Bob Cummings’ 1955 Ford Sport Wagon Imagines What Could Have Been
“The wagon Ford shoulda’ built, so we did!”
That’s the way Riley Morris describes this 1955 Ford Sport Wagon on the thread he posted on the Jalopy Journal’s HAMB message board chronicling its build at his Sunnyside, Washington shop, Rocket’s Hot Rod Garage. “The Chevy Nomad has always been king of the ’50s-era wagons in my mind,” Riley continues in that narrative. “‘Sport Wagons,’ with their low rooflines, hardtop proportions, and excessive amounts of the shiny stuff. We were lucky enough to have a customer take that concept and apply it to a Ford of the same era.”
Yes, Ford did make a two-door Ranch Wagon in 1955, but not a sporty, high-trim-level model like the upscale Nomad. “The ’56 Parklane was supposed to be Ford’s answer to the Nomad,” Riley says. “No offense, but it fell short in a lot of ways. So, it was decided we’d build the car Ford shoulda’ built, the end result being somewhat of a factory concept show car.”
Riley’s “we” reference is spot on, as explained by car owner Bob Cummings. “Riley bought this car [the wagon] and the hardtop parts car to build for his wife to use as a grocery-getter/parts chaser, but with a shop to run and a baby on the way he realized that ‘someday’ was going to be a few years away,” Bob says. “I was bothering him at his shop one day when he mentioned that, so on my way home the wheels started turning. I asked him and his wife if I could buy the car and have him build it, and here we are.”
Of course, getting to “here” was easier said than done. “It was a challenging six-and-a-half years,” Riley says. “The concept seemed simple, but there was a lot of confusing and tedious tasks that required a lot of backyard engineering and persistence.”
Riley and his team at Rocket’s Garage started with a pretty solid ’55 Ford Ranch Wagon and a rough Crown Victoria parts car. The windshield and front portion of the Crown Vic roof were spliced onto the wagon, while the roof structure behind the stainless Crown Vic top band was largely fabricated from scratch, with pieces of an early-’60s Ford tailgate and C-pillars used to create the desired angle on the rear and a Falcon wagon donating the top skin. A rendering from artist Jimmy Smith helped guide the build process and design.
Like any project of this magnitude, the devil was in the details. “The custom stainless required making Pulmax dies and a lot of tricky welding pulled off by Mike Wildschut of Rocket’s,” Bob says. There were many more subtle mods, too, like removing the license plate depression from the front bumper, building a custom tailgate skin, modifying the quarter panels, crafting custom fin trim to fit the later-model Galaxie taillights, installing a ’56 Ford dash and rear bumper, and much more. Needless to say, an untold number of hours went into refining the body before Byer’s Customs sprayed the glass-like PPG black finish.
From the start, the goal was a period-correct car – no air ride, no billet, no power seats or modern electronics. One concession was the Art Morrison chassis, which provided a modern IFS, Wilwood disc brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering. Those modern elements are well disguised thanks to 15-inch Wheel Vintiques wheels topped with Lincoln Premiere caps and wrapped in Coker bias ply rubber.
Using a vintage Y-block V8 for power fit the classic factory-custom theme, as well. Rich Eims built the 330c.i. engine using a smoothed block, dual-quad intake with Carter WCFBs and an E-code air cleaner, Thunderbird valve covers, Mallory ignition, and chrome-plated ram’s horn exhaust manifolds. The team tucked the Vintage Air A/C compressor out of sight, and it would be hard for most people to guess that there’s a Modern AOD transmission behind the vintage mill.
Inside, Stitches Custom Auto Upholstery used blue Moore & Giles leather and vintage fabric inserts from SNS to cover the Snowden front bench seat and Parklane rear seat in a pattern that looks like it came straight from the mid-’50s. The padded dash and custom door and side panels maintain that style. Race Trevino made all the connections on the American Autowire harness (in addition to helping with final assembly and many other tasks), Classic Instruments were used in an engine-turned gauge panel, and details like custom A/C vents and hand-fabricated trim kept everything looking like it could have come from Ford. A Lincoln Premiere steering wheel and column make a great finishing touch.
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Sometimes the best custom cars don’t look custom at all to the casual observer; they are so well designed and executed, they look like they should have rolled off the assembly line that way. That’s exactly the case with Bob Cummings’ 1955 Ford Sport Wagon. If you didn’t know that Ford never built a Crown Victoria-styled sport wagon, you just might assume this one is a stock restoration. The approach might seem too subtle for some car owners and builders who feed off of “look at me” flashiness. But after competing for the Al Slonaker Award at the 2020 Grand National Roadster Show and earning a tremendous amount of praise and attention since, we’d have to argue that the “factory concept car custom” approach is an excellent fit for this sleek wagon.
Photos by John Jackson