1954 FORD VICTORIA
THE COMPLETION OF THIS FABULOUS ’54 FORD VICTORIA WAS A FITTING OPPORTUNITY FOR WAYNE AND CATHERINE HOLMES TO CELEBRATE THE SUCCESSFUL END OF CATHERINE’ S LONG BATTLE WITH CANCER BY TAKING IT ON ITS INAUGURAL RU NASA SPECIAL PRESENT…
A TIMELY END TO AN IMPRESSIVE RESTORATION
Wayne and Catherine Holmes have learned to deal with many of life’s challenges in recent years, and breathing life into a tired American classic has been just one of them. As members of Dunedin’s Southern Streeters Car Club, catering for post-1948 American vehicles, there was probably no better way to celebrate overcoming those challenges. The completion of an eight-year-long restoration project from a ‘sunburned wreck’ has changed their 1954 Ford Victoria Coupe into a stunning example of what can be achieved when bringing a classic back to life.
Wayne and Catherine are obviously very proud of the result of the subtle mechanical upgrade of the 1950s sedan, enhanced by its shimmering micagreen colour choice. The level of quality workmanship available in Dunedin enabled them to achieve such an outcome.
On the road and cruising
Completed in 2016, it was also a fitting opportunity for the couple to celebrate the successful end of Catherine’s long battle with cancer by taking their car on its first run as a special present. On October 16 that year, they took part in Dunedin’s Rev ’n’ Ride event organized by the Relay for Life team, helping to raise $5K for the Cancer Society. A year later, when we meet with them at their home to see the Ford, Catherine announces that she received the ‘all clear’ at a yearly check-up from her doctor a few days before.
This is a special car for Wayne and Catherine, and it shows in the attention to detail and the quality of finish, in sharp contrast to the photos of the car in its original state. Wayne explains, “I guess we have had it for close to 10 years. We pretty well started on it straight away and stripped the paint off it, ready to go to the panel beater, Action Panel Beaters, where it sat for the next five years, off and on.”
Wayne also bought a second car, which was wrecked for parts. The chassis later proved useful for carting the body around while he worked on rebuilding the main chassis at home.
Getting back on track
Unfortunately, the owner of Action Panel Beaters passed away while the car was in the shop. Paul Hart, who had worked for the owner, took over the business. “He asked me what we were going to do. [ I said,] ‘Let’s get it finished’, so it was pretty well full-on from there,” Wayne recalls. “Paul got his man Gordon onto it full time and we agreed on a price.
“It was back and forwards a few times round to Brodie at Broughton Street Auto Painters for priming and finishing. They, and Paul, pretty much did half the car each, and they made a magnificent job of it.”
Of the striking colour, Wayne says: “When we said to people we were going to paint it green, there were some funny looks, but we said we are going to go with it. We are very happy with the result.”
Wayne, a mechanic, works for Vehicle Testing New Zealand ( VTNZ). Through his work, he had the opportunity to study a number of potential colours on the many vehicles coming through, but they came to the final decision across the ditch. “We were in Aussie, and Catherine and I were on a balcony looking down on a Mazda RX-8. I had talked to Catherine a few times about the green colour. There it was as we looked down on it with the sun on it. [ We] wandered down and had a look. We never changed our minds — that was going to be the colour.”
The couple doesn’t know much about the car’s history. “I’m not sure where it originally came from out of the States,” says Wayne. “I still have the original black plates. I think it may have been owned by a prison at some stage. It had been involved in an accident at some stage, in the driver’s door and left-side panels, which must have put it off the road, I think.”
This meant that the left rear of the car needed substantial panel work to repair, as did the floor of the car, thanks to the ravages of rust. “They had to sort out the whole car really,” he says. “It was pretty much every panel right around the car that had to be done. It was a lot of work.”
With the spare chassis enabling the body to be carted to the panel beaters, Wayne rebuilt the main chassis at home, and, in what would be its final year, the project quickly took shape.
This is a special car for Wayne and Catherine, and it shows in the attention to detail and the quality of finish
A bigger heart, bigger stoppers
The Ford came with its original Y-block 239ci (3.9-litre) V8 engine and two-stage automatic transmission, as well as the original standard differential. “It now has a 351ci (5.9-litre) V8 engine and C4 automatic transmission that originally came from Japan,” Wayne tells us. “I fitted it straight in, and I haven’t had to do much to the motor at all except change the timing chain. We also fitted a Dodge differential. The shock mounts were moved inboard slightly, and crossmembers were altered. Ford Falcon swaybar mounts were all altered to suit, along with Holden Shocks on the back.”
The brakes were changed to Ford Falcon XF stub axles and disc brakes on the front, while the rest of the front suspension was completely rebuilt. A Mitsubishi Pajero power-steering box lightens the load of driving through a re-splined original pitman arm. This replaced the car’s original unassisted and heavy steering box. Bump stops were altered so the ride could be lowered slightly.
To keep the interior controls in character with the 1950s period, Wayne used the Ford’s original column gear-shift adapted to match the shift mechanism of the new transmission. They even kept the original heater — “The original heater system was rebuilt, and it’s fantastic. Every bit as good as our Mazda [dailyrunner] heater,” explains Wayne. Wider 15-inch wheels from a Ford Falcon AU were used and fitted with white-wall BF Goodrich 65 profile tyres sourced from the US. This addition contrasts nicely with the mica-green body colour.
Showing the colours
The eye-catching interior was redone locally by Steve Moore of Ingram Upholstery. The second car bought for spares had a good black interior, and the aim was to save a bit of money by using this for the Victoria, but it was not to be.
“We put it into the new car, and it looked awful with the green we had chosen, so onto Trade Me it went, and it’s now in a convertible in Christchurch,” Wayne says.
The seats were also retrimmed and new padding added, while the door panels were also refurbished, with Wayne entrusting Steve with the design work: “Steve said to me, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘ That’s not my problem; it’s your problem,’ and he worked out all the door panel patterns and showed me. He asked me what I thought, and it looked great.”
The result, along with the recoloured dashboard, has certainly given the interior a lift, as these ’50s Fords were usually plain, with a limited choice of interior materials and colours available at the time. Steve also came out to fit the new headlining, and John Lister came out to put all the new glass in, while Wayne did all the side windows himself.
Bumper Replacements of Auckland attended to all the chrome work, and
“They had to sort out the whole car really,” he says. “It was pretty much every panel right around the car that had to be done. It was a lot of work”
Dunedin panel beater Rob Douglas, of Douglas Bodyworks, completed all the stainless-steel work, which was then polished by Kieran Elliott.
Ford Victorias of the 1950s did come with the unusual option of a smoked Plexiglas half roof, but Wayne and Catherine decided against this, as they thought it would probably have made the car too hot.
Now that all the work has been done, we ask Wayne and Catherine what it is like to drive. Both agree that the effort put in to improve the Ford and upgrade the mechanicals has been worth it, and it drives very well.
“I haven’t driven it much so far, but I’m looking forward to driving it more over the summer months,” says Catherine.
As with many major projects like this, there are still some adjustments to make. The plan is to replace the front springs with heavier duty examples to raise the ride height slightly, as it isn’t quite what they wanted. Despite this minor issue, Wayne says that the car starts every time, “and steers beautifully with the Mitsubishi setup. Brakes are marvellous, and, once the new front coils are in, it should be even better. It’s super cruisy — effortless, actually.”
From the start, the aim was to keep the look of the car as close to the original as possible. “We never cut anything, and you can still put back the original Y-block engine if required. Adaptors were used so all original bits could go back in, and away you go,” says Wayne.
On the road again
Trips so far had been a limited to a few around town, with one through to Lawrence before sitting in the garage over the winter until the Dunedin Autospectacular.
There are still a few little touches to complete before the car is completely finished. “There is still a wee bit of stainless to fit around the roof, [and we need to] carpet the boot and complete the suspension, and that is pretty much it. We just wanted to brighten it up and keep with the green colour; the bright colour just lifts it,” says Wayne.
Sitting in the sunlight on a beautiful Dunedin evening, there is no denying that the Ford looks a picture, with the deep mica-enhanced colour showing subtle changes on every angle. Detail is everything, and the manner in which the trim parts have been polished up and straightened really caps off a top restoration.
It sounds the part, too, as it takes off with an impressive ability to cover ground. A real cruiser!
Clean — perfect shut lines and a very tidy back end