Sunday, October 28, 2012

My 1956 Ford Fairlane

At long last, I'm ready to unveil this beauty to the world.  This is something I picked up in July, and I've been working on it my spare time, trying to get it finished, ever since.  It is a 1956 Ford Fairlane, something I have dreamed of having for many years.  Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted a car from the fifties, and at long last, this car came into my life.

Here's what it looked like when it first arrived:

Of course, it's no show car.  Not only is that sort of vehicle beyond my means, but it isn't what I'm after.  I don't want a car that would have to be in a climate-controlled garage and taken out only on rare occasions for parades and exhibitions.  I wanted something that I could drive around, and not have to worry about using.  This one had factory undercoating, which helped to stave off the sort of rust rot that has claimed so many classic cars over the years.  It has some rust spots in hidden places, but it's very solid.

What's under the hood?  The original 292 V8 with an aftermarket 4-barrel Edelbrock carburetor.  I don't know if the engine has been rebuilt or not, but it runs like a charm and has less than 55,000 miles on the odometer.  Based on the condition of the vehicle, I wouldn't be surprised if that is the original mileage (as opposed to a roll-over of 155,000).

The previous owner(s) did a lot of work to the car, but it still needed quite a few things when I got it.  It was cleaned up and sealed with white primer, but it needed a finished paint job.  The tail light lenses were wrong (they stuck a pair of 1965 Falcon lenses on the thing and attached them with sheet metal screws), so I had to order some New Old Stock replacements.  The wipers didn't work, and there were numerous vacuum leaks to run down.  The front driver's side window was busted (see my Boycott Downeast Glass post for details on getting that fixed).  The brake lights only worked intermittently, and the rear license plate light didn't work at all.  The hood latch was removed, and replaced by a pair of hot rod hold-down studs which were poorly welded.  On top of that, it just had a pair of side-pipes for an exhaust, which just doesn't cut it.
Original rear-view with wrong tail lights.

So, in my spare time, I have worked on this thing, doing whatever I could to finish it.  Most of the problems were simple to fix, and the only thing I couldn't do myself was the exhaust, simply because I don't have a lift and crawling around under the car is difficult without one.  The wiper motor was the biggest installation project I undertook personally.  After trying to get the vacuum motor to work, I finally gave up and bought an aftermarket electric set.  It was a real pain to install (especially when the installation instructions were inaccurate), but I finally got the thing up and running.  Smaller things, like the brake lights, turned out to be quick and easy.  The brake lights just needed the sensor wire nut squeezed a little to give it a better contact.  The license plate light needed a bulb, and the socket has to be scrubbed with a wire brush, since rust had attacked it (I doubt there'd been a bulb in there for decades).

I also installed seat belts.  They were an option in 1956, though the belts I used are not all period.  I want the car set up so I can transport my wife and 4 kids all at once, so it has six lap belts to hold everyone down securely.  I know, some car guys would scoff at such a concept, but I like the belts.  It beats sliding around when you take a sharp curve, or going through the windshield when you get into a wreck... not that I expect to get into a wreck.

The paint job was a major undertaking, and I'd never painted a car before, but I figured I'd muddle through it.  I had a spray gun that hooked to an air compressor, and I went out of my way to purchase the original factory colors, so the car would look like it did when it was new.  Of course, finding the time to paint it was tricky.  It has been a particularly wet year around here, and with fall closing in my window of opportunity was shrinking.  It was the Sunday before Lois was born (September 16), and I resolved to get it done.  I went out about 6AM and started taping the car.  Everything I didn't want painted (trim, windows, lights, etc...) had to be covered before I started.

It was almost noon before I finally had it ready for the Colonial White.  I let that sit for a few hours, and then started taping over the newly painted sections, so I could do the roof and lower sections in Meadow Mist Green.

I sprayed the car quickly, a bit too quickly as it turned out.  I had a few runs, so I'll need to do a touch-up job in the spring (it might also be wise to use some reducer, as I have recently learned).  I think it looks pretty good as is, but see for yourself:

Wyatt inspects the car, as my father moves in the background.

Seven the cat pays the car a visit.

A much improved rear view!

One fine looking car!
Getting the exhaust installed was the last thing I had to do before I could get an inspection sticker on it, and it was a lengthy process.  I bought the complete dual exhaust system months ago, but finding a good mechanic to do the job around here can be difficult.  The best of them are generally booked up, so it can be like pulling teeth getting an appointment.  Delay after delay kept pushing my installation back.  From an electrical failure at the shop to medical emergencies, it seemed like God, Himself, was working against my car's completion.  It felt like it would never be finished.  When the installation time finally came, it turned out that it had 2 left side tail pipes, so modification had to be done to make them work.  It was either that, or order another set of pipes, and that would've taken who knows how long.

One of the last things I bought for the car was a new hood latch.  After much digging and waiting, I found a complete set, top and bottom, for $90 delivered.  It was used, but in really good shape, even galvanized.  I think I'll still keep the hotrod hold-downs, as well, as emergency catches in case of latch failure.  I'll just need to give them a fresh welding.

The rear brakes were in need of adjustment a few weeks ago, and while I was at work one day my father was nice enough to do them for me.  The springs and adjusters are showing their age, so I've ordered new everything (shoes, springs, adjusters, wheel cylinders), though the ones on the car are still functional, and will last quite a while before they need to be swapped out.  I figure I'll change it all next year just to be safe, as I now have the parts on the shelf to do it.

The timing was another minor hassle, but it was highly necessary.  The engine ran, but it never sounded quite right, and after throwing a timing light on it, the answer seemed apparent.  The thing was overly-advanced by about 25 degrees.  Turning the distributor was a hassle, as the lock nut needs an off-set wrench that I don't have.  My father made one out of an old half inch wrench (with the acetylene torch), and we managed to loosen things enough to set the timing.  It seemed to run smoothly at the time, but after we let it cool off we could barely get it running again.  It was a stupid oversight on my part.  The vacuum advance has two lines going to it, and I missed one of them.  The advance was throwing our reading off!  With a little help from Nelson Brooks, we got the timing squared away.  Now the engine runs more smoothly and quietly than most modern cars.  It is a pleasure to drive.

Getting this car on the road was one of the most excruciatingly bothersome things I've ever done, and at the same time one of the most rewarding.  I don't regret taking on this challenge; I just wish a few things could have gone more smoothly.

So, what's next for my mechanical adventures?  Just wait and see.


  1. The car is way cool, indeed.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  2. Thank you. I was going for style as well as substance with this one. Buying an older vehicle like this was only logical for me, as it cost a fraction of what a new car would be and it is something I can work on, myself. No computer analyzers or special factory training is necessary. So long as you have some basic mechanical aptitude, it's easy.

  3. Martin, I am amazed with what you did to your ’56 Ford Fairlane! Don’t get discouraged when things do not work the first time. Having only minor adjustments when you did everything by yourself means you know what you are doing. Regarding the timing light, I know checking the timing is a straightforward process. Invest in timing light, as you can use it on any engine. Improper timing will naturally result to poor power and a noisy engine when accelerating.

    Erwin Calverley

    1. Thank you for the encouragement. I actually used a timing light (they are invaluable devices). The trick was the double-vacuum advance. It gave an artificially advanced reading, which caused me to retard the timing too far. It was a simple oversight.

      My next project is coming along nicely. I'll have some pictures of that in the coming weeks.

  4. “Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted a car from the fifties…” – You surely have a penchant for vintage vehicles. But I cannot blame you. Vintage autos are quite a looker. Despite their age, they still manage to capture hearts and turn heads on the streets. Their timeless feel is the one that makes them special and one-of-a-kind.

  5. Beautiful car! I really love the look of the 55 and 56 Ford Fairlanes and am considering pulling the trigger on one but decided to do a bit of homework before I do. I've found that replacement parts seem quite difficult to come across. Places like Ebay and other smaller parts websites seem very sparse. Can you offer any advice or knowledge to the parts world? Anything would be greatly appreciated. If you could please email me, that would be great. Thanks very much. Brian at