Car of the Week: 1957 Ford Custom police car

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Story and photos by John Bujosa

In late October 2004, my friend Larry, who lived in Littleton, Colo., contacted me about an old police car that was slated for the crusher. He alerted me to pass the word to other members of the Emergency Vehicle Owners & Operators Association so that it might be saved. The car was a 1957 Ford Custom police car owned by the Golden, Colo., police department. The department had run out of funds and the city was not willing to further fund the restoration project.

My wife, Sherry, and I discussed the purchase of the Ford, and although we were not in a position to purchase another project car, we decided to rescue it anyway. I contacted Larry, who assisted me in communicating with the city of Golden, where the police car was being stored. Larry also sent me pictures of the car as it sat in the city’s lot. I learned the vehicle had been purchased by Golden Police Department (GPD) from its current owner in 1991.

After carefully considering our options, we submitted a sealed envelope bid of $100 in early January 2005. The city accepted the bid and arrangements were made to transport the car from Colorado to Washington State.

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The Ford arrived in Spokane, Wash., in late January 2005. Since the car was not operable, I had to find friends to help me unload the car from the transport. The car, of course, was on the very top of the car carrier, and it turned out the car was not only missing the majority of its engine, it also had no brakes. With the help of a friend and his ATV, we were able to unload the car in the dark and push it into my shop.

A quick inventory the next morning revealed that the car had been parked for a couple of years and was full of debris. A few resident rodents had even made their way to Washington as stowaways in the car.

I then contacted Joe, the city of Golden’s fleet supervisor, who gave me some details on the car. GPD began building this car in 1991 and was looking at converting it from a patrol car into a School Resource Officer (SRO) and “Race A Cop” at DARE Days car. Aftermarket disc brakes had replaced the drum brakes in the front. The original 223-cid six-cylinder had given way to a 302-cid V-8 from a 1968 Mustang. The engine was being built with a mild, long-duration cam and 9:1 compression; the transmission was being fit with a B&M kit and converter. The intention was to replace the column shift to a floor shifter and replace the bench seats with buckets. The gearing for the rear end was changed to a 3:73 gear set. Several items, including the master cylinder, siren and red light, mysteriously disappeared while the car was being restored. Joe also indicated that the car was originally black and white, which was remarkably close to the paint scheme of their then-current GPD Crown Victoria.

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Sherry and I took pages of notes on the parts, pieces and work that needed to be done if we were to have the car finished by July 2005. That date would give us less than five months to complete the restoration, whereupon we would return with it to Golden, Colo., as a complete and running vehicle to attend a show.

We immediately began the disassembly of the vehicle starting with cleaning out the rodents and dirt and further inventorying the few parts that came with the car. I contacted my good friend Paul to help me with the engine, transmission, brakes and other mechanical areas of the car. We discovered we needed a custom driveline made for the Ford. To make it operational, we installed an Edelbrock intake manifold and carburetor, super-duty Accel coil and distributor, electric fan, electric wiper motor in place of the vacuum motor, plus new plugs, plug wires and battery.

A custom Grant steering wheel was installed, but the car retained its original “power by arm strong” steering. A “peep” mirror and new seat belts were also installed, as well as new tail lamp and parking lenses, brake booster, radiator, gaskets and belts. A complete screw and fastener set was also purchased and installed.

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Thanks to help from Paul, Sherry and my son Robert, the car was now running and ready for an exhaust system.

I contacted a local tire store to get tires mounted on the 1997 Ford Crown Victoria police wheels we planned to use. Since the store also had an exhaust shop, we had them install an exhaust system. This turned out to be a disaster. Not only was it unable to align the vehicle with the new tires, the exhaust system it put together was so low that the car could barely be driven on a trailer. We complained about these issues and all the scratches on the hood to the store manager, but did not get anywhere so we filed a complaint with the shop owners. It was obvious by their words and actions that the shop did not like cops or cop cars, but the owners did graciously refund the money for the exhaust system.

After our friend Pat from Mach One replaced the exhaust system, the car was ready for interior work. We engaged the help of friends Greg and Julie, who had completed interiors for their own cars. Bucket seats from a 1987 Ford police car were obtained and upholstered to look custom, yet with a police car appearance.

Following the fine tuning of the vehicle, our friend Pat recommended a friend to spray fresh paint. There was some work to be done to the body, but since it was fairly straight, this work and the paint job turned out to be an easy task for them. Finding a windshield for the Ford was one of the trickiest tasks, but one was finally located in California after the car was painted. It turns out that wraparound windshields of that vintage are neither cheap nor easy to find.

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With the restoration mostly complete and the trip to Golden on the horizon, we put the car through its paces to ensure the newly rebuilt engine could carry the vehicle through the higher elevations in Colorado.

We trailered the car to Colorado in a convoy of other retired and vintage police cars. Sherry and I were pretty excited about our recent restoration, and knowing that the staff at GPD was also excited to see what we had accomplished in the last five months made the trip more interesting and exciting.

Larry, who helped us acquire the vehicle, was helping host our car show event in Golden. His expression was priceless when we arrived and he saw the Ford. Even more priceless was when we drove the ’57 Ford into the GPD lot. The expressions on the chief and command staff was even more priceless. Everyone was amazed that Sherry and I pulled off this project in such a short time frame.

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The show in Golden was a three-day event that included tours and cruises, which really put the Ford through its paces. The Ford was also a part of the Buffalo Bill Days parade. The Ford suffered an electrical problem during the event, which we were able to fix, but worse yet, the car was keyed while we were dining at a restaurant in Golden.

Out of all the restorations we have done, this was by far the most aggressive we have undertaken. On the way home from the event, Sherry and I discussed our project, all the fun we had in Golden with the car and if we would ever do such an aggressive project like this again. The answer was a resounding “yes!”

The GPD Ford has been to numerous shows and on various cruises since. We are planning to redo the interior and fix a few items, but it continues to be a fun project and a crowd pleaser. The car will return to Golden, Colo., for the Emergency Vehicle Unity Tour scheduled for July 22-26, 2015.

 

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