ADMIT IT. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN YOU’D LOVE TO OWN A VINTAGE CAR AS A DAILY DRIVER, LIKE A DRIVER-QUALITY 1965-66 FIRST GEN MUSTANG. BUT YOU’RE NOT SURE IF YOU COULD ACTUALLY LIVE WITH IT, WITHOUT MODERN CONVENIENCES LIKE AIR CONDITIONING AND CRUISE CONTROL AND THE RELIABILITY AND FUEL ECONOMY OF A MODERN-DAY CAR.
And what if you wanted something a little more “vintage,” like a car that you remember from a now-distant childhood, a 1954-59 full-size Ford, for instance. That crossed the mind of Southern Californian Gary Richards, who during the last 15 years, has built seven such hybrids, including this ’56 Ford Crown Victoria coupe.
Richards grew up in the Midwest—the St. Louis area to be exact—and still has ties to the area. After serving a stint in the Army from 1963 to 1965, he entered the workforce as a mechanic for a number of Ford dealers in Missouri before moving to the Golden State in 1975. In California, he worked for Peterbuilt and a succession of Ford dealers that included Corwin Ford in Orange and Citrus Motors in Ontario. In 1996, he started working on his passion for vintage cars, focusing his attention on 1954-59 full-size Fords and Mercurys, replacing tired drivetrains with modern Ford OHV SOHC and DOHC V-8 and four-speed overdrive automatic transmissions.
The very first was a ’55 Ford Customline (see sidebar, pg. 80), which was his daily driver for many years before he sold it to a ’50s Ford enthusiast back in Missouri. This first in a series, which now includes seven completed builds since 1998, served as his proof of concept.
Evolution of the Process
When Richards first embarked on this modernization program, he concentrated locating his donor cars from insurance auctions. While Ford Crown Victorias are more plentiful, Richards believes that Mercurys, and especially Lincoln Continental Mark VIIs, make the best donor cars. “I look for the kinds of cars that have been in rear and side-impact crashes,” says Richards. “Then I look at interior condition, which gives a good indication on how well the previous owner took care of the car. While mileage can be important, the ‘grandma car’ factor really is so much more important.”
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