Four guys faced with the prospect of an empty shed have created one of the coolest wagons in the country.
Alan Melody had for years nurtured the dream of owning a cool car. He wasn’t alone. His sons Craig and Mike also shared the dream, and what better way to get a great car to cruise in than by encouraging the old man to pay for it? Every car-crazed kid has probably tried that once in their time, some with more success than others.
It wasn’t the boys’ desire to get dad into a car that saw this project begin though, but the need to find alternative boat storage.
Alan happened across an old engineering workshop that would be perfect for the boat, and which would leave plenty of spare room. Enough spare room to fit an automotive treasure, as it happens.
“The boys and I had previously agreed that we wanted to do a wagon. Through a contact in Palmerston North we heard about a 1957 Ford wagon that Kev Redshaw of Timeless Auto Restorations had which he was going to do up for himself but had run out of space,” says Alan. With assurance from Kevin it was just what the Melody clan was after, a deal was essentially done on the phone and Alan made the trip from Taranaki to Palmy with the car trailer and a cheque.
“The car was as promised,” Alan says. “Kev had imported it in early 2008 from California, where it had been last registered in 1963 and hadn’t moved since then.”
With a six-cylinder engine still in place, Alan began to devise his plan. With input from friend Graeme Butcher, who soon became instrumental in the build, they decided to work on the car every Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon. It was a strict schedule, but one that was stuck to for the majority of the build. “We had a target of the February 2010 Americarna in New Plymouth, giving ourselves about 10 months; little did we know how big the task was…”
Although it was relatively straight, every panel on the wagon needed a bit of a tidy-up, as you’d expect for a car of 1957 vintage. With this in mind the body was separated from the chassis and fitted to a jig. While the body was sent for sandblasting, the chassis remained and became the focus of the team’s efforts. They wanted to do as much of the build as they could, so the workshop soon had a temporary spray booth assembled and piece-by-piece the undercarriage was tided up, parts replaced and old parts painted.
“Tony Etheridge of Total Paints advised us on what products to use, and although none of us had any experience in spray painting the finished product was pretty good,” Alan says. “Tony’s advice on the car setup enabled us to generally keep headed in the right direction most of the time,” though the job wasn’t without its share of tough moments.
With the chassis tidied up, a Northwestern Ford front disc brake kit was fitted, along with a beefed up front sway bar, rear sway bar, two-inch lowering blocks and custom front springs. It was soon taking shape.
With weekly deliveries of parts arriving from around the world, it looked like the 10-month timeframe would be met. However, anyone who’s ever built a car will tell you not to call it done until it’s done.
“I had imported an engine mount kit for mating the 351 Windsor and C4 to a ’57 Ford and despite best efforts could not get it to sit right,” says Alan, describing the first of many dramas. Luckily for him and the lads they soon came across Alan ‘Midge’ Mallett, who was a godsend. “Midge helped us solve the engine mounting problems, and continued to help right through the project with engine finishing, along with helping solve the many other problems that arose. What Midge doesn’t know about Ford engines isn’t worth knowing.”
While all the undercarriage work was taking place, the body was blasted and sent to The Paint Shop where a two-pack epoxy was applied so it could get panelled. Ross at Ross Fraser Panel Beaters was the man in charge of this department, and he is responsible for the arrow-straight panels.
With the panelwork sorted, a test fit to the chassis was conducted. You can imagine the sigh of relief when it all went together seamlessly. It wouldn’t stay together, though. Once the joyous occasion had passed, the body was back on the dolly and off to The Paint Shop.
“We started out planning to have a cool yellow and white paint job but by the time it got to the paint shop we had changed to blue and white,” Alan says. “Everyone had opinions on the shade of blue, and after a lot of trial panels the boys at The Paint Shop came up with what my wife Lyn decided was the final colour.” And what an awesome colour it is.
The car was back from being painted at Christmas, leaving just a few months until Americarna. The guys gave it a go, knowing if there were any setbacks it might not be ready in time, but it was a risk they were willing to take.
With the body refitted to the chassis the car was soon off to Tidy Trim Auto Upholstery to have the headliner and carpets fitted. The seats and doors had been retrimmed while the car was at the painters.
The lads hadn’t been relaxing while the car was gone, either, because they’d received the biggest delivery of the lot, a Ford Racing 351ci Windsor crate engine. Fitted with an MSD ignition, 600cfm Holley, custom headers and twin 2.5-inch exhausts the engine not only looks the part but provides plenty of poke.
Unfortunately, the timeline had started to slip. “Despite the effort we put in, it became obvious by the end of January that we would not make it, and the pressure we had put on ourselves to get it finished was showing. We found ourselves not enjoying it so we forgot about trying to make Americarna and went back to doing it at our own pace,” says Alan. “I read on the internet that 90 percent of the work in doing a ground-up rebuild of a car takes 50 percent of the time and the other 10 percent takes the other 50 percent. I fully agree.”
Double Time, and some
Like every car builder, professional or not, sorting the fiddly bits took longer than anticipated. “The seemingly small jobs took hours; I can recall spending hours just trying to get the tailgate mechanism to work correctly. I can’t remember exactly how many times we had the instrument panel in and out, but it seemed like it was out more than in.” You can hear the frustration in Alan’s voice. Yet the quality of the car’s finish could never be matched by one thrown together in a rush, or one worked on by frustrated people, so while there was disappointment at the time, it’s been forgotten now that the car is up and running.
At the beginning of the build, a roster was started to monitor the hours of work put in. It was into four figures by the time it was discarded.
Unlike the horror stories you often hear, Alan can’t speak highly enough of the professionals who were involved in the build, commenting that many of them would often turn up on a Sunday afternoon, though often right on beer o’clock.
During all those times when the crew was stuck, the internet proved invaluable for both sourcing bits and offering answers. “I discovered early on that www.57fordsforever.com had the answers to anything. If it wasn’t listed in the various forum topics, I simply had to post a question and I would get … advice, answers, and ideas. There are literally hundreds of guys out there doing what we did and working on ’57 Fords.”
After 16 months of hard graft, the car is now on the road and completed to a standard beyond all expectations. So what does a team of four guys do with a big workshop and empty Wednesday nights and Sundays? Build a 1955 F100 seems to be the common thought, and it sounds like a great idea to us.
1957 Ford Country Sedan – Specifications
Engine: Ford Racing 351ci (5752cc) Windsor crate engine, MSD ignition, 600cfm Holley, custom headers, twin 2.5-inch exhaust, FlowMaster mufflers
Drivetrain: C4 gearbox, shortened Falcon driveshaft, Ford nine-inch diff
Brakes: Northwestern Ford front disc brake kit, stock rear drums, chrome booster and master cylinder kit
Wheels/ tyres: 18×8-inch Boyd Coddington Magneto rims, 245/40R18 and 275/40R18 Dunlop Sportmaxx tyres
Suspension: Koni adjustable shocks, custom front springs, two-inch lowering blocks
Interior: Full custom leather retrim, hidden Kicker audio
Exterior: Chrome by Otahuhu Chrome Platers, front screen by Northwestern Ford, flat glass and window installation by The Glassman
Alan Melody – Owner Profile
Build time: Approx 16 months
Dream car: Was this, now a 1955 F100
Alan thanks: Alan ‘Midge’ Mallet for the mechanical work, David Geurts for the Auto Electrical, Rowan Yandle for the custom headers, Dean Cadman for the exhaust, Richard ‘Bunter’ Pierce for the brakes, Warren Byrne for his old school knowledge, Tony Etheridge for all the advice, Gary Hawkins from USA Specialty Products, Sean Turner for the help and loan of tools, and of course the build team of Craig and Mike Melody, Graeme Butcher.
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Adam Croy
This article is from NZV8 issue 68. Click here to check it out.