Updated: Dec 27, 2019
On the Road Again!
For over a year now I have been hearing these types of questions: "When are you going to be done with that thing?" or "Dad, when can we drive it?" or "Is that car going to be finished before I leave for college?" and on and on. At times it was frustrating. I had run into issues such as having to pull the transmission out again because of the need of a new solenoid seal, dealing with weather and tight constraints on the opportunity to paint, etc, etc, etc. Whether it was waiting for glue to dry, parts to come in, or spending more time than normal installing upgrades like air conditioning or electric wipers, I too was beginning to wonder when we would ever get this thing back on the road.
Crunch time had arrived. My second oldest daughter was to graduate from high school on Thursday night, May 24th, her 18th birthday was going to be that Saturday, and of course we were headed into Memorial Day weekend. My daughter had a special request, "Dad, do you think you could drive me to graduation in the '55?"
"Well, that just may be possible," I replied back to her, wondering if we were truly ready to put this thing back on the road. I knew the most critical issues (brakes, lights, and horn, seat belts) were taken care of but the car had never actually been on the road since I had begun reassembly. I just had to get it done.
So, this time last week I took a day off from work and accomplished this checklist since the front seat was installed and ready to go:
1. Mount the grill
2. Mount the front bumper
3. Finish the work on the door panels and install, along with arm rests and handles
4. Put as much of the dash together as possible
5. Double check the charge on the AC
6. Pray we will make it from point A to point B and not embarrass ourselves!
On Monday the 21st of May I installed the front door panels (very similar work to the rear panels). The following pictures and rather lengthy video show the work. The trickiest part up front were those small clips that sit in a row along the bottom of the panel. These clips help to hold the weight of the panel against the door. I did quite a bit of trimming of excess material before we got things lined up and installed.
And the video - apologies for the length, but if you are into the details of this build you will appreciate the effort to show how these were installed.
After the door panels were installed it was time to turn my attention to the grill and front bumper. The work here was pretty straightforward. Usually the grill is to be installed as one complete, assembled unit with the pieces such as the parking light housings, grill, etc, all together and then lined up to the brackets on the front end sheet metal. It took me a few extra minutes to put the hardware into the housings and line up the grill but it all ended up just fine.
The bumper was next. While the main brackets were already bolted to the frame as you can see in the photo above, I had yet to install the small side brackets that actually were secured to the sheet metal assembly and not the frame itself. The shop manual was necessary to give me a view of the proper orientation.
I chose to leave loose the two bolts that secure the small brackets to the sheet metal on either side. The theory was that when the bumper was placed into position and those bolts begun, I could then tighten the brackets to the sheet metal. Whether or not it was the correct theory I am not sure, but things ended up looking very good and the fitment was nice.
While the rear bumper may look acceptable, in my opinion I really need to either get a rechromed front bumper or have mine refinished at a local shop. I took some aluminum foil and water to it, then tried Brasso and steel wool, etc. In the end it looks ok but hopefully we can do something about it next year. The bumper guards were so bad I chose to leave them off the car.
The headlight hoods and V8 emblems on the fender were simple bolt on affairs, as were the hood ornament and the "Fairlane" script. The tricky part for the hood was the crown emblem (with the plastic insert) and getting that installed. You can tell from the following photos that access was so tight I had to remove the hood latch to get at the holes for the emblem. Of course, this made the installation much easier. In the immediate photo below the shiny hardware is from the emblem while the four studs belong to the hood latch.
With the exception of such items as the side view mirrors, the exterior of the car pretty much had what was needed for a finished appearance. I had a set of fender skirts but they were purchased just a few months ago and there was no time to restore them. Beyond the door panels the real need was to get the dash back together. We did not finish all of the parts and the pieces, but my son did chip in here and there to get a few things accomplished. Ethan installed the clock.
After the clock was in we turned our attention to the glove box. The 55/56 Ford glove boxes were a simple affair made of cardboard and held to the dash sheet metal with six screws. I did spray paint an original radio delete plate I had lying around (since there was also no time to finish a radio that week) and also installed the cover plate and bezel for the heater controls. The speedometer/odometer unit was assembled and simply placed into the dash opening. (It sat in there more secure than you think, even without being bolted to the dash.) An old friend of mine showed me a trick many years ago about the 50s dashes. They tend to be so difficult to access, for when replacing a bulb, changing a gauge, etc, removing the speedometer assembly can be a nightmare. My friend showed me how his speedometer was secured with springs so that by simply lifting up on the entire unit and dislodging a few hooks the whole assembly could be removed for access.
At any rate, we were ready for take off. I sauntered out to the car in the almost 90 degree heat and put the key in the ignition. "Man, it's hot," I said to myself. Then it hit me - I never checked the AC charge! Oh well, we did not have time. It was wearing away into the afternoon and I wanted to make sure I could drive my daughter to graduation later on that evening. This was my only chance for a test run. If anything failed on this trip, we were pretty much assured that Leah's trip in the 55 for graduation would have to wait. Ethan and Leah both happened to be in the garage when I started the engine.
"Can we go too, Dad?" they both questioned, with an apprehensive eagerness in their eyes. I did not notice until later but Leah did not even have her shoes on!
"Ok, ok," I replied. They both seemed more excited than I was. Me, I knew what all had gone into tearing this car apart and putting it all back together - hundreds upon hundreds of nuts and bolts, both small and great. I had to rebuild the steering gear, install new control arm bushings, ball joints, rebuild the drag link, install a new idler arm, all of the work on the transmission, the wiring, the plumbing, the brakes, and on the list goes. I almost felt as if I was lifting a baby out of a cradle and having the baby take its first walk around the yard. After all, I had put approximately 1,100 hours of work into the 1955 Ford since August of 2014.
Below is the video of the inaugural drive that Thursday afternoon of graduation on May 24th. Thankfully the air was charged enough and worked well. Ethan even complained that it was too cold (he was wearing shorts in the front seat) and if you take note in the video the windows are closed. The end of the video shows the clip of me and Leah taking off for graduation - she had to be there earlier than the rest of us.
A few observations:
1. The car handled better than I thought it would. Rebuilding the front end, going with those Aerostar coil springs, and increasing the diameter of the stabilizer bar really made a difference.
2. The transmission shifted like a new one. This thrilled me probably the most - there are quite a few tiny needle bearings, close tolerances, gears, and other frustrating parts inside the gearbox. Thankfully this was one of the stronger parts of the restoration. All that being said, I still did not have the guts to test the overdrive that weekend.
3. The AC worked pretty well. It would help to have vents that are located throughout the dash, and I just may look into that within the next few years.
4. The engine coolant temperature stayed at 190-195 the entire time, whether we were at cruise or in traffic. This was satisfying since the ambient temperature was 90 degrees or so and at times we were in thick traffic.
5. The front seat is now COMFORTABLE! (see earlier posts on this rebuild)
6. People stopped and stared all along the way. The car drew more attention than I can remember in the past. Everywhere we went the approval gestures and positive stares met us on ever corner. Quite a few mentioned the great paint job. I am not so sure that it was the paint job as much as it was the color combination people noticed. The 50s Ford tutone cars do garner a large artistic following.
And here it is sitting in the parking lot...
Now comes quite a bit of detail work, adjustments, and tying up loose ends, (I have not evenwrapped the wiring in the harness yet, planning to wait until I am sure that everything is working correctly.) There is still more to come... stay tuned!