- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

Fifty-one years after Ford built its distinctive glass-top 1954 Skyliner, Wilbur Wood saw one of them for sale while electronically cruising through the Internet.

The car was on Long Island in New York, about two hours away from Mr. Wood’s Bridgeton, N.J., home. The seller said the green and white Ford had only a few nicks and dings. Mr. Wood had seen pictures of the car and bought it without seeing it in person.

Within days he paid a man with a truck $500 and they set off to get the 1954 Ford Skyliner. Unfortunately, the truck’s transmission failed, which effectively canceled the trip. Mr. Wood was fearful that the seller might think he was backing out of the deal, so he sent him $500 as a good-faith deposit to hold the car.

A few days later, Mr. Wood rode along in the repaired truck to get his Ford. That’s when he learned that photographs could be deceiving. Since he was already into the deal for $1,000, however, he decided to see it through.

The 3,265-pound Skyliner had a base price of $2,164 when it was new in 1954. Only 13,345 such models with Plexiglas roofs were manufactured. Once Mr. Wood had the Ford at home he began taking it apart.

A couple of retired friends, one skilled in automotive bodywork and the other a master mechanic, agreed to do the work.

When he first got the car, Mr. Wood said, there was a minimal amount of rust. “I was very fortunate,” he said. The body was stripped down to nothing.

The original 239-cubic-inch, overhead valve, 130-horsepower V-8 had been replaced with a 292-cubic-inch V-8 engine from a 1956 Ford. The newer engine was disassembled and rebuilt with a new crankshaft and camshaft. Gears in the three-speed manual transmission are selected by a lever on the steering column.

As his two friends worked on the car, Mr. Wood said, “they kept me running for parts.” He remembers some of the parts came from Minnesota, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Connecticut. “I would get needed parts wherever I could get them,”he said. A new clutch and pressure plate also were installed.

The decision was made to change the color — and personality — of the car inside and out with red and white upholstery and paint. The headliner is now white and the carpeting is red. Everything in between is either red or white. “I think it’s sharp,” Mr. Wood said. “I did it for me.”

In the dashboard is an AM radio that is never turned on because Mr. Wood prefers to listen to the sound tumbling out of his dual-exhaust pipes beneath the aftermarket continental kit that was on the car when he got it. “It has a nice sound if you run it out,” he said.

The hole in the right front fender where the antenna was mounted has been filled in and the antenna removed. Mr. Wood said an antenna would get in the way when he puts a protective cover over his car. “Besides,” he said, “I did it because it’s my car.”

A new green-tinted Plexiglas roof panel was located in Texas. All of the chrome trim was replated and then laid out in one of the rooms in Mr. Wood’s house to await completion of the bodywork and painting. “I waxed the inside and outside of each part,” he said.

Mr. Wood found a pair of exterior mirrors with the Ford oval stamped in the chrome backing. He is especially pleased that they are American-made.

The ball joint front suspension, a new feature on Fords in 1954, seems to make the 6.70x15-inch white sidewall tires perform better.

In a nod toward safety, Mr. Wood has installed seat belts in his red and white Ford, a feature not offered in 1954. As for performance, he said, he only once ran the needle on his see-through speedometer up to 70 mph.

From start to finish the project took only about nine months, proof that a reward awaits those who keep an eye on the prize and don’t get distracted. In the past three years, Mr. Wood has driven his Ford only 1,200 miles, and always in good weather. “It’s a rare car,” he said.

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