The U.S. Air Force wasn't paying much in 1955, but that didn't stop Ray Shannon from joining. The 17-year-old signed up, was trained to operate military radios and then assigned to a 15-month stay in Alaska.
Once the airman was back home in Texas, his father made him an offer he couldn't refuse. His father owned a barely used 1954 Ford Customline with a manual three-speed transmission. He wanted a car with a Ford-O-Matic transmission and suggested that his son could buy his car by taking over the $60 monthly payments.
The younger Mr. Shannon quickly accepted the offer and says, "I was so happy to have a car in my name for the first time."
That car was eventually traded and a succession of other cars followed.
"Over the years, I couldn't forget my first car," Mr. Shannon says. "I looked around for another 1954 Ford and watched the classified ads in the newspaper."
On Nov. 12, 2000, as Mr. Shannon and his wife were driving by a shopping center parking lot she said, "Look at that old car." He did a double take, turned his car around and parked next to the old Ford.
"After all these years, I've found it," he says.
The car he was parked next to was a 1954 Ford Customline with an inline, six-cylinder engine mated to a three-speed manual transmission. Mr. Shannon promptly bought the car, paying a bit more than twice the $1,793 price the car sold for when it was new. The two-door Customline was the most popular Ford model in 1954 with 293,375 manufactured.
Buyers had a choice of two engines, a 239.4-cubic-inch V-8 that developed 130 horsepower or the six-cylinder engine like the one in Shannon's Ford that delivers 115 horsepower from the 223 cubic inches. Either engine was more than capable of moving the 3,160-pound Ford.
"The owner drove me home in the car," Mr. Shannon says, and he explained some of the idiosyncrasies of the car.
"I couldn't believe how well it ran," Mr. Shannon exclaims. "It didn't burn any oil."
In the trunk was a box containing the original owner's manual, along with all the receipts for parts and repairs performed over the years.
Mr. Shannon went to work on the car, cleaning up his 1954 Ford. That's when he discovered the car must have been left out in the weather.
"The windshield seal had leaked and caused the dashboard to rust. It ruined the glove compartment and rusted the front floor boards," he says.
Although the radio and speaker were ruined, the indicator lights, clock, temperature, oil pressure and fuel gauges all worked. Mr. Shannon replaced the metal front floorboards and ordered rubber mats to fit the floors and the trunk.
"I had the seats and doors reupholstered with a Ford blue vinyl and cloth," he says, adding, "The headliner was in good condition."
The rusty dashboard and well-worn window frames were sanded and painted the Ford blue color. Mr. Shannon ordered a new rubber seal for the windshield and took it to a glass company for installation.
"When the installer gave it one more hit on the original windshield to set it in the seal, the windshield broke," Mr. Shannon reports. Another one-piece windshield was located and installed.
One part of the car after another was tackled by Mr. Shannon until his car was virtually restored. "I was already this far," he says, "and all that was left was getting it painted."
Originally, the car was white and then repainted blue. The blue paint on the car was acceptable, but Mr. Shannon wanted a black car like his first car. He also wanted small fender skirts to complete "the look."
With everything disassembled and the grille removed and sent off to be replated with chrome, the car was delivered to a paint shop.
"After about 10 coats of gloss black paint, I had side mirrors put on," Mr. Shannon says.
With a new set of wide white sidewall 15-inch tires supporting the Ford on a 115.5-inch wheelbase, Mr. Shannon settled behind the two-spoke steering wheel and aimed the chrome-plated jet plane hood ornament toward his Washington, Texas, home.
"I'm very satisfied with it," he says.
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009