Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Fred Westermeyer’s 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria coupe is so nice he can almost bring himself to forget that he got swindled in the deal to get it.
If it’s true that “all’s well that ends well,” then Westermeyer’s purchase is still a smashing success because his Crown Vic is a glorious machine with wow factor in spades.
“I bought it three years ago and it was supposed to be a national crown winner,” says Westermeyer, who lives in tiny Cleveland, Wis. “I didn’t go to look at it beforehand. It was from Louisiana and two guys had bought it down there. They said it was nice, and it wasn’t.
“When we got it the paint was all spidery, and I thought, ‘Well that ain’t too bad, you can fix that,’ but as you got into it more and more we found more things wrong with it. And it just kept escalating… Three-quarters of the stuff you wouldn’t have seen. The brakes, three of the four were put on backwards. The engine they said ran good, but there was a lot of blow-by. Behind the rear wheels it was rusted out and they just put a piece of tin in there and mudded over the top and that was it. There were a lot of things like that.”
Instead of getting angry and bitter over getting taken, the easy-going Westermeyer calmly started fixing what he could and getting lots of help from professionals to eventually bring the car back to the condition he envisioned when he bought it. He said his wife Judy didn’t give him much of a choice. “The wife says, ‘What are you going to do? You’ve got it now, you have to fix it.’ She’s been pretty good about it.”
Dressed for Success
The nobly titled Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria was indeed a crown jewel of the Ford family for 1956, residing in the top trim level series. The classy hardtops we undoubtedly one of the best-looking and most easily recognizable cars of the 1950s, thanks to the prominent “tiara” chrome band that ran across the top and connected the B pillars. It was a memorable styling flourish Ford only used in 1955-’56, and it made a big impression on Westermeyer — and a lot of other car lovers.
Ford sold a boat load of Fairlanes for 1956, but only built 9,209 of Crown Victoria hardtops. That was way down from 34,779 Fairlane Crown Vics sold the year before and probably the biggest reason the model didn’t reappear in ’57. The ‘56s carried a base price of $2,438, which put them right in the middle of a Fairlane stable that also included a four-door town sedan, four-door town Victoria, two-door club Victoria, Skyliner and Sunliner convertible. The Crown Victoria Skyliner featured a plexiglass, tinted transparent forward roof — the last year for this type construction. All the Fairlanes wore fancy chrome window moldings, chrome side sweep moldings with simulated exhaust outlets at the back of the trim, Fairlane script below the Ford crest on the hood and a large, V-shaped insignia on the trunk lid. Also, V-8-equipped Fairlanes had rear bumpers with slots in each end for passage of the dual exhaust, which were standard with a V-8 engine.
By the end of the production cycle, there were two V-8s to pick from for Fairlane buyers. The 292-cid four-barrel Thunderbird V-8 also used by Mercury and in the Thunderbird rated at 200 hp. The 312-cid was added at mid-year and was rated at 215 hp when mated to a manual transmission, or 225 with the Fordomatic. The engines had a new 12-volt ignition, and all V-8s had an automatic choke.
The 1955 Fords had been a huge hit with the buying public, and not a lot changed for 1956 in the looks department. The V-shaped spear trim on the sides was widened and there were new lenses in the tail lights. Perhaps the most obvious change in front was the new oval-shaped parking light assemblies, which replaced the round, protruding units from the previous year. Prominent “eyebrows” still protected the single round headlights molded into the two front fenders.
There was a long list of options if you really wanted to load your Crown Vic up, including automatic transmission with overdrive and Fordomatic. Other add-ons included: Power steering, power seat, radio, heater, power brakes, windshield washers, wire wheel covers, power windows, chrome engine dress-up kit, rear fender shields, full wheel discs, whitewall tires, Continental kit, tinted windshield, tinted glass, Life-Guard safety equipment, two-tone paint, front and rear bumper guards, grille guard package and rear radio antenna.
Westermeyer’s car came with an automatic transmission, radio, rear speaker, Continental kit, two-tone paint and a few other goodies. The Continental — it had one on, but that tipped back and you couldn't get to the gas the gas tank very [easily], so I sold that and bought one that tipped to the side and it works a lot nicer,” he says. The gorgeous Mist Green and Ivory two-tone paint is the original color combination, he says. It had been repainted once before he bought the car, but that paint job didn’t last long once the car headed north.
“I didn’t re-do the interior, but we did about everything else,” he says. “I did put in new carpeting. The doors were all rusted. We took a lot of the mud out and put new stuff in. It’s got three coats of color and four coats of clear — all hand-rubbed. The spotlights I found in Canada. It didn’t have them before. That was an option.
“After I got it out from the body shop… we took it out for a ride and we had oil all over the hood and fenders from the blow-by, so we couldn’t keep it that way. And then nobody wanted to take the engine out because the body was all done. In finally found a guy that would take the engine out. We overhauled the complete engine. We had to bore it out .40 over to get it cleaned out. Some of the water jackets were just about blocked up … and it wasn’t oiling like it should. It was everything, you know.
Green with Envy
Westermeyer has added a couple thousands miles to the odometer of the striking Ford in the past couple summers and he figures he’ll keep adding “1,200, 1,500 miles a year. Nine-five percent of the fun is in driving them,” he says.
The Westermeyers take the car on modest road trips and regional shows without hesitation. Fred isn’t in a hurry to try any high-speed maneuvers or winter driving in the venerable Ford, however. Even nice, sunny summer days can be a little challenging at times. “You keep your eye on the road when you are driving," he notes. "You’ve got that big steering wheel and it wants to take off a little once in a while… You gotta watch it. You don’t look around much.”
Fred winds up talking to many fellow Crown Vic admirers when he parks at car events, such as last summer’s Iola Car Show in Wisconsin. One particular conversation stands out, he says. “I was at a show this summer and a guy came up and said, ‘Oh, a ’56 Ford. That’s the first car that I stole years ago’ [laughs]. I don’t know if he was serious or not. I think he was.”
“I’m not [bitter] about anything. I got a nice car now. I told the guy at the body shop, ‘Boy, I could have had a nice car for what [what I’ve spent], but he said, ‘Well, they’re not always done the way they should be, either.”
“It will stay until I die. It told my boy, don’t ever sell it,” he says with a laugh. “There’s too much money stuck into it to sell it.”
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