Car of the Week: 1955 Ford Crown Victoria

 

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Sometimes in the collector car world, a great car somehow seems to wind up with just the right owner.

Call it automobile karma, fate, or just happenstance, but sometimes a car guy who deserves a great car winds up with a wonderful machine that somehow he seemed destined for.

Jim Young of Green Bay, Wis., falls into that category. The spry, gregarious 80-year-old has loved 1955 Fords since, well, 1955. The first new car he ever bought came at age 18 when he scraped up enough money from working three jobs to trade in his 1951 Ford and drive home with a new 1955 Fairlane.

“And I drove that car until it wouldn’t go anymore, I loved it so much,” he laughs. “Twelve years I drove it.”

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Fifty years later, in 2015, Young loved 1955 Fords as much as ever. His car friends in his Nifty Fifty Classic Car Club knew it, and they helped hook him up with a spectacular unrestored 1955 Crown Victoria.

After 133,000-plus miles, the Crown Vic has been so lovingly cared for that it is difficult to believe it is almost entirely original. The Ford still wears its original paint, chrome interior and virtually everything else. It looks for all the world like a very nicely restored machine, and Young knows that’s what makes the Ford so special.

“I have a hard time believing that I own that car. It’s such a beautiful car,” he says with an almost apologetic chuckle. “I can’t believe it myself that I’ve got that car. I just absolutely love it.”

Young is quick to give most of the credit for the car’s pristine condition to the formers owners, who treated it like one of their children for more than two decades. They found just the car they were after and they were determined to keep it as perfectly original as they could, for as long as they could.

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“A couple from [my] car club bought it about 25 years ago. They wanted an original ’55 Ford and they looked for two years to find one and they found this one in Minnesota,” Young says. “And when they found this they bought it right away. They found out the car was built in California and they traced it back and they found out the history of the car and they drove it for about 22 years I believe. Then the man got very ill and they couldn’t drive it anymore and it sat in a building at their house that was made just for this car. They had built a garage just for the car. They loved it so much they drove it all over. And it’s original. The man would not change one thing. Even the 6-volt ignition is still original. So when he died the car sat in the garage for another three years because his wife just couldn’t part with it.”

By then, Jim and his wife Joyce had already bought a 1955 Ford that they now keep in Tennessee. When his car club friends found out the original ’55 Crown Vic was for sale, though, they convinced Jim he should check it out.

“So I contacted her and started talking to her about buying it about a year ago. It took me about three months, but finally I convinced her that this should be shown,” he says. “It was like family and they just loved it. So it was really a challenge to get her to sell it, but finally I said I’m going to keep it in the car club, it’s going to be in the Green Bay area. It’s not going to be sold to anybody outside the area, and it’s going to be shown so people can see it.  She finally agreed to sell it to me.”

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THE FAB ‘55S

The big news coming out of Dearborn, Mich., for 1955 was a total redesign of the entire Ford line. The new full-size Fords were longer, lower and wider. The cars had a new concave cellular grille, new side trim treatments, huge wraparound windshield, Thunderbird-like rear fenders and new series names. Among the many changes were new dealer-option seat belts and “Select Air” — the company’s first factory air conditioning.

Station wagons were now grouped in separate series. The Mainline remained the base trim line, followed by the Customline and Fairlane.

The Fairlane name bowed for the first time in 1955, replacing the Crestline and debuting alongside the first-year Thunderbird. The new top-tier Fords were Ford’s direct competitor to the hot new 1955 Chevy Bel Air series as the Big Three U.S. automakers pushed the industry into a golden age of design during the mid-‘50s. If nothing else, Ford certainly created one of its most memorable and instantly recognizable models with the Crown Victoria — and its siblings the Skyliner and Sunliner.

When buyers opted for the top level Crown Vic, they got chrome windshield and “A” pillar moldings (on the hardtop and Sunliner), chrome eyebrows on the headlights and chrome side sweep moldings that dipped on the front doors. The Fairlane name was displayed on the hood below the Ford crest.1955-crown-vic-6

There were a half-dozen Fairlane six-cylinder models: the two-door club sedan; four-door town sedan; two-door Victoria hardtop; Crown Victoria two-door hardtop; Crown Victoria Skyliner hardtop convertible; and Sunliner convertible. They ranged in price from $2,085 to $2,433. For about $100 more, buyers could get a base 272-cid V-8 rated at 162 instead of the 223-cid/120-hp six.

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Production of 1955 Fords began Oct. 25,1954, and ended August 30,1955. The 1955 Ford was introduced to the public Nov. 12, 1954. Production of 1955 Thunderbirds began Sept. 7, 1954, and ended Sept. 16, 1955. Of the total 1,435,002 cars built from October 1954 to September 1955, the majority were V-8s. During the 1955 calendar year, 1,546,762 Ford V-8s and 217,762 sixes were manufactured. Also on a calendar year basis, 230,000 Fords had power steering; 31,800 had power brakes; 22,575 (of all FoMoCo products) had air conditioning; 197,215 cars had overdrive and 1,014,500 cars had automatic transmissions. The 1955 run was the second best in Ford Motor Co. history, behind 1923 when Model T’s dominated the industry.

A new factory in Mahwah, N.J., opened in 1955 to replace one in Edgewater, N.J. A new factory in San Jose, Calif., replaced a West Coast plant in Richmond, Calif., and a new factory was also opened in Louisville, Ky., replacing a smaller facility in the same city.

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A STAR IN THE MAKING

Young’s car was built in San Jose in April of 1955 and was one of 34,779 Crown Victoria two-door hardtops to roll out of Ford plants for the ’55 model year. The red-and-white two-tone coupe was built with column-shifted automatic and carried a continental kid and a heater, but had no power steering, power brakes, air-conditioning or other noteworthy bells and whistles. In 1990 the car was still in original condition when it was purchased by a Cannon Falls, Minn., couple, who kept it for two years before selling it to the Green Bay, Wis., couple who treated it with kid gloves for the next 25 years.

“They washed it, polished it and cleaned it almost every time they drove it,” Young says.” One time there was a slow leak in one of the tires, so the guy was so particular with it he bought all new tires for the car. And he wouldn’t change anything on the car. It even has the same original 6-volt electrical system… and I’m going to be the exact same caretaker of the car.

“I was in the garage business for 40 years. I worked on these cars over the years and I knew exactly what it needs. As long as I’m the owner, it’s not going to change. It’s going to be just like it is right now.”

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The car spent some time recently in the Automobile Gallery museum in Green Bay, but it was back on the road this summer making frequent short road trips and runs to area car shows, including the Iola Car Show in Iola, Wis. Young isn’t shy about driving the car. He says he’s relying on his years as a tour bus driver to help keep the Crown Vic out of harm’s way. “I’m basically a full-time tour bus driver. I’m 80 years old and I’m still driving coach and I’ve never had an accident. I’m just a very defensive driver and I’m very careful with the car.

“It just looks great right now. It’s been detailed twice recently and when you detail it the shine comes right out and it just glistens. I couldn’t believe it came out so good the first time it got polished and detailed…. It starts and runs as smooth as silk going 60, 65 down the highway. No vibration. It doesn’t use any oil. Doesn’t drip. It runs perfect.”

After only a year Young has already gotten plenty of practice at retelling the life story of the glorious Crown Vic. Most who inquire about it have a hard time believing a car from 1955 that has covered 133,000 miles could still look so factory fresh. Young wondered the same thing when he saw the car for the first time.

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“It’s taken several firsts in the shows that I’ve gone to,” Young says. “I’m just so fortunate. Every day I thank those guys [from the car club]. I just fell into it. It’s just been great.

“When I was a young man of 18 years old I bought a brand new ’55 Ford right out of the dealer showroom, so now I’m reliving my childhood with this car.”
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