Thursday, August 25, 2011
1954 Ford Mainline Ranch Wagon
Text and Photography by David W. Temple
As the World War II drew to a close, poorly managed Ford Motor Company was in financial trouble which was a great concern not only to the Ford family, but to the U. S. Government as well; the government had major war contracts at stake. To rescue the company from certain oblivion, Navy Secretary Frank Knox (with President Franklin Roosevelt’s approval) ordered Henry Ford II’s early discharge from the Navy so that he could take control of the company. The board of directors instated 26 year old Henry Ford II as executive vice-president on January 23, 1944. The elder HF was reluctant to step down, but at the insistence of his wife, Clara, he resigned from the presidency on September 20, 1945, leaving the way open for his son to assume the presidency the following day.
The new president quickly found he was in over his head and knew he needed to surround himself with skilled managers and designers. With the internal corporate turmoil and the war at an end, Ford Motor Company’s stylists and engineers went to work on the design of their first completely new postwar car which became available for model year 1949. Its basic design remained in use through 1951. During this period the company’s first coil spring front suspension with parallel leaf spring rear suspension became the standard, thus replacing the archaic transverse leaf springs used front and rear in the previous years. Following archrival Chevrolet’s lead in the low-price market, Ford offered their first hardtop, dubbed Victoria, for ’51 just about one year after Chevy’s Bel Air and additionally the company’s first automatic transmission, the Ford-O-Matic, became available. There was much change for the better at FoMoCo and there was more to come.
After selling approximately three-million copies of the initial postwar offering, Ford unleashed a new lower, longer, wider body design to serve for the next three-year span. For ‘52, Ford expanded their lineup of cars from four to five. Replacing the Deluxe and Custom Deluxe six- and eight-cylinder series were the Mainline, Customline, and Crestline all of which were offered in six- and eight-cylinder tune with the exception of the latter which was available only with the flathead V8. Eleven body styles were divided among these ranks. “Ford’s first with the newest!,” Ford advertising proudly proclaimed as they introduced their first overhead-valve inline six-cylinder called “Mileage Maker;” it provided 101 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and displaced 215 cubic inches. Their ads further boasted of the Ford’s 115-inch wheelbase (up one inch from the previous version), suspended pedals (as opposed to the pedals linked through floor pan cut-outs used up until then which eventually lead to drafts and dust), and of their 110hp flathead “Strato Star” V8 which was an engine design that was actually twenty years old.
Surprisingly, the new six-cylinder proved to be almost as potent as the venerable old flathead. The Mileage Maker had a slightly higher horsepower per cubic inch ratio than the Strato Star V8 and proved notably faster in 0-60 sprints. However, Ford engineers had already designed an all-new V8, but Lincoln got it first before it trickled down to Ford two years later.
The succeeding year brought only mild revisions which included an updated grille, trunk ornamentation, tail lights, hubcaps and wheel covers, as well as side trim on the upscale models. Body style choices now numbered nine and prices for each model rose marginally, however, this was of little concern to most Americans. By this point two car households had started to become the norm and Ford made note of this trend in their ads by mentioning that 400,000 families owned two Fords. Many of these were station wagons. In fact, nearly 116,000 were built for the 1953 model year. According to Byron Olsen, author of Station Wagons, the station wagon “had become an established body type offered by most low- and medium-cost auto manufacturers. Ford remained the leader and would lead station wagon sales into the 1980s…”
With the design of the 1952-54 station wagons, Ford abandoned the use of structural wood used throughout the body type’s existence. Nearly all auto makers had switched to all-steel body station wagons by 1953. Wood remained in use as trim in conjunction Dinoc decal inserts produced by 3M to simulate the look of structural wood for the all-steel body, woody-look station wagon model through ’53; afterwards, the wood trim was replaced by the new wonder material, fiberglass.
In addition to the use of fiberglass for use as faux wood, the ‘54 model year brought other trim updates as well as new color choices (such as Highland Green, the color of our feature car), but more importantly the Y-block replaced the aging, though popular, flathead. The overhead-valve engine displacing 239 cubic inches in typical passenger car applications provided more horsepower and torque, plus improved fuel efficiency. Incidentally, Ford police cars received a 160hp 256 cid Interceptor that could provide a top speed in excess of 100mph. The “Mileage Maker” six-cylinder received an enlarged bore size that raised displacement from 215 to 223 cubic inches and upped output to 115hp @ 3,900rpm. This engine was added to the Crestline series which previously only came with a V8. Another significant enhancement was ball joint front suspension which represented a first in the low price field.
A new instrument panel with an “Astra-Dome” speedometer was yet another update given to the 1954 rendition of this body style. The speedometer’s semicircular glass dial had numerals illuminated in the daytime by light passing through the transparent hood behind it. At night the dial face received illumination from beneath by hidden light bulbs.
In addition to the above alterations, some body types were eliminated and others added. For instance the four-door, six-passenger station wagon in the Crestline series for ’54 was replaced with an eight-passenger version and the two-door club coupe was deleted from the Mainline group. Standard equipment for the latter consisted of the inline six, three-speed manual shift transmission, 3.90:1 rear axle ratio, rubber window moldings, horn button in place of the horn ring used in the upper series, one armrest, and one sun visor with the latter two being located on the driver’s side of course. The most expensive models comprised the more luxurious Crestline V8 series with the uppermost priced examples being the new two-door Skyliner with its tinted transparent roof insert, the Sunliner convertible, and the Country Squire station wagon with faux wood panels. Both the Skyliner and Sunliner were priced at $2,241 while the Country Squire required a payment of $2,415 in base form.
A partial list of optional equipment for all models included overdrive, Ford-O-Matic, power steering, power brakes, radio, rear mounted antenna, heater/defroster, turn signals, electric clock, and whitewall tires. One more option, power windows, was offered exclusively for the Customline and Crestline models. Dealer installed accessories included spotlights, outside rear view mirrors, and continental kit. All these features were said to make Ford’s station wagons “Worth more when you buy it… Worth more when you sell it.”
Despite the new V8 and instrument panel plus the myriad options and accessories Ford offered, its perennial rival, Chevrolet, managed to nudge ahead in the sales race late that year and claimed 17,453 more Chevys were sold by the end of the model year. At the time, some speculated Chevrolet had inflated its sales numbers by getting its dealers to register inventory that had not actually been sold.
The car seen here, a 1954 Ford Mainline Ranch Wagon, was owned by a Tyler, Texas resident at the time it was photographed. The owner handled nearly all of the restoration chores, but hired a professional body shop to apply the paint.
During the body-off-frame restoration, the floors were replaced with rust-free sheet metal from a Customline four-door sedan parts donor which coincidentally also had a very nice dash painted the correct color for his green station wagon. Only the dirt had to be removed from it to make it fresh again so it – instrumentation and all – was transplanted to the project car.
Today, more car collectors are restoring and preserving station wagons, thus they are definitely worth more as FoMoCo’s ads claimed about their ’54 line of wagons.
1954 Ford Mainline Ranch Wagon
Base Price: $2,106
Engine: 239 V8
Bore and Stroke: 3.50x3.10 in.
Carburetion: Single Holley 2-bbl.
Ignition System: 6-Volt
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 115 inches
Weight: 3,459 lbs.