By Brian Earnest
More than five decades ago, the Parklane Sport Wagon was supposed to be Ford’s Nomad fighter. When General Motors launched its hip, sporty two-door Chevrolet wagon in 1955, it was occupying a niche that it pretty much had all to itself — at least for a year.
Ford brought out the Parklane to do battle with the Nomad a year later. Alas, neither wagon really set the world on fire, and Ford pulled the plug on the Parklane experiment after just one model year — and one year before Chevy ended the Nomad’s three-year run as a two-door wagon.
But that one year that Ford was in the sport wagon business was enough to produce some pretty dandy collector cars for guys like Tom Ripplinger of Hammond, Wis. Ripplinger owns one of the 15,186 Parklanes that were made for the 1956 model year. Ripplinger’s car is a beautifully restored example that wears an authentic two-tone Bermuda Blue/Diamond Blue paint scheme. It’s a splendid and very collectible car that almost never got back on the road. In fact, even after Ripplinger picked up the car during a trip to Oklahoma back in 1989, he never planned to even get the car running.
“We didn’t intend to restore it. I bought it for parts,” he recalls with a chuckle. “And then we realized how few they made and decided we had to fix it up. We didn’t know how few they made and how rare a car it was when we got it … I got a Crown Victoria, and this car originally had factory air conditioning and power steering, and I was going to take that stuff out off and put in my Crown and then sell this car for parts.”
That plan quickly went out the window when Ripplinger figured out he had a one-year-only Ford, and within a year the Parklane was back on the road and being regularly driven. In fact, that car hasn’t had much rest in the past 20 summers.
“We’ve put over 60,000 miles on it. It’s been on the road over 20 years now,” says Ripplinger proudly. “This was our driver car until a couple years ago — it was the only (collector car) we had running. We drove it everywhere we went.”
Even though Ripplinger bought the car only as a donor vehicle, he says he had plenty to work with when he began restoring it. The car was missing an engine and transmission and the body was obviously showing its age, but it was not beyond help. “The paint was deteriorated and there was no motor or transmission. The interior was shambles,” he said. “The body metal was all original, it had just sat outside and deteriorated over a number of years … I did it all myself except the interior. Everything else was there. It was missing one piece of stainless, and I found one of those. Everything else on the car was on it when we got it. I had the bumpers re-chromed of course and the hood ornament and that kind of stuff.
“It wasn’t really hard, it just took some time. It was the first car I’ve ever restored. I’ve done a number of them since, but this was the first car I ever restored.”
The Parklane was based on the omnipresent Ford Ranch Wagon, but it was equipped with Ford’s top-end Fairlane goodie list. The exterior shows off the familiar stainless steel side “tick,” and the interior was a definite step up from the Ranch Wagon. Perhaps the most unique and identifying exterior feature is the bright chrome plating around the door windows. Chrome plates are also found forward of the rear wheels, the same as the ’56 Fairlanes, but the Parklane also borrowed styling cues from both the Thunderbird and Crown Vic. Other accouterments included a tonneau cover in the cargo area, fender skirts and optional sun visor.
The power brakes and Master Glide power steering also gave the Parklane some very refined road manners.
The overhead-valve, 292-cid Thunderbird V-8 with a four-barrel Holley carburetor was standard under the hood, although there were 140 Parklanes ordered with the 223-cid six. Brake horsepower was a respectable 200 at 4,600 rpm on the V-8. The base price for the V-8 was $2,571 — $100 more that the six-cylinder versions.
It all added up to a pretty attractive package, but one that the buying public was apparently not very enamored with in 1956. The fact that the Parklane was a one-year wonder certainly adds to its appeal as a collector car today, however. These days, as in 1956, the Nomads are more popular, but the Parklanes are harder to come by.
“It turns heads no matter where you go because it’s unique, you know,” said Ripplinger. “When we did it nobody was doing station wagons. Now, you find all kinds of them … They’re coming — you see more and more wagons all the time … You see a few of these, but not often. I know of about three others.
“It’s an awesome car. It’s like driving a new car down the highway.”
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