Cus­tom­line Vic­to­ria brings back fond mem­o­ries

The Washington Times Daily - - Auto -

Forty-five years ago Lawrence Berry was driv­ing a used red-and-white 1956 Ford Cus­tom­line Vic­to­ria hard­top while dat­ing Nina Martin.

The Ford didn’t sur­vive the courtship, but Miss Martin be­came Mrs. Berry in 1965 and re­mains so to this day.

From the day he let his 1956 Ford go Mr. Berry re­gret­ted his de­ci­sion. Since then, he says, “I’ve been hop­ing I would get another one.”

His pa­tience was re­warded in 2002. The semire­tired truck driver over the decades on the road had al­ways kept an eye out for 1956 Ford Cus­tom­line Vic­to­rias. It had been years since he had seen one on the high­ways.

In the au­tumn of 2002 he fol­lowed up on a tip and tele­phoned a man in ru­ral Vir­ginia to in­quire about a 1956 Ford. The man con­firmed that he, in­deed, had a blue-and-white Cus­tom­line Vic­to­ria like the one Mr. Berry sought. He sug­gested that Mr. Berry drive to Manas­sas the next weekend when he would have the car there at a cruise-in night.

“Guess what I think I found?” he asked his wife. She knew. Mr. Berry anx­iously awaited the weekend. When it ar­rived and the weather was good, he re­joiced.

As he and his wife headed out for the ren­dezvous he ad­mon­ished her not to let her true emo­tions show when she saw the car. He ex­plained there was no rea­son to tip their hand and weaken their bar­gain­ing po­si­tion.

Later that evening, as they drove into the cruise-in park­ing lot, he spot­ted the Ford, slammed on the brakes and came to a screech­ing halt. So much for not tip­ping your hand. “She didn’t,” he con­cedes. “It

was me.”

A deal was struck that Oc­to­ber evening and, Mr. Berry says, “A week later I went back to get it.”

He hap­pily drove the 3,202-pound Ford on its 115.5-inch wheel­base home to Spring­field.

Dur­ing the 1956 model year Ford pro­duced 33,130 of the mid­dle- of-the­line Cus­tom­line Vic­to­rias. Each one had a base price of $1,985.

Be­cause there is no power-as­sisted any­thing on the car, he says, “It’s like driv­ing a tree.”

His car, how­ever, does have an AM ra­dio and a heater as well as backup lights.

On the Ford Mr. Berry had 40 years ago were a set of the cov­eted Oldsmo­bile three-flip­per wheel cov­ers, al­most a ne­ces­sity at the time.

Nat­u­rally, he had to lo­cate and in­stall a set of Oldsmo­bile wheel cov­ers on his lat­est Ford. “The fender skirts are what make the body com­plete,” Mr. Berry says.

The wrap­around wind­shield curves around the dash­board, which still has rem­nants of what ap­pears to have been a padded dash, part of a Ford safety cam­paign. The deep- dish safety steer­ing wheel also was part of that pack­age.

Mr. Berry was so thrilled about find­ing a car al­most like his first one that he was will­ing to over­look a few im­per­fec­tions. The front fl oor cov­er­ing should be rub­ber, not car­pet­ing. And even though he likes hav­ing two out­side mir­rors, he knows the car didn’t leave the fac­tory with them in 1956.

“There’s not a lot of ’56 Ford here ex­cept for the body,” he says. Even the orig­i­nal 272- cu­bic- inch, 173- horse­power V-8 has been re­placed by a 289-cu­bic-inch, 200-horse­power V-8 that once pow­ered a 1966 Mus­tang.

How­ever, for him it’s all about re­liv­ing fond mem­o­ries and with all the win­dows rolled down to cre­ate an open-air en­vi­ron­ment, he en­joys cruis­ing by his old haunts.

When Mr. Berry goes cruis­ing with his wife by his side, he says, “It’s just like old times, but this time with both hands on the wheel.”

The deep-dish steer­ing wheel is one of Ford’s early safety fea­tures.

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