "throttle control rod" because it is aligned directly with the accelerator linkage that controls engine speed. For all practical purposes the lengthening of the rod will make for up-shifts that occur more quickly while under load, and of course decreasing the overall length of the rod will make the opposite occur. The rod's overall length is adjusted by the threaded bracket (1954-56 models) or a threaded clevis (1957+ models) at the top of the rod. Note: If you click on any of the three pictures below a small window will open with a larger version of the same picture.
This will be my last post before Christmas day, so let me take the time to wish you and all of yours a Merry Christmas! Very few subjects beyond politics bring as much division as the mention of "Christmas" these days. Now mind you many businesses certainly don't mind; we tend to shop much more and spend money this time of year. Even the restoration parts companies get in on the act with special sales and discounts. Maybe some of you took advantage of the savings. At the Jessup house we do celebrate Christmas! We enjoy the decorative lights, the extra baking and cooking, the time with family, the expressions of love for each other by giving gifts, and at times even a theatrical production or two (the missus is very partial to the classic "A Christmas Carol" if performed in the traditional manner). Recently our family was asked to sing at a church service a song entitled "Born to Die Upon Calvary". We believe this time of year is all about the coming of Christ to this earth. His message of peace and hope for eternity is one that I certainly do not want you to miss! They don't call me the "Hot Rod Reverend" for nothing! I hope you enjoy the video and that at some point you will take the time to read about something that will change your life forever.
Until Jesus comes or until I leave this earth I will continue to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, love my family, my church, and all the people of this nation we call the United States of America. Along the way God has given me the opportunity to fiddle with old Fords and meet so many across the country who enjoy these classic cars and all that goes along with them. God bless you and may He give you a wonderful 2021; we are certainly glad that 2020 is almost over!
Keeping the FaYth,
The Hot Rod Reverend
aka Daniel Jessup