Cars

Bob Cook’s ’61 Ford Starliner fulfills longtime dream

A Pair of Perfect Fords

Bob Cook's pair of perfect Fords includes a '61 Starliner and a 63-1/2 Galaxie. “I like all these 1960’s cars, the Fords, the Chevies, the Pontiacs,” he says.“But I’ve got a weakness for Fords. I’m a Ford guy, always have been. If you cut me, I bl
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Bob Cook's pair of perfect Fords includes a '61 Starliner and a 63-1/2 Galaxie. “I like all these 1960’s cars, the Fords, the Chevies, the Pontiacs,” he says.“But I’ve got a weakness for Fords. I’m a Ford guy, always have been. If you cut me, I bl

Bob Cook grew up in the 1960s, a good time to become a car guy.

“I like all these 1960s cars, the Fords, the Chevrolets, the Pontiacs,” he says. “But I’ve got a weakness for Fords. I’m a Ford guy, always have been. If you cut me, I bleed blue.”

When he was 16, he walked back and forth to a job where he scrimped and saved up $600 to buy a 1963-1/2 Galaxie 500. And it wasn’t just any Galaxie 500, it was a 427 high-performance 4-speed car with a fiberglass front end, which meant it had been built to race.

“I didn’t know what I had,” he admits now. And the car eventually got away from him.

It wouldn’t be until more than 40 years later that he would find another ’63-1/2 Ford, a black and white 390-powered Galaxie 500XLT in restorable condition at Tom Wilhite’s shop in Derby.

That car was restored to better-than-showroom condition and became the centerpiece of Cook’s Ford collection.

But there was another Ford that he longed for, a sleek, bubble-topped 1961 Ford hardtop known as the Starliner, with thin, gently curved rear roof pillars and elegant compound-curved rear windshield.

“I had been wanting one of those forever,” Cook said.

About three years ago, he spotted one on the Internet, halfway across the country in Georgia. He and a friend, J.D. Sullivan, headed out to check it out. They wound up driving it 1,400 miles home to Wichita.

“It was a tri-power 428 car, but the motor was worn out. We ended up rebuilding two of the three carburetors on the way home. It was quite an adventure,” Cook grinned.

He already had a plan of action in mind.

“I’m not too worried about originality,” he said. “I want to have fun with them. I try to work with the period they came from, but I want them to stop and go like a new car because they’re safer that way.”

“I went through the suspension, added extra leaf springs in the back and put in bigger sway bars. I don’t like ‘em to just go fast, I like them to handle, too.”

In the stopping department, he added four-wheel disc brakes to the package and a special brake booster powered by the power steering pump, sourced from Summit Racing.

But the biggest upgrade was under the hood, where a 428 Cobra Jet V-8 built by FE Specialties of Sacramento, Calif., was bolted in place. The engine was stroked to an even more potent 462 cubic inches and fitted with an Edelbrock intake mounting an 850 cfm Holley carb. A set of factory Ford 406 cast iron headers send exhaust back through a raucous sounding set of Flowmaster mufflers ending in 3-inch exhaust tips, with Kevin Kaiser at American Muffler getting credit there.

Cook says it makes sense to invest in a professionally built engine when constructing a high-caliber car. The power plant in the Starliner was dyno-tested at a stout 500 horsepower and 550 foot-pounds of torque, plenty to motivate a 3,800 pound automobile.

“It pulls like Jack the Bear,” he said. Power flows through a heavy duty C-6 automatic transmission to a 9-inch Ford Positraction rear end containing a 3.25 gear set.

The Starliner was clad in jet black paint and showed approximately 120,000 miles on its odometer when purchased. It will soon be making a trip to Bauer Auto Restoration, where it will be polished and fully detailed.

Mark Bauer had already applied an amazing late model Honda metallic gray paint job to Cook’s ’63-1/2 Galaxie. “I did most of the mechanical work on it myself, but I don’t know how to do paint and body work,” he explained.

He liked the interior in his ’63-1/2 Galaxie XLT so much that he had Scott Downey at Downey Auto Upholstery put together another XLT bucket seat interior, which Cook then installed in the Starliner himself.

The Starliner was treated to a set of period-perfect 5-spoke 15-inch Cragar chrome mag wheels, fitted with big BFG radial tires, front and rear.

“These cars, when they were built, were supposed to look like rocket ships,” Cook says of the Starliners, which had only a two-year run, 1960-61.

“I tell everybody this is the Ford they should have built,” he says of his 1961 Starliner.

The car now shares garage space with his beautiful 1963-1/2 Galaxie 500XLT fastback, a 4-speed, tri-power 427 V-8 boosted to 454 cubic inches, a sort of tribute to “the one that got away.”

One thing is for certain: the Starliner will not be going away.

“This one is a keeper. It will be here as long as I am here,” Cook said.

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