- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2010

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

Bob von Rinteln was dating his future wife, Julia Boes, by that time, and her parents lived around the corner from where the old Ford was parked. She informed him of the car, and because he had been looking for a vehicle from 1956 (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 said.

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 led to Mr. von Rinteln purchasing the Custom Ranch Wagon on Aug. 21, 2000. The odometer was at about 40,000 miles.

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, added a new distributor and replaced the intake manifold gasket. He also had to drop the transmission and replace the front pump seal. “The car drives great,” he reported. The engine purred as it delivered 200 horsepower, just as it did when it was new.

Records indicate that the Ford was manufactured early in the model year in Dallas. The 16.5-foot-long wagon rode on a 115.5-inch wheelbase, originally supported by 6.70x15-inch tires. Each wheel was adorned by trim rings. Mr. von Rinteln replaced the rubber with radials, which he said not only made for a more comfortable ride but also improved the car’s handling characteristics.

The capacity of the cooling system was 19 quarts, while the gas tank held 19 gallons. The Ford-O-Matic transmission operated in 9.5-quarts of transmission fluid.

When the tailgate was lowered and the rear seat folded to provide a flat floor in the 6.3-foot-wide Ford, the cargo area easily could accommodate a 4-by-8-foot panel from the lumberyard. Beneath the floor behind the back seat was a compartment holding the spare tire, bumper jack and lug wrench. The rear bumper guards were unique to the station wagons in order for the tailgate to be lowered.

Even with its white paint, the car could get very hot in the summer months, especially because the side windows behind the doors couldn’t be lowered. They only slid back to permit limited ventilation.

Mr. von Rinteln said he strove to keep the car in its original condition but he also wanted 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 was 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 did have padded sun visors, a deep-dish three-spoke steering wheel and safety door latches. The car did not have a padded dashboard, and he installed the seat belts.

“It’s a very tight car,” he said. At the rear of the car, the tips of the dual exhausts exited behind the two rear wheels.

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

The only extra-cost options on the car were a clock, a heater and 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 enjoyed driving his wagon to work at Hoffmaster’s Auto Care in Silver Spring. When parked outside the shop, it always attracted attention.

Mr von Rinteln said he was a firm believer that cars should be driven and he does so with his wagon a frequently as possible. Eight years after his purchase, in 2008, the odometer approached 49,400 miles.

The rain gutter above the windows encircled the entire car, with slots on either side of the lift gate for drainage.

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

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


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