- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Ford Motor Co. offered five different station wagon models in 1956. One of them was a two-door Custom Ranch Wagon that, after 44 years, eventually ended up on the lawn in front of a house in Silver Spring.

Bob von Rinteln was dating Julia Boes eight years ago and her parents lived right around the corner from where the old Ford was parked. She informed him of the car and since he had been looking for a 1956 vehicle (the year of his birth) he went to take a look. The car appeared to be in good original condition but being exposed to the elements wasn’t doing it any good. “I liked the survivor aspect of it,” Mr. von Rinteln says.

Even though it didn’t have a “For Sale” sign in the window, Mr. von Rinteln inquired of the owner about the car’s status in order to get it under protective cover. Negotiations with the owner ensued and they led to Mr. von Rinteln purchasing the Custom Ranch Wagon on Aug. 21, 2000. The odometer was at about 40,000 miles.

If he had not been dating her eight years ago she wouldn’t be his wife today nor would he have a 1956 Ford in his garage.

The car was running so poorly it could barely pull its 3,417 pounds when the seller delivered it to Mr. von Rinteln’s home, also in Silver Spring. The new owner tuned up the 292-cubic-inch Thunderbird V-8 engine, installed a rebuilt four-barrel Holley carburetor under the oil bath air cleaner, a new distributor and replaced the intake manifold gasket. Mr. von Rinteln also had to drop the transmission and replace the front pump seal. “The car drives great,” he reports. The engine now purrs as it delivers 200 horsepower, just like it did when it was new.

Records indicate the Ford was manufactured early in the model year in Dallas. The 16.5-foot-long wagon rides on a 115.5-inch wheelbase, originally supported by 6.70x15-inch tires. Each wheel is adorned by trim rings. Mr. von Rinteln has replaced the rubber with radials which he says not only makes for a more comfortable ride but improve the handling characteristics of the 3,417-pound car as well.

The capacity of the cooling system is 19 quarts while the gas tank holds 19 gallons. The Ford-O-Matic transmission operates in 9.5-quarts of transmission fluid.

When the tailgate is lowered and the rear seat folded to provide a flat floor in the 6.3-foot-wide Ford, the cargo area can easily accommodate a 4x8-foot panel from the lumber yard. Beneath the floor behind the back seat is a compartment holding the spare tire, bumper jack and lug wrench. The rear bumper guards are unique to the station wagons in order for the tailgate to be lowered.

Even with the white paint the car can get very hot in the summer months, especially since the side windows behind the doors can’t be lowered. They only slide back to permit limited ventilation.

Mr. von Rinteln strives to keep the car in its original condition but he also wants to be comfortable. Consequently, he installed an aftermarket air conditioner and a five-blade fan behind the radiator to keep the engine and the interior of the car cool.

From the driver’s seat forward, the car is identical to the sedan models including the wraparound windshield. Ford attempted to sell safety in 1956 but the public wasn’t buying it. Mr. von Rinteln’s wagon does have padded sunvisors, deep dish three-spoke steering wheel and safety door latches. The car does not have a padded dashboard and the seat belts were installed by the current owner.

“It’s a very tight car,” he says.

At the rear of the car, the tips of the dual exhausts exit behind the two rear wheels.

The area directly above each taillight is reserved for backup lights but the original owner rejected them.

The only extra-cost options on the car include:

• Clock.

• Heater.

• Town & Country AM radio.

When new the Ford had a base price of $2,249. Evidently, a lot of motorists approved because 42,317 such models were sold.

On fair weather days, Mr. von Rinteln enjoys driving his wagon to work at Hoffmasters Auto Care in Silver Spring. When parked outside the shop, it always attracts attention.

Mr von Rinteln is a firm believer that cars should be driven and he does so with his wagon a frequently as possible. The odometer now is approaching 49,400 miles.

The rain gutter above the windows encircles the entire car. with slots on either side of the liftgate for drainage.

On this utility vehicle, the floormats are black rubber but the original upholstery is three-tone tan. In the spirit of the name of the Custom Ranch Wagon, the buckskin-colored vinyl on the seats is decorated with brands usually found on the hindquarters of cattle.

Although Mr. Rinteln could spruce up his wagon, he refrains because a car is only original once. “I love the patina,” he says.

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