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1956 Ford Ranch Wagon

By Jeremy Wilson

Here’s a happy twist on an often-told story, one you might know first hand. About the guy who spent years building his dream car, only to be dissatisfied with the result. Unfortunately it happens all the time and is one reason fresh restorations end up at auctions.

Now turn that around and imagine buying a car you never wanted, building it for resale, and unexpectedly discovering it’s your all-time favorite. That’s exactly what happened to Gary Browne.

“I wasn’t planning on building this car. I actually have a 1959 Rambler two-door station wagon that I was going to build. I was working on it and getting along good when this Ford Ranch Wagon just popped up on eBay. The guy wanted $18,000 dollars for it at first and it wasn’t even complete. It was a repainted frame-off restoration but it was all apart. It was really a neat car but the price was ridiculous. Then all of a sudden it came back on eBay with a starting bid of $8000. He really dropped the price like a rock. It was there for a couple of days and then it disappeared. I figured somebody must have gobbled it up,” says Browne.

The car disappeared from eBay but Browne had saved the seller’s email address. Thinking it was a good deal, Gary checked to see if it was sold.

“He said, ‘No, I forgot to put a reserve in so I pulled the ad.’ I said, ‘Okay, what’s the bottom line that you will take for it now that it’s not on eBay anymore?’ He said, ‘Well, maybe around $10,000.’”

Browne didn’t want the car for himself but thought one of his friends might be interested.

“It was a local car so I told my friends, ‘There’s this car out there and you might be able to get it for $8000.’ The frame was off the body, restored at a custom hot rod shop in Escondido. They had done the plumbing for the brakes and the gas tank. They undercoated the whole body of the car after replacing some panels and put it back on the frame. They put the engine in it but had not done the wiring. The brakes weren’t hooked up, the radiator wasn’t in, the interior wasn’t in, and basically it was all in pieces. But nobody said they wanted it so I said, ‘Then I will!’”

Now that he had made the mental commitment Gary’s job was to get the best possible deal.

“I talked with the guy again and he said he had lots of extra parts. He said that if I didn’t want the parts he’d sell it to me for $7000. I thought $7000, that sounds good! It had 20 inch wheels and tires on it and, in my opinion, terrible wheels with little rubber bands around them. So, I said, ‘If you keep the wheels how much will you knock off?’ And he said, ‘Well I’ll take those back for a thousand bucks right now.’ So I said, ‘Sold!’ I went home and got some roller wheels and tires and called Two Bit Tow to drive it home.”

Now Browne had his work cut out for him. The body was on the chassis, the fenders were hung, and all of the chrome was replated but not installed. The car was virtually in a basket.

“There were new turn signals, a new grill, back bumper, and side trim. Basically it was a kit. I got a kit, battery not included. And besides not including a battery, it didn’t include instructions. And that makes it tough because I didn’t take it apart, somebody else did. There were pieces all over the place but it was obvious how the front seat went. It seemed obvious how the back seat went, but it wasn’t. Because it’s a folding seat it took a little bit of work to figure out how to put it in.”

When Brown took the Ranch Wagon for a spin he got a couple of surprises.

“When I got it running and drove it two things happened. First I found out the rear end had to go. I think it was a standard shift car and I couldn’t even go on the freeway. The engine was just spinning, it was horrible. I didn’t check the ratio but it was at least a 4.56. So, I put an eight-inch rear end in it with 3.0 gears and now it’s really good. The second thing was that it was such a beautiful car to drive I decided I couldn’t sell it. It’s just a keeper.”

But the assembly had more challenges. The engine pinged and nothing Browne did would make it stop.

“You couldn’t leave a traffic light to keep up with a Volkswagen without it pinging. I changed the distributor and I changed carburetor, it wasn’t too lean and the plugs looked great. This was a frustrating thing, I had my car put together and I loved it but I couldn’t get rid of the pinging. It got to the point where I said, ‘I’m going to grenade it. We’re going to put a new engine in here!’ I tried some 91 octane but that still didn’t help. It is a 1969 or 1970 engine and I figured the valves aren’t really good for unleaded. So I got a set of 5.0 heads which bolt right on and that lowered the compression a little bit. I figured that way I was set for regular fuel. It did ping a little bit less but the problem wasn’t solved. Somehow I discovered by driving it, it actually started getting better. And to this day I can’t tell you why it pinged, but here’s what I think may have happened. The car was painted and then it sat for five years in the garage all in pieces. I think the previous owner might have had fuel in the tank that went really, really bad, and left a film that made the new gas go rotten.”

The paint is bright and shiny but Browne is unhappy with the body work He plans on repainting it and adding some custom trim in the process (see the update below).

“The previous owner was building the car to be a driver and he didn’t want a $10,000 paint job so he got a MAACO paint job. It was a $1400 MAACO paint job and it’s a good 20 footer. If you’re driving down the road, from 20 feet away, it looks great. But it does have MAACO body work. They blocked it out and they’re not good blockers so it’s wavy on the side. I want it to be more of a show car, but also a driven show car. If I could get the body work done without removing the paint I would. But I haven’t figured out how to do that,” Browne says laughing.

“So, I’m going to sand it down and install 1957 Fairlane 300 side trim which is really different. It’s going to look really cool. It will look stock but people who know Fords will know it didn’t come on the car. I’m going to go with a cream color on the bottom, red in the middle and a cream color roof.”

Browne likes the 1960s custom car look and that’s his plan for the Ranch Wagon.

“I’ve always loved hot rods and my Anglia counts as a hot rod. And I’ve always loved old customs so I’m building this to look like it was built in the 60s. There won’t be any aluminum on the outside, no funny wheels, it’s got the little steelies and it’s going to look like it was done back then.”


Just as Gary Browne predicted, his Ranch Wagon now has a new red and cream-colored paint job with 1957 Fairlane 300 side trim.

And check out the newly upholstered interior!


Engine 302 with 5.0 heads
Transmission C4
Steering Flaming River rack and pinion
Electrical All new wiring
Brakes Granada disc brakes (front)
Cooling Aluminum radiator, Taurus fan
Interior Air conditioning

Businesses Used in This Restoration

Summit Racing Equipment is the largest Internet supplier of high performance automotive parts and accessories.

JEGS Performance Auto Parts has the largest selection of quality performance parts.

Flaming River Industries offers a complete line of steering products to update or modernize your street rod, hot rod, muscle car, or classic car.

Pick Your Part are self-service used parts yards with locations in Southern and Central California.

Ecology Auto Parts are self-service used parts yards with location in Southern California and Phoenix Arizona.

Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

Paul G Mclaughlin, Paul G. Laughlin
Ford Station Wagons 1929-1991 Photo History
Iconografix, Inc., Paperback, 2003-10
From the Model T to the Pinto Cruising Wagon, this book chronicles Ford’s entrees in this field. Included is a model history for each year with available options, production figures and more. A must have for all Ford Station Wagon fans.

Richard Bloechl
Woodies & Wagons
Austin & Company, Inc., Hardcover, 2000-12
Over 300 photos illustrate the evolution of the station wagon from the early 1900’s Depot Hack to the stately estate wagons of the 1950’s. The 160 pages contain mostly color images of every kind of wooden station wagon produced.

Byron Olsen
Station Wagons
Motorbooks, Paperback, 2000-06-19

This book’s emphasis is on station wagons of the ’50s and ‘60s. Some of the cars featured include woodies from all manufacturers, the Chevrolet Nomad and Pontiac Safari sport wagons, rare examples from Packard, the Studebaker Wagonaire, and the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser. Includes period color photography and print ads, as well as exclusive modern color photos of restored wagons.

John A. Gunnnell
Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975
Krause Publications, Paperback, 1987
This is the definitive source for information concerning postwar collector cars. Included are technical specifications, information on serial numbers, and production totals for all automobiles listed in the book. 2,800 photos. --This is the 1992 third edition which usually can be found for much less than subsequent editions.
History and Production Notes

The first station wagons were called “depot hacks” and were basically sedans with a modified back end to carry people and luggage to the train station.

1931 Ford Model A Station Wagon
1931 Ford Model A Station Wagon

According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, the first of the Big Three to produce a station wagon was Ford, with its Model A in 1929. The smaller automakers had been producing them for years along with coachbuilders who retrofitted sedans, most commonly Model Ts.

1926 Ford Woody Body by York
1926 Ford Model T - Body by York

The early station wagons were open as shown in the photo above. Closed wagons started appearing in the mid-1920s but all of these vehicles were designed with commercial use in mind, not as consumer automobiles.

By the mid-1930s, the wood-bodied wagons started to become popular with the country-club set and following World War II station wagon production took off from 3.6 percent (1946 Ford) to 19.3 percent (1960 full-size Fords.)

As production increased wood bodies became impractical. By 1951 almost all wagons, including Ford, were all-steel (one notable exception was the ‘52-‘53 Buick.) To appease the public, Ford and others continued to offer wood grain appliques on the sides of their wagons. Ford and Mercury used real wood outlining rails in ‘52 and ‘53.

PRODUCTIONNOTES Production Notes...

According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975 , 40,493 Ford Ranch Wagons were produced in 1956 out of a total of 209,459 station wagons. In the same year Ford produced 1,098,242 full-size sedans.

Ford advertised its 1956 station wagon lineup as “The best selling ‘do-it-alls’ are Fords, Ford goes first in station wagons.” The ad went on to itemize the six models:

8-Passenger - Country Squire
America’s most distinguished wagon-combines all-steel body with the traditional beauty of wood-like trim.

8-Passenger - Country Sedan
The stowaway seat in this 4-door model folds flat into the floor in seconds.

6-Passenger - Country Sedan
Here’s a 4-door beauty that converts from work to play in just three seconds flat.

The Parklane
With wall-to-wall carpeting throughout, here is the most regal of Ford’s 2-door, 6-passenger wagons. Converts in seconds.

Custom Ranch Wagon
Like all Fords, this 2-door dandy brings you Lifeguard Design - unanimously voted the Motor Trend Award as the top car advance of the year.

Ranch Wagon
Here’s the lowest-priced Ford Wagon! Yet it brings you traditional Ford power, styling and economy.

1956 Ford Courier

Ford also offered a sedan delivery model. It was named the Courier, a station wagon for business use with no rear side windows and a rear swinging door.

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